The Maximality Test Crushes the Great Heresies

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.

47 thoughts on “The Maximality Test Crushes the Great Heresies

  1. This is merely your confirmation bias. It would be more logical to use the maximality test to argue for anhihilationism over eternal conscious torment in hell than to use it this way. On all hands a God who just obliterates the wicked (and the earlier the better) is greater than one than keeps them in his basement to torment in his sadism. But that God is 3 Persons rather than one, that’s not the greatest God anyone can imagine, because you can always imagine one more Person than the last guy, so ultimately a God who is Infinite Persons, the Infinity not Trinity.

    • Hey, Paul, thanks for your interest.

      Which is greater: a God who gives sinners what they want, or a God who prevents them from getting what they want? The question answers itself, no? Nobody is in Hell who does not want to be there; and the only thing that keeps them in Hell is their delusion that Hell is better than Heaven. That silly delusion is incorrigible, but it is still their own, somehow arrived at honestly enough to satisfy them. God would like them to think otherwise than they do, but they just don’t; thanks to their depraved condition, they can’t. And God can’t change their condition without unmaking them. It’s tragic. But, logic is logical. What is anyone going to do about that?

      This is all standard Christian doctrine. It’s Christian soteriology 101. It is … sad … that you do not seem to have educated yourself about it. Most critics of it have not.

      Again: which is greater, a God who can create beings that cannot be annihilated, or a God who can create beings that cannot be annihilated but that can be annihilated? Obviously, the former, for the latter is incoherent.

      I can appreciate your suggestion that a God of infinitely many persons would be greater than a God of only 3 Persons. But while that seems to work out mathematically, it doesn’t quite pan out that way ontologically. Only 3 Persons are needed to complete the divine being: one to be, the second to know that being, and the third to recognize that knowledge. With those 3 disparate motions, the one divine Being is complete. More persons would be extraneous, and so would constitute a defection from the perfection of God’s being. Philo worked this out in Jesus’ day.

      The boundless extraneity of persons, over and above and in virtue of the Original 3, is accomplished in creation. We are such persons.

    • See my response to Paul. I suppose I’ll have to post something about Philo’s demonstration on this topic. Great. Research. Love it.

      Thanks, a.morphous. Glad to see you are still paying attention here, you glorious useful wonderful guy. I do love you, sir. I suppose you have understood that, by now, old friend.

      • Well thanks as ever for the kind words. You are putting into practice the injunction to love your enemies, which is not easy to do. I suppose I am trying to do the same in my own way.

        But I don’t know how to respond as either friend or enemy to this blatant inconsistency. First orthodoxy is obviously true because 3>1, but then the obvious consequences (that 4 and up are even greater) is swept under the rug. For someone who in the past has emphasized the importance of consistency, you sure seem to be trying to have it both ways.

        My opinion is that the greatness of god (not a phrase I would normally use) is beyond any concept of god we can entertain, so all positive theologies are ultimately false, although like scientific theories they may have some utility as approximations.

        Thus both orthodoxy and heresy sound equally silly to me, at least if taken as literal truths. Hard to imagine how much persecution, war, and suffering has resulted from these foolish notions.

      • I’m not being inconsistent, nor am I sweeping anything under the rug. A trinity is obviously greater than a mere unity, but it is not at all clear that it follows that a quaternity is greater than a trinity. Is 457 greater than 3? Well, it is a larger number, to be sure, and in that sense it is greater; but it is not at all clear that 457 is a *better* number than 3. Greatness is numerical along one dimension, certainly, but it is not only that. E.g., another dimension of greatness is simplicity; and 3 is the number of the simplest perfect polygon.

        Again, Telemann wrote more music than Bach. Does it follow only from that fact that Telemann is a greater composer than Bach? Obviously it does not. I say this not to dump on Telemann, of whom I am a great admirer.

        Likewise, Louis L’Amour wrote lots more stuff than Shakespeare. Which is a greater writer of English? NB: I admire L’Amour, too; many were the pleasant evenings I spent with him, reading myself to sleep on the back of my boat in the Canyon.

        I admire Anselm, too, and Gödel, so of course I agree that the greatness of God far surpasses any concept we can handle. But from the fact that we cannot conceptually encompass God it simply does not follow that we cannot understand anything about him whatever, so that all our positive notions about him must be completely false. Indeed, we can be absolutely certain that we can know some things about God. For, consider the statement, “everything we can think about x is false.” It refutes itself. So, it *must* be false.

        All that said, you are of course exactly right that in thinking about God we must be careful with our language and thus of the meanings of the theological conclusions we might be able truly to draw.

        The casualties of the wars of religion don’t even register compared to the casualties of the wars of secular states.

      • a trinity is obviously greater than a mere unity, but it is not at all clear that it follows that a quaternity is greater than a trinity

        It is not obvious that a trinity is greater than a unity (except numerically). Jews and Moslems don’t think so, and while they may be wrong, it means that it isn’t an obvious matter.

        If you are invoking math to support your metaphysics, you can’t pick and choose. If you want to use “3>1” to support your position, then you have to accept the consequences of “4>3”. But then the whole enterprise is silly. As you point out yourself, the greatness of god has nothing to do with numerical quantities.

        The flaws in your reasoning are so obvious that three separate people here pointed them out, but apparently you can’t see them. Weird.

      • And you can’t understand my simple, indeed obvious response to the 3 of them. Weird. What does that say about your own philosophical prejudices and lacunae? Not to get all ad hominem on your ass, as you have just done to me, but you must surely see how your critique applies to yourself, no?

        NB: you have not actually responded to the arguments I have made. You’ve only waved your hands and sputtered. So to speak. It’s pathetic. It’s weak. Surely you can do better.

        Let me spell it out for you: numerical greatness is not the only sort, even though it is such a sort. Is that clear enough?

        Whether Jews and Mohammedans understand the Trinity is neither here nor there. They don’t, most of them; they have not taken the trouble to figure it out (nor, to be fair, have most Christians). If they had, their critiques would be much different than they are. They would, i.e., have some bearing on the actual doctrine of Christianity, rather than on some stupid caricature thereof (as, e.g., of thinking that the doctrine proposes that Mary is the Holy Spirit, forsooth!). Trinitarianism is not a repudiation of monotheism, and it takes a right idiot to think that it is. Lots of right idiots out there, to be sure, but why should we pay attention to their ilk? And, why should you volunteer to be one of them?

  2. When shooting down rubbish, be careful not to give in to lazy thinking.
    3 is indeed greater than 1; but 4 is greater than 3. Follow your response to Monarchianism to its logical conclusion and you’ll be arguing that God has an infinite number of persons.

    • Number of arms is not a dimension of greatness. To suppose that it might be would be to commit the same sort of categorical error into which Gaunilo fell.

  3. @Kristor – What I believe that you are doing here is (by assumption) deciding to make the ‘greatness’ of God the core value of Christianity.

    (And here greatness is being used in a *very* abstract conceptualization, the precise application of which depends on many prior assumptions.)

    But this line of argument is surely the path to ‘pure monotheism’ – not Christianity? Rationally, the line of argument points towards Islam, or back to Judaism.

    This, at any rate, has been a common and core criticism of pure monotheists about the role of Jesus Christ in Christian salvation. They say a God of ultimate greatness *does not need* the ‘rigmarole’ of Jesus’s life etc. to attain His goals. To apply any such restriction on the greatness of the one-God is to attempt a gross diminution.

    To my mind; *Christian* theology should not start from abstract and universal assumptions; but instead be built from Jesus Christ – who was a person, and a historical event and ‘cosmic’ intervention.

    Christianity is (or ought to be) ultimately personal, and concerned primarily with individual persons (and other ‘beings’). This is why and how Christianity has love (not greatness) as its core value.

    It is your decision to *begin* theology with impersonal, abstract, universal assumptions that naturally leads to conclusions of the same character. Because with (valid) logical argument we (merely!) get-out what we put-in – substantive disagreement concerns the validity of the assumptions we put-in; and ‘to ensure-preserve the ultimate greatness’ of God is not a distinctively-Christian, nor an obviously-Christian, assumption. Quite the contrary!

    • Nah. Which is greater: a God who is only abstract, or a God who is eternal *and* could walk through your door this very moment with a clap of thunder, bloody grave and happy, as real as nails, and with his sword at your throat and a roar of many waters demand from you your life? The latter. Such is the God of orthodoxy.

      Greatness tends to bland abstract monotheism only on bland abstract notions of greatness. As you say. I.e., it tends to bland abstract monotheism only on notions of greatness that are not so very great after all. It tends to bland abstract monotheism only on notions of greatness that are, frankly, Gnostic. I.e., categoreally errant, and stupid. I.e., Satanic.

      Such were the pallid wan safe tidy notions of greatness that Julian and Nietzsche mistook for those of the Christian revelation. When, in fact, the greatness of the Christian God is such as would in their encounter with him make them both soil their trousers in terror at the gravity of their error, and then fall to their knees in joy and adoration at the discovery of the truth, who far outpasses all our notions of greatness.

      Of which, love is one.

      • When I read Gnostics. All I can say is: “What are they smoking?”. And “How do they know all this?”.

        They might as well be making it up as a fan fiction or a parody of Christianity. It reads as a blasphemous forgery in many cases. A satire even.

      • The amazing thing to me is that so many of them seem to have taken their fantastic stuff so seriously. And still do!

        Of course, their stuff looks eminently sane compared to the sexual fantasies of the present day.

      • @Kristor

        So many people were fools for believing in said tales back then. Same nowadays with Scientology and the like. And purported Christians no less.

      • I suspect it was a genuine satire written with the Author Gaffowing as they wrote.

        In the same way that modern people who made up the entire flat earth theory did when first formulated. And too many purported Christians falling for it.

        And the satire got lost somehow and people actually took it seriously.

    • Yeah, the Koran warns against treating Mary as one of the Trinity. But of course, orthodox Christians have never done anything of the sort. The confusion might have arisen because, under one theory, the obscure Collyridians were a variant of a goddess religion widely practiced in Arabia and Syria – including in Palestine. This might have been the cult of Asherah | Ashtaroth | Ishtar | Esther.

      According to Epiphanius, certain women in then largely pagan Arabia syncretized indigenous beliefs with the worship of Mary, and offered little cakes or bread-rolls (Greek κολλυρις (collyris) – a word occurring in the Septuagint) to her.

      Molds for these little cakes are a common archeological find throughout ancient Syria and Palestine. They often feature a depiction of a dove on one side, and of a face on the other. The shewbread in the Temple was such a cake, and a prefiguration of the Eucharistic wafer. Magdala was apparently one of the more important centers of this cult.

      • No, the Koran claims that Mary is part of the Christian Trinity.
        One of the many, many lies in the book.

        Given that the cult of ‘the queen of heaven’ was prevalent in pre-Christian times (read Jeremiah for a quick example) it was probably the reason the cult of Mary was able to thrive – despite the slaps downs given by Jesus Himself.

      • I am always amazed at how people will grasp at straws to sustain heretical beliefs – which the first bit of serious scrutiny show to be utterly ludicrous, nonsensical – and so *avoid coming to grips with the reality of the faith.* People will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid orthodoxy.

        I suppose that’s understandable. The orthodox faith is the most outrageous to mundane life, and the most scandalous to the hopes and fears and desires of the worldly. It is the hardest to understand – all the heresies are far simpler and ask less of us – and the hardest to take on board. So is the praxis which follows its difficult doxa also commensurately difficult and demanding.

        But, as I have often remarked: if your religion isn’t thrashing you, what good is it, anyway?

        And, as Rodney Stark has demonstrated, it’s the hardest religions that last longest.

      • Grasping at straws? Look in the mirror. Everything you claim about Mary in direct contradiction to what Jesus taught – and I’ll point out, to what Mary, as a devout Jewess, would consider acceptable.

        Christianity teaches that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Got that?
        Now, Christianity split – and so violated Christ’s command – over whether He has a single or double nature.
        Why did anyone care? Because of your daft ‘mother of god’ rubbish. Jesus *never* referred to Mary as His mother; instead, He called her John’s mother! He slapped down efforts to praise her, and also blocked her own efforts to push Him forward.
        Read your Bible. Specifically, read what Jesus said to and about Mary.

      • It is indeed amazing, the enormous length to which some men will go, so as to be able to hold fast to their idiosyncratic heresies. Often the great emotional and intellectual toll of their peculiar and difficult incoherent private notions betrays itself in their intemperacy.

      • Mary is the best apologetical weapon because in order to sustain a heretical belief about Jesus you must dispense with His mother. Every single heretical belief betrays itself when discussing Mary. You cannot properly love Jesus without loving His mother. You cannot properly break away from Jesus without breaking away from His mother. Our Lady can sneak people into Heaven through the windows, but she can also seal the windows shut. Wail & Gnash, etc.

      • Scoot, that has the ring of truth, but I never thought about it that way. I wonder if there is a simple Marian test of the great heresies? Will ponder that.

    • The argument for Mary being the mother of God is a simple syllogism. Note that this is simply that she is mother of God not necessarily everything else the cult of Mary entails.

      Major premise: Jesus, the Christ, is God.
      Minor premise: Mary is the mother of Jesus.
      Conclusion: Therefore, Mary is the mother of God.

      The syllogism itself is logically inescapable, which means that as far as it goes, to disagree with the conclusion one needs must disagree with the construction of either the major or minor premise. Does our disagreement lie this far back, or is it further on?

      • The Nestorians disagree with the major premise. That is why Nestorius objected to referring to Mary by her traditional title of Theotokos. Nestorius taught that in Christ there were two persons, human and divine, rather than – as orthodoxy teaches – a single person in whom the human and divine natures were hypostatically united. So, according to Nestorius, the human Jesus of Nazareth was a different person than the eternal divine Lógos. This doctrine was condemned as heretical at the First Council of Ephesus in 431, and again 20 years later at the Council of Chalcedon.

        Nestorian Christology is at odds with two passages from the second, Christological article of the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed, therein below set forth in bold typeface:

        I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.

      • I’ll recast that using an American example given the number of Americans online:
        Major premise: Barbara Bush was the mother of George W. Bush.
        Minor Premise: GWB was the American president.
        Conclusion: Therefore Barbara Bush was the mother of the American president.

        See the problems?

        It is no accident that the only time Jesus uses the term ‘mother’ regarding Mary, was to grant her the title of Mother of John.

      • Yes, I see three problems with the way you have recast the argument.

        In the first place, it is ill formed. To recast the argument properly, it should run as follows:

        Major premise: GWB was President
        Minor premise: Barbara Bush was the mother of GWB.
        Conclusion: Barbara Bush was the mother of a President.

        In the second place, it doesn’t work the way you want it to: Barbara Bush *really was* the mother of the American President. This became the case only once GWB became President, to be sure; but it did really become the case. The conclusion is true, and what is more it follows validly from the premises.

        Quite apart from the fact that your argument about GWB and his mother validly argues from two true premises to a true conclusion, so that it doesn’t serve your rhetorical purposes, in the third place it also relies on the presupposition that becoming God is like becoming President – that a man can become a God. But that is impossible: a contingent creature cannot become an eternal necessity, and thus the forecondition and cause of its own existence.

        It is however possible for an eternal to become temporal; this follows from the fact that all temporal occasions transpire in, and are conditioned by, eternity. Thus the dogma of *all* the Chalcedonian churches is that Jesus *just is* God – is the *same thing as God* – from the moment of his conception in Mary.

        In addition to arguing that Mary was not the mother of God, you seem also to be arguing that she was not the mother of Jesus (this being why Jesus never referred to her as his mother). If she was not the mother of Jesus, then why is she in the story at all? Why, also, did the entire Tradition of the Church take her to be the Mother of Jesus? Where did that get started? Why did it get started? If the story that Mary is the mother of Jesus is false, what good did it do anyone to take her and present her, millions of times, as such? Presumably Jesus had some mother or other: why not Mary? If his mother was some other woman, *why is that other woman never mentioned at all, by anyone*?

      • So, my effort to give an example has failed it seems.

        Was Barbara Bush married to her son? Mother of George Washington? Of Trump? Biden?

        The claim of being mother to God leads to all sorts of absurdities – mother of the Holy Spirit? of God the Father?
        You cannot say ‘yes’ *or ‘no’ to either of those statements without finding yourself wallowing in insanity (and I suspect, Sabellianism for yes and Tritheism for no. However I am not an expert in heresies, they bore me).
        It doesn’t work.

        In your more interesting question – were does this come from?
        That’s generally a good point; if we can infer that a belief was held by the early Christians, then it is probably one that was taught by Christ or the apostles.
        But here:
        we know.

        It is present in scripture, being expressed by those listening to Jesus, and being slapped down by Jesus.

        A really good test for the value of a translation of the Bible is how it translates Luke 11:28.
        Does it read that Jesus said “YES” or that Jesus said “NO”?

        The Greek is ‘men…oun’ which means “No, rather”.
        So when translated correctly, we get:
        27As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and blessed are the breasts that nursed You!” 28But He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” 29As the crowds were increasing, Jesus said, “This is a wicked generation….

        similarly, earlier in Luke 8 we get:
        20He was told, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see You.” 21But He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the word of God and carry it out.”

        Jesus refuses to grant Mary that title.

        Why is she in the story?
        Because she is important, of course. Bearing the Messiah in her womb and nursing Him at her breast, raising Him from childhood – massively important.
        But so was Joseph.
        No one is daft enough to refer to Joseph as ‘Father of God’! (At least, I hope not). Instead, we remember Joseph with admiration, but without absurdity.
        We should remember Mary the same way.

      • So, my effort to give an example has failed it seems.


        Was Barbara Bush married to her son? Mother of George Washington? Of Trump? Biden?

        Of course not. But Mary is the mother of all the men who are God. The two cases are categorically different. Your argument from Barbara Bush simply doesn’t pertain.

        The claim of being mother to God leads to all sorts of absurdities – mother of the Holy Spirit? of God the Father?

        It appears you don’t understand the doctrine of the Trinity, or just disagree with it – which would indeed open you to the charge of heresy (insofar as you represented yourself as a Christian). Jesus is the Second Person of God; he is not the First Person or the Third Person. And all three Persons are God. So, no, Mary is not the mother of the Father or of the Holy Spirit. But, because she is the mother of the Person of the Lógos who is the person of Jesus, and because the Person of the Lógos is God, she is the mother of the God whom Jesus is.

        … if we can infer that a belief was held by the early Christians, then it is probably one that was taught by Christ or the apostles.

        The Apostle Matthew teaches that Mary is the Mother of Jesus: Matthew 1:16-20; 2:12; 13:55.

        Jesus refuses to grant Mary [the title of mother].

        Not quite. He doesn’t say, “That woman is not my mother.” In those passages from Luke, Jesus does not deny that he has biological relations, but rather extends his familiar relations from his biological family to the members of his mystical body, the Church – of whom the first member in the order of time is Mary, who at the Annunciation heard the will of God and obeyed it.

        Why is she in the story? Because she is important, of course. Bearing the Messiah in her womb and nursing Him at her breast, raising Him from childhood – massively important.

        OK, so you don’t deny that Mary is the mother of Jesus.

        No one is daft enough to refer to Joseph as ‘Father of God’!

        Sure. He didn’t father Jesus, who is God. But Mary mothered Jesus, who is God.

  4. My main problem with this kind of analysis is it reduces God to some kind of logic problem that can be understood by the analytical mind and that’s not a real understanding of God.

    • Your problem is with the practice of theology per se; of which your apophatic statement is itself a cataphatic instance. All theologians feel the same way about their profession.

      Providentially, I read a passage just last evening that addresses that very point:

      … the Church’s doctrinal propositions may never be disregarded; but they are intended, like every form of words, to be “seen through” – in the sense indicated by Saint Thomas.

      The believer’s act of faith does not terminate in a proposition [enuntiabile], but in a thing. For as in science we do not form propositions, except in order to have them through knowledge of things, so it is in faith.

      … The exposition of faith is contained in the Symbol (i.e., the Creed). Now in the Symbol we do not find [non ponuntur] propositions but things. For it is not stated there that God is almighty, but “I believe in God … almighty.” Therefore the object of faith is not a proposition but a thing.

      Summa Theologica II-II, 1, 2, 2

      Dom Aelred Graham: Zen Catholicism, page 103

      • What is the theory and authority behind which the Church claims authority to make metaphysical pronouncements on the nature of God and reality? (I’m asking out of genuine curiosity – not trying to be argumentative).

  5. 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. …

    Of course whatever modern scholars are up to in suggesting that the Holy Spirit is female is surely buncombe, but it is worth noting that there is a venerable orthodox tradition of analogizing the Holy Spirit to a bride. Here is Matthias Scheeben:

    Although no human person furnishes an adequate analogue for the Third Person in the Blessed Trinity, still we can point to one who approaches as near as the diversity between Divine and human nature allows. This human person is no other than the bride, who, as spouse and mother, stands between father and son in the communication and representation of human nature, and is as essentially the third member of the human community, or the connecting link between father and son, as the Holy Ghost is the Third Person in the Divinity.

    I. The analogy is easily understood if the bride be considered in her ideal, ethical position in the human family, as wife and mother. Here she stands out as the representative of the union of father and son; as the focus in which the mutual love of father and son centers; as love personified and as the soul of the family… [the mother’s] function of nourishing, fostering, cherishing and quickening, and of being the centre where the love of father and child meet, find their analogue in the relations of the Holy Ghost to the external products of Father and Son, viz. to created natures.

    Of course, it’s important to note that this is merely an analogy. The Holy Spirit is not literally female.

  6. I think you left out the heresy of Marcion – that the true God is unconcerned w/ things other than Himself, & that the Demiurge, an “emanation” which went nuts decided that it was God & created a universe. It is broken & corrupt, of course, and we as souls trapped w/in it need to return to the True God, go over the Demiurge’s head as it were. So we must find a way to transcend.
    This is wacky, but it may be the most important of the heresies because it is very close to New Age / Masonic theology. These are the folks who tel us that Lucifer is the true god. The religion is sometimes called “luciferianism” because of this. The system is very elaborate, as you might guess. The so-called “New World Order” seems to be run by these people, with most of the troops being either New Age Lite or secularists. C. S. Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength” is almost an expose, rather than Science Fiction.

    • You are certainly correct about the historical importance of Marcionism, especially in our own day. But it is so far out there, compared to the other heresies, that it seems to me rather a different religion entirely, than a heresy of Christianity. Many would disagree with me, but it seems to me that Marcion was preaching Christian flavored Gnosticism. Simply that.

      Belloc and not a few others have argued that Islam is a Christian heresy, too. Certainly it seems to have arisen, like Marcionism, in a predominantly Christian milieu. But it, too, is so different in its basic metaphysical presuppositions as to be a different religion altogether.

      I agree with Auster that the 2 most important enemies of Christendom are those other 2 religions: Islam and Marcionism, or as it is also known, Gnosticism, Luciferianism, Freemasonry, New Age – i.e., and in short, Liberalism. Or as I have also variously called it, Modernism and Molochism. All of which reduce to atheism, as the various Christian denominations reduce, all, to variants of Nicene Christianity.

      Of those two inimical religions, I’ll take Islam, any day of the week. Bonald is absolutely right about this: Christian reaction has far more in common with traditional Islam – or with *any* tradition, for that matter – than it has with latter day Anglo-American Liberalism.

      But, notwithstanding all that, and to take up your friendly challenge: which is greater: a God who disdains all contact with the creation, such as the God of Marcion, or the God of orthodoxy, who is omniscient, ubiquitous, immanent in all things, and supremely compassionate and good? The question answers itself.

      We’ve discussed That Hideous Strength a fair bit here at the Orthosphere. By no means is it the greatest work of Lewis, but it is at least as important as Screwtape and Mere Christianity. With The Exorcist, it is one of those books that rewards each reading with a renewed and deepened sense of supernatural dread of both sorts: the sort that is numinous and glorious, healing and encouraging; and the other, opposite, disgusting and dispiriting sort, of disease, corruption and death.

      • simply by claiming to be Christian, Marcionism opens itself to the charge of heresy.
        Granted, a Hindu for example, cannot be a heretic, because the Hindu is not claiming to be a Christian; but anyone who makes the claim is demanding to be treated as an insider not an outsider.
        And I have to agree with Phil that Marcion is a real threat – hidden under new age waffle, but all the more deadly for that.

  7. A docetist would misapply the test and say: which is greater, a god whose Son is pure spirit, or one whose spiritual nature is mixed with inferior matter? There are probably parallel versions for some of the others. Who is greater, a god who can exalt a mere human being to become a fully divine Son, or one who cannot do so?

    It’s not that difficult to answer those questions from an orthodox perspective, but it isn’t quite as easy as applying a one-sentence maximality test.

    Actually, I seem to recall seeing someone argue that God had to be transcendent over the laws of mere logic, which is an even more serious misapplication of the test than the gnosticism of my first example above.

    • These are excellent points. As with any apparently straightforward philosophical notion, the Test can be soon festooned with myriad qualifications and distinctions. This is why we ended up with creeds of such philosophical delicacy and precision, carefully hashed out at great pains by thousands of brilliant sapient patient theologians and mystics and saints in congress – by apostles and their heirs – that controlled for such errors in respect to greatness as you notice – especially the Athanasian Creed, which lays to rest most potential controversies about the nature of true greatness, including the two that you adduce in your first paragraph.

      E.g.: “Inferior matter”? Who says matter is inferior? In what way is it inferior? Inferior to what? I mean, yeah, sure, Plato & alii; but still, how is it exactly that an order of being that can change is less or worse – or better or greater – than another that cannot? Is that not rather like saying that blue is inherently inferior to red? Given the true nature of matter, how is it that a spiritual being materially implemented would in virtue of that implementation be somehow vitiated?

      Again, e.g., as for your second example: how exactly is it greater for God to create a being that he can then transform ad libitum into a categorically different sort of being altogether, than it is for God to create a being in whom and as whom he can himself act? Is not the former a sort of ontological cheat? “I make you now a man; no, on second thought, a carburetor; or no, a cloud …”

      Again, how is it greater for God to be able to create a God such as himself – a being that by definition is maximally and thus ultimately great? I.e., how is it greater for the Ultimate to create another Ultimate, when in logic that creation is incoherent?

      Once we begin to examine the characteristics of the greatness invoked by heretical notions, it is soon clear that they are incoherent.

      The notion that God might be greater than logic – the doctrine of nominalists and voluntarists of all stripes, epitomized in al Ghazali and (thanks to him) in orthodox Islam – is an obvious non-starter. It never ceases to amaze me that so many millions adhere to it. But then, Liberalism is popular, too, and Communism, so …

      Bad ideas are popular because they seem so easy. They seem to make life easier, at least to begin with … Funny how Falling feels like flying … for a little while …

      Why is the doctrine of al Ghazali a non-starter? If God is greater than logic, then we cannot conclude *anything* about him (for, conclusions are logical per se (a notion that is not a logical conclusion or putatively given or axiomatic premise is nothing more than a foolish guess: is nonsense, spaghetti thrown at the wall to see what sticks)); so that, among all the other things we may not conclude about him, such as that he is good, or omnipotent, or singular, and so forth, nor may we conclude that he is greater than logic. The notion that God is greater than logic then refutes itself; as must any putatively logical demonstration that logic is not dispositive.

      I get al Ghazali’s motive. He wanted to ensure that worship of Allah always superseded any thought about him. That is a worthy and salutary objective. His failure lay in his inability to see that logic is infinitely deep, so that it must supersede all our thought about it – about him – with the result that all our thought must if honestly and carefully undertaken lead at last to the cessation of thought in worship; which, after all, is at bottom participation in the thought of the Lógos.


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