Rationally believing contradictions

As a follow up to my previous post on the Trinity, I want to summarize some work done by James Anderson in elaborating on how one can rationally believe a doctrine that is apparently contradictory.

The following points come from Paradox in Christian Theology, 297-306.

1) One can indirectly believe the Trinity, i.e., one can affirm whatever the doctrine means implicitly, as understood by one who does understand how it is consistent (in this case, God).

2) The meaning of the terms which appear to contradict each other in paradoxical doctrines are analogously related to the ordinary meaning of the terms. Thus the terms “God”, “three”, “one”, “is”, “being”, “subsistences”, and “and” in the doctrine of the Trinity are analogously related to what those terms mean in English. The doctrine is not goobledygook for being an apparent contradiction.

3) Implications and applications can still be drawn from a paradoxical doctrine of the Trinity: e.g., all the persons should be worshipped equally. Furthermore, one can deduce anything from the parts of the doctrine that would not contradict the other parts of the doctrine or the data upon which they are based, e.g., that the Son is the person who became Incarnate.

4) One can also directly believe in a paradoxical doctrine. As a comparison, while one cannot concretely conceive of a square-circle, one can formally do so, as Anderson says: “None of these is concretely conceivable, but nevertheless our ability to conceive of them in this purely formal sense is a precondition of our being able to deduce that there can be no such things and to state that conclusion to others.” In other words, a “square-circle” is in some substantive way more meaningful than a “ghkasdflkj;”.

5) Following on the previous point, a person cannot conceive simultaneously and unitedly of God being one and three, but they can approximate at different times what it means for God to be one and three. Further, “which of these two ways of thinking is appropriate in any particular context is not an arbitrary matter, but rather depends on what features of the underlying reality need to be emphasized (and perhaps acted upon).” In this case God would determine, via other revelation, the “appropriateness” of thinking one way or another at different times.

I think each of these points makes sense, and thus I think Anderson is right in claiming it is possible to be reasonable and to believe a paradoxical doctrine such as the Trinity.