A Semiotic Phenomenology toward a more Ecumenical Trinitology and Trinitophany

If one breaks open a new category, semiotically, for an actus purus, such as with Peirce’s Ens Necessarium, one could, for example, apophatically negate such conceptions as temporal priority in trinitarian relations, even while kataphatically affirming that such relations are onto-logically fundamental (note below). Similarly, one could negate the conception of creativity vis a vis intra-trinitarian entities, while affirming an eternal generativity.

This semiotic move doesn’t force one into either a relational or substantive ontology, a theistic personalism or classical theism, Palamism or Thomism. It’s not trying to explain, much less prove, that much!

Its apophatic negations, metaphysically, would be literally true, saying, in essence (wink): “I know you’re familiar with conceptions of act & potency, but dis ain’t dat!”

Its kataphatic affirmations would be more trinitophanic, Biblically, than trinitological, systematically and/or philosophically.

Trinitophanic affirmations refer to intra-trinitarian eternality, generativity, relationality, koinonia, hypostasis, prosopon, ousia & physis.

However, prior to (though not without) their rational & intellectual apophatic metaphysical implications, they invite a more robustly mystical & experiential apophaticism.

Semantically, while such concepts may be vague & their full meaning elusive, that situation is, perhaps, less due to the limitations of our modeling power, epistemically & methodologically, and much more so due to the intra-trinitarian nature, ontologically & metaphysically.

We generally don’t a priori assume that any reality is necessarily permanently occulted, ontologically. Rather we suppose that we are otherwise being only temporarily thwarted, methodologically (e.g. principle of sufficient reason).

Still, the last aporiae we’d ever pass, in principle, due to sheer epistemic distance, will not be “what it feels like to be a bat” or “how to reconcile gravity & quantum mechanics” and such. If, with all due epistemic humility, we must nurture a healthy aporetic sense regarding quantum interpretations, philosophies of mind, and biologic & cosmogonic origins, how much more so, then, regarding divine energeia, much less divine ousia?

It often seems that the most we can aspire to rationally with such trinitarian affirmations & negations is a demonstration that, taken together, they aren’t logically contradictory, and that, while incomprehensible, they aren’t unintelligible. There’s sufficient rationality here to avoid fideism and sufficient mystery to avoid rationalism.

Historical & exegetical foundations (and general revelation) demonstrate the reasonableness of our creedal trinitarian affirmations & trinitology vis a vis the cognitive map-making of our epistemic modeling power (including our rational via negativa & positiva as well as our sustained authenticity via secular & kenotic conversions).

The ascetical, mystical & liturgical experiences (and special revelation) of our participatory imaginations foster our trinitophanic human value-realizations (truth, beauty, goodness, unity & freedom) via both connaturality & grace (including our mystical vehicle negativa or relational apophaticism as well as faith via our religious & theotic conversions).

The best theological anthropologies will primarily model Biblical theophanies not trinitarian ontologies.

Faith and mystical experience – not metaphysical understanding (via either philosophical or systematic theology) – ground our understanding of divine unity, which is not purely substantive but relational.


Saying that intra-trinitarian relations are onto-logically fundamental is a trinitophanic affirmation grounded in historical & exegetical realities of special revelation. As such, it invokes only vague, commonsensical (heuristic) conceptions and not robustly metaphysical specifications, e.g. re-ordering entities & relations, indicating substantive vs relational ontologies. The take-away is that we are somehow dealing with a mystery involving loving relationships. That stance has normative significance (ontological implications & suggestions of a heuristic) for any subsequent systematic expositions (ontological definitions of a theory) of doctrine, which different metaphysics will try to further articulate.


When I refer to what I (likely idiosyncratically) call my semiotic phenomenology, I am talking about the basic categories most often applied to entities & relations, including general realities like act & potency, Aristotelian-like causes, modal temporality, modal adequacy, various types of concepts, predications & distinctions, various evidentiary standards that impart different levels of normative impetus, triadic inference, types of triadic ellipsis, a plain vanilla emergentism (e.g. w/o supervenience) and a meta-heuristic architectonic with anthropological, epistemological, ontological, axiological (evaluative & normative), theological & mythological categories.

I engage the grammar of those categories & distinctions prior to choosing a root metaphor & w/o prioritizing either relations or entities. As such, this phenomenology is but a meta-heuristic of meta-metaphysical placeholders, which mostly brackets specific metaphysics, epistemologically modeling value-realizations prior to elaborating a metaphysic. The premise is that there are many values to be shared & realized inter-ideologically, inter-religiously & ecumenically, metaphysically & really, even while we all remain in search of a metaphysic. Good thing, huh?

See also:


I commend the article, below, for the best direction to pursue that search.

Wesley J. Wildman, “An Introduction to Relational Ontology,” in John Polkinghorne and John Zizioulas, eds. The Trinity and an Entangled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010): 55-73

4 thoughts on “A Semiotic Phenomenology toward a more Ecumenical Trinitology and Trinitophany

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s