What is being? Is being one, many, or many in one? Is it prior to thought or a product of thought? Is it simply a statement of what ‘is’, or a revelation of ‘truth’? If being is not a given, is it rather a gift? And if being is a gift, can we construct a structure of being by analogy to this ‘gift of creation?
Philosophers and theologians once studied this simplest question of being so as to study the greatest question of God. Aristotle asked the question of what is ‘being’ so as to answer the question of the first cause of all being. The Church Fathers later created analogies of the Trinity that can be called ‘trinitarian ontologies’. And the study of being in metaphysics was, with Albert and Aquinas, considered as a crucial preparation for the study of God as the creative cause of all being in theology. These questions were, however, separated by late-medieval theologians, before God came to be conceived in early-modern philosophy as the supreme being of all beings in modern ontology.
The word ‘ontology’ is a modern concatenation – from the Greek roots ‘ontos’ for being and ‘logia’ for speech – of ‘onto-logia’, that is the speech of being, and, through it, of the structure of the speech of possible beings. Ontotheology is the structure of being that is suspended from the supreme being of God in and beyond being. Since, however, even this ‘beyond’ can be related back to being, ontotheology can quickly collapse into ontology. The problem of onto-theology appears as metaphysics is reduced to general ontology, natural theology to special ontology, and the God of the theologians to this ‘big being’ beyond being.
Modern ontology has often attempted to build a towering structure of being, but, by failing to secure its foundations, has evacuated being into nothing. Most analytic ontology has, following Frege, presupposed the forms of logic as an axiomatic foundation, while most continental ontology has, following Husserl, presupposed the content of phenomenal intuition as an appearing foundation. The foundations of analytic and continental formal ontology have, however, been subverted by Gödel’s critique of the foundations of mathematics and Heidegger’s critique of the construction of ontology.
We may, with this collapse of the construction of formal ontologies, witness a new opportunity - one that is equally post-analytic and post-continental - to collaborate in the construction of new trinitarian ontologies. The Trinity is, we may argue, free from all foundations: for the form of the Trinity is never founded upon any form of logic or content of phenomena apart from the free love of the divine persons. If ontology cannot contain but rather and more radically points to God, and if all nature thus tends towards the supernatural, the angelic, and the metaphysical, then we may once more renew this exciting investigation into the metaphysics or ontology of the Trinity for future theological research.