Wednesday, February 27, 2008

God in general?

It's been a long time since I've had an actual argument with the "Energetic Procession" folks, but thinking about their silliness still rankles me, I confess, especially when one of their dubious opinions is brought to mind by something I happen to be reading. One of these opinions is that the Latin tradition of understanding the Trinitarian Persons as subsistent relations subordinates the concrete Persons to an abstract "God in general" of the philosophers. Not so! As our Blessed Scot points out. "Intellecutus non convertitur nisi ut est in aliquo supposito, quia conversio ponitur actio, et actiones sunt suppositorum." I was struck by this remark in Ordinatio I dist. 2 pars 2 Q. 1-4 para. 285 when I came across it, but even more so by the following:

Ubi notandum est quod natura non se habet ad suppositum sicut universale ad singulare, quia in accidentibus etiam invenitur singularitas sine ratione suppositi, et in substantia nostra natura atoma assumpta est a Verbo, secundum Damascenum, non tamen suppositum nostrae naturae. Neque se habet natura ad suppositum sicut 'quo' ad 'quod', nam cuicumque 'quo' correspondet proprium 'quod' vel 'quis', ita habet proprium 'quod' vel 'quis' quod non contrahit ad suppositum, et sicut suppositum est 'quod' vel 'quis', ita habet suum proprium 'quo' quo subsistit et tamen concomitanter suppositum de necessitate est singulare,--et etiam, non potest esse 'quo' respectu alterius, quia est subsistens, non potens esse actus alicuius subsistentis; haec duo dicunt duplicem incommunicabilitatem.

"Whence it must be noted that the nature is not related to a supposit as universal to singular, since singularity is found even in accidents without them being a supposit [sine ratione suppositi], and in our substance an atomic [individual] nature is assumed by the Word, according to the Damascene, but not, however, a supposit of our nature. Neither is nature related to supposit as 'quo' to 'quod', for to any 'quo' [by which] corresponds its own 'quod' [what] or 'quis' [who], and so, as the nature is the 'quo', so it has its own 'quod' or 'quis' which does not contract to a supposit, and as a supposit is 'quod' or 'quis', so it has its own 'quo' by which it subsists and nevertheless at the same time [concomitanter] a supposit is necessarily singular;--and also, it is not able to be 'quo' with respect to another, for it is subsistent, not able to be the act of some [other] subsistent; these two bespeak a double incommunicability."

--Ordinatio I dist. 2 pars 2 Q. 1-4 para.378.

The Divine Nature which the three Persons share is not abstract but concrete and singular, as are each of the three Persons themselves. This Nature is not "prior" to the supposits, nor does it act, for only supposits act. The Persons act through their Nature; but the Nature is not without qualification absolutely identical to any or all of the Persons, for if it were identical to, say, the Father, it could not be identical to the Son without contradiction. But it is certainly not something other than the Persons. Hence the need for the formal distinction--matter for a later post.


Ocham said...

Hmm do you think 'nostra' goes with 'substantia' or 'natura'? The subsequent 'nostrae naturae' suggests the latter, though neither makes particular sense to me.

Michael said...


you're probably right. It's a tricky construction and my translation (like all those on this site!) was hasty. I did puzzle over it briefly. Scotus' meaning seems to be "in the divine substance an individual instance of our nature was assumed by the Word", but I couldn't quite get it to work.

I might note that, as I learn from the editors of the Vatican edition, "atoma" comes from the Greek of the Damascene, while the Latin text used by Migne has "individuo". Did Scotus see the Greek or did he read a different translation?

Lee Faber said...

I think even the other ockham had to admit a version of hte formal distinction in order to avoid the following. "the father is the divine essence. the son is the divine essence. therefore, the father is the son."

Acolyte4236 said...

I don't think I claimed the subordinating relation was one of concrete particular to abstract generality. It strikes me as odd to think that the scholastics in general thought of the divine ousia as an abstract object, let alone Augustine. Of course, you might want to look at what Aquinas has to say about the relation of the persons to the essence. One swallow does not make a spring.

Ocham said...

The question of how much Greek the scholastics knew is an interesting one. The idea that all the Latin was translated from Arabic is completely wrong. Even in the first half of 13C they had mostly Greek-Latin translations (although Scotus often refers to the 'old translation').

But the translations were made by specialists, and I don't know how much Greek the average scholastic knew. Probably not much. There are many instances of Greek words being taken over and incorporated into the Latin. But whether that is evidence of a deeper knowledge, is hard to say. Any more than the continued use of Latin expressions like 'reductio ad absurdum' is evidence &c.

Michael said...


I agree with you. The evidence seems to show that all but a few scholastics knew very little Greek, beyond a few key words.

Anonymous said...

"One of these opinions is that the Latin tradition of understanding the Trinitarian Persons as subsistent relations subordinates the concrete Persons to an abstract "God in general" of the philosophers."

No. Wrong. Never made that claim. That is another problem that is related to 'God in General' but it is not the reason WHY Latin theology is Mr. 'God in General.' You ready? It IS conceiving of a divine essence (whatever that is) prior to and apart from the experience of a divine person that is 'God in General' theology to an Orthodox (that is WHAT Lossky meant, which is where I got the phrase from). To do so, for you, just IS "natural theology" with respect to "theology proper." Those terms mean no-thing to me, but what I just stated here shouldn't be a problem for you as an admission. I can easily point to any textbook of modern or medieval that structurally teaches this. You'd be more virtuous to present an apologia of why 'God in General' theology is beneficial and how you can conceive of a divine essence in the first place and make claims about it without any person in particular in view.


Michael said...

Mr Jones,

thank you for telling me how to be more virtuous, but I don't feel the need to provide you with an apologia of anything.

As usual your comment borders on incoherent, but it's hard to see how this isn't contradictory:

No. Wrong. Never made that claim. That is another problem that is related to 'God in General' but it is not the reason WHY Latin theology is Mr. 'God in General.'

So do you affirm the claim or not? I wasn't attempting to pinpoint your reasons for WHY you think Latin theology is Mr. etc.; merely that the claim is incorrect.

In any case I don't know what you mean by "beneficial." The advantages of natural theology, should such a thing be possible, are many. First and foremost natural theology provides a preambulum to the faith, a way of thinking about God which is accessible to the natural reason and which makes the truths of the faith both more intelligible and more plausible to the non-Christian. Second, it helps in understanding those things about God which are common to all three Persons.

It is perfectly possible to speak of God "prior to and apart from the experience of a divine person", if it is possible to know by the natural reason, for instance, that the world is created. If there is a creature, there must a Creator. What is this Creator like? This is how natural theology begins.

As this and the sequel post indicate, this does not imply that we can understand or speak of God as though there were no divine Person. If there is a God, God is personal. But we can think about and understand some things about God without experiencing or knowing him in his Trinity of Persons.

When I reason that the world is created and must have a creator, and go on to attempt to understand what the creator of the world must be like, I have already begun to conceive of the divine essence, although very faintly and imperfectly. When I make claims about the creator of the cosmos, am I doing so "without any particular person in view"? Well, that depends. Yes, if you mean that I don't yet understand that the creator of the cosmos is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. No, if you mean that I am thinking of some "abstract object" not existing in or as a supposit, because I am thinking of "Whoever created the cosmos." That "Whoever" is in fact the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but the natural theologian as such doesn't know that yet.

Anyhow, I suspect this is wasted on you so I won't continue for now. These things should already be perfectly apparent to you, but your own intellectual myopia and committed prejudices make you unable to understand them, as far as I can tell.

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