Friday, September 26, 2008

St Thomas on Existence/Essence and Identity

Mr Jones at Energetic Processions offers the following from St Thomas:

“Therefore that thing, whose existence differs from its essence, must have its existence caused by another. But this cannot be true of God; because we call God the first efficient cause. Therefore it is impossible that in God His existence should differ from His essence.” - ST Ia. Q.3 A.4

“Therefore “suppositum” and nature in them are identified. Since God then is not composed of matter and form, He must be His own Godhead, His own Life, and whatever else is thus predicated of Him.” - ST Ia. Q.3 A.3

“The truth of this question is quite clear if we consider the divine simplicity. For it was shown above (Question 3, Article 3) that the divine simplicity requires that in God essence is the same as “suppositum,” which in intellectual substances is nothing else than person. But a difficulty seems to arise from the fact that while the divine persons are multiplied, the essence nevertheless retains its unity. And because, as Boethius says (De Trin. i), “relation multiplies the Trinity of persons,” some have thought that in God essence and person differ, forasmuch as they held the relations to be “adjacent”; considering only in the relations the idea of “reference to another,” and not the relations as realities. But as it was shown above (Question 28, Article 2) in creatures relations are accidental, whereas in God they are the divine essence itself. Thence it follows that in God essence is not really distinct from person; and yet that the persons are really distinguished from each other. For person, as above stated (29, 4), signifies relation as subsisting in the divine nature. But relation as referred to the essence does not differ therefrom really, but only in our way of thinking; while as referred to an opposite relation, it has a real distinction by virtue of that opposition. Thus there are one essence and three persons.” - ST Ia. Q.39 A.1


He doesn't here actually make an argument, but the implications, he thinks, are clear. In his comments he writes:

The whole thomistic tradition says that the persons of the trinity are identical to the divine essence. What does that amount to? Chicken scratch? Goody for you if you can prove that some Franciscans don’t make this mistake, bad for you that you commune with heretics that do. . . . Oh so when Aquinas says that essence and existence are identical in God it means they are not something other but actually the same thing, but when he says that one of the person’s of the trinity is identical to the essence that use of identity means something different. Okay…more Roman Catholic sophistry to document.


Respondeo: Yes, the identity of essence and existence in God and the identity of person and nature in God are not exactly the same. The quotes in Mr Jones' latest post show this clearly.

The identity of essence and existence, due to God's simplicity, is such as to make each of God's essential attributes really identical with each other and only notionally distinct (for Thomas, let's be clear, not for me). God's existence, goodness, eternity, are all really one and the same "item".

The identity of the persons with the essence is not the same. They are identical in the sense that there is in one sense one "item" and in another sense three "items". In no sense are there four "items": essence, Father, Son, and Spirit, such as there would be if any or all of the divine Persons were *really* distinct from the essence in any way. This is in fact precisely Thomas' denial of E.P.'s "God in general" accusation--the divine essence is not a universal property to which is added an individuating difference, i.e. Divinity+Paternity=God the Father. Thomas denies this. Rather, the Person who has God's Paternity=God. In that sense, God the Father (the supposit) is the same "thing" or "reality" (rem) as the divine existence/essence. There is no actually existing reality in God other than the divine ousia--God the Father is not something other than God, more, less, or different. There is no composition of personal properties with nature in God which would produce an additional something.

BUT the divine existence/essence and God the Father are NOT identical in the sense that referring to the single divine nature refers to a single divine supposit or person. God the Father is God (the existence/essence, ousia), God the Son is God, but God the Father is not God the Son. The Persons are really distinct from one another, not notionally. Because of this we have to say that the identity of the persons with the nature is not the identity of the = sign, as is the case (for Thomas) with God's essence and existence and essential properties.

God the Father cannot be really distinct from the divine essence because he is wholly God and in no way something other than God. There is no reality in God the Father which is not God. Nevertheless, it is not the case that, simply, Divinity=Paternity, the way that Divine Immensity=Divine Eternity, because God the Son is God, he has all Divinity, but he has no Paternity. There are two related but distinct senses of identity in play. All three Persons are identical with the essence (and with each other) in the sense that there is only one SOMETHING. There are, however, really three SOMEONES. All three persons are really distinct from each other, because the Father is not the Son is not the Spirit. To the extent, then, that Father/=Son, or Paternity/=Filiation, and yet Father=God and Son=God, there is a difference between the *kind* of identity Thomas postulates between the Person(s) and the essence and that between the existence and the essence/attributes.

I think this is clear enough in Thomas, although it could be clearer. And it is not my position--I don't think Thomas has the conceptual tools to adequately express the different kinds of identity he has in mind, which makes him a bit confusing and occasionally sounds almost contradictory--but I don't think it's heretical and I don't think it falls prey to Mr Jones' objections. Rather, I think he misunderstands and misconstrues Thomas, because he gives him the least possible sympathetic reading. He's looking for heresy and so he finds it. But everyone should know how easy it is to apply the same trick to any of the Fathers.

In any case, it's easy to call something sophistry when one makes no attempt to understand it on its own terms and shows no inclination or ability to think through difficult distinctions.

This will be my last response to Mr Jones.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

It should be the last response.

Mr. Jones and the E.P. crowd do not represent Orthodoxy.

They represent their version of Orthodoxy based on the theories of one Joseph P. Farrell, ( of Giza Death Star fame), and John Romanides who, while having some interesting points to make, was fanatically anti-Latin.

I think you should coment on A.N. Williams' work, The Ground of Union, which explores the similarities and differences between Aquinas and Palamas. A very insightful book that makes the argument that both were not that far apart in view though their theological language was far different.

It's tiring to overcome fanatic idiocy.

Don't bother anymore with Mr. Jones and Co.

Michael said...

"Mr. Jones and the E.P. crowd do not represent Orthodoxy."

I know that, anonymous, and that's partly why I find them so frustrating. Some of best friends--this sounds like one those "not-racist" comments but it's true--some of best and closest friends are Orthodox and they don't talk or believe like these guys. One of my best teachers in college, a fine patristics scholar and a very good man, is Orthodox as well as very learned and has been abused and insulted by the E.P. guys as well; luckily I encountered both the Fathers and Orthodoxy from him before coming across them. It's their misrepresentation and distortion both of the Fathers and of Catholicism that is so galling.

"Don't bother anymore with Mr. Jones and Co."

In short, I don't mean to.

Anonymous said...

Well, to be honest I was booted off their site, am persona non grata, as a result of some sarcastic remarks I made concerning their inflated sense of theological insight.

Considering how the site has even deteriorated to the point of being a tedious screed against all things "western", Latin,Roman Catholic or Protestant, I'm rather proud that I ticked them off that much.

It's too bad that any discussion of theology between Orthodox and Catholics that can be found on the 'Net, ( which could really be useful for clearing misconceptions and coming to some mutual recognition ), usually ends up hijacked by some rather fanatical adherents on both sides.

But then, that's been going on for centuries.