Friday, February 29, 2008

Thomas and Trinitarian Terminology

In a comment to the last post, Mr Robinson says:

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.

I have several issues with this. 1) "The scholastics in general" and "one swallow does not make a spring" seems to indicate that Mr Robinson thinks that Scotus is in a serious minority on this issue. Unfortunately 2) having denied my representation of his view, Mr Robinson doesn't clarify what that view is, so it's unclear exactly what Scotus is in the minority on. 3) He directs me to "look at what Aquinas has to say about the relation of the persons to the essence." At what, exactly? I have to guess which text and which opinion of Aquinas' he takes issue with. I admit I don't know which he means. Presumably it has to do with his view that "the scholastics in general thought of the divine ousia as an abstract object" (I'm leaving Augustine out of this for now. Not enough time to get into that).

Of course it's pretty difficult to talk of what "the scholastics in general" thought about a difficult theological issue. When one reads a lot of them one notices that they tend to frequently disagree. What is clear, however, is that none of them "thought of the divine ousia as an abstract object". I hate to have to point this out, but they thought and wrote in Latin, and the slippery transfer between technical Greek words and technical Latin words among people who only spoke one or the other is a prime cause of misunderstanding. We shouldn't say anything about what Latin theologians thought about "the divine ousia" without being extremely careful to say just what we mean by "ousia" in Latin terms.

Thomas does so in a text in which he's discussing the relation of the persons to the essence, Summa theologiae, prima pars, Q.29 A.2, Utrum persona sit idem quod hypostasis, subsistentia et essentia. Thomas carefully distinguishes between a number of terms which might be used in place of it "ousia".

Substantia dicitur duplicter. Uno modo dicitur substantia quidditas rei, quam significat definitio, secundum quod dicimus quod definitio significat substantiam rei: quam quidem substantiam Graeci "usiam" vocant, quod nos essentiam dicere possumus. --Alio modo dicitur substantia subiectum vel suppositum quod subsistit in genere substantiae. Et hoc quidem, communiter accipiendo, nominari potest et nomine significante intentionem: et sic dicitur suppositum. Nominatur etiam tribus nominibus significantibus rem, quae quidem sunt res naturae, subsistentia et hypostasis, secundum triplicem considerationem substantiae sid dictae . . . hypostasis, apud Graecos, ex propria significatione nominis habet quod significet quodcumque individuum substantiae . . . Sed quia nomen substantiae, quod secundum proprietatem significationis respondet hypostasi, aequivocatur apud nos, cum quandoque significet essentiam, quandoque hypostasim; ne possit esse erroris occasio, maluerunt pro hypostasi transferre subsistentiam, quam substantiam.

Thomas does, therefore, conceive of "ousia" as "abstract" (I will not admit the phrase "an abstract object" unless what this means is clarified), if by "ousia" we mean the essence in the sense of quod quid erat esse, what is signified by the definition. But of course a definition is an abstraction! Is signifies what God is but not who God is, i.e. it points out what it means to be God but not any specific divine hypostasis. But this is no way implies that the divine essence or nature is conceived of as some "abstract object" somehow existing above or prior to any of the divine persons. Rather, a divine person simply is this subsistent supposit of the divine nature, the "who" (or, if you like the "this") whose "what" is defined by the essence. When we speak of the divine nature or essence we're speaking of God without speaking of any given person--but this does not imply that Thomas thinks the essence is any thing other than the persons. He certainly doesn't.

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.

Monday, February 11, 2008



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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday

Hodie, dilectissimi, sacrum Quadragesimae tempus ingredimur, tempus militiae chrisitanae. Non nobis est singularis haec observatio: una omnium est, quicumque in eadem fidei conveniunt unitatem. Quidni commune sit Christi ieiunium omnibus christianis? Quidni Caput suum membra sequantur? Si bona suscepimus ab hoc Capite, mala autem quare non sustineamus? An respuere tristia volumus, et communicare iucundis? Si ita est, indignos nos Capitis huius participatione probamus. Omne enim quod patitur ille, pro nobis est. Quod si in opere salutis nostrae ei collaborare piget, in quo deinceps coadiutores nos exhibebimus illi? Non est magnum si ieiunet cum Christo, qui sessurus est ad mensam Patris cum ipso, non est magnum, si compatitur membrum capiti, cum quo et glorificandum est. Felix membrum, quod huic adhaeserit per omnia Capiti, et sequetur illud quocumque ierit. . . . Mihi omnino adhaerere tibi bonum est, o Caput gloriosum et benedictum in saecula, in quod et angeli prospicere concupiscunt. Sequar te quocumque ieris: si transieris per ignem, non evellar a te nec timebo mala, quoniam tu mecum est. Tu dolores meos portas, et pro me doles; tu prius transis per angustum passionis foramen, ut latum praebeas sequentibus membris ingressum.

Today we enter the holy time of Lent, the time of Christian battle. This observance is not undertaken by us piecemeal: it is one and the same for all, for whoever convene in the same unity of faith. And why should the fast of Christ not be common for all Christians? Why should the members not follow the Head? If we receive good things from this head, why should we not receive evil ones? Should we refuse sad things, and share in the pleasant ones? If so, we prove ourselves unworthy of participation in this Head. For all that he suffers is for us. Shall it irk us to collaborate with him in the work of our salvation, in which we show ourselves to be co-helpers with him? It is no great thing if we fast with Christ, we who are to sit with him at the table of the Father, it is no great thing if the member suffers along with the head, with whom it is also to be glorified. Happy the member who cleaves through all things to the Head, and follows him wherever he goes. . . . It is good for me to cleave wholly unto you, O Head glorious and blessed forever, whom even the angels long to behold. I shall follow you wherever you go: if you pass through the fire, I shall not be torn from you, nor shall I fear any evil, for you are with me. You bear my griefs, and you grieve for me; you first cross through the narrow passageway of suffering, that you might provide the broad entryway to the members following you.

--St Bernard, In Quadragesima Sermo 1

Speaking of Essentially Ordered Causes . . .

Faber's last post reminded me of a bit I whipped up some time ago along similar lines. It's not a straight quote from the Latin, but our readers may or may not appreciate having a bit of extrapolation and analysis. Anyway here it is. Sorry if its non-scholarly tone and lacks of references seems to bring down our level somewhat.

Someone asked me "Is the efficient cause [of a house] the builder, or the force he directs in his hammer blows?" This was a good question because it pointed to the need for a kind of distinction between causes that Aristotle does not provide. There seem to be (at least) two efficient causes of the house, the builder and the hammer; the builder seems further removed from the application of force to the materials, and yet he also seems more responsible for the result. How to class these kinds of efficient causality?

Now consider a chain of builders. Bob the builder has a son who became a builder named Rob, who has a son named Nob, also a builder in what is becoming the traditional family profession. Bob is the efficient cause of Rob, and Rob is the efficient cause of Nob; so, remotely, Bob is the efficient cause of Nob as well, and Rob can only cause Nob because Bob first caused Rob. But this causal chain Bob-Rob-Nob seems different from the causal chain Bob-hammer-house. What's the difference?

Duns Scotus (surprise!) gives what I think is an excellent answer in postulating a distinction between essentially ordered causal chains and accidentally ordered causal chains.

This is not the same distinction Aristotle makes in Book II of Physics in which he separates essential causes (the builder builds the house) from accidental causes (the musical man builds the house). So far as I know the present distinction does not appear in Aristotle and may have originated with Scotus, though I could be wrong on the latter point.

Essentially ordered causes differ from accidentally ordered ones, according to Scotus, in three ways:

1) In essentially ordered causes a second cause (such as the hammer) depends for its causality on the first (the builder), but in accidentally ordered causes a second cause (such as Rob) does not depend for its causal power on the first (namely, Bob). That is, the hammer causes the house to be built and the brush causes the portrait to be painted, but neither could do so without the builder or the painter causing its causality. Without Da Vinci causing the brush to cause the painting, the Mona Lisa would not get painted. Brushes and hammers cause paintings and houses, but only because people cause them to so cause. On the other hand, Bob does not cause Rob's causing of Nob. Bob shouldn't even be there when Rob begets Nob (boy would that be embarrassing!). Bob caused his son's existence by begetting him, but Bob does not cause his son's generative act. So Bob the grandfather's causation of his grandson Nob is accidentally ordered, unlike Bob the builder's causation of the house, which is essentially ordered.

2) In essentially ordered causes the causality of the first cause (such as the builder) is of a "superior and more perfect" kind than that of the second (such as the hammer), but this is not so in accidentally ordered causes. Da Vinci's causation of the Mona Lisa, or of his brush's causation, is of an essentially higher and better kind than his brush's causation. He could have used some other brush to cause the painting, but with another painter that brush could not have caused that painting. On the other hand, Bob causes Rob in just the same way that Rob causes Nob, i.e. by biological generation. Bob does not have a higher kind of causality just because he comes earlier in the chain.

3) In essentially ordered causes all the causes in the chain are simultaenously required to produce the final effect, whereas in accidentally ordered causes they are not. For the Mona Lisa to come to be there must be a) Da Vinci, b) his brush, c) paint on the brush, d) etc., all simultanously working in their various ways in order to produce the colored canvas. Without any of these elements cooperating with the rest the painting would not happen. Da Vinci could be painting the air, or moving a dry brush across the canvass, with the exact same motions, but would not cause the painting. Whereas even if Bob is dead Rob can cause Nob. Bob has done his job in causing Rob and no further causation is required on his part for Nob to come to be.

It should be clear that this distinction is not an alternative to the Aristotelian four-cause model of causality, but an amplification of it. It gets at real differences in the way things happen that merely picking out the efficient, formal, material, and final types of causality does not, for something can be efficiently caused by more than one cause and in more than one way. Similarly things can have more than one final cause, or end, or for-the-sake-of-which, which can be ordered to each other in different ways. There are layers or levels in the materials and forms of which things are constituted. This kind of additional distinguishing is not mere logic-chopping or excessive subtlety, but an attempt to refine one's explanatory apparatus of what is after all a complicated reality.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Concurrent Causality

An important distinction in Scotus, that of concurrent causality, whereby two causes cooperate in some effect. Here is a discussion of several types of this. This crops up for the intellect (agent intellect operating in conjunction with object/phantasm) and the will (will and intellect essentially coordered to an act of volition).

Ord. I d. 3 pars 3 q. 2

"Qualiter autem hoc sit intelligendum, distinguo de pluribus causis concurrentibus ad eundem effectum.

Quaedam enim ex aequo concurrunt, sicut duo trahentes aliquod idem corpus. Quaedam non ex aequo, sed habentes ordinem essentialem, et hoc dupliciter: vel sic quod superior moveat inferiorem, ita quod inferior non agit nisi quia mota ex superiore, et quandoque causa talis inferior habet a superiore virtutem illam seu formam qua movet, quandoque non, sed formam ab alio, et a causa superiore solam motionem actualem, ad producendum effectum; quandoque autem superior non movet inferiorem, nec dat ei virtutem qua movet, sed superior de se habet virtutem perfectiorem agendi, et inferior habet virtutem imperfectiorem agendi. Exemplum primi membri huius divisionis: de potentia motiva quae est in manu, et baculo et pila; exemplum secundi: si mater ponatur habere virtutem activam in generatione prolis, illa et potentia activa patris concurrunt ut duae causae partiales, ordinatae quidem, quia altera perfectior reliqua; non tamen imperfectior recipit suam causalitatem a causa perfectiore, nec tota illa causalitas est eminenter in causa perfectiore, sed aliquid addit causa imperfectior, in tantum quod effectus potest esse perfectior a causa perfectiore et imperfectiore quam a sola perfectiore.

Friday, February 1, 2008


Qualiter debeat baptizari monstrum nascens cum duobus capitibus.

1. Quaeritur secundo de baptizatione monstri nascentis cum duobus capitibus, qualiter debeat baprizari, utrum sicut unus aut sicut duo.

2. Et videtur quod sicut duo: Quia ubi duo capita, ibi duo corda, quia membra sunt sibi correspondentia. Ergo, si sint duo capita, debent baptizari ut duo.

3. Contra: Monstra nascuntur aliquando cum 24 digitis et cum aliis organis multiplicatis, et tamen non est ibi nisi una anima rationalis. Ergo a simili potest esse in capitibus duobus.

4. [Responsio] Quando monstrum nascitur, aut certum est duas esse animas rationales, aut non. Certum autem est, si sint duo capita et duo colla et duo pectora, erunt per consequens duo corda. In tali casu, sunt baptizandi ut duo. Et quamvis praesumatur quod plures possint simul baptizari dicendo 'ego baptizo vos' etc., tutius tamen est eos baptizare sigillatim. Amplius si est dubium, verbi gratia, si non sint duo capita bene distincta vel duae cervices fundatae in eadem nuca, tunc primo baptizandus est unus, et deinde, illo baptizato, potest aliter dubie baptizari dicendo 'si non es baptizatus, ego baptizo te' etc.

5. Ad obiectum dicendum quod non est simile de monstris omnibus.

"The question concerns the baptism of a monster born with two heads: how should it be baptized, as one or as two?

And it seems that as two: for where there are two heads, there are two hearts, because the members correspond to each other. Therefore, if there are two heads, they should be baptized as two.

But on the contrary, sometimes monsters are born with 24 digits and with other multiple organs, and yet there is only one rational soul there. Therefore there can be a similar case with two heads.

[Response] When a monster is born, either it is certain that there are two rational souls or not. It is certain if there are two heads and two necks and two chests; there will be consequently two hearts. In such a case, they are to be baptized as two. And although it might be presumed that several [people] can be baptized at once by saying 'I baptize you' etc., nevertheless it is safer to baptize them each in turn. If there is a greater doubt, for instance if there are not two heads sufficiently distinct or two necks rooted in the same [trunk?], then the first is to be baptized as one, and then, he being baptized, the other can be conditionally baptized by saying 'if you are not baptized, I baptize you' etc.

To the objection it must be said that not all monsters are the same."

--John Peckham, Quodlibet II Q. 24.

I have to admit, that last line really sells it for me.