Monday, July 20, 2009

Does Aquinas confuse Person and Nature?

Summer. That time of the year when the Energetic graduate student throws off his bonds of seminar papers and teaching and is finally free to show the world just how dumb the Latins are, especially that moron Thomas Aquinas who makes so many foolish errors, led on, no doubt, by that fount of lies, Augustine.

While I was in Europe they were busy:

The basic problem seems to be that Aquinas actually says that a person is the same as the essence. Therefore he confuses them, and there is only one person.

The feature of Aquinas' position that our brethren in Christ fail to admit is that Aquinas also thinks that the persons are really distinct from each other. So we have an identity between person and essence and a distinction of the realiter variety between the persons. Sadly, Aquinas does not tell us what a real distinction is. It could be between two discrete things, but it can also obtain within one thing, such as the human person where body and soul are really distinct. This latter example seems to suggest that there is some notion of separability involved, which clearly cannot be the case between the Trinitarian persons, although we are looking at a real distinction within a single object. The real distinction results from the fact that persons are constituted by relations, and some feature of the generic character of a predicamental relation still remains, even in divinis, namely opposition and distinction. It is this opposition of relations towards each other that provides the real distinction between persons, which Aquinas even characterizes as things in their own right (of course, one would think that one fundamenta of the relation would be the divine essence, so properly the relation should be really distinguishing the person from the essence; but I am sure I fail to understand how Thomistic relations work...the Thomists will have to correct me on this. There is also the Scotist argument that real products cannot come from powers that are not themselves distinct).

To actually attempt to answer the argument regarding identification, however, one must consider Aquinas' notion of rationes in God. Basically, in nearly Scotist fashion, Aquinas thinks that if God and features in divinis such as personal properties, relations, attributes could be defined, none of them would be included in the definition of any other nor could they be predicated of each other. That things in God cannot be defined is apparent because definition entails the assigning of genus and species, which are related as potency and act. But, God has no potency-act composition. That we should treat something that cannot be defined as if it could is not so scandalous as it sounds, as Aquinas thinks that the categories themselves cannot be defined, although we assign a ratio to them and act as if they are (they are the ultimate genera, after all, and defining them would entail an infinite regress). So all these divine elements are really identical, but differ by ratione, that is none fall into the definition of the other. To take my defense of Thomas in a scotist line, I would add that the fact that they do not fall into the definition of the other is not due to the operation of an intellect, but is prior to such activity. So I do not think that Aquinas confuses person and nature because these retain distinct rationes which cannot be predicated of each other while being really identical.

I trust some real Thomists will come to my defense here, as these are precisely the issues which I think Aquinas is deficient and Scotus is brilliantly not.
I have appended some texts to shed some light on the notion of rationes, and may update this discussion later.

De potentia, q. 8 a. 2 ad 3

Ad tertium dicendum, quod licet relatio non addat supra essentiam aliquam rem, sed solum rationem, tamen relatio est aliqua res, sicut etiam bonitas est aliqua res in Deo, licet non differat ab essentia nisi ratione; et similiter est de sapientia. Et ideo sicut ea quae pertinent ad bonitatem vel sapientiam, realiter Deo conveniunt, ut intelligere et alia huiusmodi, ita etiam id quod est proprium realis relationis, scilicet opponi et distingui, realiter in divinis invenitur.

Scriptum, I d. 33 q. 1 a. 1 ad 3 (ed. Mandonnet, 767): “Sciendum est autem, quod ‘ratio’ sumitur dupliciter: quandoque enim ratio dicitur id quod est in ratiocinante, scilicet ipse actus rationis, vel potentia quae est ratio; quandoque autem ratio est nomen intentionis, sive secundum quod significat definitionem rei, prout ratio est definitio, sive prout ratio dicitur argumentatio.”

Scriptum, I d. 33 q. 1 a. 1 ad 3 (ed. Mandonnet, 767): “Dico igitur, quod cum dicitur quod est alia ratio paternitatis et essentiae in divinis, non accipitur ratio secundum quod est in ratiocinante tantum, sed secundum quod est nomen intentionis, et significat definitionem rei: quamvis enim in divinis non possit esse definitio, nec genus nec differentia nec compositio; tamen si intelligatur ibi aliquid definiri, alia erit definitio paternitatis, et alia definitio essentiae. In omnibus autem intentionibus hoc communiter verum est, quod intentiones ipsae non sunt in rebus sed in anima tantum, sed habent aliquid in re respondens, scilicet naturam, cui intellectus huiusmodi intentiones attribuit... et ita etiam ipsa ratio quam dicimus aliam et aliam in divinis, non est in re; sed in ratione est aliquid respondens ei, et est in re [ sed est in re aliquid respondens ei in = Parma ed.] quo fundatur, scilicet veritas illius rei cui talis intentio attribuitur: est enim in Deo unde possunt rationes diversae ibi convenire.”

Super Sent., lib. 1 d. 27 q. 1 a. 1 ad 3

Ad tertium dicendum, quod sicut attributa essentialia non sunt plures res, ita nec proprietates uni personae convenientes; sed sunt una res, quae est illa persona; sed tamen quia relatio manet in divinis etiam secundum communem rationem generis, manet etiam relationis distinctio, inquantum est relatio; et ideo potest dici quod sunt plures relationes, et una relatio de alia non praedicatur. Non sic autem est in essentialibus, quae non manent ibi secundum communem rationem generis; unde non distinguuntur secundum rationem alicujus communis, cujus ratio in Deo sit, si tamen accipiatur commune reale, ut significatur nomine primae impositionis; si vero accipiatur commune rationis, quod significatur nomine secundae impositionis, sic commune est omnibus quod sint attributa; et ideo quia dividunt unum commune rationis, secundum hoc non praedicantur de invicem. Non enim dicimus quod hoc attributum sit illud attributum; sed quod est aliud attributum ab illo. Sed quia non dividunt unum commune reale, ideo ratione divinae simplicitatis secundum quodcumque nomen primae impositionis de se invicem praedicantur, ut dicatur: haec res est illa res; vel etiam propriis nominibus, ut: sapientia est bonitas


Michael said...

Not this again! Well, I'm staying out of it this time. For reals.

Lee Faber said...

sorry. I couldn't resist.

Anonymous said...

Please -- debate!!!! debate!!!! Missed those days when it was the Faber & Michaels team versus Photios et al.!

Veritas said...

Hello Lee,

I am, for the most part, just a lurker; by the way, I love your guys' blog. Good stuff. I noticed that you're at South Bend, and I had a question about the area, and more specifically Notre Dame. Is there any chance you might offer your e-mail address? If you're not okay with that, then perhaps I could just ask you here? Thanks

Lee Faber said...

heres the email: lacrymae\at\hotmail\dot\com

CrimsonCatholic said...

Here's a Thomist (Garrigou-Lagrange) on that question:
'Let us repeat our question: How can the divine perfections be formally in God, if in Him they are all one identical reality? Scotus answers thus: They cannot be each formally in God unless they are, antecedently to any action of our mind, formally distinct one from another. Cajetan gives a profound answer to this difficulty, and his solution is generally held by Thomists. He writes: "Just as the reality called wisdom and the reality called justice are found identified with that higher reality called Deity and hence are one reality in God: so the idea (ratio formalis) of wisdom and the idea of justice are identified with the higher idea called the idea of Deity as such, and hence are an idea, one indeed in number, but pre-containing each of the two ideas transcendentally, not merely virtually, as the idea of light contains the idea of heat, but formally. Hence the conclusion drawn by the divine genius of St. Thomas: the idea of wisdom is of one order in God, of another in creatures."'

I think the only difference between your Scotist explanation of the Thomist account and this Thomist explanation of the Thomist account is this: Cajetan appears to be suggesting that even the rationes are subject to to analogy. Thus, even the act of thinking about wisdom necessarily involves its separation according to created things, so while you are trying to think about divine wisdom "non-virtually" (i.e., in a way not by its effects), you've already involved a virtual effect (created wisdom, in this case). What I glean from this is that there doesn't have to be a formal distinction in God for the intellect to know God in a plurality of ways, because any finite intellect examining an utterly simple being will necessarily do so virtually (i.e., by appeal to created effects) and so really perceive the thing according to its finite mode as a plurality of different goods. Those are not merely "names," but rather true perceptions according to a finite mode of the really simple object. (I suppose that is an implicit quibble with Scotus on a simple power producing multiple knowable objects.)

It would, of course, get even more complicated with respect to the persons, which are themselves not knowable strictly according to rationes in God and have the further complication that the distinction is real and not merely virtual. But in any case, whichever of Scotus and Thomas is right about whether a formal distinction is required, the respective explanation would provide an adequate justification for the claim that simplicity does not entail that one cannot coherently distinguish between God's wisdom, mercy, justice, etc. If Thomas is right, then you don't even need a formal distinction to be able to do it, while if Scotus is right and there is a formal distinction, then there is also a ready answer.

On the whole, I'd say this also lines up pretty well with the explanation of divine simplicity given by Barry Miller and the understanding of analogy proferred by Ralph McInerny. In short, I think you're right, and that's pretty much what I took St. Thomas to be saying.

Lee Faber said...

thanks, that was helpful. Odd, though. Garrigou gives us roughly Henry of Ghent's position, not Scotus. Scotus holds that these essential perfections are distinct ex natura rei, prior to the operation of any intellect, human or divine. Cajetans answer is illuminating; just replace 'deity' with the intrinsic mode of the divine essence, 'infinity', and you have Scotus' position, and the same problem that wisdom and justice don't fall into the definition of each other, which is true prior to the operation of any intellect.

Regarding your gloss, I don't think Scotus would disagree, though it would be an interesting question to determine if the way you present matters there can be any natural knowledge of God, that is, if human concepts can be verified somehow by the divine nature.

I think Scotus requires the formal distinction for God to know distinctions in the divine nature, something Aquinas never directly considers (he comes close in the Quaestio de attributis), and about which later Thomists claimed that God knew distinctions in himself by knowing creatures (cf. Thomas Sutton, John Quidort, Godfrey of Fontaines). That is, Scotus develops it in situations dealing with God's self-knowledge and trinitarian processions rather than the more epistemological discussions of human knowledge of God (where it never comes up).

anyway, long story short, this was rather cheering...even cajetan doesn't sound all that different when one tries to move beyond verbal formulations to meanings.