Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Ruminations on the Fall
A post over at Vox Nova caused me to pause and think (imagine the scene in Fellowship where Gandalf suspects the ring might be the 'One' and sits in the corner muttering and smoking). Much of the content is standard pseudo-Dionysianism; God is beyond all being, predication, affirmation, negation, etc. etc., though no one ever seems to draw the obvious conclusion from this, viz. that God is completely unknowable. Longtime readers will already know the standard Scotistic responses that I could trot out, that there is a univocal concept of being, that theology presupposes said univocal concept, that the object of the intellect is being, and so on. I was more interested in their view that the fall has corrupted human nature, even that logic has been corrupted. Not just that the human capacity to reason has been corrupted, but that 'logic' was as well (I suppose then that if Adam hadn't sinned, not only would no one ever commit a fallacy of equivocation but fallacy's of equivocation would have been valid? and in light of recent posts here, perhaps square-circles would be possible beings?).
It is interesting to note that Scotus stands as opposed to this appearance of christian platonism, if it is that, rather than some baleful influence of Luther, as he does to negative theology. He really seems to have been one of the post positive theologians of the middle ages. Forget Doctor subtilis et Marianus, we should call him the Doctor Positivus. For his view of human nature with respect to the fall seems to be summed up in the notion that what was lost by Adam's sin was rectitude in the will. There was no darkening of the intellect, weakening of nature, etc., or anything of the kind. To be sure, the preternatural gifts were lost, though perhaps only immortality. A hasty consultation of Ott's Fundamentals reveals that these in fact are the only two effects of the fall that are 'de fide' (that is, loss of immortality and sanctifying grace; the latter of these Scotus would associate with a quality in the will). This trend towards the negative and pessimistic is by no means restricted to the vox nova crowd; they are just echoing what really seems to be the common opinion of the contemporary thomist-platonist movement. I suspect this may be the root cause of the hatred (yes, I say hatred) of the Cambridge Phantasists (for our newer readers, that is our preferred name for 'radical' 'orthodoxy'), who seek to counter nihilism by embracing a negation; Scotus is their polar opposite on this as well as probably many other issues.
I will close by nuancing somewhat Scotus' positive position. Although he does not think that the fall has corrupted human nature or damaged all our natural powers, his view that being is the object of the intellect requires qualification. For if true, we would expect that since God is infinite being, and being is the object of the intellect, our intellects would be moved by God in this life. Or to put it another way, we would know everything that falls under the concept of being. Scotus denies this, and says that pro statu isto, as far as the wayfaring state is concerned, the object of the intellect is the quiddity of sensible things. He says this may be part of the punishment of original sin (punishment; still not a darkening, though it may amount to what the endarkeners mean by the term), or part of the natural concord of the powers, or merely from the will of God. Whatever the reason, it is not from the nature of the intellect as intellect.