I would like to respond to the charge that I “erred” in linking Scotus’s voluntarism to his univocal conception of being. There is indeed a strong connection between the two. Once God is construed as one being, however supreme, among many, then the metaphysical links that tie creatures to God are severed and therefore the relation between us and God is established primarily through will. To see the details of the argument, I’d recommend my book The Priority of Christ, but that’s the very real connection between voluntarism and a univocal conception of being.
Now, I have written on fr. Barron before, but since he is so influential in popular catholicsm I think his views need to be addressed again since it is clear he will continue to misrepresent Scotus' views by relying on postmodernist jargon that avoids dealing with Scotus' arguments. To see the effects of this view in action, simply read "Nick's" review of Fr. Barron's book mentioned in his quotation at google books. Nick gives an extremely bad "narrative" (I put this in quotation marks because it is the sort of word these people like, even though it is inherently relativistic and only shows them to be compromised by the very "secular values" they so decry in Scotus), despite his having studied the book directly with the author.
So lets review Fr. Barron's The Priority of Christ, with special attention to the relation between univocity and voluntarism. First, some quotations.
There have in recent years been numerous accounts of the etiology of modernity. Jurgen Habermas, Hans Urs von Balthasar, John Milbank, Colin Gunton, and Louis Dupre, among many others, have offered explanations of the transition from the premodern to the modern. I subscribe to the proposal that liberal modernity can best be seen as an energetic reaction to a particular and problemaitc version of nominalist Christianity. Early modernity saw itself as a salutary response to oppressive and obscurantist strains in Christian culture, but since it was reacting to a corruption of true Christianity, it itself became similarly distorted and exaggerated. As a result the two systems settled into a centuries-long and terribly unproductive warfare. Even when the two attempted a reconciliation (as in all forms of liberal Christianity in the past two centuries), the results were less than satisfactory, precisely because each party was itself a sort of caricature.
The trouble began with Duns Scotus's option for a univocal conception of being in contradistinction to Thomas Aquinas's analogical understanding. For Thomas, God, as the sheer act of to-be itself (ipsum esse subsistens), is that through which all creatures exist. What follows epistemologically from this metaphysical claim is that the meaning of "to-be," in reference to God and creatures, must be analogical, with God as primary analogue and created things as secondary. In accord with this intuitition, Aquinas maintained consistently throughout his career that God is inescapably mysterious to the human intellect, since our frame of reference remains the creaturely mode of existence, which bears only an analogical resemblance to the divine mode of being. We may say that God exists, but we're not quite sure what we mean when we say it; the "cash value" of the claim that God exists is that there is a finally mysterious source of the to-be of finite things.
In an effort to make the to-be of God more immediately intelligibile, Duns Scotus proposed a univocal conception of existence, according to which God and creatures belong to the same basic metaphysical category, the genus of being. Though God is infinite and therefore quantitatively superior to any creature or collectivity of creatures, there is nevertheless no qualitative difference, in the metaphysical sense, bewteen the supreme being, God, and finite beings. Whereas Aquinas insisted that God is categorizable in no genus whatsover, Scotus held that God and creatures do belong together to a logical category, that in a real sense, transcends and includes them. The implications of this shift are enormous and, to my mind, almost entirely negative. If the analogical conception of being is rejected, creatures are no longer seen as participating in the divine to-be; instead, God and creatures are appreciated as existing side by side, as beings of varying types and degrees of intensity. Furthermore, unanchored from their shared participation in God, no longer grounded in a common source, creatures lose their essential connectedness to one another. Isolated and self-contained individuals (God the supreme being and them any creatures) are now what is most basically real.
Scotus's intuition was confirmed a generation later by his Franciscan successor William of Occam. Congruent with his nominalism, which denied ontological density to the unifying features of being, Occam held that there is nothing real outside of disconnected individual things (praeter illas partes absolutas nulla res est). As for Scotus so for Occam, God and creatures are set side by side, joined only through a convention of logic that assigns them to the category of "beings". A consequence of this conception is that God and finite things have to be rivals, since their individualities are contrastive and mutually exclusive. Just as a chair is itself precisely in the measure that it is no other creaturely thing, so God is himself only inasmuch as he stands over and against the world he has made, and vice versa. Whereas in Aquinas's participation metaphysics the created universe is constituted by its rapport with God, on Occam's reading it must realize itself through disassociation from a competitive supreme being. A further concomitant of this indivdualistic ontology is voluntarism. Since the metaphysically dense and natural link between God and creatures has been attenuated, any connection betwen the divine and the nondivine has to be through will. God's relation with his rational creatures is therefore legalistic and arbitrary. This understanding of divine power influenced Occam's conception of the human will as well. Finite freedom is, for him, absolute spontaneity, an action prorpted by nothing either interior or exterior to the subject. Accordingly, human power is a distant mirror of divine power: both are self-contained, capricious, absolute, and finally irrational. The most obvious practical consquence of this nominalist and voluntarist metaphysics is that divine and human freedom find themselves pitted against one another, God imposing himself arbitrarily on a necessarily reluctant and resentful humanity.
Both Martin Luther and John Calvin were formed according to the principales of late-medieval nominalism ...
[p. 193 repeats basically the same regarding univocity. Note that here the category that God and creatures allegedly share is a metaphysical one]
"God" becomes but the collectivity of creatures considered as a totality. In this sense, modern pantheism is the logical fulfillment of Scotus' adoption of a univocal conception of being: God and the world can be spoken of univocally because there is finally no difference between them.
[p. 202, following a quote from William James]
How like Scotus's claim that God and creatures are both beings, though the former is infinite and the latter finite, one the biggest part, the other smaller parts. God, in sum, is a being among others, capable of influencing lower relaitites without comporomising them, exisiting in the same universe as they and subject to the same metaphysical constraints.
Summary of Barron's position:
1. There are bad things that happened in the past that influence the present.
2. There is a popular narrative held by popular theologians that lays the blame for the clash of Christianity and modernity at Scotus' door.
Barron's statement of Scotus' position:
1. Scotus proposed a univocal conception of existence.
2. He did this to make God more intelligible.
3. On Scotus' view, God and creatures share the same metaphysical category, the genus of being.
4. God is infinite and quantitatively superior to creatures, but there is no qualitative difference between God and creatures "in the metaphysical sense".
5. Scotus held that God and creatures are contained in a logical category that transcends them.
Barrons's view of the consequences of Scotus' position:
1. If the analogical world-view is rejected, creatures no longer are seen as participating in the divine "to-be".
2. God and creatures are "appreciated" side by side, as beings among beings, differing only by degrees and intensity.
3. Once participation is gone, creatures are no longer connected to each other.
4. The "most basically real" becomes isolated and self-contained individuals.
5. As a result of their being individuals, God and creatures somehow become rivals.
6. Voluntarism: "Since the metaphysically dense and natural link between God and creatures has been attenuated, any connection betwen the divine and the nondivine has to be through will". I'm not sure, but this "link" must be participation.
7. A laundry list of the usual alleged bad effects of voluntarism: capriciousness, problems with freedom, law, etc.
Contra Robert Barron:
Some general observations:
*Fr. Barron cites only pomo theologians, no primary sources; so in the end it is an argument from authority.
*Scotus, Aquinas, and Ockham aren't interested in "intuitions" but arguments.
*I'm not sure, but fr. Barron might be assuming that all the scholastics had a common, shared view on existence. But this is not the case, for Aquinas' views were quite idiosyncratic and controversial at the time. Remember Scotus' comment from Ord. IV: "I know not that fiction that states that essence and existence are really distinct" or somesuch.
*For much of what I will say I rely on my previous posts in the fundamenta series wherein I quote and explain Scotus' views on univocity.
Against Barron's statement of Scotus' position:
(1). False. Scotus proposed a univocal concept of being, a concept which does not correspond to any external, extramental reality. As Richard Cross likes to say, it is a "vicious abstraction". See the fundamenta posts for the arguments that Scotus uses to establish this. He didn't just propose it, he thought he had arguments to support it.
(2). False. Scotus did it to ensure that the arguments that theologians make about God don't commit the fallacy of equivocation. Scotus is quite up front about this in Ord. I d. 3.
(3.) False. Scotus says directly the opposite in Ord. I d. 8 q. 3 (ed. Vat. IV, ca. p. 200). A metaphysical category would be a real extramental category (Barron can't make up his mind whether God and creatures share a metaphysical or logical category). But everyone since Aristotle agreed that being can't be a genus. Scotus also agreed with this. Scotus thinks that if being were a genus that contained God and creatures divine simplicity would be compromised because God there would be a reality for the genus (being) and another reality for the specific difference (divine).
(4.) This one I don't understand. I suppose infinity was often thought of in quantitative terms, but in Scotus it is an intrinsic mode of the divine essence and he conceives of it (ie. infinity qua intrinsic mode) on the model of quality, which admits of degrees. But to say that in the metaphysical sense there is no qualitative difference between God and creatures is simply false.
(5). False. Scotus denies that God and creatures are both contained in a category. See above (1) and (3).
So there you have it. All of Fr. Barron's statements about Scotus' actual position are false. Consequences are a nasty business, as they basically amount to character assassination by blaming Scotus for Ockham. But we could just as easily blame Aquinas for Scotus, and therefore also for Ockham. I will comment on some of the consequences.
Against Barron's "Consequences"
(1). Scotus never rejected analogy. As one can read in the fundamenta post on univocity, Scotus argues for a concept that is "not only analogical but univocal". So he accepts analogical concepts as well as univocal concepts. Also, Scotus never rejects participation. And in any case, analogy is a doctrine about terms, while participation is a metaphysical doctrine. So while they may be connected, I don't think they are necessarily so.
(2). I don't know what "appreciated" means here. But yes, Scotus thinks God and creatures differ by degrees: infinite ones.
(3.) Scotus doesn't deny participation. Also, participation is in God, not in other creatures. Creatures are connected only insofar as they share the same form. I suppose one could say humans participate in the species-form of humanity.
(4). Um, but that's true. I don't know about the "isolated" part, but everything enjoying actual, extramental existence presumably is an individual (I'm not a platonist, I confess).
(6) This is what Fr. Barron's blog post that I quoted above was about. But since Barron already thinks that univocity makes God just a being among beings, it seems more plausible that we would have much greater access to and knowledge of God, and so we wouldn't have to rely purely on his will to know what to do. But if this won't do, note that the claim seems to be about the loss of participation. But I already pointed out, Scotus doesn't deny participation, nor does he deny analogy.
Lee Faber's prescription for dealing with modern chaos in theology: develop a post-theological Christian theology. We can do this by
(1) getting rid of inherently relativized terms such as "culture","value", "narrative", "genealogy", and so on, and talk about arguments.
(2) Reading primary sources.