Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Finitude of Trinitarian Persons

Now that I have finished two of my three major papers for the semester I have gone back to studying for exams. In the middle of a detailed series of questions on the nature of the status of the accidents in the Eucharist following the conversion (in which Scotus argues that inherence is not part of the essence of an accident, and that therefore accidents inhere only by a further addition of inherence, which leads to a twofold distinction of accidents into accidens intrinsecus adveniens and accidens extrinsecus adveniens), I came across the following quote in which the subtle doctor argues for that the Trinitarian persons are finite. This view of course as far as I can tell is the standard view; having come from an almost non-creedal (at least in the traditional sense of creed...they were quite fond of the 'no creed but the bible' line although they held numerous extra-biblical doctrines) branch of Christianity I found this fact quite surprising, but it does make sense once one thinks about it. The persons are finite in the sense that one is not the other; they themselves are the boundaries of the others.

Incidentally, In all this reading on the Eucharist I have gotten quite the dialectical experience. I started with Thomas. But in the Leonine edition the text of Thomas is accompanied by that of Cajetan's commentary, most of which is simply an attack on Scotus and Durandus. Moving to Scotus, however, one finds that his text is printed next to 16th or 17th century commentaries, who spend a lot of time attacking Cajetan and the Thomists. So it makes for exciting reading.

In any case, here is what Scotus says about the Trinity.

Ordinatio IV d. 12 q. 2 (Wadding XVII 574-5):
"...nulla enim perfectione formaliter infinita caret aliqua persona divina, quia tunc non esset simpliciter perfecta; sed quaelibet caret aliqua relatione originis; ergo nulla relatio est formaliter infinita, et hoc patet ex ratione perfectionis simpliciter, quia secundum Anselmum Monol. 15 'Est illud quod in quolibet melius est ipsum quam non ipsum' non autem potest relatio esse simpliciter nobilior suo opposito, quia relativa sunt simul natura."

translation: For a person does not lack some formally infinite perfection, because then he would not then be absolutely perfect; but whichever person does lack a relation of origin. Therefore no relation of origin is formally infinite, and this is clear from the definition of perfection unqualifiedly, because according to Anselm in chapter 15 of the Monologium "[perfection] is that which it is better to have than not to have"; relation, however, cannot be unqualifiedly more nobler than its opposite, because relatives are simultaneous in nature


Michael Sullivan said...

Very interesting. N.B. I don't think this descirption of accidents is appreciably different from Thomas'.

Lee Faber said...

"appreciably different than Thomas"? Didn't I mention that Scotus thinks accidents inhere in a subject only by means of a further accident? I suspect it may reverse the whole problem. In Thomas you have a test-case, the eucharist, in which some crazy things happen that have to be explained (so he trots out, from what is originally from de pot. dei discussions of divine simplicity, the notion that the defintion of accident is not "to inhere in something else" but "accustomed to inhere in something else"). In Scotus, it's the inherence of any accident to a subject that has to be explained, though now the eucharist isn't terribly problematic. In these series of distinctions he bashes Thomas' position quite a lot, more than anything I've seen in books I-III of the Ordinatio.

In the rather unsatisfying question I read yesterday, he considers two extreme positions: 1 Thomas/giles of rome, that all the accidents inhere in quantity. He gives four or five arguments why this isn't so. 2. That they don't inhere in anything at all, followed by counter arguments. In his own determination, he says he's holding a middle road between the two, but doesn't actually come down on any side. He only points out that all the relative accidents have to inhere in the absolute accidents (quantity and quality), but points out there is a dispute over whether quality inheres in quantity (he had previously argued against this position). It is rather hard to sort out, but the salient point is that he spends a lot of time attacking Thomas. sorry, not trying to be a jerk...they seem to be approaching the problem form opposite angles, though the differences between are perhaps subtle.

Michael Sullivan said...

All I meant is that your description wasn't that different from, say, Wippel's description of Thomas' doctrine. Still that was perhaps a hasty remark.

Anonymous said...

Exactly where and how big are these trinitaraian "persons"?

Have you ever seen them?

Is there any room for the Queen of Heaven or the Radiant Goddess in their domain?

Do they take into account that every body dies and that the universe (meaning one whole and indivisible) is a gigantic death machine which has no interest whatsoever for the well-being or survival of any and every "created" form.

On the other hand what if the universe is an Infinitely Radiant Sea of Conscious Light in which all forms are momentarily floating

Scott Williams said...

Perhaps you already knew this from Quod. 13(?), but Scotus says that divine persons are infinite by identity, and as you report the personal properties are formally finite. So a person who is constituted by the divine essence is infinite, and the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each constituted by the divine essence; Q.E.D. divine persons are infinite.

I just wanted to mention this in case RO lovers thought Scotus says divine persons are finite; he explicitly denies that a divine person is finite.

Lee Faber said...

so perhaps I just misunderstood scotus, but I had been pretty sure that he explicitly said in several places of Ord.I that the persons, not just properties were finite. Am I wrong, or did Scotus change his mind?

Michael Sullivan said...

Faber, you have to admit it wouldn't make much sense to say that God is infinite but the Father is finite, e.g. that God's power is infinite but the Father's is finite.

Lee Faber said...

That's why I was confused, and why we had those phone conversations last summer.