Friday, January 23, 2009

Scotus on the Lombard's Christological Models

This is something of a no-brainer. There is a claim made by a prominent Thomist theologian regarding Scotus’ Christology that is slanderous and based on sheer ignorance. Now, I am aware of this claim only through hearsay; several friends have taken this Thomist’s class and told me of the charge. I have not bothered to look it up in any of his published writings, as I doubt he would commit such a charge to writing. In any case, it comes from an intro to medieval theology class. Certain elements (the part about Thomas) of this claim are a central feature of this person’s scholarly work, however.

The Charge: Peter Lombard describes three models for the incarnation. One of them he rules out of bounds; another one he endorses. But there is a third one that he is not sure of. Thomas Aquinas, being a great lover of ancient lore, was always trying to acquire the oldest and best manuscripts of the fathers, councils and other church documents. He stumbled upon the documents of an ancient council (I think it was Constantinople II) and by imbibing them was able to formulate an orthodox Christology. Scotus, however, was not so interested, and so predictably fell into great error and is in fact a heretic.

Here is the text of the Lombard:
Liber III Sententiarum d.6-7

"De intelligentia harum locutionum: Deus factus est homo, Deus est homo, an his locutionibus dicatur Deus factus esse aliquid vel esse aliquid vel non. Ex praemissis autem emergit quaestio plurimum continens utilitatis, sed nimium difficultatis atque perplexitatis. Cum enim constet ex praedictis et aliis plluribus testimoniis, omnesque catholici unanimiter fateantur Deum esse factum hominem, et Christum verum Deum esse et verum hominem, quaeritur an his locutionibus: 'Deus factus est homo', 'Filius Dei factus est filius hominis','Deus est homo' et 'homo est Deus', ...

Alii enim dicunt in ipsa Verbi incarnatione hominem quendam ex anima rationali et humana carne constitutum: ex quibus duobus omnis verus homo constituitur. Et ille hoo coepit esse homo ille. Concedunt etiam hominem illum assumptum a Verbo et unitum Verbo, et tamen esse Verbum. Et ea ratione tradunt dictum esse 'Deum factum hominem' vel 'esse hominem', quia Deus factus est (id est coepit esse) quedam substantia ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens; et illa substantia facta est (id est coepit esse) Deus. Non tamen demigratione naturae in naturam, sed utriusque naturae servata proprietate, factum est ut Deus esset illa substantia, et illa substantia esset Deus. Unde vere dicitur Deus factus homo et homo factus Deus, et Deus esse homo et homo Deus, et Filius Dei filius hominis et e converso. Cumque dicant illum hominem ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistere, non tamen fatentur ex duabus naturis esse compositum, divina scilicet et humana; nec illius partes esse duas naturas, sed animam tantum et carnem. Auctoritates ponit...

Sunt autem et alii qui istis in parte consentiunt, sed dicunt hominem illum non ex anima rationali et carne tantum, sed ex humana et divina natura, id est ex tribus substantiis: divinitate, carne et anima, constare; hunc Christum fatentur, et unam personam tantum esse, ante incarnationem vero solummodo simplicem, sed in incarnatione factam compositam ex divinitate et humanitate. Nec est ideo alia persona quam prius, sed cum prius esset Dei tantum persona, in incarnatione facta est etiam hominis persona: not ut duae essent personae, sed ut una et eadem esset persona Dei et hominis. Persona ergo quae prius erat simplex et in una tantum natura exsistens, in duabus et ex duabus subsistit naturis. Et persona quae tantum Deus erat, facta est etiam verus homo, subsistens non tantum ex anima et canre, sed etiam ex divinitate. Nec tamen persona illa debet dici facta persona, quamvis dicatur facta persona hominis. Facta est igitur illa persona, ut quibusdam placet, quiddam subsistens ex anima et carne, sed non est facta persona vel substantia vel natura. Et in quantum est ille subsistens, composita est; in quantum autem Verbum est, simplex est. Auctoritates ponit...

Sunt etiam et alii, qui in incarnatione Verbi non solum personam ex naturis compositam negant, verum etiam hominem aliquem, sive etiam aliquam substantiam, ibi ex anima et carne compositam vel factam diffitentur; sed sic illa duo, scilicet animam et carnem, Verbi personae vel naturae unita esse aiunt, ut non ex illis duobus vel ex his tribus aliqua substantia vel persona fieret sive componeretur, sed illis duobus velut indumento Verbum Dei vestiretur ut mortalium oculis congruenter appareret.

Aliis quoque pluribus modis illi sententiae [#1] potest opponi: quibus supersedemus, exercitationis studium lectori relinquentes et ad aliam properantes...

Posita est diligenter sententia secunda et eius explanatio. Cui in nullo, vel in modico, obviant auctoritates in tertia sententia inductae, quae iam consideranda est...

Satis diligenter, iuxta diversorum sententias, supra positam absque assertione et praeiudicio tractavi quaestionem. Verumtamen nolo, in tanta re tamque ad agnoscendum difficili, putare lectorem istam sibi nostram debere sufficere disputationem; sed legat et alia melius forte considerata atque tractata, et ea quae hic movere possunt vigilantiore atque intelligentiore, si potest, mente discutiat; hoc firmiter tenens, quod 'Deus hominem assumpsit, homo in Deum transivit, non naturae versibilitate, sed Dei dignatione: ut nec Deus mutaretur in humanam substantiam assumendo hominem, nec homo in divinam glorificatus in Deum, quia mutatio vel versibilitas naturae diminutionem et abolitionem substantiae facit.'"

Faber’s reply:

I don’t have much to say on the Aquinas part of this; I have seen statements of Thomas in which he says he got someone to translate some of the fathers for him. I haven’t seen Thomas saying he got ancient council documents. When it comes to texts of Aristotle, Gauthier has sufficiently demonstrated that Aquinas was aware of Moerbeke’s new translations, but made no special effort to acquire them and used whatever text was at hand in the convent where he was staying.

As for the charge against Scotus, well, our Thomist hasn’t bothered to actually look this question up in Scotus. It has been critically edited, and is found in volume 9 of the Vatican edition, p. 256-59.

Ordinatio III d.6 q.3:

“Last it is asked, without arguments, which of those three opinions, which the Master recites, is to be held.

I respond. The first is not commonly held, because the assuming is not that which is assumed, the Word however is ‘that man’. Whether ‘that man’ can stand for some singular of human nature, and not precisely for the supposit of the Word (just as white can stand for ‘this white’ which is the singular of white in the concrete-in the way in which this is true, ‘every colored is white’- and not for the subject or supposit subsisting in whiteness), will be discussed in distinction 11, ‘whether that man began to be’.

The third opinion in the time of the Master was not heretical, but after the time of Alexander [III, pope] it was condemned, just as is clear from Extra, ‘De haereticis’, Cum Christus [reference to the Decretales of Gregory IX]. Also, the authorites which seem to say that “Christ assumed human nature as a habit” are to be explained on account of some similitude of this nature to a habit: for just as one having a habit is not changed, but having more or habituated is hidden also under a habit, so the divine person is not changed by that union, but the human nature, which quasi hides the person of the Word.

Therefore the second opinion is to be held, that the person of the Word subsists in two natures: in one, from which it has first being [esse], in another (quasi adventicious) from which it has second being [esse], -just as in some way, if Socrates would be said to subsist in humanity and whiteness. But that that opinion says ‘the person of Christ is composite’, this is not commonly held, properly speaking of composition, namely from act and potency (just as from matter and form), or from two potentialities, of the sort which acccording to the Philosoher are called elements integrating the whole.

The authorities of Damascene, which say that person is composite, should be explained, because so truly is the human and divine nature there, just as if they were composing a person, but so inconfusedly that nothing third should be from them, because they do not make composition. And the same says Damascene himself chapter 49 “If according to the heretics Christ is of one composite nature, he is changed from a simple nature into a composite” and “neither is he called God, nor man,” “just as we say man to be from soul and body, or the body from the four elements”. He ought therefore to be explained that Christ is composite because of the truth of the two natures in which he exists-but composition is more truly denied, because one does not perfect another, nor from them is there some third nature.”

And that is the whole question. The Vatican editors speculate it is so short because it had been exhaustively treated by earlier scholastics. They also list parallal passages in the Summa and Sentences of Aquinas, Alexander of Hales, and Bonaventure. Determining Scotus’ knowledge of Thomas is tricky (Thomas just wasn’t that important outside the Dominican order, especially prior to the hardening of the viae in the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries), but he certainly read Bonaventure and Alexander of Hales. So the whole charge is nonsense. Both Thomas and Scotus know to avoid the Lombard’s third position because of their training in canon law, something all mendicants and seculars were thorougly schooled in (which came out at the recent SIEPM conference, though it should have been obvious).

So where does this slander come from? I really do not know. Ignorance, sloppy scholarship, the age-old rivalry between the followers of Thomas and Scotus. All one can really say is “tolle, lege!”


Michael Sullivan said...

Good stuff, but why didn't you say what the Lombard's three options were?

Brandon said...

I would be thoroughly astonished to find Scotus in conflict with the Christology of II Constantinople: it's pretty standard, being just a reaffirmation of the previous Councils.

I do recall reading somewhere the suggestion that Aquinas changed his view on some matter through reading the acts of II Constantinople (probably with some commentary or gloss). But my recollection was that it was a different topic altogether, namely, interpretation of Christological psalms. Unfortunately, I don't recall where I came across it. (I also don't think it contrasted Scotus in any way on this.) It would make much more sense as a suggestion, although I don't know what the evidence for it was; while it only does so in passing, the council condemns Theodore's interpretations of the Psalms (he did not think the messianic psalms were originally about Christ, even prophetically).

Lee Faber said...

Hmm. that is interesting. It might have been a different council, that's the first one that came to mind as I was writing.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, it’s in his treatment of the Incarnation that I find Scotus’ thought worrisome; it seems to result in a kind of Nesotrianism-lite, and seems to be connected so inextricably with the rest of his thought as to spell doom for his particular philosophical/theological project as a whole. I’ll try to outline things as they appear to me, with the hopes that one of you (Lee or Michael) might have the time and interest necessary to give Scotus’ position a fair explanation/defense; or, at the very least, show in some way how Scotus’ position does not necessarily follow from his foundational philosophical principles.

So, my own problems stem from a reading of the relevant sections of the Lectura (Lectura , d. 1. q.1, and following - to q. 6, perhaps, but it’s been a while and I don’t remember), all of which I’ve thought about in light of Cross’s discussion of Scotus’ doctrine in The Metaphysics of the Incarnation. In the relevant questions there, Scotus maintains that Christ’s human nature not only has it’s own proper act of being (secondary esse), but also a properly human haecceitas, both of which it has apart from the Word; moreover, the relation of this nature to the Word is merely one of dependence - so, strictly negative, and not in any special positive or causal way distinct from the way in which other creatures relate to God. Of course, this human nature depends on the Son, and not on either of the other two Trinitarian Persons; but if this relation of dependence were to cease, this human nature is such that it would immediately become a man properly speaking, but also a person, without any “modifications”, or “additions”, or further “actualizations” in the order of being. Of course, this human nature does have primary being in the person of the Word, and as may be said (on Sctus’ view) to truly exist in Him personally: but is this enough?

According to Cross (and given what I’ve read of Scotus, this definitely seems to be the case), Scotus is at pains to ensure that Christ’s human nature is an absolutely complete, individual human nature; this is what is required on his reading of John of Damascus, and his understanding of the dictum, “what is not assumed, is not healed” - and the greatest perfection of a nature, according to Scotus, is its thisness. However, as I said above, this seems to result in a sort of “Nestorianism-lite”. For if the human nature of the Word is something self-contained apart from the Word, having proper existence and thisness apart from Him, then the unity of Christ seems to be jeopardized: while we would not here on Scotus’ view have two persons here (given his understanding of personality”, we would have two distinct beings; if we have two distinct beings, one of which merely depends on the other, it doesn’t seem possible for one reasonably to hold that He upon whom this nature depends in any relevant sense personally subsists in, exists in, this nature. The final result of Scotus’ Christology, then, and the one I find most disconcerting, is that the human nature of the Word is left appearing as little more than a “pin-cushion of the Divine”: the Word can be said to suffer in His human nature - or, perhaps, the man but not human person that depends upon Him - insofar as it is His; but the Person, not having had constituted in Himself an existential unity with the nature, cannot, it seems to me, to be said to have really and truly suffered, as you or I suffer when we suffer.

That, in something of a nutshell, is my difficulty with Scotus’ Christology. I would definitely like to find that my interpretation of the Subtle Doctor is here incorrect, as I not only reather like the guy but also find many of his fundamental positions compelling. But I do not see how I am wrong here. So, with that said, I give the floor to you guys.

Unknown said...

Matthew, I'll try to respond to this eventually, but at the moment I am busy with the academic rat race.

One question: why are you using the Lectura here? Lectura III is actually Reportatio Parisiensis III and the mss. tradition is extremely screwed up here. Use the Ordinatio.

Most of your worries seem to stem from the fact that Scotus has a different view of esse than Aquinas. Aquinas has one per substance, Scotus allows at least two. we could talk about this, perhaps. I've probably posted the texts somewhere.

Anonymous said...


Thanks! Obviously, take your time. I'm just glad this difficulty of mine is going to get some consideration.

Thanks for pointing out the problems with Lectura III - problems I certainly wasn't aware of. I was using that text because 1) I (mistakenly) thought that was the only treatment of the Incarnation in a critical edition of Scotus' texts that our library had, and 2) because, if I recall, the English translations I've seen of Scotus' treatment of the Incarnation (and the one I referred to before writing my last comment) were also of the relevant passage(s) of the Lectura. Oh well. Now I know. I'll check out the Ordinatio on this soon, definitely.

Yes, I would be interested in discussing Scotus' view of esse vis a vis that of Aquinas. But of course, I'll continue to roam The Smithy, looking for whatever treatment's already there.

Thanks again for taking this up. I look forward to working through these issues further.