Monday, February 22, 2010

Henry of Ghent on Instants of Nature

Henricus de Gandavo, Quodlibet V q.1 (ed. Badius, f. 153r):

"...primo et simplici intelligentia concipit ipsam essentiam sub ratione essentiae, et deinde negotiando circa essentiam conceptam concipit eam ut intellecta est, et ut intelligens est, et ut ratio intelligendi et quia in cognoscendo et intelligendo seipsam complacet ei in seipsa, deinde concipit eam ut volitum, volens et ratio volendi."

"First, by simple understanding he (God) conceives his essence under the aspect of essence, and then by engaging with the essence as conceived he conceives it as it is understood, and as it is understanding and as it is a means of understanding. And because in knowing and understanding himself he is pleased in himself, then he conceives his essence as willed, willing, and as a means of willing."

Here we have yet another example of Henry's profound influence on Duns Scotus. Scotus, as you may well recall, uses this type of language which posits quasi-temporal stages in the divine nature in his discussion of the production of created essences in intelligible being as well as his treatment of predestination. This became quite common after Scotus and Henry, as we saw from the Alnwick quote I posted several months ago, and was even adopted by some Thomists such as Hervaeus Natalis (whom I posted on earlier this month), one of the instrumental figures in Aquinas' canonization process. I am not sure if Henry originated this conceptual tool or not. It can, I think, like Scotus' version, be distinguished into four instants:
(1) God conceives the divine essence qua essence
(2) The divine intellect "moves" over the essence, knows it as known, knowing, and a means of understanding.
(3) God is pleased in or delights in his essence
(4) God conceives his essence as will, willed and a means of willing.

The divine attributes are distinguished by the divine intellect at (2); and attribute, on Henry's view, is the essence known under a specific ratio; the essence as the foundation of the attribute keeps the divine intellects concepts from being vain, while the differing rationes keep the divine attributes from being synonymous. Henry is quite clear that he thinks all of this goes on in the divine intellect, not the divine essence. All the attributes are relations of reason. However, in another passage, he admits there is a "quasi" potency prior to the act of divine understanding, which I think would have to be a real quasi potency, as Henry accepts the dictum that being is divided primarily into being inside the mind and outside the mind, and this potency is prior to the operation of the intellect. It is but a small step from here to Scotus' position that the divine attributes are distinct ex natura rei prior to the operation of the divine intellect, even in God's intuitive cognition of the divine essence. But more on this another time.


Michael Sullivan said...

This sort of procedure really disturbed me when I first learned about it, and it has to be thought of carefully. It seems clear to me that the "quasi-temporal" aspect has to be in our mind alone, whereby the temporal order in which we think of the "instants" in correct logical sequence stands in for the atemporal formal structure.

Lee Faber said...

Yes, that's probably why although Scotus adopts the technique, he drops the temporal terms to describe it (ok, there is sometimes a "deinde"), and instead refers to these as 'instants' of nature, or just "signa".