Monday, February 1, 2010

"Suppositum" defined

Two definitions of "supposit":

1) From Roy Deferrari's "Latin-English Dictionary of St Thomas Aquinas": "(2) That which underlies all the accidents of a thing, i.e. the individual substance of a certain kind which is the subject of existence and all accidental modifications which constitute the individual, synonym of hypostasis, subjectum, and substantia . . . - Kinds of suppositum in this sense are (a) suppositum aeternum seu increatum and suppositum temporale seu creatum, the eternal or increated and the temporal or created individual substance. - (b) suppositum completum ultima completione, the individual substance of highest completion . . ."

2) From Allan Wolter's Scotistic glossary: "The general name for a being that is per se in the third sense defined by Scotus. If the suppositum is of a rational or intellectual nature, it is called a person. Suppositum is a close Latin parallel to hypostasis, the term Greek theologians use to designate a divine person in the Trinity . . . Because of their interest in explaining the union of Christ's human nature and his divinity in the person of the Word, theologians were forced to develop some clear idea of what constituted a person, be he human, angelic, or divine. In this connection they went on to determine the analogue of person in a nonrational subsistent, and retained "suppositum" as a general designation for any full subsistent individual, be it rational or not. Boethius had defined a person as "an individual substance of a rational nature". Those who accepted this definition pointed out that "substance" was not to be taken in a categorial sense but as equivalent to a distinct subsistent, in the sense that Scotus seeks to clarify in discussing the various meanings of subsistent or per se being. Others stressed that "rational" was equivalent to "intellectual" in its most general sense, vis., as applicable also to the divine nature as well as to one which reasoned in the discursive manner characteristic of humans. Others, who unlike Scotus made matter the basis for individuality, had to qualify the term "individual". Richard of St Victor called attention to what seemed to be an even more serious drawback of the Boethian definition, namely, that, according to it, the divine nature itself would be a person in its own right. Hence he suggested an alternate definition, viz., that a person is "the incommunicable exisetence of an intellectual nature". "Existence" here seems to be simply the abstract form for "the existent" or "the subsistent". It implies that the subject characterized by it has substantial being (esse) in a transcendental or non-categorial sense, and that this being is complete and individual. It also connotes, says Richard, that this existent has this being in virtue of some property that indicates something of its origins, that is to say, it has this being of itself, or by creation, or by propogation, etc. In God the divine nature itself has such "existentia", for it has substantial being of itself. Now the three divine persons share this "existentia" commonly and hence indistinguishably, but each person also has his own incommunicable existence in virtue of which he is a discrete and unique individual. It is this incommunicable "existentia" in the divine intellectual nature that best defines what a divine person is. And more generally, it is the incommunicable existence of any intellectual nature that commonly defines a person, be he divine, angelic, or human. On this Richardian definition, which Scotus accepts and develops, a suppositum would seem to be the incommunicable existence of any nature, and a person would be an intellectual suppositum."


scribendus said...

This reminded me of a passage from an article on "Thomistic Personalism":
"One can count human beings as individuals of the same species, but the word 'person' emphasizes the uniqueness of each member of the species, his incommunicability." The author argues that because a person is in some way willed for its own sake, while lower, non-personal creation is willed for the sake of the species, non-personal creatures do not share in that same incommunicability. Unfortunately, he confuses the goal of the individual with its individuality. While it may be true that a person is incommunicable in a special way, isn't there something incommunicable about each particular instantiation of being?

Michael Sullivan said...

Yes, I would agree that anything insofar as it can properly be called "this" is incommunicable. I think this is as true of a rock as of a man.