Thursday, September 23, 2010

Scotus and Aquinas on the Possibility of Real Relations between God and Creature

In Asello's recent post, a commenter and I discussed a comment made in the post noting the common opinion among the scholastics that there was no real relation between God and creatures, although there are real relations of creatures to God. The scholastics of course are willing to admit relations of reason, such as calling God "lord", but these are, or were, generally considered to be relations of reason. So taking Scotus and Aquinas, the two we discuss most on this blog, I examined their texts and found some germane remarks. Interestingly, their respective approaches on the matter reveal something of their general methodologies. Scotus relies on metaphysical arguments, here primarily on the nature of necessity, while Aquinas spends a great deal of time discussing physics. The sense of 'relation' here is undoubtedly the Aristotelian one, or at least is of Aristotelian origin; Scotus at one point in his discussion says that the only kind of relation that God could have to a creature is that from the third kind of relation, of measure to measured. One could, I suppose, simply criticize the scholastics as being too Aristotelian, as did then Cardinal Ratzinger in his Intro to Christianity where he says the scholastics failed by not seeing that human beings are essentially relational beings, or perhaps argue that since Christians already except one special case of non-Aristotelian relations, the Trinitarian persons, why not posit another kind of non-Aristotelian relation to take care of God's relation to creation? But this is not the path followed by the subtle and angelic doctors.

Duns Scotus, Reportatio I-A d. 30 q. 2 (ed. and transl. Wolter-Bychkov 2, 259-60):

Therefore, I say that there is no real relation to the creature in God. This is clear, first of all, from the perfection of his necessitu. Indeed, something that possesses perfect necessity cannot, on account of something other than itself, be otherwise [than it is], no matter whether one argues by assuming the possible or the impossible. But God is a perfectly necesssary being. Therefore, he cannot be altered, nor changed, nor be otherwise [than he is] except through [the agency of] a greater necessity, which should not be posited. However, if he were related really to creatrues outside [himself], then he would be come different [from what he is], once the creature has been posited; therefore, etc.

Also, this is confirmed [in the following way]: no matter how often the philosophers postulated that there are other necessary [things] apart from God, they always postulated them to be less necessary than God, because they stated that they were somehow dependent on him, and not vice versa. However, a gerater necessituy cannot be altered by a lesser one, as has been said, nor become different [from what it is]. This is also clear from [the words of] Augustine, Bk. XI of The City of God, chapter 10.

The second demonstration is from the perfect simplicity of God, as a result of which he ‘is what he has.’ [Assuming this,] if some real relations to creatures existed in God, they would be really identical with the divine essence. But a real relation to [something] outside necessarily co-requires an external term; therefore, that which is perfectly identical with the divine essence would require something external, and consequently the divine essence would not be necessary to the highest degree, because it would make a difference to it whether the creature has been posited or not. Therefore, if the creature were eliminated, [God] would cease to be [what he is, i.e.,] God.”

Thomas de Aquino, De potentia Dei q.7 a.10 (ed. Marietti)

“I respond: it should be said that relations, which are said from God to a creature, are not really in him. For the understanding of which it must be known that, since a real relation consists in the order of one thing to another thing, as it was said; in those things only a mutual real relation is found in which from each side there is the same principle of order of one to another: which indeed is found in all relations consequent on quantity. For since the principle/notion[ratio] of quantity is abstracted from all sensible [things], quantity is of the same kind[ratio] in all natural bodies. And for the same reason by which one having quantity is really referred to another, also the other to it. [...] God however does not act through a mediate action, which is understood as proceeding from God, and terminated in a creature: but his action is his substance, and whatever is in him is entirely outside the genus of created being, by which a creature is referred to God. Nor again, does some good accrue to the creator from the production of a creature, whence his action is maximally free as Avicenna says. It is clear also that he is not moved to this that he acts, but without all change he makes changeable things. Whence it is granted that in him there is not some real relation to a creature, although there is a relation of a creature to him, just as effect to cause.”


Smiter the Archdeacon said...

Lee, an excellent post. Thank you. I want to respond to this but haven't the time and energy to think coherently tonight. Hopefully tomorrow, or perhaps Sunday.

awatkins909 said...

This is one aspect of the scholastics that has sort of puzzled me. Are you familiar with what is called "Cambridge changes"? Is this the same thing?

Malcolm said...

Hello, I stumbled across your blog and found an opportunity to ask someone very knowledgeable a question I have. Where can I find Augustine's writings on the Divine Ideas? Thanks,


Scott Williams said...

Is the measure relation from the divine essence to actual creatures, or from divine ideas to actual creatures? If the latter, then what grounds the truth of the claim that 'God is the measure of all creatures' is that God has ideas for all creatures. Consequently, the "relation of reason" isn't from the divine essence to a creature, but a divine idea to a creature. Right?

Lee Faber said...

Chris, the locus classicus for Augustine is the 86 questions, q.46. And probably, as usual, de trinitate.

Scott: Scotus says there are two relations of reason on the part of God to a creature: one according as the divine intellect produces it in possible/intelligible being (and as you know he reduces divine ideas to divine thoughts of essences), and one according to the creature as it exists as an effect apart from God.

Lee Faber said...

also, there were scholastic dissenters. Richard Cross notes that John Baconthorpe thought there was a real relation both ways (see the Baconthorpe article in the blackwell companion to med. phil.).