Friday, August 19, 2011

Edith Stein, Essential Being, and Henry of Ghent

I was rather surprised last weekend to receive yet a third issue of the ACPQ in as many weeks (this is the one with Feser's article). I was even more surprised by the final article of the issue.  I reproduce the abstract:

"Edith Stein and Medieval Metaphysics", Victor Salas Jr.

This essay considers Edith Stein's account of "essential being" and finds therein a point of continuity with medieval metaphysics. Scholarly attention has already been given to this feature of Stein's metaphysics; it has been argued that "essential being", while serving as a crucial point of distinction between Stein and Thomas Aquinas's own metaphysics, functions as a point of similarity between Stein and Duns Scotus. However, I argue that, while there are certainly many points of congruence between Stein and Scotus on the topic of essential being, the position that Stein advances comes much closer to Henry of Ghent's doctrine of esse essentiae. Fiinally, I show that the consequence of her adopting a position so similar to Henry of Ghent is that it opens stein to a number of criticisms raised by Scotus himself against esse essentiae.

I didn't read the article, though it did look fairly serious and scholarly. He cited the appropriate editions, etc., and showed himself to know about medieval thought in his discussion of Scotus, Godfrey and Henry. It is just a rather surprising revisionist project to adopt. But I suppose in the catholic world, Stein is a hot commodity right now (I seem to be constantly seeing announcements for conferences about her), so I suppose it makes sense.  Her indebtedness to Scotus sometimes went off the rails, however. A cursory glance at her From Finite to Essential being reveals a reliance on spurious material she believed to be by Scotus (the de rerum principio). Consequently, she defended spiritual matter (which should make my co-blogger Michael happy).

All in all, itt was a nice surprise to see an article in the ACPQ which took Scotus seriously, rather than assigning him boogey-man status as is normally the case.  I guess I could try my hand a being relevant as well: an essay about Lonergan's criticism of Scotus' formal distinction showing that Lonergan confuses Henry's intentional distinction with Scotus' formal distinction. Hmm...

Another item which caught my interest was an essay by David Schindler about Aquinas, Balthasar, and the Transcendentals. On p. 338 he claims that "This  continuity within dissimilarity, or unity in every greater difference, is what the fourth Lateran Council defined as the essence of analogy."  His emphasis. But of course this is ludicrous. The text is found in the Council's repudiation of the doctrine of Joachim of Fiore, and the quote in full is: "...quia inter creatorem et creaturam non potest tanta similitudo notari, quin inter eos major sit dissimilitudo notanda."  This has on the surface nothing to do with the analogy of being, and certainly wasn't conceived as a definition of it.  This misuse of the council's phrase is common among Thomists, however, though I thought this sort of thing had gone out of fashion. Schindler himself makes no more of this than what I have quoted, but the standard procedure among polemicists such as Garrigou-Lagrange was to maintain that Scotus violated every conciliar decree ever promulgated, and this text was one of their favorites. So it look's like we have the ghosts of the 60's still present.


Scott Williams said...

This is not to suppose that Duns Scotus correctly understands Henry's own position, right? Cf.

Anonymous said...

Hi Lee,

Thanks for mentioning the article. It didn’t originate from some “revisionist” ambition but out of the necessity of composing something on Stein. I had little interest in Stein but, for some reason, I was invited (somewhat forcefully) to present a paper at an Edith Stein conference. My interests, rather, are in medieval thought and, having just taught a course on Duns Scotus (at probably the only Catholic seminary in the country that would offer such course, but that’s a different story), I decided to explore any possible connections between Stein, on the one hand, and Henry and Scotus, on the other. The obvious place to look for such a connection seemed to me to be Stein’s account of essential being. The result was this article.


Lee Faber said...

Scott, as one who has spent some time wandering in the thickets of Henry's mind, I'm hardly surprised. I don't recall if the article brought this up.

Victor, thanks for your comment. It's good to know there is at least one seminary that does have a class of Scotus. As I mentioned in the post, I was mostly just pleased that the ACPQ was devoting space to positive, serious engagement with Scotus and Henry. So thanks for that.