Saturday, June 19, 2021

Byzantine Univocity

 I recently came across an essay on univocity among the Byzantine theologians that might be of interest to our readers. Essay is here.

Johnathan Bieler, "Christ: the mystery of God truly made manifest? Leontius of Byzantium and the Univocity of Being."

From the conclusion:

After reading this long passage we cannot go into all the details but we will summarily say that Leontius opposes univocity and equivocity. He accuses his opponents of adhering to a pure equivocity of terms in Christology and Trinitarian Theology by separating the terms from their definitions. Thus, equivocity negates the true manifestation of the divine in the manifest mystery of Christ. Naturally, for Leontius as well as for the Severian interlocutor, God in himself is hidden and beyond word, intellect and nature. However, for Leontius this God has truly revealed himself in Christ and thus we must speak in univocal terms of the Trinity and Christ. He achieves the univocity of God and the world by subsuming all beings (God, angels, human beings etc.) under one single definition of existence as such, which ousia stands for when defined simply.

In this respect, Leontius falls short of Ps-Dionysius’ strong language for the transcendence of God as beyond ousia or being, even though he knows his writings and quotes him even by name.7 Leontius seems to make a bit of a desperate move here and puts all beings and God under the same category of existence as such. In this, Leontius even found a successor in Duns Scotus, who also holds a univocal concept of being, ens, for God and the world. A few questions are in order to point to the problems of Leontius’ view: Is the transcendence of God not corrupted if he is put in the same genus of existence as the world? Does not the world then somehow share in God’s uncreated and eternal being, as both share the same sort of existence? This would remind us of the Origenist doctrine of the fall of beings from some sort of unity with God. Can Leontius’ univocal use of the term ousia still fully affirm the distinction of the created and the uncreated existence, which was so important for example to Athanasius as well as Ps-Dionysius and in turn, Maximus the Confessor? Part of an answer to these questions has to be given by an analysis of the relation between predicative logic and ontology in Leontius which I cannot serve with here. At any rate, we have a sense now for the task of later authors so diverse as John Philoponus and Maximus the Confessor to reject PsDionysius or integrate him into a Theology that holds together both transcendence and true manifestation of God without falling into the simple alternative between univocity and equivocity. Maximus, in my view, will come forward with a solution that resembles more Aquinas’ analogy of being than Duns Scotus’ univocity of being.

Sunday, June 6, 2021

 Here is a recent post about Scotus, with many interesting reflections and reminiscences of the particular writers experiences in grad school.

He had some discussion of what he thought Scotus was trying to do that I think is not right, but worthy of consideration and reflection nevertheless.

The question I was trying to get to a little earlier was whether Duns Scotus was himself, ironically, rather less committed to the procedures of Scholastic philosophy than he seemed. By this I mean that there are at least two ways to do Scholastic philosophy though, I am sure, there are really many more than two ways. But we can establish at least these two possibilities. You do Scholastic philosophy in good faith, because you basically believe that it can deliver the goods, as it were, or you do it in bad faith, you do it in order to show what it can’t do. You run it into the ground. It’s possible that Duns Scotus was more or less of the latter sort. He was playing Scholastic philosophy against itself. To some degree. He was using the tools of Scholastic philosophy in order, in a sense, to break them, to destroy those tools. That’s probably too strong. But it was a tricky business, I think, what Scotus was up to.

Take the concept of haecceity, for instance, which must be one of the more unwieldy sort of words (how do you pronounce it?) in the history of philosophy and which is one of Scotus’ great gifts to us, though actually his students, the Dunses, came up with the word as their best shot at naming an idea that Scotus had elaborated in his philosophical treatises. Haecceity comes from the Latin word haec, which means ‘this’. So haecceity is best translated as ‘thisness’. Duns Scotus was trying to isolate the particular thisness that makes each thing a ‘this’ and therefore completely and totally unique. This is a rather perverse thing for a metaphysician to do. To focus on thisness is, in the mood of it, to turn philosophy on its head. It’s to say that the strange, unaccountable, irreducible quality of all things, that which makes each thing of creation just what it is, that this is the central and unsolvable mystery. The only way you are going to come into contact with thisness, and thus to know and to relate to anyone else, anything else, is to pay attention to that thing, that person, that object in its ineluctable, weird, unique specialness. That’s not really the sort of thing that a philosopher, especially a medieval Scholastic philosopher, is supposed to say. That’s the sort of thing a poet or a mystic says (Gerard Manley Hopkins, for instance, loved Scotus). But Scotus said it. He just said it with the words of Scholastic philosophy, so it sounds like a bit of philosophy when, in fact, it is a thought by which philosophy collapses in on itself. Or maybe truly becomes itself, finally. You could say that as well, maybe.