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.


Wesley C. said...

For Scotus, does univocity only apply on the level of concepts which we use to talk about God, or can we also say that the univocity exists in reality as well, not just as a property of the concepts we use?

And even if Scotus doesn't think the reality is univocal in itself, can a Catholic legitimately hold univocal reality in God that's not just conceptual? Or would this be problematic for doctrine?

Wesley C. said...


Did you notice my last reply in the "Was Scotus Irish?" comments? About the ideas and some other things? What do you think of it?

@Lee Faber,

Quick question if you have the time - where does Scotus think the ideas are meant to be located? In the divine essence, or only in the divine intellect which generates them?

If in the divine intellect, could we extrapolate from this that creation and created ideas aren't just solely finite reflections of God, but have a sort of uniqueness to them as well? Since the ideas would be rooted in the intellect but not the essence, the ideas would reflect God's intellect but not the essence, and there would then have to be some uniqueness factor that makes the divine ideas formally unique in themselves in their intelligible content.

In other words, there is something in the divine ideas which doesn't reflect God. Would this be something that's possible to say in Catholic theology?

Garrett said...

Hi Wesley, I'll check the other thread... I am not used to getting comments.

Univocity for Scotus is a property of concepts only. He says God and creatures are one in concept but agree in no reality outside the soul.

One of Scotus' early followers, Antonius Andreae, held that there was a corresponding reality between God and creatures, and he never got into trouble with the church, as far as I know. Mostly, it would cause problems for divine simplicity, which was considered doctrine as of lateran IV. There must be a reality that is common to God and creatures and one that is common, so God will have two realities.

[oh, and lee faber = garrett

Wesley C. said...

@Garrett, When you say it would cause problems for divine simplicity, are you referring to Antonius Andreae's position of there being a realiy between God and creatures, or the position that there is something in the divine ideas that doesn't reflect God, so they aren't purely reflections of God?

Garrett said...

just Antonius' Andreas position.

Garrett said...

Regarding your other remark, I think that is what the ideas are, ideas of creatures. thus they are contained in God, and so maybe by an extirnsic denomination are divine, but still of themselves are purely creaturely intelligible content. What the divine intellect does is generate essences and pars of essences: rationality, animality, etc., and then combine them where they are mutually compatible, attaching haecceities probably as well, and finally the divine will actualizes the whole complex.

I think positing them in the essence causes fewer problems, because then one can avoid the apperance of change in God, and just say the creature as an essence exists in the divine essence, and all the divine will does is actualize it. this way, the divine essence 'shows' the creatable essences to the divine intellect and will.

varieties of these views were bandied about a lot in the 13th and ensuing centuies and never condemned, so whether or not they are true, catholics can hold them.

Wesley C. said...

@Garrett, 1) Would this mean we could possibly have two formal separations between the ideas and the essence - the essence is formally distinct from the intellect, and the intellect is formally distinct from the ideas it generates, so ideas would have a type of uniqueness by this two-step formal separation?

2) From what you say at the end, multiple positions on this issue are available for Catholics, and the Magisterium hasn't showed any interest in declaring for or against any of those, so Catholics are free to believe among them?

3) Now if we accept that the ideas have purely creaturely intelligible content that makes them truly unique in themselves, would this perhaps undo the exemplary cause altogether? What we'd be left with is the efficient cause and some sort of generative cause attributed to the divine intellect, and also some relation and similarity of the ideas to God insofar as they are rooted and generated by God.

Would it be permissible to drop the exemplar cause almost completely, or even fully? Are there any orthodox Scholastics who held such a view?

4) Another important option is to say that the divine ideas are both reflections of God that are similar to the essence in a finite way, but are also at the same time unique in themselves or have intelligible content that isn't purely about God? In other words, both?

Or maybe even that the very unique intelligible content also reflects God in some way at the same time?

If so, this would mean the two ways of viewing the ideas could be complementary - God is infinitely unique in Himself and is even Uniqueness itself in a way, so it's fitting that the unique non-exemplary content of ideas complement and be connected to the content of them that IS also reflective of God as well. What do you think?

Garrett said...

1. yes. the basic condition of the formal distinction is that it obtains between things that have formal rationes that do not contain each other. So the formal ratio of the divine intellect would be formally distinct from the ideas it generates (or cognizes in the essence) and the divine essence. Each idea would indeed be its own formal ratio.

2. yes, i know of know magisterial ruling on anything pertaining to the ideas. Peter Thomae even calls them the 'plura aeterna'. All one has to say is that God created, the mechanism is up for grabs.

3. i think we could just identify the creatura intellecta as the exemplar cause. God still creates by means of it. So we have the divine intellect producing or constituting the quiddities of creatables, the divine will choosing which ones to actualize/create. imitation is a secondary consideration, whihc occurs when the divine intellect compares the idea to the divine essence (the debate there is whether imitation is what constituts the idea, Scotus says no, Thomas yes).

4. That is basically what Peter Thomae says, that the divine essence is like an infinite intelligible mirror and the essences of creatures are reflected and shine out of it.

I would still say the ideas have to be formally distinct from God, even if they are in God. God certainly reflects the creatures, creatures maybe reprsesent God insofar as they have pure perfections etc. that come from God.

Wesley C. said...

@Garrett, 3) So the exemplar cause would be the eternal idea of the creature in God's intellect?

Is the imitability of divine ideas (they imitate God in some way) doctrine, or just a theological opinion? The same goes for exemplar causality - is it doctrine, or just common opinion?

4) So creatures represent or reflect God insofar as they have pure perfections. Now if we say that creatures aren't just reflections of God in their ratios, but have some unique content which doesn't reflect God as well, would that content have to be outside the category of pure perfections?

Would it be possible to say that the ratios of creatures necessarily have both an element that reflects God AND an element that doesn't? Maybe even that they are one and the same element, but with different aspects, one of which is reflective of God, while the other isn't?

Garrett said...

3. Wesley, yes, i would say the exemplar cause is the divine idea in the divine intellect.

All theories of divine ideas are pure speculation and opinion, none of this is at any level of defined teaching. Some might say that given the general church recommendation of Thomas, that his views on everything are authoritative in some sense. But not me.

4. so, yes, there would be pure perfections in common with God, maybe the transcendental notions as they are attached to God and creatures, but the distinctly creaturely part would be the essence plus haecceity.

Wesley C. said...


a) Thanks for the clarification! One last thing I'm wondering about is that, if we say that the divine ideas are closer to the divine intellect than our ideas are to our intellect because they are an accident or changeable or could exist separately from our own intellect, then this would seem to imply that the divine ideas are more closely rooted and related to God than our ideas (or maybe the ideas in our intellect are the same as the divine ideas?) are to our own minds.

b) One could then say that even the parts of the divine ideas that aren't pure perfections and don't simply reflect God are still rooted in God and so are still similar to Him in some way, even if they don't outright reflect Him. Or that the creaturely part of the divine ideas which doesn't reflect God still in some way reveals God to us as well - even if not as just a reflection of God. What do you think?

c) This then leads to the possibility that the two aspects of a divine idea - the pure perfections reflecting God, and the creaturely part that's unique in itself - are not only compatible but even complement each other as well.

c) Say, when God brings about the New Creation we won't see created beings as nothing more than reminders of God like an infatuated girl seeing everything else in the world as just a reminder of her boyfriend in different ways - we'll also see each thing as having a uniqueness in it that isn't just a reflection of God. And those two will complement each other and make themselves shine - things aren't just reminders of God, but they also aren't just purely unique things without any reflection of God either.

And since God is also infinitely unique in Himself and is Goodness itself, and having both aspects present in the content of a divine idea is good, both the uniqueness of creatures and their similarity to God are rooted in God, and give greater glory to Him.

What do you think?