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Tuesday, February 16, 2010


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"Klubertanz gives no rigorous definition of the latter phrase, but I surmise that an integral part is a part that is not essential to the whole of which it is a part. Thus a primary substance such as a particular man can exist without a hand."

This is not quite right. A man cannot exist without his head, but his head is an integral part as well as his hands. "Integral part" means "piece". A thing can be broken down to its integral parts. My body and my soul are not pieces of myself, but my head and my hands are pieces of my body.

I have to admit I don't totally see the point of the "ad hoc" objection. Yes, the distinction was formulated in order to explicate the data of revelation. But this is because the case being considered is not only admitted by Christians but insisted to be absolutely unique. There's no other known case where an already-existing person appropriates a second nature. To articulate just what is and what is not going on, why shouldn't a new distinction be formulated?

The case is parallel to the Aristotelian doctrine of accidents. Normally accidents are defined as those things which only exist in a substance, not in themselves. But according to the doctrine of the Eucharist, the species of the host exist without inhering in a substance. When considering this Aquinas revises the definition of accidents as those things which are naturally apt to exist in a substance, not in themselves. Normally accidents never exist without adhering in a substance, and the eucharistic species are a special supernatural case. They exist outside of a substance only through a special act of divine power - but since in this case they do, then inhering in a substance can't be part of their definition absolutely speaking.

So - according to you is this sort of procedure inadmissible? If so, why? Do our metaphysical definitions, even if they cover all the cases known to us in the ordinary scheme of things, trump the possibility of the revelation of special cases?


I've got several remarks.

First, concerning person and supposit: person is a rational supposit, and there are also non-rational supposits. Saying that "hypostasis" is another name for supposit or person" need not be understood as an equivalence, but just as a statement that we can call any person a "hypostasis". Which is true. It seems to me natural that when one is dealing chiefly with supposits which are persons, there is no need take pains so much always to precisely distinguish these two notions.

Second, I think that it is important to be aware that in the texts of various thinkers concerning the matters of Trinity and Incarnation one has to distinguish the general level of the revealed doctrine and the specific interpretation of that doctrine. For example, the statement that in Christ the human nature has not its own subsistence/suppositality but partakes on the subsistence of the Word is part of the revelaed doctrine. The statement that the role of the subsistence is played by the actus essendi is only an interpretation of the doctrine. Klubertanz is a kind of "existential" Thomist, so he insists on the distinctive theses of this variety of thomism: e.g. inclusion of actual existence into the definitions of being and substance, "esse" as the ultimate principle of unity of a being, and "esse" playing the role of subsistence. So Klubertanz will say that the unity of Christ's person is secured by the unity and unicity of his actus essendi. But other, non-thomist theologians (like Šanda) typically disagree: they claim that there are two acts of existing in Christ, just like there are two natures. The unity of His person is not impaired because he has just one subsistence/suppositality, not identified with "esse" in these conceptions. And then there is the view of the majority (essentialist) thomists like Cajetan or Poinsot who do not identify the actus essendi with subsistence but still claim that there is just one actus essendi in Christ. All these views are legitimate from the doctrinal point of view. Nevertheless: when discussing the doctrine as such, we should try to filter away the varying speculative interpretations and stick to the doctrinal content. Else we could easily mistake the objectioons against a particular interpretation of the doctrine for objections against the doctrine itself.

Third, and foremost (here I will more or less second Michael Sullivan): I think that it is very misleading to think that a distinction is there in order "to render coherent an otherwise incoherent, or not obviously coherent, theological doctrine". There is no such thing as "rendering a doctrine coherent".

The identity of a doctrine is not based solely on words but primarily on the meanings of words. Two different doctrines can be expressed by means of the same words (given that there is equivocation in the language), but any variation in the meaning changes the doctrine. Thus any doctrine either is or is not coherent, and this cannot be changed, unless one changed the doctrine itself.

So even if the distinction between an individual nature and a supposit were required solely on theological grounds, it would be required in order to express the doctrine, not in order to "render it coherent". Any doctrine which can be expressed without this distinction is not the doctrine in question but some other doctrine, because the distinction is simply part of the intended meaning of the doctrine (regardless of whether it is captured by the limited lexical and syntactic means of a given language or not: it is the meaning what matters).

So let us concede, for the sake of the argument, that there is no other reason whatsoever to employ this distinction, except that we need it in order to be able to formulate some revealed truths. What's wrong with that? In which way is this a "charge" against the revealed truths in question? The Christians gladly concede that the Revelation is like light, making visible distinctions that would otherwise probably remain obscure - not because they were beyond the scope of natural reasoning of themselves, but because without the Revelation the philosophers would never be motivated to give such a detailed thought to them. I fail to see how this picture is in any way implausible.

Klubertanz' example of a hand brings to mind Aquinas' "De unione verbi incarnati," where he uses the same example. A hand is an individual and in the genus of substance, but it's not a supposit, because it is not a complete thing subsisting in itself. Similarly, "the human nature in Christ does not subsist separately per se, but it exists in another, that is in the hypostasis of the Word of God, not indeed as an accident in a subject, nor properly speaking as a part in a whole, but by an ineffable assumption; therefore the human nature in Christ can indeed be called an individual something, or a particular or singular, but not a hypostasis or supposit."

Note that for Aquinas the human nature is not a part of the person, since the human nature does not enter into composition with the divine nature to constitute the person, but the relation is *more* like part and whole than like accident and subject. Again, there's no truly parallel case where a person has "picked up" another rational nature and incorporated it into his personhood. But the key notion is that in Christ the entire individual human nature, while "substantial," does not exist on its own as a separate person, because it exists only as the human nature of the *already existing* divine person.


If I'm not mistaken, we started the debate from 7 sentences whose meaning had to be determined.
The set of 7 sentences was named 'the trinity doctrine' (no matter if you agree or not on this terminology). Therefore:
- We had enough means to understand the 7 sentences (the trinity doctrine) as english sentences which had to express a given meaning within a religious context
- But at the same time we hadn't enough means to specify the meaning of the 7 sentences in a proper way: namely in a way that made the 7 sentences' be consistent (consistency that can be measured only after you have assigned a meaning to these 7 sentences) without leading to tritheism or to modalism
- Thus our task is to interpret them correctly, to find out their correct meaning (neither tritheism nor modalism but still consistent)
Now your terminological distintictions may be interesting and correct from the orthodox point of view, but the point here is that they don't change the task we want to carry out since the beginning of our debate. So I'm afraid it's not a very fruitful remark to remind us of the fact that by definition:
'the 7 sentences'+' supposita conceptual framework '='orthodox doctrine'.
And what is considered to be 'ad hoc' is the way you propose to carry out this interpretative task: that is the supposita conceptual framework by means of which you assign a given meaning to the 7 sentences, is 'ad hoc'.

Maybe it's not useless to reformulate the challenging task like this:
a correct intepretation of the 7 sentences should be
1) Consistent
2) Not 'ad hoc'
3) Not modalist
4) Not tritheist


Re: the unique case and the ad hoc charge

I was discussing this point (simpliciter) with my high school students yesterday. One of them asked me how the Catholic idea of Incarnation was any more rational (or less absurd) than the idea of God incarnate in a flying hippopotamus as imagined by said student the night before.

Now we had an interesting discussion about his point at the level of ideas, but my exit point was this: all this mumbo-jumbo (I use the word affectionately) about the philosophy of the Incarnation is predicated on real person(s) and real events. If we reduce the discussion to the realm of abstraction, then it does seem at least somewhat up for grabs why the God-Incarnate Hippopotamus isn't as reasonable as the God-Incarnate Jesus Christ. But for classical Catholic/Christian philosophy, the ideas exist to speak to this unique, unrepeatable, historical person-event.

I'm a scholastic to the core (or close at least), so I've enjoyed this series of topics on your blog very much. Still, my first and continuing reaction to all this has been: the discussion is skipping the step of (or only periodically alluding to) mystery and revelation. What are they and how do they work? What role do they play or should they play in this discussion? Does it make any difference if we drop them? I note in this regard that Orthodox like Zizioulas or Lossky are quite proud of the fact that the Trinitarian controversies caused a philosophical revolution, that theology spurred a radical shift in philosophical concepts.

If we try to "think up" an Incarnation theory, then I propose it cannot (at least without greatest labors) avoid sounding ad hoc, irrational, absurd. It seems to me that it is all an effort to take into account the irreducible data of revelation. But that irreducible data must be there for the argument to get going--deny some or all of it and there's no reason for the mumbo-jumbo.


please first see my last reply to Paul in "Professor Anderson and the Hyper-Inscrutability of the Trinitarian Doctrine", it is a general reaction also to your objection.

My point is that I regard this entire approach as not very fruitful. Instead of trying to analyse the meaning of the orthodox doctrine as such, you pick up 7 sentences which you take for some reason to capture the doctrine, but whose meaning is obscure to you. Then you set up several criteria against which you wish to evaluate the proposed interpretations of the sentences: the "orthodox standard", namely "not modalist", "not tritheist", and the "rational standard" ("consistent, not ad hoc"), but the meaning of the former is likewise quite obscure.

This is a methodological mess-up, IMHO, since the relation both of the "trinitarian doctrine" and the "orthodox standard" to the true meaning of the orthodox doctrine is absolutely unclear - and yet this relation is the only motivation for enaging in all this mumbo-jumbo. It has gone even so far that the very traditional expression of the orthodox doctrine I offered has been evaluated against the self-styled "orthodox standard", namely the criterion of "non-tritheist" and found non-compliant!

In short, it seems to me that we are putting the cart before the horse.

Instead of first fixing the actual content/meaning of the orthodox doctrine and then analysing it whether it is consistent, we take some presumed verbal expression of it and engage in proposing various made-up meanings of these sentences which in turn are evaluated against a set of criteria that presumably express the orthodox doctrine - but we cannot be sure because we have never actually fixed the meaning of the orthodox doctrine.

Instead, when I point out that certain interpretation of the sentences is certainly not orthodox and offer the orthodox interpretation to get the discussion off ground, instead of asking 1) whether my interpretation really is orthodox, that is, the one proposed by the Church, and then 2) analyse it for consistency; it is dismissed as being "ad hoc" on the basis that it has no other justification than that this is simply the orthodox meaning of the sentences, this is what the Church claims to have been revealed to us.

Do you see my point?

(I hope I have not sounded personal, it was not my intention to attack any person, just opinions.)

I tend to think that the point Bill is making here is powerful.

When it comes to the Incarnation, one could (plausibly) argue that an individual human nature brings along with it all that's needed to be an individual hypostasis or person. (I, for one, do not know any humans who are not persons.) But if that's true, then one could also argue that when the Word assumed Jesus' individual human nature, He would have assumed a distinct person too. But that makes for two persons in Christ -- the divine Word, and the human Jesus -- and that's Nestorianism.

To avoid this, one could take two approaches: either one could say that the human person is identical to the divine person, or one could say that an individual human nature does not necessarily bring along with it a human person. Perhaps someone like Thomas Morris takes the former course, but many scholastics (and modern philosophers like Brian Leftow) take the latter course, saying that although individual natures typically are the same as their supposita/hypostases, this is not necessarily so, and that is what happens in the Incarnation.

But why should one ever think that individual human natures are distinct from human persons? Like I said, I certainly don't know any humans who are not persons, and besides, if an individual human nature and the corresponding person were distinct, how could we possibly discern them? What properties would the person have that the individual nature would not? Intellect? Will? Something else? None of those options seem available, for the Word is supposed to assume a complete human nature, not a nature devoid of intellect, will, or any other feature I can think of ascribing to a person.

It sure looks to me that the only reason one would ever be inclined to think that individual natures and persons are not the same thing is to make sense of the Incarnation, and doesn't that sound ad hoc? Without the Incarnation, would anyone be inclined to suggest that human persons aren't the same as their corresponding individual human natures?


I agree with your characterization of Bill's point, but I in turn wave at what Lukas Novak has just written, which is a far more elegant wording of my point previous: it becomes ad hoc only when we reverse cart and horse. May I restate what I see as two conversations, each in its own terse line?

1. The scholastic distinctions are thought up to state a doctrine of the Incarnation.

2. The fact of the Incarnation shows us an heretofore-unseen fault-line between person, nature, and supposit.

Where 2. rests entirely on the authenticity of the Incarnation, inspired by taking seriously every claim the New Testament and the Apostolic Preaching makes about this Jesus character.

One of these appears to be a sophisticated version of dreaming up crazy speculata and asking our dorm-mates if they've thought of inventing a religion like this. The other is a matter of learning something we never saw before and possibly could not see. And so we come back around (my previous point) to questions of mystery, revelation, authority, etc.

JT writes,

"I certainly don't know any humans who are not persons, and besides, if an individual human nature and the corresponding person were distinct, how could we possibly discern them? What properties would the person have that the individual nature would not? Intellect? Will? Something else?"

Please note that orthodox doctrine does not claim that Jesus is not a person, or that there can be a non-personal complete human nature. The claim is that the man Jesus is not *another* person besides God the Son, but rather that one existing person with a divine nature took up another, human, nature. So the (relevant) difference between Jesus and John the Baptist is not that John the Baptist has some special supposit-making property which Jesus lacks, but rather that John's human nature (and his other human properties) are all there is to John, and that when John was conceived a new person was conceived; whereas for Jesus the human nature (and related properties) are not all that there is to the person Jesus, and that when Jesus was conceived no new person was conceived, but rather an already-existing person was conceived.

The Nyssan,

Thanks for your comments. You are no doubt familiar with the phrase, fides quaerens intellectum, "faith seeking understanding." Now let's assume you are a believing Christian who accepts Jesus Christ as the unique Son of God. You may nevertheless feel the need to understand your faith, which includes understanding how it could be that "The Word became flesh and dwellt among us." I am not saying that the person of faith is required to pursue this further question, but some of us feel driven to pursue it. It is the philosophical question of the possibility of the Incarnation that I am addrssing in my various posts.

Suppose the man of faith accepts the Incarnation as revealed truth but cannot understand how it is logically possible. Then the man is at odds with himself: he wants to believe and perhaps he does believe, but his intellect cannot grasp how it could be so. Such a person might become interested in the sorts of investigations that I am making in these posts. For he wants to be at harmony with himself: he wants to see whether his faith, though above reason (insofar as it is revealed), is not against reason.

The background question, then, is whether such doctrines as Trinity, Incarnation, and Transubstantiation are rationally acceptable.


You understand the problem very well. We want to show that the Incarnation is rationally acceptable. (Of course, if one is a bloody irrationalist like Tertullian, Kierkegaard, or Shestov, then one will not appreciate the rational acceptability requirement. But we can talk about them later.) Part of showing that the doctrine is rationally acceptable is showing that the doctrine is logically possible, that it involves no broadly logical impossibility.

Now suppose that to show this one needs a distinction the only instance of which is the Incarnation itself assumed as real. Then the distinction -- that between primary substance and metaphysical suppositum -- is ad hoc and one has failed to show that the doctrine is rationally acceptable. For all that one has then done is to assume the reality of the Incarnation and then announce that it is possible because it is real. Of course, everything actual is possible: Ab esse ad posse valet illatio. But how does one know that it is possible? You cannot be said to have shown that it is possible if you make use of a distinction the sole instance of which is the very fact in qurestion, namely the fact of the Incarnation.

That, I take it, is the gist of the ad hoc objection.


You are not appreciating JT's point. We all understand what the doctrine says; the question is whether it makes logical sense. One way to formulate the problem is like this: there is an existing individual divine nature which is a rational metaphysical supposit (a person) and there is an existing individual human nature which is not a rational metaphysical supposit (a person). What principled reason do we have for saying that the second, the man Jesus, is not person?

Don't say: because the Incarnation as I conceive it is true and so there is one person having two distinct natures. For if you say that, then you don't understand what is going on here, namely, an investigation into the rational acceptability of the doctrine as you conceive it.

Again, if it is true, then it is possibly true. But the question is this: How do we know that it is possible given what we know about logic and ontology? If we cannot show that it is possible, then we have reason to deny that it is actual.

Dear Dr. Vallicella

Thank you kindly for your welcome. As it happens I teach theology at a school bearing the name of the saint who coined the phrase fides quaerens intellectum. It is the unifying principle of all that I teach there (I hope). Under pain of death I would not step back from it as the guiding light of my thought. And allow me to repeat my great thanks at this series of posts, which have been helpful jump-starts to my teaching days of late.

My eye catches two sentences of yours, one in your response to me and one in the post immediately following, to JT. Allow me to highlight them and then pose some questions or challenges:

1. "Suppose the man of faith accepts the Incarnation as revealed truth but cannot understand how it is logically possible."

2. "For all that one has then done is to assume the reality of the Incarnation and then announce that it is possible because it is real."

My first is that I detect a shift in your stance between those two sentences, possibly contradictory, and I wonder if you could illuminate for me the sense in which you hold both of these propositions. Your answer may sweep away all that I say next, but I brave the wind:

My second revisits my above comments. I sense that the drift of your position is that by 1. you mean that a proposition is held up for assent by the Catholic Church, and then a believer (or perhaps by extension simply an interested observer) seeks an argument to explain how this proposition is true. If this is the case, then I tentatively agree that we have run afoul of an ad hoc charge. What is not clear to me is that we should be embracing 1. in that sense, and it is for this reason that I have alluded to settling the prior question of mystery, revelation, and authority.

If we interpret 1. to mean that a believer accepts as true all the claims of the New Testament and the Apostolic Preaching about Jesus--accepts them as irreducible data, such that we cannot toss some or all of those claims out to simplify the picture--then we are pushed in the direction (through centuries of philosophical-theological argument) of seeing a distinction between person and suppositum which we could never have seen without this event taking place.

In the one case we base all this labor on the defense of a proposition free-floating. On the other, we base all this labor on a genuine discovery--not a hypothetical, but a concrete entity-event. "How could an idea like this be true?" vs. "How can all these things be true (for true they are)?"

You may well reply that the acceptance of all the claims about Jesus raises questions of its own, to which I heartily agree--and hence my continued reservation that the "ad hoc" part of this discussion cannot be resolved without directly addressing revelation and its transmission, what the New Testament claims actually are, and the role of the Church in all of this.

For that matter we probably can never escape the specter of "ad hoc" since we are, as I believe Dr. Lukas Novak pointed out, talking about a by-definition unique and unrepeatable event (within the context of the NT data, that is).

I've droned on over-long and I have grades due in short order. Apologies for the muddle.


I think you have made several quite problematic claims in your last comments.

Part of showing that the doctrine is rationally acceptable is showing that the doctrine is logically possible, that it involves no broadly logical impossibility.

I strongly disagree. In order that a doctrine is rationally acceptable, the absence of evidence of impossibility (contradiction) is enough, evidence of absence of impossibility (contradiction) is not needed. I think I (and Vlastimil) have made this point several times in different wording, yet you do not seem to have addressed it. It is part of the Catholic faith that we will never have the evidence of absence of contradiction in the doctrine of Trinity; on the other hand, we always can show that there is no evidence of presence of contradiction in the doctrine. You seem constantly to be conflating these two distinct epistemical situations in your argumentation.
Suppose the man of faith accepts the Incarnation as revealed truth but cannot understand how it is logically possible. Then the man is at odds with himself:...
I think there is an equivocation in "cannot understand how it is possible". It can mean either (1) to be incapable to conceive the doctrine without contradiction; or (2) to be incapable to see the intrinsic reasons for the consistency of the doctrine. Only (1) entails "being odd with oneself" and "being against reason", whereas (2) captures precisely what it means that a doctrine is strictly above reason (see the quotations concerning MSD I have posted). It is vain to seek for a doctrine that would be both orthodox and not above reason in this sense - any such trinitarian doctrine would be unorthodox by definition.
Now suppose that to show [that Incarnation is consistent] one needs a distinction the only instance of which is the Incarnation itself assumed as real. Then the distinction -- that between primary substance and metaphysical suppositum -- is ad hoc and one has failed to show that the doctrine is rationally acceptable.
I would like to leave aside my constant quibble concerning the fact that we do not need the distinction to "show that the doctrine is consistent" but to state the doctrine - but it is impossible, for this, as I see it, error generates other misconceptions. The distinction being "ad hoc" in this way not at all mean a failure in showing the doctrine's rational acceptability. This impression is only sustained by the view that there first is a "doctrine" which is only ex post made consistent by introducing some distinctions. But this does not make sense: either the distinctions are part of the meaning of the doctrine, or by introducing them a different doctrine is produced. At any rate you can never "save" a doctrine by introducing distinctions in it. Either the doctrine needs no saving or the saved doctrine is a different doctrine.

Now: saying that you need the distinction in order to state the doctrine (or to "state it coherently", if you insist) does not entail assuming the reality of the Incarnation and there is no inference "ab esse ad posse" involved. The argument does not read "Incarnation is possible because it is real"! The argument is this: there is a testimony that Incarnation occured. Regardless of whether it is true or false, reliable or unreliable, it is a fact that in order to understand properly what the testimony says we need to employ certain distinction which we would not have the reason to employ otherwise. In this sense the distinction is "ad hoc". But this of itself does not involve anything irrational. As long as the two distinguished concepts do not imply each other, the distinction can be legitimately made and should be made, once revealed (because rejecting it involves a false assumption of logical equivalence of the two concepts), regardless of the way we came to know this distinction. Even if the revelation was a fraud, it would be legitimate to keep the distinction once we realised that the two concepts do not evidently imply each other.

If we cannot show that it is possible, then we have reason to deny that it is actual.
Now that is simply false. Incapablility to show that X is possible does not justify denying X (ceteris paribus). What would only justify the deial would be if we were capable to show that X is inconsistent/impossible. This is just another incarnation of the conflation of evidence of absence with absence of evidence (of a contradiction in a doctrine). In effect it amounts to an illegitimate shifting of the burden of proof: the critic of the doctrine, instead of producing arguments that it is contradictory, demands proofs from the defendants that it is possible. Objection, Your Honour!

The Nyssan,

I agree with you that taking into account the actual reasons of our belief in Incarnation and Trinity is relevant for the general assessment of rationality of the Christian belief. Of course, we must have good reasons to believe that the Incarnation really occured, and so we can reason in the line "it is actual, therefore it is possible".

On the other hand, it is legitimate to raise the problem of the rationality of the Incarnation as such, of the consistency of Incarnation as a doctrine, and parenthesise, as it were, the question whether it really occured.

So I think that Bill is justified in formulating the problem this way. My main problem with Bill's approach is that he seems to have illegitimaetely strong requirements for a doctrine's not being against reason. He seems to require evidence of absence of contradiction in the theory in order that we are justified in not rejecting the theory, whereas I claim that a mere absence of evidence of contradiction in a theory is sufficient. For there must be a positive reason for positive rejecting a theory; that is, a positive proof of a contradiction in the theory.

Of course, being justified in not rejecting a doctrine does not imply being justified in asserting the doctrine! Here is the point where the positive reasons of our faith come into consideration. But as I understand it, Bill is engaged in the merely negative task of waiving the charge of irrationality of the doctrine.

Dr. Novak

Thanks for the comments, which are very helpful to me. I very much agree with your critique of Dr. Vallicella's standard of evidence--this is in part what I was getting at with my question above about his shift in sentences 1 and 2 (as quoted by me).

My aim in quibbling over interpretations of 1. above, and rejecting the idea of drawing up a doctrine and then inventing some distinctions to make it work, coincides with your middle paragraphs above, especially the ones beginning "I would like to leave aside my constant quibble..." and "Now: saying..."

I should revise my point like so, borrowing some of your words:

The "doctrine of the Incarnation" is not a snazzy one-liner like "Jesus is fully human and fully divine" which, coming under fire from reasonable objections, requires the creation of new distinctions, never used in any other context, to salvage it. This would be an ad hoc charge with teeth it seems to me. Rather the doctrine is a content-rich claim which includes the distinction under accusation, a distinction between person and supposit. As such the doctrine is (I claim) self-presenting and meets the test of "absence of evidence of contradiction."

Now it seems to me that as a second round of ad hoc ban, Dr. Vallicella can still justifiably ask "Why would one ever make this distinction in the first place?" (aside: Do I understand correctly that you are willing to shrug this one off, Dr. Novak?) I think I want to dig in my heels on this point: the answer to this traces back through the history of the doctrine to the data on which the doctrine stands (perhaps better: which the doctrine systematizes). It is not a distinction conjured from the ether so a theory can work, but a response to the demands of prior commitments (to the events described in the New Testament and to the New Testament itself). Perhaps my comments above focused too heavily on this history, and veered in the direction of a "just so" argument, but it seems difficult to avoid this if we want to address the question of where the distinction comes from in the first place.

I greatly appreciate your patience and lucidity. I look forward to further assistance!

My reply to your post is a bit echoing Hanson's:
The 7 sentences we were considering at the beginning of the debate summarize the Athenasian creed
therefore as you repeatedly asserted it doesn't make sense to extrapolate these sentences from the orthodox doctrine, prescinding from their orthodox meaning and then wonder what their meaning could be to make them look consistent and not ad hoc.
You are right on that, if our goal were to understand the orthodox doctrine as such. But I didn't get the challenge this way.
As far as I've understood it's also true that the orthodox doctrine itself consists in an elaboration of the notion of trinity and incarnation
forged over the centuries (throughout church fathers' teaching, the council of nicea and the scolastic authors)
by means of ontological notions borrowed from the greek philosophy, in order to render the proper characterization
of the complex relationships between God, The Sun, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as presented in the relevant passages of
the primary source of every christian theological doctrine, namely the new testament.
E.g. The Athenasian Creed aimed at providing such an orthodox formulation of the trinity based on the notion of homoousia
to face other creeds considered heretical. Afterwards the medieval scolastic furtherly elaborated the orthodoxy by means of the supposita ontology.
Now does the development of the orthodoxy make evident that the 7 sentences must be considered just as the result of a set of theological assumptions made by the orthodoxy?
This is not my impression (and please note I'm not excluding that this is due to my ignorance on the subject), quite the contrary
my impression is that the 7 sentences want to capture a minimal interpretation of the relevant passages of the new testament
involving God, The Sun, Jesus and the Holy Spirit where they seem somehow the same but at the same time not the same
in some respects which have to be determined; determination that - as the history teaches - was getting more and more urgent
after the ambiguities of the new testament and the introduction of philosphical notions brought about the flourishing of a miriad of incompatible creeds.
An additional issue is that the perception of the 7 sentences as stating that God, The Sun, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are somehow the same but at the same time not the same in some respects to be determined is very common among catholics not familiar with the supposita ontology. I think that is because the 7 sentences aren't seen as a result or a even discovery of some theological assumptions (established by the orthodox doctrine)
but as expressing something of the new testament's relevant passages which nevertheless need to be determined (in fact that's exactly the task the orthodox doctrine has assumed).
After all I would even be a bit surprised if in case you were able to disprove the consistency of the supposita ontology, you would just rejet the 7 sentences without any further hesitation.
If it's so, I don't see why we can't take the 7 sentences as a kickstart for a debate where the supposita ontology plays an explanatory role and can be evaluated accordingly.


The 7 sentences are from the classical Trinitarian paper by Richard Cartwright: http://eyring.hplx.net/Eyring/Notes/trinity.html He extracts them carefully from the Athanasian Creed, and also adds four more.


I am not sure I understand you well. What would be the point of taking the 7 sentences and do anything with them, if not understanding the orthodox doctrine as such? Of course you can do that - but why would you do that?

I really believed that the point of the discussion is to understand the orthodox doctrine as such and find out whether it is manifestly self-contradictory or not. If this is not the purpose of the discussion, then of course all my methodological points are moot. But what is the point, then?

Michael Sullivan wrote:

So the (relevant) difference between Jesus and John the Baptist is not that John the Baptist has some special supposit-making property which Jesus lacks, but rather that John's human nature (and his other human properties) are all there is to John, and that when John was conceived a new person was conceived; whereas for Jesus the human nature (and related properties) are not all that there is to the person Jesus, and that when Jesus was conceived no new person was conceived, but rather an already-existing person was conceived.

This is the Scotist elaboration of the doctrine, where indeed the "supposit-making" property is the mere negative fact of the nature not being received in any further supposit. Other schools do recognise a positive supposit-making principle. All these variants are within the scope of orthodoxy.

The Nyssan,

My point is that it does not matter at all how did we come to know the distinction. Once we have realised its possibility, once we see that although all human natures we know are paired one-to-one with their supposits, it is not evident conceptual truth that individual nature is eo ipso a supposit -, once we see that, we are no more justified in identifying the two concepts. Which means that we are no more justified in launching the arguments against Trinity claiming that it implies "3=1".

Your point that our knowledge of the distinction has basis in a reliable historical testimony further reinforces the position, but the position could stand without it, IMHO.


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