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Tuesday, November 25, 2014


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Hi Bill,

Thanks for this continuation of the conversation. Just a reminder: I’d still like to know whether you think Aquinas counts as having a broadly Aristotelian framework, on your view. I’ve asked a few times, and I don’t see an answer to it (apologies if you answered and I missed it).

Also, I wonder what you make of the bit in my previous comment in the other thread about whether it is ad hoc or unmotivated to accept the word of an authority and revise your philosophy in light of that one source. It is the final two paragraphs of my final comment there.

Concerning your inconsistent triad, I deny 5. The individual human nature of Christ (CHN, call it) is capable of independent existence. The Word assumed “a substance composed of a body and an intellective soul” as Freddoso says Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham all believed. And Aquinas explicitly says in his disputed questions on the union of the incarnate Word (a.2 ad.10), “But if it were separated from the Word, it would have, not only its own hypostasis or suppositum, but also its own person; because it would now exist per se.” CHN is the sort of thing that, were it not assumed, it would exist as per se, as an independent supposit. And it is possible that CHN exist unassumed. So it is possible that CHN exist independently, contrary to 5.

I realize that citing the medievals in favor of a claim is not the same thing as providing a proof of that claim. I cite them, not to show that 5 is in fact false, but to show that denying 5 is not an innovation, and is in fact something traditional thinkers in the debate do - thinkers I think would count as working in a “broadly Aristotelian framework," at least as I would normally understand that phrase.

I 'pre-repent' if this is heresy or if I offend in any way:

I'm going to go back to something I mentioned in passing way up thread somewhere - how was Jesus conceived, if not biologically?
Mary was impregnated, right? That's the way I understand it, and it must be, for Jesus to have been truly Man. So - chromosomes had to be introduced from outside. Was the Logos a strand of DNA? How else would the Logos 'become flesh'?
From that process, miraculous no doubt, a single zygote developed and a fetus formed and all went well according to nature until the birth.
My point being - unless there was a further divine act of which we are unaware, at which time the Logos 'assumed' or 'adopted' the human body of Jesus of Nazareth - (and both those scenarios have been pronounced heretical) - that particular zygote was the sum total of all that was needed for a God-Man to be born. (Other than maternal care, nourishment etc.)
The Logos became flesh - at that point of conception. The Logos did not inhabit an already formed individual.
In addition to being mind-blowingly, concept-shatteringly WOW - I think this materialist account is the dog that should not be wagged by the tail of creeds and councils. It allows us to put aside the unnecessary questions about natures for instance - the Logos was not ADDED to Jesus, the Logos WAS and is Jesus. There was not a nature ADDED to a nature.
Well this needs to be developed, but it probably won't get a lot of traction anyway so I'm not going to pursue it publicly. It does however answer more questions than not, as far as I am concerned.
However to be transparent, I will admit to having doubts about the virgin birth. Not all things miraculous, but that particular thing yes. $.02


Right, the Logos did not enter into an already-formed individual human being. The Word became flesh at the moment of conception.

But how is it supposed to follow that the questions about natures are unnecessary? Please explain.

To the divine nature of the Logos was added, at the moment of conception, human nature.


I'm not ignoring your Aquinas question, just proceeding slowly. It requires a separate post, and I'm busy with all sorts of things. But whether Aquinas deviates from Aristotle is not really germane. My question is not historical but whether the Incarnation as Chalcedon understands it is coherently conceivable (as I defined this phrase) within an Aristotelian general-ontological framework.

“But if it were separated from the Word, it would have, not only its own hypostasis or suppositum, but also its own person; because it would now exist per se.”

Are you sure Aquinas does not mean this in the *per impossibile* sense?

For example, in *De Veritate* Aquinas tells that that if God were not to exist, then truth would not exist either. But of course God exists necessarily. So the conditional is a *per impossibile* counterfactual.

I would argue that Jesus the man cannot really be separated from the Word and that your quotation above is to be read as a *per impossibile* counterfactual.

More later. Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours.

If I understand it correctly, the doctrine is that the Logos BECAME flesh - did not inhabit the flesh, did not add the flesh to itself or vice-versa, did not imitate flesh, but became flesh.
And does that not mean that the 'being made flesh' happened at the Conception? Somehow the Logos must have been made into material sufficient to join with Mary's egg.

If that is a correct understanding, the doctrine has monumental implications. First, the Logos is now the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth, and 'sits at God the Father's right hand'.
Second, if the 'nature' of a thing is 'what that thing does, how it acts', and not an accident, then 'nature' is not something additional added to the genetic material in the womb, and develops naturally into a human being, as we use the term 'human being'. If Jesus was not a human being, much, perhaps all of the Good News is meaningless.
Contra Chalcedon, I would say (with pre-repentence!) that 'became flesh' means became A PERSON, and that distinctions such as 'when Jesus did X, that was His Divine Nature, when He ate to appease hunger, that was his human nature' - are incorrect. There was one nature, one person, one mind.
I realize that the line of questioning in these threads is subtler and uses a specialized vocabulary. I understand that vocabulary but thought it might be interesting, at least to me, to understand from the 'bottom-up' and focus on workaday concepts, from the clearly known to the less-known.

Hey Bill,

Happy Thanksgiving to you, too.

Aquinas might think that it is impossible for CHN - that very nature - to exist and not be assumed. Freddoso reads him that way, I think. Others, like the Franciscans, think that CHN could exist without being assumed (according to Freddoso and Cross). But so long as it is open to the defender of the Orthodox Christology to claim that CHN could exist unassumed, and I think it is, then the defender of the Orthodox Christology can deny your 5 to avoid the contradiction.

If by “Jesus the man” you mean to refer to the Person, then I agree that that person cannot be separated from the Word. For that Person and the Word are identical. But if you mean to name the nature by “Jesus the man,” then I deny the claim that CHN cannot be separated from the Word.

Dave, when you mention the “doctrine” in your first sentence, what are you referring to, and what is the source of it? I take the doctrine to be the teaching of the ecumenical councils (specifically, the 3-6 councils that did the christological heavy lifting). That’s what I expect the Orthodox to mean by it, as well as confessional protestants. On that understanding of “the doctrine”, the doctrine is not that the Logos was made into material to join with an egg, if by that you mean that the Person himself was transformed into material. On the traditional understanding of the doctrine, the nature is not “What the thing does, how it acts.” The nature is that from which the thing acts, and which explains how it does what it does. The divine nature, for instance, is not “healing miraculously” but that by which the person heals miraculously. If becoming flesh means becoming a person, as you say, then what was the Word when not incarnate? Not a person? Is the Holy Spirit not a person, on your view?


Briefly - and I'll get back to this when company has gone, I had hoped to make clear that I meant 'human person'. The Holy Spirit is not a human person.
I think a plain reading - dangerous, of course - of 'the Word became Flesh' IS the doctrine.
If the Person himself was not transformed into material, I cannot understand what 'became Flesh' would mean. Flesh is material.
Something happened to that egg!! :-)
And it sounds like you're saying that the 'nature' of a thing is not part of the material stuff of the thing? I may be misunderstanding you on that, Tim.
Well like I said, I'll get back when I can.

Before I forget - St. Paul does of course use 'flesh' in a couple of different ways from the Gospel writers. I'm not referring to that specialized vocabulary.


Your claim if I have understood you is that the individual human nature of Christ -- CHN -- could have existed unassumed, i.e., could have existed without having been a nature of the Logos. That seems equivalent to saying that there is a merely possible world W in which the man Jesus of Nazareth exists, but there is no Incarnation. In our world, call it A, however, this same man is assumed by the Logos.

I am having trouble with this transworld identity. For in W, we have a substance that is its own supposit whereas in A we have a substance whose supposit is the Logos. To put it in another way, in W we have a man who is his own person whereas in A we have a man whose person is the 2nd Person of the Trinity.

I am inclined to say that the man in A cannot be identical to the man in W, and that therefore the man in A, that very man, could not have been unassumed.

In other words: in every possible world in which the man Jesus exists he is the God-Man, the unique Incarnation of the Word.


What do you mean by a plain reading of "The Word became flesh"?

As I understand it, it means that the 2nd Person of the Trinity became a human being, soul and body, not just body or flesh!

It was the heresy of Appollinaris to think that the 2nd Person is related to Jesus as mind to body. In the Incarnation, the Word does not merely take on flesh, it takes on a man, so to speak.

What say you, Tim? You're the expert here.

Bill - The 2nd Person is not related to Jesus, He became Jesus. There wasn't the man Jesus, who was 'taken on'; rather, the 2nd Person BECAME the man Jesus.
As I understand it, anyway.
Plain reading - the Logos became flesh - what would a first-century reader think? The Logos became a human being, a human being like us. In a way, it is a simple concept; we understand the words, they're not esoteric; there wasn't the man Jesus, AND in addition the 2nd person; they are one and the same human being. Now and forever.

Hey guys,

Dave, I take “the Word became flesh” in a way similar to how I take “Bob became seated.” I don’t mean to the latter to entail that Bob became a sitting property, but rather that Bob began to fulfill whatever requirements there are for being aptly predicated as “sitting.” Perhaps Bob began to have an inhering sitting accident, or perhaps Bob began to be in an instantiation relation with Sittingness. Likewise, when the Logos becomes flesh, he begins to fulfill whatever conditions there are for being a human. Following Aquinas, I take those conditions to be (i) being a supposit that (ii) has a human soul inhering in some matter. The Logos begins to be human because he is a supposit that begins to have a body/soul composite. Or, at least, that’s how I understand it. The nature, on my view, includes the “material stuff”, insofar as the nature of a material thing includes its matter.

Following Bill, I agree that the Second Person takes on a full body/soul composite, and not just a body. In fact, the 6th ecumenical council declared that the Logos assumed a full human nature, which includes a body/soul composite that has its own will and principle of action. Christ has two wills, on the orthodox doctrine. I wouldn’t, though, agree with Bill on saying that the Logos assumes a man, in part due to how I understand the term “man” as I’ll say below.

Bill, I do think that there is a merely possible world in which CHN exists as unassumed. In such a world, it fulfills the conditions for being a supposit. And so it fulfills the conditions for being a supposit with a rational nature. So it is a person in that world, even though it is not a person in this world. I take “man” (used generically, so as to include both men and women) to be a term that refers to a supposit that has a human nature. So “man” when said of Jesus doesn’t refer to CHN, it refers to the 2nd Person (you’ll see I understand “man” in the same way I understand “flesh” above; when Scripture says that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, I take it to mean that the Word became a man). But in a world in which CHN exists and is unassumed, it is a supposit itself, so “man” refers to CHN.

I agree, then, that the man in A cannot be identical to the man in W. For “man” refers to a supposit, and the Word cannot be identical to the supposit that CHN would be, were it unassumed.


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