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Tuesday, September 20, 2016

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Dr. Vallicella,

while 'material' and 'immaterial' are contradictories, I see no reason why they must be mutually exclusive. All Christian thinkers have taken the human person to essentially be a spiritual being, albeit informed in a physical body. While I don't endorse a Cartesian conception of the person here, an Aristotelian or Thomistic conception of the person makes adequate room for both the material and immaterial in an arguably coherent, non-contradictory manner (at the very least no interaction problem). Am I correct in gathering from your concern that you would take issue with such an account of human nature? If not, then why is Christ's immateriality/materiality any more problematic? If you do, then are you a materialist vis human nature?

I think I know what I would say here, but if anyone else wants to speak first, that seems better to me.

Isn't this arguing against what is claimed to be a mystery, and indeed perhaps the greatest of them all, the mystery of the incarnation? If your problem admits of a solution, then what remains as mysterious? The attempt to make sense of revelation, such that it is unambiguously free of contradiction, is in a way to deny revelation. It's basically what the Protestant rationalists tried to do, and they were none too successful. The First Vatican Council, rightly I think, anathematized such enterprises.

That being said, whether your particular query is solved or not, the difficulty of it is surely compounded even further when we take into consideration Christ's risen body, which is somehow the same body he had before he died, and yet possessive of new, "glorious" properties. Are said properties material too? He also ascended into heaven with this body, which is a real head-scratcher. As he exited the earth's atmosphere, did his body's new properties prevent him from suffocating to death? Where exactly did he ascend to? Is heaven material in some way? How could a material body reside in an immaterial realm? The more we go down this road, the more it seems we have gone wrong in asking such questions, for the more ridiculous they appear. And yet we know that religion is not a ridiculous or trivial thing. Or is it?

Dear Dr. Vallicella,

I hesitate to comment on your entry, lacking the philosophical foundation to do so, but I will venture simply to pose a question: If as quantum physics suggests, an electron is both a wave and a particle, do we not here have a case of something being "both F and not F [particle not particle; wave not wave]at the same time, in the same respect, and in the same sense of 'F'"? We are unable to conceptualize an electron as being both wave and particle at once, but our failure to grasp its dual nature points to a failure in our powers of cognition rather than in some fault in the contemporary concept of electron. Might not the same thing be said of the simultaneous material and immaterial qualities of Christ's nature? Again, I am probably in over my head here, but I could not resist making this observation in the hope of having your response to it.

Respectfully,

V. Caiati

Thanks for your comment, Lorenzo. (You have an impressive blog, by the way.)

Wave-particular duality is a stock example brought into this debate. My response is that this moves us to a different sort of response to the (apparent) contradictions involved in the one person, two natures doctrine, one that I call *mysterian.*

Here is one mysterian line. The Incarnation is actual, and therefore possible whether or not we can understand how it is possible, whether or not we can render it intelligible to ourselves. And in fact we cannot render it intelligible to ourselves. This is due to an irremediable limitation in our cognitive architecture. (There is an analogy here with Colin McGinn's phil of mind.)

Gorman's approach, however, is not mysterian. He is maintaining that if we make the right distinctions, then we will be able to see that the Incarnation doctrine (in its specific Chalcedonian form) is free of logical contradiction and therefore logically possible.

The issue, of course, is not whether it is rationally provable -- it is not -- but whether it is rationally acceptable, where this requires freedom from logical contradiction, and insight on our part into this freedom from contradiction.

My point against Gorman is that he hasn't delivered any insight into how the doctrine is logically possible.

I myself incline toward a mysterian approach. The Incarnation is actual, hence possible. But we have and can have here below no insight into how it is logically possible: it must appear to us in this life as logically contradictory. Nevertheless, it is true, not because there are true contradictions but because in itself the doctrine is free of contradiction.

So not only must we take the doctrine on faith; we must also take on faith its freedom from contradiction.

If anyone finds this too much to swallow, he has my sympathy.

Thomas,

On an A-T conception of the person, a person is a composite being with the soul being the form of the body. Anima forma corporis. On such a scheme there is no logical problem with how a person can be both immaterial and material, since it is the soul that is immaterial and the body that is material.

But the mind-body analogy breaks down in the case of the Incarnation since Christ is wholly man (body and soul) and wholly God. It is not as if the 2nd person of the Trinity inhabits a human body.

Thank you for your response, Dr. Vallicella. It helps me to clarify my thoughts on this matter. By the way, I do not have blog; I think that you have another Lorenzo in mind.

JS,

The Ascension is indeed a head-scratcher. I'll try to respond more fully later in the day. Man does not live by blog alone.

Dr. Vallicella,

"Necessarily, every divine being is immaterial" could be, "Necessarily, every divine nature is immaterial". And, "Necessarily, every human being is material (in part)." could be, "Necessarily, every human nature is material (in part)."

In the Incarnation the two natures remain distinct.

The mystery is: how can a thing with a body and soul not be a human person (all things with a body and immaterial soul, except Christ, are human persons)? So person does not exclude being both immaterial and material.

Union is a very slippery notion. It's like the fill-in-the-blank meaning of "participation", a word to plug into a sentence so that it seems to make sense. Nevertheless, Christ is said to be the union of two natures in one person. Now the union of the man Christ with God is created. Presumably God could end this union.

The Trinity is said to be three persons: named Father, Word, and Spirit.

What union seems to mean here is that it is true the Word is a person and that the man Christ is the same person (without any change in the person of the Word). Person, in a sense, transcending the dichotomy of material-immaterial (as it does in all of us).

A further question is: what is a nature? Except in Platoland natures don't exist as something real. It is something the mind invents to understand why there is a commonality experienced among multiple humans. It is like genus, time, number, etc.

So when it is said God assumes a human nature the meaning can only be: this man Christ is God because this man is God, and God because he is the same person as the Word.

If this doesn't make sense or doesn't address your immaterial-material question, delete it.

Let me try to explain better what I take to be the point of my paper. By shifting from "necessarily, every divine being is immaterial" to "necessarily, every solely divine being is immaterial," I set things up so that "Christ is divine" no longer implies "Christ is immaterial." My point is that we should then simply embrace the idea that Christ is not immaterial. He's material, like you or me. (If you want to say that there's a sense in which you or I are immaterial because we have immaterial souls, then that sense would apply to Christ too, but that's not what I'm up to in the paper.) A solely divine being involves no matter at all and is in that sense immaterial; Christ is not solely divine, and he is not immaterial in that sense.

JS writes,

>>The attempt to make sense of revelation, such that it is unambiguously free of contradiction, is in a way to deny revelation.<<

I don't think that is right. There are truths we are equipped to know by our own powers. There are other truths that we need to know for our ultimate well-being that we cannot know by our own powers. So we need revelation to know them. But if these supposed truths are such that we cannot see how they are logically possible, then that supplies a reason to think that the putative revelation is no revelation at all.

Gorman is trying to show that the Incarnation doctrine is rationally acceptable, that it involves no logical contradiction. Why does he do that? Presumably for the reason I just gave.

JS writes,

>>He also ascended into heaven with this body, which is a real head-scratcher. As he exited the earth's atmosphere, did his body's new properties prevent him from suffocating to death? Where exactly did he ascend to? Is heaven material in some way? How could a material body reside in an immaterial realm? The more we go down this road, the more it seems we have gone wrong in asking such questions, for the more ridiculous they appear. And yet we know that religion is not a ridiculous or trivial thing. Or is it?<<

These are questionsd that have to be asked. We can add to the list:

The Assumption of the BVM, body and soul.
The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
God is the absolutely unconditioned being. Howe then can he have a mother?

How can we go wrong in asking these questions if the questions arise naturally from the doctrinal formulations? If we go wrong in asking these questions, then perhaps we should conclude that we have already gone wrong in the doctrinal formulations.

Before the Incarnation, all three Persons are "solely divine" to use Gorman's phrase. After the Incarnation, the 2nd Person is both divine and human, and remains both divine and human after the crucifixion, the Resurrection and the Ascension even though there is no longer a body on earth (or anywhere in the physical universe) that is Christ's body. This implies that the purely spiritual tripersonal God acquires a material adjunct.

Michael G writes,

>>Let me try to explain better what I take to be the point of my paper. By shifting from "necessarily, every divine being is immaterial" to "necessarily, every solely divine being is immaterial," I set things up so that "Christ is divine" no longer implies "Christ is immaterial."<<

That's quite clear.

>> My point is that we should then simply embrace the idea that Christ is not immaterial. He's material, like you or me. [. . .]<<

But are you not now falling into heresy? The doctrine is that Christ is fully man and fully God. So he can't be material to the exclusion of being immaterial. He is somehow both, but you haven't rendered the 'somehow' intelligible.

Christ can't be material like you or me, because he is not just a man like you or me: He is a man like us, but also God, unlike us. So he is material and immaterial, contingent and not contingent.

>> A solely divine being involves no matter at all and is in that sense immaterial; Christ is not solely divine, and he is not immaterial in that sense.<<

That's right. No problem. Christ is not solely divine because he is both divine and human. And Christ is not immaterial in the sense of being immaterial but not material.

But you haven't solved the problem: how can Christ be both immaterial and material? Your distinction between divine and solely divine does not solve that problem.

You either fail to solve the problem or fall into heresy.

Dr. Vallicella,

"This implies that the purely spiritual tripersonal God acquires a material adjunct." This seems incompatible with God as immutable and pure act. He could not acquire anything; if he did, he changes and has some potency.

The doctrine as I understand it is that the man acquires something God already is. "The union of which we are speaking is a relation which we consider between the Divine and the human nature, inasmuch as they come together in one Person of the Son of God. Now, as was said above (FP, Question [13], Article [7]), every relation which we consider between God and the creature is really in the creature, by whose change the relation is brought into being; whereas it is not really in God, but only in our way of thinking, since it does not arise from any change in God. And hence we must say that the union of which we are speaking is not really in God, except only in our way of thinking; but in the human nature, which is a creature, it is really. Therefore we must say it is something created." (st iii, 2, 7) And further, "But the Divine Nature is not said to be assumed by the human, but conversely, because the human nature is joined to the Divine personality, so that the Divine Person subsists in human nature." (st iii, 2, 8)

Maybe like this: we see Socrates to the left of the pillar and then we see him to the right of the pillar. The relation changes but the pillar does not.

BV: "Christ can't be material like you or me, because he is not just a man like you or me: He is a man like us, but also God, unlike us."

When I said, "he's material, like you and me," I guess that was ambiguous. I didn't mean that there's no relevant difference between Christ and any other human, or even that there was no relevant difference having to do with materiality. But I did mean something like this: whatever the conditions are for being material, Christ meets them, and so do we.

Now it seems to me that the condition for being immaterial is this: not being material. And Christ, I'm saying, doesn't meet that condition. He's not immaterial.

I hope that's not heretical. I don't see that it is. I believe there are some conciliar statements say things like "Christ is material and immaterial," but my hunch is that I can offer interpretations of them that make things turn out OK.

With that in mind, note the following: Although (as I'm currently arguing) Christ is not immaterial, and we are not immaterial, there's an important relevant difference between him and us, as follows: he, if he weren't human, would be an immaterial being, whereas we, if we weren't human, would not be immaterial beings--we would simply fail to exist at all. That's a big difference between him and us, and I think it might be a good way of making sense out of the claim that Christ "is immaterial." Sometimes it's said that he's "immaterial qua divine"-- what if that meant "he's divine & he'd be immaterial if divinity were his only nature"? Note that that wouldn't be true of us!

I'm working from the assumption, I suppose, that some kind of interpretation is going to be needed somewhere, because flatly attributing both F and not-F to anything just is flatly contradictory.

Of course if I thought this were heretical I'd retract it right away! But I've not been convinced that it is.

Maybe I should add that if I say, for instance, that Christ isn't immaterial, I really mean he's not flat-out and unqualifiedly immaterial, in such a way as to leave room for the possibility that he's still immaterial in some qualified sense. I broached that in my previous post. But it strikes me now that some of my ways of putting things might give the impression that my goal is to say that he's not immaterial in any way, no way, no how. That would not be wise.

M. G. writes:

>>whatever the conditions are for being material, Christ meets them, and so do we.<<

Exactly right.

>>Now it seems to me that the condition for being immaterial is this: not being material. And Christ, I'm saying, doesn't meet that condition. He's not immaterial.<<

What you want to say is that Christ is not solely immaterial. He is not solely immaterial because he is both immaterial and material. But then my objection kicks in: you have not shown how it is logically possible for one and the same person to be both immaterial and material.

To employ your other example: you have not shown how it is logically possible for one and the same person, Christ, to be both necessary -- as he must be if he is the 2nd person of the Trinity -- and not necessary, as he must be if he is to be fully human.

>> I hope that's not heretical. I don't see that it is. I believe there are some conciliar statements say things like "Christ is material and immaterial," but my hunch is that I can offer interpretations of them that make things turn out OK.<<

Well, there is nothing heretical in saying that Christ is not SOLELY immaterial. But if you say that Christ is not immaterial, then how can Christ be identical to the 2nd person of the Trinity who is immaterial?

>>With that in mind, note the following: Although (as I'm currently arguing) Christ is not immaterial, and we are not immaterial, there's an important relevant difference between him and us, as follows: he, if he weren't human, would be an immaterial being, whereas we, if we weren't human, would not be immaterial beings--we would simply fail to exist at all. That's a big difference between him and us, and I think it might be a good way of making sense out of the claim that Christ "is immaterial." Sometimes it's said that he's "immaterial qua divine"-- what if that meant "he's divine & he'd be immaterial if divinity were his only nature"? Note that that wouldn't be true of us!<<

Interesting suggestion. But this depends on how we construe the mind-body relation in us. A substance dualist would say that if we weren't human animals we could still exist as Cartesian thinking things. Note also that for Aquinas the soul after death, even though it is the form of the body and not a substance in its own right as on Platonic and Cartesian theories, is capable of existing and maintaining its identity while separated from an animal body. The doctor angelicus, while not a Platonic dualist, is a hylomorphic dualist.

>>I'm working from the assumption, I suppose, that some kind of interpretation is going to be needed somewhere, because flatly attributing both F and not-F to anything just is flatly contradictory.<<

Of course. I make the same assumption. So we need to find some way to defuse the apparent contradiction. I take it you don't want to use reduplicatives and say: Christ is immaterial qua 2nd person of the Trinity but material qua human being. I take it that your restriction strategy is different from the reduplicative strategy.

M. G writes,

>>Maybe I should add that if I say, for instance, that Christ isn't immaterial, I really mean he's not flat-out and unqualifiedly immaterial, in such a way as to leave room for the possibility that he's still immaterial in some qualified sense. I broached that in my previous post. But it strikes me now that some of my ways of putting things might give the impression that my goal is to say that he's not immaterial in any way, no way, no how. That would not be wise.<<

Right, that would not be wise. Your qualification is a good one. There is no question but that you have an accurate, non-heretical understanding of what the doctrine states.

My problem is that I do not see how your distinction between divine and solely divine -- which is perfectly reasonable -- give us any insight into the logical possiblity of one and the same person being both immaterial qua God and material qua man.

Given the actuality of the Incarnation which you accept on faith, it follows straightaway that Christ is not solely divine as you define 'solely divine.' But the problem is to explain HOW Christ can be divine without being solely divine, which is equivalent to explaining how Christ can be both immaterial as God and material as man.

On one hand you say that God is a necessary being. We could not imagine a God who didn't embody the essential concept in the term "divine". Thus if we wed "divine" with the concept of "immaterial" then we truly see the simplest case where all material is contingent or circumstantial. And following this, all material has a certain way that it comes about. Thus material itself is the state of things which are contingent.

Then it seems to me (you have to forgive my penchant for a sort of hybrid Nominalism) that the term "necessary" is not some sort of neutral and transportable term that can apply to other situations, but basically is an observation of the effect of the being we call "necessary", and the state of that necessity.

However, that means that contingency, if intelligently constructed, only comes out of the capacity to create situations to effect that contingent state. Because contingency is a state--even the root words depict a sort of haphazard state: "touching with". A billiard ball may owe its contingent placement next to another by rolling there from a previous shot, but it then becomes in a state of contact with the other ball, to the point of it's next location contingent upon where the other ball is struck.

"Contingent" is a nice class or attribute, however, I submit a disconnect if I can't say then that "contingent" refers to all those things in their own states of contingency.

Therefore we could possibly say that man is, by most common form, a product of material and perhaps divine choice, but to say that man is delimited by contingency, would be, in my mind, reductive, and ignores all the things which are in man by design (at least in the theistic narrative). Thus being made in the "image" of the necessary being, certain parts of our nature belong to the fundamental choices of the Creator, if not necessary attributes themselves.

If we accept the idea that the fundamental principle of man as more than happenstance is to reflect the attributes of God, then it is not we who are definitional to "man", thus we are not "man" ourselves, because in order for man to be man, he must be intentional, and not a reflection of the cascade of chance. "Man" is then a hybrid concept to capture "happenstance man", the victim of fate and genes to "potential man", the purposeful harmonious vessel of reason and love.

No, as we learn from the gospels, the ideal "man" is an incarnation of God, the necessary being manifest through contingent nature.

And if you reflect on our own duality of being (definitely in view in a Christian context), the Lord's duality of being, is simply no more than a relationship of an "image" to the subject.

Jesus' material form then is completely contingent, in the forces that formed his body and his entire incarnation as the discretion of God in his "plan". He simply lacks the attribute of in anyway being happenstance. It then is still the necessary being in the state of being material.

In this I'll admit to full--er Nominalism. "Man" is a noun. It refers to that pattern of states and characteristics we find in man. And thus, the Bible as our context, it would no more refer to us as exclusively material, unless we can simply be reduced into material, and the point of arguing a 1st century Hellenistic mystery cult is moot.

So I could say the initial problem is throwing the rope of "material" around man, if spiritual concepts were to have any hope of meaning. So I'd like to sum up my take like this, "man" as a symbol of circumstance and potential, the necessary being becomes the necessary man so that the phenomenon of "man" describes its full potential in the perfect being.

I understand Michael Gorman to be saying that when the tradition speaks of God being "immaterial" it means not that God entirely lacks materiality full-stop, but that whatever materiality God may have, that materiality is not a reflection of his divine nature.

To explain what I mean: A horse being four-footed is a reflection of its equine nature. In a more distant sense, a chameleon being green is a reflection of its nature, because the nature of a chameleon is such as to admit of various shades of skin-coloration at different times; so this particular coloration it has right now is a reflection of that nature. In an even more distant sense, even a defect, like being near-sighted, is a reflection of my nature, because I as an imperfect physical creature have the natural capacity for defect, so my near-sightedness is, in that way, a reflection of the character of what it is to be human: it's no surprise, if I know what it is to be human, that some humans suffer that defect. Every accident that occurs without supernatural intervention is in some way a reflection of the nature of the thing that has it. But if a donkey speaks, that is not a reflection of its nature. Donkeys don't talk. By saying that I don't mean it's entirely impossible for a donkey to talk. Just that if a donkey did talk that would not be a reflection of its nature in even the most distant sense, which is why if I hear a donkey talk (and am convinced its not a trick) I'd be forced to conclude that a supernatural event was taking place.

So I take it the idea is that when we say God is immaterial, we mean that materiality is not a reflection (in even the most distant sense) of what it is to be God. Since, unlike the speech of Balaam's donkey, Christ's materiality is natural to him, he must have a second nature distinct from his divine nature.

How anything could have two natures is not clear. How a divine substance (hypostasis) could have a created nature is even more perplexing. But it does seem to me that this way of interpreting "immaterial" is of real value at least as a step in the direction understanding how the orthodox teaching is not self-contradictory.

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