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Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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[Copying what I said in my reply to your facebook post where you tagged me]
Hey Bill Vallicella,
Thanks for tagging me. This is an interesting blogpost!

I agree with Michael Liccione: the culprit is an equivocation on the meaning of the term “essential.” Your argument interprets something’s being essentially F as its being F in every world in which it exists. As you say, “If x is united with N essentially, then x is united with N in every possible world in which x exists.” Call this interpretation of essential/accidental distinction the “modal” interpretation.

The modal interpretation is certainly a viable interpretation of that distinction. But it isn’t the only one. And, in this case in particular, it is not the correct one. Other Thomists (I’m thinking of Michael Gorman in his article on the essential and the accidental and Jeff Brower in his book on Aquinas’s metaphysics of the material world) claim that, for the scholastics, the distinction between the essential and the accidental has to do with what is true of a thing in virtue of its essence (or essences, for Christ) and what is true of it in virtue of something else (which may include the essence, but need not).

Say that you and I are both the same height and the same type of thing. (I’m not sure sure about that first conjunct, but I’m pretty confident about that last one!) The ontological foundation for the former conjunct isn’t just our essences (our body/soul composites). For we no doubt had the same essences at earlier times at which that relation didn’t hold. Rather, that relation is true (if true), at least in part, due to accidental features, ontologically speaking. You and I each have our own height accidents, and (on supposition) they are of specifically the same type. The ontological foundation for the latter conjunct, though, does not (or at least need not on many views) include anything in addition to our essences, and, in particular, does not need to include any accidental features as part of the ontological foundation.

In this case, to say that the hypostatic union between the natures is “essential” is to say that the relation holds between the natures themselves in a way unmediated by accidental features of the thing. (Recall that for the medievals, “essence” and “nature” often referred to the same things, and that in the christological debates they referred both to the two natures and the two essences of Christ).

With direct reference to your argument, Premise 1) is false. The antecedent is true, but the consequent is false, owing to a faulty notion of what is meant by “essential” in the scholastic discussions.

All the best,
Tim

Tim,

Thanks very much for the comments!

I am afraid what that you say doesn't help me in the least.

>>With direct reference to your argument, Premise 1) is false. The antecedent is true, but the consequent is false . . .<<

Here is (1):If the Word is united to a human nature essentially, then there is no possible world in which the Word is not united to a human nature.

And of course the 'possible worlds' jargon is dispensable. I could have written this:

1*) If the Word is united to a human nature essentially, then it is metaphysically impossible that the Word not be united to a human nature.

You grant the antecedent. And I take it you grant that the Word exists of metaphysical necessity. It follows that it is impossible that the Word not be united to a human nature.

You seem to think that the Word can be united to a human nature essentially, and that the union nevertheless be contingent.

Please explain how that is possible.

The union is contingent because it is a created effect that God wills freely. It is also contingent because the union itself consists in the relation of human nature to the person of the Word.

In any relation of a created effect to God, whether in the unity of the divine essence or in the personal property of a distinct divine person, there is what St Thomas calls a 'mixed relation.' There is a real dependency in the creature upon God and the creature is really ordered to God. Therefore, in the creature, this relation is real. In God, however, there is no real relation to the creature. God is not dependent upon the creature in any way; He is not ordered to the creature in any way (here the creature we are referring to is the created human nature assumed in the Incarnation).

Thus, in the Incarnation, God creates a human nature and unites it to the person of the Word. The human nature exists only in relation to the Word, and only because it is freely willed to exist by God, but the Word has no real relation to the human nature. This real dependency of the human nature on the Word and its relation to the Word gives the Word a new mode of existence, He now exists as man. This is entirely contingent upon God's freely willing to create such a nature and unite it to the person of the Word.

To speculate about the possibilities of other worlds is to speculate about how things would be if God had willed things to be differently. Thus the free act by which God united a human nature to the Word is not necessarily contained in a universe where God willed things to be differently.

The distinction between essential union or accidental union has to do with in what order of nature the union takes place.

Accidental union = an individual that exists with his own identity receives grace as something added to the nature of his soul and brings about the indwelling presence of the divine persons in his soul (the Word of God dwells in a man)

essential/substantial union = a human nature is united to the person of the Word, so that the human nature belongs to this divine person (the Word of God is man)

The fact that the union takes place on a substantial level does not mean that it happens necessarily, or that it could not be otherwise, or that it would happen in any possible universe. It means that it is the Word of God who is man by an entirely free act of God that could have been otherwise in this universe or in any universe created by God.

The Word has no necessary connection to the human nature. This seems to be what you are concluding, but the doctrine of mixed relations excludes that position. IF the Word did have a real relation to the human nature, then yes, it would belong to who the Word is as Word, and it would necessarily be true in any universe created by God, but that is simply not the case.

Dr. Vallicella, when we say that "the Word is united to a human nature essentially", we need to be clear about WHICH essence we are referring to by "essentially". Are we referring to the divine or the human essence?

The answer is: to Jesus' human essence. The hypostatic union is essential from the viewpoint of Jesus' human essence because it does not exist by a created, contingent act of being like your essence or mine, but by the Subsistent Act of Being of the Word.

Clearly this explanation of the Hypostatic Union presupposes the real distinction between contingent essence and contingent esse. Actually, it is precisely because this is the only satisfactory explanation of the Hypostatic Union that I am aware of, that I hold said real distinction.

I wonder if we need to clarify what part of the antecendent is modified by 'essentially,' or just reject it. So, "the Word is united to a human nature essentially" could be read either [1] it is essential to the Word to be unified with this particular nature, or [2] it is essential to this particular human nature to be unified with the Word.

I think [1] must clearly be rejected. The conjoined instrument analogy of Aquinas indicates to me that we should plump for [2]: the union is such that the particular human nature of Christ necessarily depends on the Person of the Word for its existence, not the other way around.

And on this other interpretation, we can understand how the union it would be true that the human nature of Christ exists as conjoined to the Word in every possible world, and hence the union would, in terms of the particular human nature of Christ, be necessary. But the union would be contingent in regard to the Word, because the Word could unify with innumerable many particular human natures or none.

I think this interpretation makes sense of Aquinas' rejection of Lombard's theory. Aquinas compares the human nature of Christ to a functional part, like Socrates' hand. The hand essentially depends on Socrates, but Socrates does not depend on his hand. So the union of the hand to Socrates is an essential, not accidental one. Lombard's theory would require the hand to be like Socrates' whiteness, not like these kind of functional parts.

Hey Bill,

Thanks for your reply. I already responded to you on Facebook, but I thought that I should give the gist of that response here, too.

You say:

"You [Tim] grant the antecedent. And I [Bill] take it you grant that the Word exists of metaphysical necessity. It follows that it is impossible that the Word not be united to a human nature."

This "it follows" claim is exactly what I've been denying. I do grant the antecedent, and I grant that the Word exists of metaphysical necessity. As you say truthfully of me, "You seem to think that the Word can be united to a human nature essentially, and that the union nevertheless be contingent." This is exactly what I think.

The union is essential, since it has as its human-side relatum Christ's essence, and not some admixture of essence and accident. We can similarly say that Christ is essentially human. In saying that in this context, we don't mean to say that he is human in all worlds; rather, we mean to say that he is human, and the ontological foundation of that claim is his human essence (aka, his human nature).

Essential features, on this view, are explained by the essences of things. Now, IF things can have essences contingently, THEN things can have essential features contingently. Aside from the incarnation claim, I don't know of any cases where something does have an essence contingently. But I don't need to assume the truth of the incarnation to ground the intelligibility of the IF, THEN claim earlier in this paragraph. Heck, even those who claim that it is impossible for a thing to have an essence contingently should grant the truth of my IF, THEN claim! For given the impossibility of a thing having an essence contingently, my conditional has a (necessarily) false antecedent, and so the whole conditional is true.

Best,
Tim

Bill, I've enjoyed reading your two articles on Fr White's book, as well as following the comments both here and on FB. I am not directly acquainted with Aquinas's Christology, nor have I read White's book. The Church Fathers (particularly Athanasius and Cyril) have been my teachers, along with their modern expositors. They long ago taught me that the Incarnation is mystery and can only be articulated by way of paradox and antinomy (the Chalcedonian definition being the classic example). Hence I am suspicious of attempts to formulate the doctrine with scholastic precision. Such attempts strike me as theologically wrong-headed, given the divine transcendence. Perhaps White and Pawls could persuade me otherwise, if I were ever to read their books; but I already have way too many books sitting in my "to-be-read" stacks in my office. :-)

So all of this means that I probably don't have much to add to the conversation. But it has reminded me of an exchange between a modern Thomist, Fr Herbert McCabe, and Maurice Wiles back in the late 70s (when everyone was disputing the The Myth of God Incarnate (now long forgotten), so last night I picked up my copy of God Matters and quickly found the passage I was looking for. I think it might be germane:

"I can see what is meant by saying (as for example, Aquinas does) that the Word of God did not assume a human person (i.e. an already constituted human being) but not what would be meant by saying that the incarnate Word is not a human person. A human person just is a person with a human nature and it makes absollutely no difference to the logic of this whether this same person does or does not exist from eternity as divine. Confusion arises about this from the muddled idea that a human nature ordinarily has a 'human sort of person' to sustain it or in which it can inhere, and that this sort of 'personality' is missing in Jesus and replaced by a divine kind--as though the proper and appropriate hypostasis for a human nature were replaced by a divine one. But this all comes from forgetting what we use 'person' for; we use it to answer the question 'Who?' not the question 'What?' No meaning can be attached to 'the appropriate kind of hypostasis for a human nature'; there are no 'kinds of hypostasis' except in so far as they have natures. In virtue of the incarnation, in virtue of assuming a human nature, the Son of God becomes a human person in exactly the same sense as I am a human person. (All those Scotists and Capreolus and Cajetan et. al. notwithstanding.) When Schoonenberg says 'Now not the human but the divine nature in Christ is anhypostatic, with the proviso, moreoever, that this is valid inasmuch as we do not know the Person of the Word outside the man Jesus', he is writing, I am afraid, from within this muddle. The notion of an 'anhypostatic nature' just does not bear serious examination." (p. 73)

McCabe has made, so it seems to me, an important (and practical) clarification. Some reading this paragraph might immediately jump to the conclusion that McCabe is advancing some kind of Nestorianism, but that would be wrong. He's just cutting through all the metaphysical complexities that we too often create for ourselves when we attempt to synthesize and unify our Trinitarian and Christological reflections. Those attempts are necessary, but they can quickly devolve into nonsense and myth--e.g., when we find ourselves thinking that because Jesus is the eternal Word made flesh (and McCabe fully affirms this proposition), he therefore must have had a comprehensive scientific and historical knowledge of all things, past, present, and future. In his review of The Myth of God Incarnate, McCabe dismisses this conclusion:

"A prominent symptom of misunderstanding the doctrine of the incarnation as telling us what, emprically, Jesus was or is like is confusion about Jesus' knowledge. ... People ask, then, did Jesus assent to the Chalcedonian definition of himself? And nearly everyone nowadays says: No, he didn't. He lived in a time before the language of Chalcedon was formulated; he no more accepted this than he accepted Newton's third law of the theory of surplus value. But what about Jesus' self-understanding as God? There seems to be an idea that if we once admit (with Chalcedon) that Jesus was divine in Galilee--and hence living not merely in history but in eternity--he must, by the power of his divine nature, have foreseen the propositions of Chalcedon and assented to them. Once again the theological mind boggles. It would have seemed absurd to, for example, Aquinas, to say that Divinity ever assented to any proposition at all. The idea that Jesus, qua Son of God, constructed some special divinely authorized set of propositions such as the Christian creed is as anthropomorphic as the idea that God has a white beard. Whatever we can mean by speaking of God's knowledge, we know that it cannot mean that God is well informed, that he assents to a large number of true statements. Jesus's knowledge of history, as Son of God, was no different from the existence of the world; it was not in the same ballgame with what he learnt as man. At the root of all this lies a deficient doctrine of God." (pp. 58-59)

All of this has me wondering what McCabe would think about the concerns you have raised in your two articles, but particularly in your first--e.g., when you raise the problem of the role of the soul in the life of Jesus.

Fr Aidan,

Good comments! Thanks. But you really should read White's and Pawl's books. I haven't read the latter, but I can tell you that the former is incredibly rich.

You would agree, wouldn't you, that if OCI (orthodox Chalcedonian incarnationalism) could be shown to be intelligible that would be better than leaving it as a pure mystery that "can only be articulated by way of paradox and antinomy"? That being said, I tend to agree that OCI is not logically penetrable by such intellects as we have here below. It must appear to us in our present state as logically contradictory and not intelligible to the discursive intellect.

Aidan,

Thanks for the two MaCabe quotations. Neither strikes me as particularly clear or well-written.

As for the first, this is strange: " But this all comes from forgetting what we use 'person' for; we use it to answer the question 'Who?' not the question 'What?'"

This is by no means obvious. One cannot be a Who unless one is a What, an item in the ontological category of persons. For example, on the Boethian understanding of 'person,' a person is a (primary) substance of a rational nature. There is much more to a person than its objective nature, but I think one gets into trouble if one supposes that there are persons lacking any objective nature.

" In virtue of the incarnation, in virtue of assuming a human nature, the Son of God becomes a human person in exactly the same sense as I am a human person."

So the Son, which was not a human person prior to the Incarnation, becomes a human person at the Incarnation, but without ceasing to be a divine person. So now, at the Incarnation, the Son is both a human person and a divine person. But of course there cannot be two persons on pain of Nestorianism. There is one person supporting two different natures. So is this person or hypostasis in itself neutral with respect to the two natures? Is it perhaps neither divine nor human? It is something like a theological bare particular? Does it support both natures by being, in itself, of neither nature? No! The person underlying the two natures is the Word or the Son and therefore has a divine nature.

And yet McCabe tells us that "I can see what is meant by saying (as for example, Aquinas does) that the Word of God did not assume a human person (i.e. an already constituted human being) but not what would be meant by saying that the incarnate Word is not a human person."

I have no trouble understanding what that means, and neither does White. It means that incarnate Word is a divine person with a human nature. T he incarnate Word is not a human person but a divine person with a human nature. Of course, that leads to its own difficulties.

McCabe seems to think that the doctrine makes logical sense. My claim is that it doesn't. This explains the endless controversies and the origin of the so-called heresies. The latter are attempts to makes sense of what in itself does not make logical sense to discursive intellects such as ours *in statu viae.*

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