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Sunday, December 09, 2018

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I should note that I used the term "denominative" in a straightforward sense of naming a person or thing, not in the technical sense used by grammarians for certain verbs nor in that technical sense applied to certain predicates in Scotist philosophy. My apologies for any confusion caused by loose usage, although Bill has very nicely explained the distinction I was trying to make.

At certain points in the post above, there are some verbal theological errors. Allow me to explain.

"You and I take 'Jesus' to refer to a particular man, a composite of human soul and human body, born of a woman at a particular place at a particular time."

Jesus does refer to a particular man, but that man is, as Aquinas explains, also a composite of divinity and humanity, the God-man, if you will. And his human subsistence (and thus composition into unity of body and soul) is dependent on his divine person. One cannot refer to Jesus by a proper noun or personal name without referring to the entire composite but uni-subsistent reality, since human names are intrinsically personal. They do not refer to an essence/nature as distinct from its subsistence. When we address somebody by name, we are involved in an intersubjective, I-Thou relationship. But there is only one "I" or personal subject in Christ.

"Suppose by 'Jesus' we mean the Jewish carpenter born in Bethlehem to the virgin Mary by the agency of the Holy Spirit. The italicized phrase is what Russell calls a definite description, and his thesis about ordinary proper names is that they are definite descriptions in disguise. On this theory, 'Jesus' refers to whomever satisfies the description we associate with the name. It follows that the referent of the name must have the properties mentioned in the description."

But it does not follow that the referent must have only the properties in the description, or that it must have them simpliciter. And note the "whomever" in the above. It is exactly right, and means the referent is a personal subject.

"For example, 'Jesus' cannot refer to anything that was not born of a woman." But here we veer away from the whom-approach. 'Jesus' does not refer to a thing, a what-is-this. There is only one "who" in Him, but two "whats". That's the doctrine, albeit minimally presented.

"The trouble with this answer is that it implies that Jesus is not "made in every way like his brothers." He is born in a different way. He is born in a Platonic or rather quasi-Platonic way whereas we are born in the 'Aristotelian' way. Dave and I did not exist before we were born/conceived. Jesus did exist before he was born/conceived assuming that 'Jesus' is used denominatively as opposed to descriptively. When we were born/conceived, we didn't acquire something that we lacked before, human nature; we were nothing at all before. But when Jesus was born he acquired something he did not have before, human nature."

I am not sure, but I think you may be misunderstanding that quotation, interpreting the word "made" to refer to the process rather than the result. Compare "did you make the right kind of cake?" to "did you make the cake correctly?". After all, the virginal conception and birth is pretty different too!

Also, not that this affects the present question directly, the eternal Logos is also eternally begotten, so we do, in an analogous sense, have to deal with birth before birth anyway.

Fr. Kirby comments:
"Jesus does refer to a particular man, but that man is, as Aquinas explains, also a composite of divinity and humanity, the God-man, if you will."

Thanks for the comments, Fr. Kirby! I have benefitted from your input for some time now. While I am uncertain about the actual status of purported 'verbal theological errors' I appreciate your attempts to clarify. Measuring my statements against a given theological stance is bound to show me as mistaken, since I use a different theological stance, one that does not take it a 'given' that Jesus is "composite of divinity and humanity, the God-man.."
However, the higher-level articulation of the differences have been set out in many places as every reader of this blog recognizes. I will withdraw to the shop now and try to bend some recalcitrant wood into beautiful shapes.

Bill,

some quick comments:

1) I think that the descriptive-denominative distinction is irrelevant here. According to a Chalcedonian, the second person of the Trinity does, absolutely speaking (per "communicatio idiomatum"), satisfy (contingently) the description "the Jewish carpenter etc...". So, even descriptively construed, the name "Jesus" does refer to God the Son.

2) If your only problem with the aporetic triad is that it contradicts the principle "was made in every way like his brothers", then the answer is, of course, that that the principle was never meant in this sweeping sense. Of course, none of Jesus's brothers was God Incarnate, so in this way no God Incarnate can ever be "like" other men, and so the "being made in all things like" involved in the Incarnation cannot be (reasonably) construed in such a way as to exclude Incarnation itself. The phrase must be understood as only relating to Jesus _qua a man_, or to his human nature only. According to his human nature, Jesus was "born" just like everyone else, because his human nature started to exist at the instant of his conception (better: Jesus, qua a man, started to exist at his conception: strictly speaking it is supposits/persons, not natures, what exists). But Jesus the man, absolutely speaking, did not start to exist then: "Before Abraham was born, I am" (John 8:58). This "I" of course refers to Jesus the man (because he this the person speaking), but it also must refer to God the Son, due to the contents of the statement. The Jews present understood very well the implication of this, picking up stones to stone Jesus for blasphemy.

So: if you regard the Chalcedonian creed as problematic because its implication clashes with your reading of the "in every way like us" principle, then this is not a problem of Chalcedonianism but of that overblown reading of the principle.

Great to hear from you Lukas! I was hoping you would drop by. As usual, your comments are penetrating.

Let's set aside "was made in every way like his brothers." I concede that you are right about this.

Let's focus on my triad:

Jesus was born;
The Son of God was not born;
Jesus is the Son of God.

On a natural reading, the triad is inconsistent. For you there is no inconsistency. You would put it like this:

Jesus qua man was born;
The Son of God qua God was not born;
Jesus is the Son of God.

For you, there is one person (suppositum, hypostasis) who from all eternity has a divine nature, and then at a particular historical moment, acquires an individualized human nature (bodily and soulic) without losing its divine nature. You want to say that 'Jesus' and 'Son' refer to the same person.

One problem here is that Jesus, who is supposed to be fully human, is not born like a man, like you or me. Jesus = the Son is born 'Platonically' not 'Aristoteleanly.' I hope that's clear. When you and I were born, or rather conceived, we first came into existence; but when Jesus = the Son was born, or rather conceived, he DID NOT first come into existence.

So Jesus is not fully human. He is a God who somehow assumes a human beody and psyche. Maybe you will say that he is fully human but not solely human. Then I will say that one is not fully human if one pre-exists one's conception.

You will probably tell me that Jesus qua man DID come into existence. To which I will respond that a human nature, even an individualized human nature, is not a primary substance and cannot be born. A living organism is conceived/born not a nature which, even if particular/individual, is still abstract in that it is not in itself a substance.

The qua-talk is murky.

Human persons are conceived/born. Not abstract natures.


Thanks for that comment. I think that account is mistaken on a number, if not all, points. And the reason for those mistakes, in my opinion, is the reliance on creedal formulae concerning the purported 'Trinity', the theory of the 'two natures', a misinterpretation of John 8.58, and considering plain language as 'an overblown reading'.
Is it on that level, not an appeal to a creed, that I like to ponder those points.
I have learned a lot from you (Novak) over the years; we just happen to have a different model as the basis for our discussion.

The question we are discussing seems to be this:

Does 'Jesus' refer to a divine person who comes to acquire a human nature? It does if one assumes Chalcedonian orthodoxy. If one doesn't then the natural view to take would be that 'Jesus' refers to a human person born in the 'Aristotelean' manner at a particular place and time.

But even a Chalcedonian would hesitate to say that the Trinity is the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost.

"Before Abraham was, I am." Were not the Jews who picked up stones justified given the standard semantics of the first-person singular pronoun?

Another question: does the virgin birth of Jesus by itself show that he is the Son? I say No.

And yet another: does the Resurrection of Jesus by the power of God by itself show that Jesus is God? No say I.

I accept the correction of Lukas regarding the descriptive use of "Jesus the man" being valid in that sense. I was mentally associating with the word "descriptive" the qualifier "exhaustively", without making that at all clear.

I think the rest of your objections to the qualifications outlined heretofore are related to the fact that you do not seem to recognise a metaphysical category between abstract nature and suppositum, the substantial natures referred to in the Athanasian Creed (where Jesus is said to be "consubstantial" with the Divine and the human). The correct orthodox statement is that the human substance was subject to the process of birth, and that that substance subsists in the hypostasis of God the Son. Thus we can say "God the Son did begin to exist as a man". I think that putting the qualification at the end makes it clearer what is being said. It is not that Jesus' humanity was born but not Jesus himself, it that [Jesus = God the Son] himself was born humanly at a point in time. Since the one hypostasis cannot be divided, that hypostasis is not partly born, partly not. The distinction of predicates happens at the level of substantial natures. The one Person/Hypostasis/"I" is fully "implicated" in both nature's acts.

As for the statement "one is not fully human if one pre-exists one's conception", this seems to me a rather arbitrary assertion. I see nothing intuitive or self-evident about it at all. To deny the adjective "fully" is to posit some lack to the appropriate nature, possessing less than normal, but you here equate it with possessing more. I can see no justification for this.

One more point, I think there is an inconsistency in construing conception/birth metaphysically and definitively as "beginning to exist" while appealing to the "natural view". The natural view would be to first observe these events as physical processes occurring in pre-existing matter. The move to "beginning of existence" requires a further metaphysical judgement about what these physical processes mean and what human persons are. The natural view would see the conception and birth of Jesus as fully human because the relevant physical (and later mental) processes from conception on really occurred. But the question of whether the person thus physically born had existed in some other mode before that is a distinct one, not impinging on this commonsensical inference.

The Virgin birth shows that Jesus is the prophesied Messiah and the "son of Man". It also reveals this human sonship has a divine cause, so that he is son of God in that sense. But the latter ascription has never been attributed only in this limited sense or for only this reason by Trinitarians, as the phrase "eternally begotten" shows.

The Resurrection shows that Christ is the "Prince of Life" (Acts 3:15), once the Biblical/Dominical revelation that he takes life back himself (John 10.18) is taken into account. In a wider Biblical context, his rulership of life and death is a real sign of his divinity. Whether it is sufficient in isolation as a proof is, I think, a moot point.

IF we accept the theory of Jesus' dual nature, we must accept also that as a man, He had the essential qualities of Divinity and the essential qualities of humanity, in one mind, one person. These qualities would include at least the following: necessity and contingency, omniscience and (relative) ignorance, immutability and mutability, omnipotence and dependence, infinity and weakness, omnipresence and limit.
So: how could we relate to such a purported being, or even use the word 'man' to describe him? Could he fail, as we do? Would he be limited in understanding, could he truly be tempted as we are? When He slept, was it just his human nature that lost consciousness? When He died, was it just his human nature? Or did the Person, both natures, die?
I think we can save all the appearances more succinctly: Jesus was conceived and lived His life, died, was resurrected and shortly after taken up into glory - all as a human being. "God was in Christ, reconciling the word to Himself", "one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ", "declared to be the Son of God (not God the Son) by his resurrection from the dead", "You, Father, are the only true God", et. al.
Put that way, the mysterian approach to the subject is not necessary; neither is the paradox that has seemingly troubled almost all of the church councils, so troubling in fact that an extra-biblical vocabulary had to be invented/adapted to try to explain it. And, contra Athanasius, condemning folks to everlasting perdition for not acknowledging a 'truth' that they cannot understand, and that the inventors of that 'truth' call a mystery, is, to put it in technical terms - silly.

Good comments, Dave.

"one mind, one person." This raises a further question as to the relation of the one person and the soul/psyche/mind of Jesus. The same or different? I think Matt and Lukas will say different. But then what job is left over for soul/psyche/mind of Jesus? Just a life principle? Not a subject of experiences?

But your main point, Dave, is one that bugs me too. How can one person or suppositum have contradictory attributes?

You position seems close to that of Dale Tuggy. Jesus was a very special man, but just a man, son of God, but not God the Son. So are you a Unitarian as well?

Do you think Jesus died for our sins? Can a mere man atone for Original Sin? I think one of the motives for the God-Man theory of Jesus is that only a divine being could atone for the 'infinite' offense to God committed by Adam and Eve.

Matt writes,

>>I think the rest of your objections to the qualifications outlined heretofore are related to the fact that you do not seem to recognise a metaphysical category between abstract nature and suppositum, the substantial natures referred to in the Athanasian Creed (where Jesus is said to be "consubstantial" with the Divine and the human). The correct orthodox statement is that the human substance was subject to the process of birth, and that that substance subsists in the hypostasis of God the Son. Thus we can say "God the Son did begin to exist as a man". I think that putting the qualification at the end makes it clearer what is being said. It is not that Jesus' humanity was born but not Jesus himself, it that [Jesus = God the Son] himself was born humanly at a point in time. Since the one hypostasis cannot be divided, that hypostasis is not partly born, partly not. The distinction of predicates happens at the level of substantial natures. The one Person/Hypostasis/"I" is fully "implicated" in both nature's acts.<<

Part of the difficulty of the orthodox line is that it relies on Aristotelian metaphysical conceptuality that is very murky. For example, you speak of a 'substantial nature.' What does that mean exactly? Are you talking about an Aristotelian primary substance e.g., a particular tree or horse? Or are you talking about the nature (essence) of a primary substance? If the latter, you are presumably talking, not about a universal, but about a particularized (individualized) nature. But that is still abstract in one sense of the term inasmuch as as no concrete being can be identical to its substantial nature. Socrates, for example, is not identical to his substantial nature since he also has various accidental determinations as well as signate matter (materia signata). Is substantial nature the same as substantial form? If yes, then it quite clear that no concrete entity can be identical to its substantial nature.

>>The correct orthodox statement is that the human substance was subject to the process of birth, and that that substance subsists in the hypostasis of God the Son.<<

I find this unintelligible. First of all, a 'human substance' that needs a supposit in which to exist is not a primary substance, but an abstract part of a concrete substance. For that very reason it cannot be born. Only a concrete organism can be conceived and born.

>>Thus we can say "God the Son did begin to exist as a man". I think that putting the qualification at the end makes it clearer what is being said. It is not that Jesus' humanity was born but not Jesus himself, it that [Jesus = God the Son] himself was born humanly at a point in time.<<

This too I find unintelligible. Clearly, you are committed to saying that God the Son did not begin to exist. Why? Because he either always existed or existed from all eternity. But then you say that God the Son did begin to exist as a man. But all that could mean, if we are to avoid contradiction, is that God the Son , who did NOT begin to exist, and could not have come to exist because of his divine nature, came to acquire a second nature, a human nature. This human nature, as I already argued, cannot be said to be born. Why? Because it is abstract as I explained.

You try to have it both ways at once by saying that God the Son was born humanly. That is a fudge that covers up a contradiction.

"Do you think Jesus died for our sins? Can a mere man atone for Original Sin? I think one of the motives for the God-Man theory of Jesus is that only a divine being could atone for the 'infinite' offense to God committed by Adam and Eve."
The 'atonement' is a multi-faceted concept; the death of Christ accomplished a number of tremendous things:
"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil" He 2.14
"For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living." Ro. 14.9
"For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." Ro. 5.10
"For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." 1 Jn 3.8


And of course there is much more. I probably am in the same neighborhood as Tuggy, though the term 'unitarian' is not a fixed point on the theological map. Yes I believe in one God, the Father; in his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and in the Holy Spirit. I reckon that puts me in the 'Triad' camp rather than the 'Trin' camp.

"Just a man"? I don't think that statement exhausts the meaning of any man. I am not talking about metaphysics here, but descriptively - yes Jesus had a human nature like the rest of us, and a body like ours. Fully human, period. I set aside all the talk of 'infinite offense' because we don't know that to be true; however, the sacrifice that God made of his obedient Son is, we are told, sufficient for the forgiveness of sins - of the whole world and in fact for the renewal of the cosmos. BTW, I also put aside 'original sin' - a concept mangled by Augustine because of a really poor translation, especially of Romans 5.12-21.
As far as I know, I believe everything the bible says about Jesus and His Father; I know that many others treasure as well the various creeds and councils, the traditions, etc. and as long as the temptation to Athanasian excess is avoided - in other words, no fences put up between equally well-meaning and intelligent believers - I just stay out of the arena as to councils. I've studied them, have my opinions, but I don't think that is where I want to spend my time.
The two-natures theory is imo unnecessary and unscriptural. I do admit that valiant and impressive attempts at saving the theory have been made.

Bill,

I think I can concede almost everything you say. But there is an ambiguity in "fully human". It can either mean "having a complete human nature", or it can mean something more (e.g., "having a complete human nature, AND having acquired it in the way all other humans naturally do, AND....").Orthodox Christianity simply only claims the former, not the latter about Christ (because it is plainly impossible for a God to become fully human in the latter sense). Why is it a problem to you? Why do you think the Church should make the the stronger claim which is obviously untenable?

BTW, according to the doctrine of Immaculate Conception, Virgin Mary, too, was conceived in a very different way from any other human person: namely, without being affected by the Original Sin. Is she any less human for that?

Why is "full humanity" of Christ important? Because only as a human He was able to undo the disaster that affected human natuer as such due to the Original Sin. Only someone who actually had a human nature could heal it this way. But this "full humanity" only requires full possession of human nature, nothing more. So there seems to be no theological reason why the Church should require more.

Another perspective: why preexistence as a person in the Gohead should be regarded as something that subtracts from the fulness of humanity? Isn't it rather a (supernatural) addition to humanity, making the respective person not less than but more than human? Or not not fully human but fully human and more?

P.S. Well, now I see that I mostly restate in different words what Fr. Kirby had to say.

Bill,

Christ has divine and human wills, divine and human "energies". So, his human mind is really human and experienced humanly the world around it. And this is distinct from his divine "thought".

It may be we are reaching an impasse in some areas. I cannot see what you find unintelligible about my statements above, and you cannot see how they make sense.

It still seems to me that part of our problem is different ways of parsing reality, of metaphysical schemes. When I refer to substance, I am not referring merely to an abstract form or essence, even a substantial form, but to the composition of matter and form (for the human nature of Christ). Since, as I noted in an earlier thread, quoting the Summa, Aristotle and Aquinas distinguish between substance as actualised nature and substance as hypostasis, this allows for dual substances subsisting in one suppositum. This is not the norm for individual beings, but I see no logical problem, especially since the two substances are in different ontic realms, one transcending the other. Thus uni-subsistence is possible, and does not constitute an awkward concatenation of disparate "things" pretending to be otherwise.

You are right then, that a mere abstract nature cannot be born, but the orthodox claim is that the God-man, the person himself, is born in time via and in his human substance, but eternally begotten in his divinity.

Finally, when you say "a 'human substance' that needs a supposit in which to exist is not a primary substance, but an abstract part of a concrete substance" I think you are setting up a dichotomy implicitly. That is, either the human substance is real and needs no supplementary subsistence, or it requires that external subsistence and so must be mere abstraction of itself. But Chalcedonians would say that the humanity is made to be real and subsist ab initio in and by the transcendant hypostasis, and still maintains its distinct substantial integrity in consequence. It should not be treated as a pre-existing entity requiring to be glued onto God.

"What If God Was One of Us (just a slob like one of us)?"

This topic is explored in delightful book called Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (author Christopher Moore)

Although historically and biblically based, it is an admitted flight of fancy that examines the question: What if Christ's human nature was just like ours?

"So there seems to be no theological reason why the Church should require more."
I completely agree, which is why I am puzzled about such statements as found in Chalcedon:
"We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable soul and body; consubstantial with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin.."

'In all things like unto us'? I am unable to understand that. I know it fits a certain metanarrative but that fact is insignificant when the phrase itself is on its face contradictory to what preceded it.
How do we explain the contradiction? Perhaps a number of these extra-biblical theories could best be approached by analyzing the concept 'human'?

I don't know whether this will help or not, but after writing my responses above, I found the Angelic Doctor's equivalent explanation. It, unsurprisingly, seems clearer and more concise.

"Hypostasis signifies a particular substance, not in every way, but as it is in its complement [complete-ness or completion in plainer English]. Yet as it is in union with something more complete, it is not said to be a hypostasis, as a hand or a foot. So likewise the human nature in Christ, although it is a particular substance, nevertheless cannot be called a hypostasis or suppositum, seeing that it is in union with a completed thing, viz. the whole Christ, as He is God and man. But the complete being with which it concurs is said to be a hypostasis or suppositum." S.T. III, Q2, A3

"they saw that the union of soul and body in mere men resulted in a person. But this happens in mere men because the soul and body are so united in them as to exist by themselves. But in Christ they are united together, so as to be united to something higher, which subsists in the nature composed of them. And hence from the union of the soul and body in Christ a new hypostasis or person does not result, but what is composed of them is united to the already existing hypostasis or Person. Nor does it therefore follow that the union of the soul and body in Christ is of less effect than in us, for its union with something nobler does not lessen but increases its virtue and worth;" S.T. III, Q2, A5

I can see that this might, however, lead to the impression that the only thing making the (concrete and complete) human substance enhypostatic in the Divine Person of the Logos (rather than a distinct person) is a merely perceptual or nominal consideration of the conjoined whole.

But this "whole" is not an artificial conjunction, it is an integrated, "organic" whole. The human substance is not a pre-existing object tacked on to God, it is a created, personal self-expression of God. God, because he is transcendent Cause, can express himself in this way without the need to create a mindless puppet.

Other created substances the Logos grants being to, while concurrently "excluding" them from identity with his person and nature. And creation logically and ontologically demands such exclusion of nature (non-identity of "the what"), since the contingently caused cannot, by definition, be connatural with the Eternal Uncaused. But personal exclusion is not so necessitated, and in the Incarnation is realised.

Sigh. My last sentence above is a muddle. It should have been "But personal exclusion is not so necessitated, and in the Incarnation the opposite is realised."

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