Friday, December 27, 2013

III.2, Hypostases and more

Question 2 in the Tertia Pars is all about the mode of union in the Incarnation.

Having read Maximus and things about Maximus lately, I've been careful to listen for any important distinctions between hypostasis and persons, but as far as Saint Thomas is concerned, person only specifies the nature of the hypostasis--he repeats this several times in this question. At one point, he distinguishes individual substance from hypostasis which are not commonly distinguished, but hypostasis adds the notion of completion. It seems that St Thomas is calling the humanity of Christ an individual substance, but not a hypostasis since it is in the Word that it exists. In 2.6, Thomas makes the interesting claim that the hypostasis is "midway" between the nature and the accidents, so that substantial union or accidental union are extremes of which the hypostatic union is a mean. This is interesting. Hypostasis is a mean at least in that it shares something with the accounts of nature and accident: both nature and hypostasis share the name "substance" and are not in something, whereas hypostasis is closer to accidents than nature in that hypostasis is the subject of accidents.

And so there is then the question of Christ's esse. When Thomas talks about whether the union of the Incarnation is created, he says that it is created because it begins to be. So there is created esse in the humanity of Christ. And yet it is the hypostasis that exists completely, and later on (17.2, though I didn't look closely) where Thomas will say that Christ has only one esse and not two. So then which will it be? The esse of the Word is uncreated and the same with the Father and the Spirit, no? Yet the humanity and union itself is created, so does not Christ have created esse? I suppose I will find out in due time... Another note, St Thomas talks about "personal esse" (Christ's union) and how this cannot be merited, unlike habitual grace (like we have in our soul) which can be merited in a certain way. One more note: In 2.7.ad3, to-be-created pertains more to esse than to relation; here esse refers to the union/nature whereas relation indicates the person. More familiar example: that I am created has to do with my esse and not my relation (neither to my parents nor even to God, since that relation is logically consequent to my esse).

In 2.9, there is a rare case in the Summa of Thomas replying to the Sed contra and disputing the authority of St Augustine! Augustine claims that humanity is more in the Son than the Son is in the Father. St Thomas says he is wrong, and yet says the humanity of Christ is united to the Son in a hypostasis (they are the same person) whereas the Father and the Son are not the same person, but wholly one according to nature and power. I'm inclined to agree with St Thomas, and yet there's something that makes me want to consider it further (and perhaps read Augustine in context). Earlier in the Summa, Thomas says the "Father" is said per prius of the person and per posterius of the Godhead. So would the unity of the person somehow be greater than that of the Godhead? (Remember, God is absolutely one; the only distinction within God is relative--real, but relative.)

At this point, I am looking forward to question 17 which contains only two articles: Is Christ one or two? And does he have only one esse? I also want to write something clear and consistent (and true) about the distinction between in re and in ratione. This distinction is very important in understanding God's tri-unity, and does not stop being important in considering the incarnation. It is surprising to read how created the Incarnation is, and yet how thoroughly divine. His treatment of Nestorius position is helpful as well, since he gleans a lot of the positive things in his teaching. He even calls one position in the Sentences worse than Nestorius. Oh my.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tertia Pars Begins

I recently received the 8 vol. Latin-English Summa for Christmas! Since in taking Christology next semester, I will be taking along the Tertia Pars, hopefully reading the whole if it. I couldn't wait to get started, so I already read the first quaestio. A couple points stood out.

The first is St. Thomas' main reason for the fittingness of the incarnation: it is fitting for the invisible to be made visible so that it may be known. The incarnation is what comes to mind right away when one heard this premise, but this also the purpose of every word we speak and even every action we do. The material world is really at its best when it serves as a sign of a hidden reality, whether it is the nature of a thing, the mind or heart of a man, or God in his wisdom and power. Our bodies (although truly parts of us and not mere instruments) are signs of our interior life: where they go, whether they are healthy, what they do, who they are with. Certainly there accidental things that happen to them inasmuch as they are bodies an engage other bodies, but as long as they are our bodies, we are incapable of communicating without them. In the incarnation, God communicates himself completely through taking on a body (and soul!) which men can see, feels, and hear. This is what we celebrate on Christmas!

One more quick point is his arguments for why Christ did not come at beginning or at the end of the world. Christ is at once what is perfected and what perfects, so it is fitting that he come in the middle. He a perfected in being united to God, he perfects by uniting humanity to himself. One person! It is interesting that St. Thomas gets at the core of the incarnation in this first question, that seems at first to be merely a preface. Christ is God and man, perfected and perfected, beginning and end. Now he will explain what this means.

So that I stay consistent this semester and really absorb what I am reading, I now resolve to write at least a brief post each time I finish a question. This is my first one.

Sent from my iPhone

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Maximus, Concrete Universals

Lately, I'm reading a book by von Balthasar on St Maximus the Confessor. It is sometimes very difficult, and my current difficulty is on the meaning of the "concrete universal".

For background, when I first encountered philosophy, it was through the mind of Plato. I was convinced that there were "separated substances" (I didn't yet know that phrase) also known as the Platonic forms, and that every being was what it was through participating in one of these many forms. They were a cause of both being and of knowing. In college, I read lots and lots of Aristotle. As time went on, I refined my use of the word "universal" to what is said of many and to the idea in my mind after I have abstracted it from the here and the now, from its particular conditions. So when I see concrete universal, I think, "A contradiction in terms?" But there's probably more to it than that...

If the universal (the whole) only exists in the mind or in speech, then is there no real unity among the human race? If there were an Idea that caused all men to be such, then they would be one through having a common cause. As it is, I do not think there is some immaterial form between us and God that we participate in to be what we are. We certainly all exist inasmuch as we participate in God's essence, but this is had in common with all creatures. This concern for the unity of humanity is also related to the question of our redemption. "What is not assumed is not redeemed," is the famous axiom of Irenaeus and many early fathers. Therefore, Christ must completely assume human nature--but how can this affect us unless there is some real unity between our nature and his that goes beyond speech and thought?

One thought I had is that relation exists through action/passion or quantity according to Aristotle. Therefore it seems that it is through the action/passion of begetting/begotten that the whole human race is united (or at least related, which would mean some kind of unity). Having Aristotle in mind, I thought of two possibilities:
  • The human race has always existed.
    • This is almost certainly not held by anyone.
    • Yet Aristotle would have held this view, which makes me wonder if he could have thought that all men are related through generation. Perhaps infinite time would mean that inevitably everyone is related to everyone, and actually through infinitely many cycles of ancestors. So I suppose that would do it.
  • The human race began to exist.
    • This is less messy: all humanity traces back to a pair of parents.
    • It can be a little messy since certain evolutionary takes will allow that different communities of men arose in different regions at different times. But do these accept that man is essentially different from other animals? I'm going to assume that. Many of these will reduce all biological operation to the chemical and that to the physical, so that "birth" is not even a category of the real. I'm not talking to those people...not right now.
    • So then there are a single pair of parents from which all men sprung.
Now it is said that "in Adam all men sinned." This is bizarre, but because the "universal" was only said of him, whatever he did in the particular was true of all men. (I'm not going to talk about Eve right now...again, too messy. But I do think that will be important.) So when Adam sat, it was true that all men sat. When Adam sinned, all men sinned. So if anyone was ever a "concrete universal," it was probably Adam. And Christ too, who "recapitulated all humanity in himself" and was the second Adam or the last Adam. One problem is that Christ is not related to men through generation (unless somehow his actions affect us through him being a distant relative of our through Mary...not likely). Somehow this notion is involved with our salvation--that's why we are baptized, that is, born again.

Another difficulty with action/passion as basis of unity is that once that action is completed, is the relation only in the past? That seems wrong, since I am the son of my father, but it's not as though he is currently begetting me. Generation is complete. So it seems odd to me that we are related because of an action that is no longer happening.

Now I need to talk about matter. We talked about formal cause (which is only united in the mind, or if Platonic then they are also agents) and agent cause (whether Platonic forms or through generation), but matter is probably bound up with the problem and the solution of what a concrete universal is and if there is such a thing. It is interesting that the form which exists in the mind, gets there by abstracting from matter and material conditions; and yet the only reason there are many individuals under a universal in the first place is because of matter. Material things are necessarily separate on account of having diverse matter--no two material things can be in the same place at the same time. The mind is one place where two material things come together. Bob and George are two distinct beings and will never be in the same physical place, but I can think both of them at once (so they are both in my mind) or can think about their nature (and in this way they are one, in my mind). The matter keeps them apart outside of my mind. The matter does allow for them to be potentially one, like...if Bob ate George. George would cease to be George and Bob would be a little bigger. So probably not the unity we're looking for.

Going back to the concrete universal, Maximus talks about diastole and systole within a universal. The flux of individuals under a universal spreads out or compresses a universal. This is where things start to get confusing, but some simple sentences will (I think) manifest it a bit. If there are no men in America, then "No men in America is true." But through the actions of particular men, universal statements about man change. So if Bob and George discover America, it is now true to say, "Some men are in America." They have changed what is universally true of man!

All right, I think this is making sense. So is concrete universal opposed to abstract universal in that it takes into account all the particularities of individual men whereas the abstract does not take into account any? If that's all, then that's far more clear! There's still the interesting question I have about what really united all men, but at least I'll know what a concrete universal is.

This probably has implications for questions about male and female. It's odd that it belongs to man to be sexed, but that at least two individuals are required to express this diversity and even to reproduce, which is an essential action of man insofar as he is an animal. (Too difficult to think about.) Something to do with matter, why only material things reproduce, and more. This also makes a little sense of why Thomas might have said a female is a defective male--that is, to safeguard the unity of what man is. Most people would probably hope for a better solution to that problem...

Over break, I hope to finish the Maximus book, begin a book on Gregory of Nyssa and then read Thomas on how Christ assumed our nature. Von Balthasar also quotes Hegel more than I would expect (sometimes critically). I do not expect to pick up Hegel soon, but that may be somewhere down the line.

Oh, and final cause does not seem to be sufficient to unite us. All creatures aim at God in some way, but that seems to general to define man (just as with God as our exemplary cause or agent cause). Then again, through the grace of Christ, we do turn to God as our end in a more perfect way than the general natural tendency to good, and this is a cause of the unity of the Church, the body of Christ.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Writing a comprehensive theology?

I recently finished writing a paper on the text Theology Today by the International Theological Commission. The main point of the document was to establish what unifies Catholic theology in the midst of so many diverse "theologies" that are taught all over the place. The document says theologians need to be aware of the profound unity of all theology, since God is its subject, and at one point it seems to suggest the need for a unified account of theology. Being wholly incompetent for the task, yet interested in making sure that I have a unified understanding of theology, I started thinking about how I would write a unified account of all theology. I thought of a few different approaches to theology:

St Thomas' Summa (written for beginners in theology)

  • God himself and his creation
  • How man returns to God
  • Christ, who is God and man, the means of returning to God

The Gospels (written for all)
  • The Son is sent by the Father in Spirit
  • He reveals by means of words and deeds
  • The Paschal Mystery
  • Glory

The Philokalia authors (written for monks seeking perfection)
  • The purpose of the Christian life
  • The means for attaining it
  • Doctrine is introduced as needed

I added the last because it really does seem to be the most practical theology I've ever read, answering the question, "What must I do to see God?" In answering this question, a doctrine about God, angels, and the human person ends up being developed fairly thoroughly. All three of these models involve somehow the key doctrines of the faith and the most important information about how to live. One also sees in them instruction and examples about how to read Scripture (the Gospels interpret the OT). So here's my tentative model that I want to consider more thoroughly:
  • Faith--primarily an explanation of the Creed
  • Hope--about Heaven, the Kingdom of God, and the Beatitudes
  • Charity--an exposition of Christian life
    • Prayer--relationship with God
    • Fasting--relationship with things
    • Almsgiving--relationship with men
    • (or)
    • Poverty--things
    • Chastity--body
    • Obedience--mind/will
  • Instruction on how to read Scripture
Faith, hope, and charity are necessary for salvation, so they serve as an excellent model. Hope is a nice transition between pure doctrine and its application to our life, since hope requires that we know what Christ has done for us, and yet this hope allows us to then live according to Christ's teaching.

The division that comes after charity is not some arbitrary one, but is based on the truth that Christian life is not merely following laws, but it involves a greater excellence and true relationship with God. Therefore the life of charity is not fittingly divided into the commandments (although these are certainly part of it!), but better divided into the counsels (which all Christians must follow according to their state) or into the spiritual actions named in Matthew 6. These are related to a far greater perfection, and as long as Christians are only aiming at the "good enough" of the commandments, they will probably not actually succeed in keeping the commandments and even forget the reason for which they tried to in the first place.

Finally the instruction on how to read Scripture could be difficult, but I think it is very important. The Theology Today document pointed to the Word of God as the source of all Catholic theology, and so no one can be a theologian without reading and knowing how to read that great gift from God. It seems especially fitting that a book which intends to teach about God should conclude by pointing to a book far greater than itself and more rich in wisdom and spirit. Perhaps it could be placed within the context of the main divisions, but it seems like more of a really important appendix than something that fits naturally within the main work.

It won't be as thorough as the Summa and it won't be as terse as the Gospels or the Philokalia, but will somehow serve to see theology in one vision and apply it in life. And I probably won't actually get started for a very long time...

St John of Damascus, doctor of the Church, pray for us!