Saturday, July 21, 2007

Scotus against Henry's view that the divine essence is a substratum

[This is my promised rewrite of the last post on Scotus, Ord. 1.5.2un nn. 72-74.]

Recently, Jeffrey Brower and Michael Rea have used a model of material constitution to explain the trinity (I have written before on this). One of the most distinctive features of their proposal is that it construes the divine essence as the substratum of the divine persons rather than as the generic nature of the divine persons. Around 600 years before Brower and Rea, Henry of Ghent proposed a very similar theory. A number of subsequent theologians followed Henry on this particular issue, and Henry's position may have survived were it not for the sharp criticisms of Scotus and Ockham. In any case, in this post I'd like to discuss Henry's position, and an objection by Scotus which I find particularly interesting.


Aristotle on Change and Production

Last week the tomatoes in my garden were green, but this week, after a few days of good sun, they are red. How should we explain this? Should we say that last week I had green tomatoes, but this week those green tomatoes have been replaced (perhaps by tomato fairies) with entirely new red tomatoes? Aristotle would say that's absurd. The red tomatoes are the same tomatoes as the green tomatoes. All that's happened is that the tomatoes have lost the quality of being green and acquired the quality of being red.

According to Aristotle then, things change by acquiring and/or losing various qualities. The entity underlying those qualities (in this case, the tomatoes), which Aristotle calls the 'substratum' or 'subject', does not itself change. The substratum persists throughout the change (e.g., the tomatoes persist throughout the change from green to red), so what changes are the qualities the substratum has (e.g., the change is between the qualities being green and being red).

While this account seems quite straight forward when it comes to explaining how things like tomatoes change from green to red, it might not seem so obvious when we look at the change involved in production. When x produces y, aren't we talking about producing something rather than just changing a substratum's qualities? Aristotle insists that although production is a different kind of change than the mere qualitative change we find in ripening tomatoes, there is still, at least in the case of material production, a substratum involved.

For example, when a sculptor produces a bronze statue, the sculptor is still working with a substratum, namely a lump of bronze. The sculptor does not produce the bronze. Rather, the sculptor arranges the bronze into the shape of the statue, so here too the substratum, the bronze, undergoes a change in its qualities: before the sculptor sets to work, the bronze does not have the quality of being a statue, but by the act of production, the bronze acquires the quality of being a statue. (For Aristotle, qualities like being a statue or of a different kind than qualities like being red, but that doesn't concern me here.)

This highlights the central place of materiality in Aristotle's conception of production. Things are made from various kinds of material, and this means that when something produces a product, the product is produced from some material. If I can use the phrase 'made from' in a fairly imprecise way, walls are made from bricks, hands are made from flesh and blood, light is made from energy, and so forth. Thus, on this Aristotelian view of production, we can talk about things coming from various kinds of material, just as we do when we say a statue is produced from bronze.

Notice that talking about what something is produced from is not the same thing as talking about who or what something is produced by. In the example of a bronze statue, the statue is produced from bronze, but it is produced by a sculptor. We can put this in relational terms. The statue is related to the sculptor by the relation is produced by. That is, the statue is produced by x, where x is the producer. Likewise, the statue is related to the bronze (the material) by the relation is produced from y, where y is the material. Let me call the relation is produced by 'RP' (for the Relation to the Producer), and let me call the relation is produced from 'RM' (for the Relation to the Material).

The distinction between RP and RM is important, because it can help us avoid ambiguity when we talk about the source or origin of a product. If we ask, 'where did x come from?', we might be asking about the producer, or we might be asking about the material. Imagine a masonry site where one of the beefier masons goes by the nick name 'Bricks'. One can picture all sorts of silly situations caused by a failure to distinguish between bricks as a material and Bricks as a producer. For example, if the foreman were to give the pay clerk a note reading 'Bricks: £500', the clerk might take this to mean that he should purchase £500 worth of bricks, when in fact he was meant to pay Bricks £500.


Henry of Ghent

Henry of Ghent finds this material view of production very useful when it comes to explaining how the Father produces the Son. The reason is that Henry does not want to say that the Father conjures up the Son out of nothing. If the Son were produced like that, the Son would be an entirely new God, entirely different from the Father, and then there would be two Gods. Consequently, Henry wants to say the Father produces the Son from something already there. On the Aristotelian view of production, a production does involve something that's already there, namely the substratum. If I produce a wall from bricks, I do not produce the bricks, for the bricks already exist. Instead, I just shape the wall out of the bricks. The bricks persist throughout the entire process.

Transferring this over to the divine case is fairly straightforward. The Father's substance, the divine essence, plays the role of the material or the substratum, such that the Father produces the Son out of his own substance. In this way, the Son is related to the Father by RP (since the Son is produced by the Father), and the Son is related to the Father's substance, namely the divine essence, by RM (since the Son is produced from the Father's substance). Imagine if a lump of clay, magically endowed with the power to change its shape, were to arrange itself into the shape of a statue. This would be roughly like what Henry has in mind. The Father (the lump of clay) shapes the Son (the statue) out of his own substance.

Obviously, talking of 'shaping' the Son out of the Father's substance is a crude way of putting the matter. Henry does not mean to say the divine essence is literally the material stuff out of which the Son is made in exactly the same way that bricks and clay are the material stuff out of which walls and statues are made. Bricks and clay are arrangeable stuff, and we make walls by arranging bricks wall-wise just as we make statues by arranging clay statue-wise. The divine essence is not arrangeable stuff like this, so Henry is not literally saying the Father arranges the divine essence Son-wise.

All Henry means to say is that the Son is related to the divine essence by RM. That is, Henry just means to say the Son is from the Father's substance (which is the divine essence). Perhaps it is better to think about this in terms of instantiation. The material or substratum of a product is that which instantiates the product, not the other way around. Walls are instantiated by bricks and statues are instantiated by clay, not the other way around. Likewise, the Son is instantiated by the divine essence, not the other way around. Thus, Henry sometimes describes the divine essence less precisely as the 'quasi material' of production, and he sometimes describes it more precisely as the substratum of production.

In any case, this account gives Henry the conditions he wants: the Son is not conjured up out of nothing, since he is produced from the divine essence. Additionally, the divine essence persists throughout the whole process as the substratum, so the Father and Son both share the numerically same substratum. Consequently, we don't end up with two Gods, just as we don't end up with two clays when a lump of clay makes up a statue.

As was suggested above, Henry's account of the Son's production gives us a clear picture of how he understands RP and RM for the Son. The Son is related to the Father by RP, and he is related to the Father's substance, the divine essence, by RM. When I ask who or what the Son is produced by, the answer is 'the Father'. When I ask what the Son is produced from, the answer is 'the divine essence'.


Scotus's View

Henry's argument is clearly aiming to do justice to the traditional Nicene claim that the Son is produced from the Father's substance. Scotus rightly sees that what Henry wants to do is show how the Son can be produced from the Father's substance (and, by consequence, not from the Son's or Spirit's substance). Unfortunately, Scotus thinks Henry's position faces some serious difficulties. In fact, Scotus thinks that when it comes to the production of the Son, we should avoid talk of RM and material production altogether.

Scotus first shows that on Henry's view, we have to say the divine essence belongs more to the Father than to any other person. Otherwise, the Son will be produced from the substance of each divine person (rather than from the substance of the Father, as the traditional view has it). The idea is that if we take the divine essence to be equally the substratum or substance of each divine person, then we have no more reason to say the Son is produced from the Father's substance than from the Son's or Spirit's substance.

Let me try to explain this with an analogy. Imagine if a sculptor made a statue from a lump of gold jointly owned by Caesar and Cleopatra. If we asked what the statue was produced from, we could not legitimately say it was produced from Caesar's gold, because the gold is just as much Cleopatra's as it is Caesar's. Unless the gold in some way belongs more to Caesar than to Cleopatra, we really have to say the statue is produced from the gold of both Caesar and Cleopatra, since it is owned equally by each of them.

Of course, a gold lump belonging to Caesar and Cleopatra makes use of the notion of ownership, and this isn't the sort of thing occurring in the trinity. The divine persons do not 'own' the divine essence. Rather, the divine essence belongs to the divine persons in an ontological sense. So let's look at another example that gets us a little closer to what's happening in the trinity.

Consider a possible world where the only material stuff is clay. In such a world, lumps and statues can only be made out of clay, so in the case where a lump of clay is also a statue, the clay belongs just as equally to the clay as it belongs to the statue. In this scenario, we have no more reason to say the clay is the lump's clay than we would to say it is the statue's clay. The clay is just as much the lump's clay as it is the statue's clay. There is no sense in which we could say the statue comes from the lump's clay, because we could just as properly say the statue comes from its own clay. If we want to legitimately say the statue comes from the lump's clay (but not from the statue's clay), the clay would have to belong more to the lump than to the statue.

Similarly, if the divine essence is just as much the substance of the Father as it is the substance of the Son and Spirit, then there is no more reason to say the Son is produced from the Father's substance than to say the Son is produced from his own or the Spirit's substance. Unless there is some way in which the divine essence is more the substance of the Father than the substance of the Son or Spirit, we cannot say (as the traditional view has it) that the Son is produced from the Father's substance. Instead, we have to say the Son is produced equally from the substance of each divine person.

This is clearly incompatible with the traditional claim (which both Henry and Scotus accept) that the Son is produced from the Father's substance, not from the Son's or Spirit's substance. In order to avoid this problem, Henry needs to find some way of establishing that the the divine essence belongs more to the Father than it does to the other persons. Only then will it be legitimate to say the Son is produced from the Father's substance but not from the Son's and Spirit's substance.

One way to do this might be to appeal to some kind of quasi temporal priority: before the Son is produced, there is only the Father, so the Father is the sole exemplification of the divine essence until the production of the Son. This would ensure that the Son is produced only from the Father's substance and not from the Son's and Spirit's substance.

Unfortunately, this strategy is a non-starter because the Son is co-eternal with the Father. Consequently, at any 'moment' in which the divine essence is the substance of the Father, the divine essence will also be the substance of the Son. To call on our clay statue example yet again, imagine if some clay were eternally both a lump and a statue. Even if we say the clay is the producer of the statue, there is no 'moment' at which we could say the clay belongs to the lump but not to the statue.

Since quasi temporal priority won't work, Henry needs to establish some kind of ontological priority, some kind of priority which always holds. That is, Henry needs to find a way to say the divine essence is always more the Father's substance than the Son's and Spirit's substance. Only then will it be true that the Son is produced from the substance of the Father in a way in which it will not be true that the Son is produced from his own substance and the Spirit's substance.

The obvious way to do that would be to say the Father just is the divine essence. In other words, we could say the Father is entirely identical with the divine essence. On this view, the divine essence would always properly be the substance of the Father, not the substance of the Son. Then it would be true that the Son is produced from the Father's substance but never from his own substance, since the Son does not have 'his own substance', he only has the Father's substance.

But again, this strategy runs into difficulties. Recall the earlier example of a lump of clay which forms itself into the shape of a statue. The lump of clay is like the Father, and the statue is like the Son. Notice that the Son shares all the properties of the Father (the properties of the clay), but the Son has some properties which the Father does not (the properties of the statue). In the divine case, this is a problem, because one of the Father's properties is being unproduced, while one of the Son's properties is being produced. If the Son shares all the Father's properties, then the Son would have the properties being unproduced and being produced, and that's impossible.

Henry would not, then, want to say the divine essence is entirely identical to the Father, because then the Son would share all the Father's properties. Instead, we need to distinguish the divine essence from the Father in some way so as to allow the Father to have some properties (or at least one property) of his own which no other divine person shares. At the same time, if we also want to avoid the conclusion that the Son is produced from the substance of all three persons, we still need to find some way to say the divine essence belongs more to the Father than it does to the Son and Spirit.

The problem with such a strategy is that it seems to be a textbook case of subordinationism. If the divine essence belongs, however we want to define 'belongs' here, more to the Father than to the Son and Spirit, then the Father and Son possess the divine essence less than the Father does. It's hard to see how this wouldn't be subordinationism.

Consequetnly, Scotus thinks we should reject the first step Henry makes: we should reject the move to construe the divine essence as the substratum of the divine persons. For Scotus, the divine essence is not the substratum of the divine persons, it is more like the common form of the divine persons. Scotus's view is undoubtedly harder to understand or visualize, but Scotus believes that the arguments I've discussed here give him a solid reason to reject Henry's view that the divine essence is the substratum or substance of the three divine persons.

12 comments:

mutabilitie said...

I am not entirely certain 'RM' entirely represents Henry's position. To say the Son has a relation _to_ the divine essence is not right, it seems to me. For the Son just is a mode of the divine essence, and that mode is determined by its relation to the Father. If you think of the divine essence as a thing to which the Son is related, then this isn't Henry's view--at least as it seems to me from what i've read. I suppose you should say that RP is a real relation, and RM is a relation of reason. Henry is explicit that 'relation' talk is only in regard to persons, or rather, the Father's relation to the Son and the Son's relation to the Father; any purported relation that picks out a relation of a person to the essence without also signifying a relation to another person seems to misrepresent Henry's position.

But yes, Henry generally conceives of 'person' by means of two properties, the divine essence and a personal property (being ungenerated, being generated, being spirated). So, even the word 'Father' signifies two properties: divine essence and being ungenerated. If you divide this up, and think of the Father as having two parts, and think out the Son is related to each of these parts seems to go against what Henry seems to want to say. No?

mutabilitie said...

My gloss is that the Father 'has' the divine essence in one way, as the ungenerated one who generates; and the Son 'has' the divine essence in another way, as the one who is being generated, and so on for the Holy Spirit.

I think Henry generally wants us to work with his general metaphysic of relation, as Flores discusses in his book. Once we've got a sense for this, then I think we are in a better place to sort these things out.

After all, Henry does qualify the statement 'the Son is generated from the Father's essence' by saying that a more proper way to put this is to replace 'Father's essence' with 'the essence as it is in the Father'. With this qualification in view, Henry does seem to uphold the immanent universal which you have written about regarding the divine essence.

mutabilitie said...

a quick naive question: is it still subordinationism if the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have the same divine substance/essence and say that the Son is principiated by the Father (and the Father is Father b/c he generates the Son)?

It seems to me the major problem is to avoid Arianism, where the Son does not have the same substance/essence as the Father. One could construe Henry's position as 'ad intra subordination' as opposed to 'ad extra subordination' (Arianism).

JT Paasch said...

Well, Henry explicitly claims the Son has this relation to the divine essence.

But more to the point, how could the Son fail to be related to the Father's substance (the divine essence) in the manner of produced/producer?

To say the Son is related to the Father's substance (the divine essence) by RM is just to say the Son is produced from the Father's substance. That relation needn't be a real relation (distinct from the Son's personal property). It can be whatever you like (a mode, the mere fact that the Father produced the Son, or whatever).

Consider my example of the lump of clay that can shape itself into a statue. The 'substance' of the lump is the clay, and if the statue is produced from the lump, then the statue is produced from the clay. Indeed, how could the statue fail to be produced from the clay? Likewise, how could the Son fail to be produced from the Father's substance?

mutabilitie said...

Right right. I think the line is: the Father produces the Son 'by means' of the divine intellect of the divine substance as had by the Father (described as the 'paternal intellect'). I think perhaps what I am concerned with here is the possible implication that you render the 'Father's substance' as though it were not also the 'Son's substance'. The Father just has the divine substance as ungenerated, and the Son just has it as generated in virtue of the generator (Father).

The 'lump' of clay example does help, although Henry would say that if the divine substance is a lump of clay, then the Son is also the lump of clay and not some other shape, e.g. a statue made from clay. See SQO 54.10 for how Henry uses the example of a statue to represent his own position (or, look at my paper).

JT Paasch said...

Yes, that's right. Henry thinks the divine essence is equally the Father's and Son's substance.

Scotus's point is that if you say that, then you end up with the consequence that the Son is generated just as much from himself as from the Father (which is circular). So to avoid that, we have to say the divine essence is identical with the Father in a way in which it is not for the Son.

Subordinationism is just the idea that the Son (or Spirit) is somehow less divine than the Father.

mutabilitie said...

Right---although this gets to my point about possibly misrepresenting Henry. If you consider the divine essence as one property and the Father's personal property as another, and then ask how the Son is generated from 'both' of these properties, you end up thinking of two relations which the Son has, namely to these two properties. But Henry seems to want to say that you have to consider these two properties together as though they were one, i.e. a rational distinction between the 'Father' and the divine essence. IF we do that, then it is the divine essence as it is in the Father which explains the production of the Son.

JT Paasch said...

Yep, but it doesn't alter the force of Scotus's argument.

But I'm not sure 'misinterpreting' is the right word here. Henry explicitly distinguishes between the Son's relation to the Father and the Son's relation to the divine essence, because those two relations have different explanatory roles.

The first explains why the Son comes to be (namely, because there is a producer, the Father, who produced him), the second explains how the Son comes to be (namely, the Son comes to exist in the divine essence).

Sure, they are only rationally distinct relations, but that doesn't change anything about the argument.

mutabilitie said...

Well-- having 'rational relation' in mind helps to explain what Henry means by saying the Son 'subsists in' the divine substance. If you don't know what sort of relation it is, then this phrase might be entirely unintelligible. Besides, by ignoring this you may be tricked to think the Son/Word (quasi) inheres (inesse) in the divine substance.

But yes, I agree each does explain something different... and so are needed.

JT Paasch said...

I'm not sure I'm tracking with you. Are you saying that for Henry, 'subsists in' is only a rational relation (i.e., the Son's subsisting in the divine essence is only a rational relation)?

mutabilitie said...

Yes, I think so. I'd have to argue textually from this thought to drive the point. Yet, it seems to make sense that the Son would have a 'relation of reason' to the divine essence, otherwise the divine essence is one thing (res a ratitutdine), and the personal property is another thing (res a ratitudine). He would rather have us think these two together. Afterall, the only real distinction is btwn. divine persons, and what makes these distinct are the personal properties not the divine essence as such. It's more complicated, but this is the jist.

So, the Son's 'subsisting in the divine essence' is true, in that it is in virtue of being constituted by the divine essence that the Son subsists. If all there were was the persona property 'filiatio', this wouldn't be a person nor would it _subsist_. So the point is that we can think of these as two properties (div. essence and personal property), but we need to keep straight that the personal properties explain real relations for the divine persons; and the persons considered in relation to the divine essence ought to be relations of reason, otherwise the divine essence becomes a 4th divine person who is really distinct from the other three divine persons.

JT Paasch said...

Still not sure I see why any of this matters.

I don't know anybody who is tempted to think that Henry thinks a personal property is really distinct from the divine essence, so I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to correct here. Do you have a particular target in mind?

On your other point, I'm not sure I see why the divine essence would be a 4th person if it were (really or formally) distinct from the personal properties. I'm not even sure I see why it would qualify as an individual, so I'm not sure why it would qualify as a '4th' entity.