Thursday, August 2, 2007

Some thoughts on the divine essence as a substratum

I've been thinking some more about this little debate between Henry and Scotus on the divine essence as a substratum for the persons. Here are some of my (rough) abstract thoughts on the matter. Maybe later I'll clean this up if I get a chance.

In book 7 of De Trinitate, Augustine ponders two ways to explain how the divine essence is common to all three divine persons: as a shared genus or species, as for example if three people shared one form of humanity, or as a common material or substratum, as for example if three statues were made from the same lump of gold. I will call the first of these views the 'generic view', and the second the 'substratum view'.

One might wonder if it really makes much difference which of these we choose. After all, on both views, the divine essence is just something shared by the three divine persons, so the relations of identity and distinction work out in more or less the same way. It doesn't matter much whether we say the divine essence is a common 'form' or a common 'substratum', because either way, the divine essence is common to all three persons.

Here I will try to show that there is one reason why it might make a difference which of these views we choose. Although the identity and distinction relations work out in more or less the same way for each of these views, when we consider how the Father produces the Son, the generic and substratum views have to part ways. And then, as I will argue below, it turns out that the substratum view (but not the generic view) pressures us to say that the divine essence belongs more to the Father than to the Son, and that sounds a lot like subordinationism.

1. The generic and substratum views

There are many ways to compare and contrast the generic and substratum views, but for our purposes, I would like to think of this in terms of instantiation. From this angle, the difference between the generic and substratum views is that on the generic view, the divine persons instantiate the divine essence, while on the substratum view, the divine essence instantiates the divine persons. I will say more about this in a moment, but first I want to explain what I mean by 'instantiation'.

Instantiation, as I understand it here, is a technical way of talking about 'where' properties occur. The idea is that properties don't just float around, detached from objects. They occur in objects. The property being red, for example, is not just a free-floating patch of color. Rather, it occurs in particular objects such as walls and fast cars. These objects are 'where' the property being red occurs. In the technical jargon, each occurrence of the property being red is an instance of being red, and the object where a property instance occurs is said to instantiate the property (or, to use the passive tense, the property is instantiated by the object). So when I say that some x instantiates F, I mean that the property F occurs in the object x.

This description of instantiation might seem a little vague, and it is, deliberately so. The reason is that I don't intend it to depend very much on particular ontological commitments. Instantiated properties can be described in a variety of ways, e.g., they can be tropes, immanent universals, qualities, and so forth, but we can still talk about these in terms of instantiation. The same goes for the objects which instantiate properties. These can also be understood in various ways – as bundles of tropes or properties, an independent substance, a substratum, and so forth – and we can still talk about this in terms of instantiation.

To maintain the serviceability of instantiation, all we need to do is meet two conditions. First, for any x that instantiates F and any y that does not instantiate F, F is ontologically connected to x but not to y. If we consider a red wall and a green water tower, the color red is ontologically connected to the wall in a way it is not connected to the water tower. This 'ontological connection' can be construed in many ways, but however we explain it, we need to maintain that the color red is ontologically connected to the wall rather than the water tower

Second, if some x instantiates F, then F does not instantiate x. In other words, the relation must be asymmetric. The color red comes to exist in walls and fast cars, but fast cars and walls do not come to exist in the color red. Again, there are many ways to explain how or why the ontological connection of objects and their properties is asymmetric, but so long as we can maintain that walls instantiate the color red and not the other way around, the notion of instantiation is serviceable. (If we deny the asymmetry of x and F, then the substratum and generic views are not different at all, because the divine essence is just the overlap of the three persons.)

So how does this apply to the trinity? As I said at the beginning of this section, on the substratum view, the divine essence instantiates the divine persons. Thus, the divine essence is 'where', as it were, the divine persons occur, so we end up with one object which instantiates three persons. To borrow from Augustine's analogy, if you can imagine three statues occurring simultaneously in the same lump of gold, you have a good idea of the substratum view.

The generic view, on the other hand, maintains the opposite position: the divine persons instantiate the divine essence. Thus, the divine persons are 'where', as it were, the divine essence occurs, so we end up with three objects that instantiate (we could also use the word 'exemplify' here to mean the same thing) one divine essence. If you can imagine a single statue occurring simultaneously in three lumps of clay (perhaps in the way that a polyadic property might occur simultaneously in multiple objects), you have a fair picture of the generic view.

As I suggested early on, it may not seem like there is any significant difference between the substratum and generic views. Indeed, on both views, the divine essence plays the role of something common to all three. It is just the 'overlap' of the persons. Whether we say that this 'overlap' occurs because the divine essence instantiates the persons or because the persons instantiate the divine essence, the identity and distinction relations turn out to be exactly the same. However, in the next section I will argue that although this is true for the identity and distinction relations, when we consider how these two views explain the production of the Son, the substratum and generic views have to part ways.

2. The production of the Son

Thus far I have suggested that we can define the generic and substratum views in terms of instantiation: on the generic view, the divine persons instantiate the divine essence, while on the substratum view, the divine essence instantiates the persons. Each of these views entails a different statement about how the divine essence is included in a divine person.

On the generic view, the divine essence is instantiated by the divine persons. Putting it this way might make it sound like we can first have a divine person which then instantiates the divine essence, and thus there is the possibility that a divine person could exist without instantiating the divine essence. But this needn't by the case. We could insist that a divine person cannot fail to instantiate the divine essence, just as a human cannot fail to instantiate the property being human. Thus, on the generic view, some x is a divine person only when it instantiates the divine essence.

On the substratum view, things are reversed: a divine person is instantiated by the divine essence. Again, although putting it this way might make it sound like the divine essence could exist without exemplifying a person, this needn't be the case. We could insist that the divine essence cannot fail to instantiate at least one divine person, just as some clay cannot fail to instantiate at least one lump. Thus, on the substratum view, the divine essence is a divine person only when it instantiates a person, just as a lump of clay is only a statue when it instantiates a statue.

These two different conceptions of what makes a person determines how we explain the production of the Son. On the generic view, some x is a divine person only when it instantiates the divine essence, so producing the Son entails that however we explain the inner machinery of production, the end result must be that the Father causes some x (the Son) to instantiate the divine essence. On the substratum view, the divine essence is a person only when it instantiates a person, so producing another person entails that however we explain the inner machinery of production, the end result must be that the Father causes the divine essence to instantiate a person. In short, on the generic view, the Father must cause the divine essence to come to exist in the Son, while on the substratum view, the Father must cause the Son to come to exist in the divine essence.

It is at this point that we start to encounter the difference between the substratum and generic views, but to arrive at a clear picture of this, we need to consider the causal relations entailed by production. Of course, there are many different causal relations that we could discuss here. For example, we could talk about how a stone falling is causally related to the physical forces that act upon the stone, or how the fire that burned down the neighbor's house was causally related to the circumstances leading to the fire.

But these are not the sort of causal relations that make a difference for the production of the Son. The reason is that when the Father produces the Son, there is nothing there to cause the Son except the Father. The Father must therefore be the sole and sufficient causal source for the Son. No matter how we construe the Father's causal or productive role in producing the Son, the end result will therefore be that the Son is directly emitted or elicited – produced – from the Father. The Son will come 'out of', if you will, the Father. There is nowhere else the Son could come from.

Thus, when we say that the Son is produced from the Father, this produced-from relation must have the sense of 'coming directly from'. The Son will not be related to any causal source other than the Father. There is not an external artisan who shapes the Son out of the Father, there is no physical force that causes the Son to spring forth from the Father, nor is there anything else. The Son comes from the Father, plain and simple.

But here is where the generic and substratum views start to part ways. On the generic view, the Son is produced from the Father but not from the divine essence, while on the substratum view, it's hard to see how the Son could fail to be produced from the divine essence. On the substratum view, the Son is produced from the Father, but the divine essence just is the substance of the Father. The divine essence just is that object 'where' the Father occurs. If the Son comes from the Father in the sense that the Son directly issues forth from the Father, then surely the Son comes from that object 'where' the Father occurs, namely the divine essence. It would be odd to think that the Son issued forth from the Father, but not from the object where the Father is instantiated.

Consider a clay statue. Suppose that, perhaps in some other worldly dimension, clay statues can produce products in such a way that the products directly issue forth from the producing statues. In this scenario, it's hard to see how such a product could fail to be produced from the clay. If the clay just is the substance of the statue, the object 'where' the statue occurs, then surely the product will issue forth from the clay. It would be odd to think that such a product would issue forth from the statue, but not from the clay where the statue is instantiated.

On the generic view, however, the Son does not come from the divine essence in this way. Rather, the Son directly issues forth from the Father. Of course, on the generic view, the Father instantiates the divine essence, so the Father is 'where' the divine essence occurs, but nothing turns on this. Consider the clay statue again. A product issuing forth from a clay statue would come from the clay in which the statue is instantiated. It would be odd to think the product came from the statue but not from the clay where the statue is instantiated.

As it turns out then, the substratum and generic views begin to part ways when we consider where the Son issues forth from for each of these views. On the substratum view, the Son would issue forth directly from the divine essence, while on the generic view, the Son would issue forth directly from the Father. In the next section, I will argue that this particular difference pressures the substratum view to distance itself even further from the generic view.

3. The substratum view and the divine essence

Saying that the Son comes from the divine essence pressures the substratum view to say that the divine essence belongs more to the Father than it does to the Son. Otherwise, it turns out that the Son is produced from himself. The idea here is that if the divine essence is equally the object which instantiates each divine person, then it follows that the Son is produced from the object which instantiates himself. And since the Son just is that object (in which the Son is instantiated), the Son is produced from himself, and that's circular. Let me try to explain this with some analogies.

Imagine if you and I jointly owned a lump of gold which we then cast into a statue. If someone asked what the statue was produced from, I couldn't say it was produced only from my gold, because it's just as much your gold as it is my gold. The statue would be produced from the gold that belongs to each of us. In order to say the statue was produced from my gold, the gold would have to belong more to me than to you.

Or, to use an example closer to the divine case, imagine a possible world where the only material is clay, and the only way such clay can be arranged is statue-wise (in such a world, any bit of clay is a lump and a statue). If you pointed to one of these statues and asked me what it was produced from, I couldn't say it was produced from the lump's clay any more than the statue's clay, since the clay is equally the lump's and the statue's. In order to say the statue was produced from the lump's clay, the clay would have to belong more to the lump than to the statue.

Similarly, if the divine essence is equally the substance of each divine person in the sense that it is the object which instantiates each divine person equally, then we cannot say the Son is produced from the Father's substance, because the divine essence is just as much the Son's substance as it is the Father's. To put this another way, whenever it is true that the divine essence is the substance of the Father, it is also true that the divine essence is the substance of the Son. Consequently, whenever it is true that Son is produced from the Father's substance, it is also true that the Son is produced from his own substance. The only way the Son could be produced from the Father's substance (and not his own substance), is if the divine essence belongs more to the Father than to the Son and/or Spirit.

The conclusion here is that if we want to say that the divine essence is equally the substance of each divine person, then we have to accept the circular consequence that the Son is produced from the substance of each divine person (and thus, in part from himself). In order to avoid this problem, we are pressured to say the divine essence belongs in some way more to the Father than it does to the Son. Only then will it follow that the Son is produced from the Father's substance rather than from his own.

But if we do that, it seems we end up with a text book case of subordinationism. If the divine essence belongs more to the Father than to the Son and Spirit, then it obviously follows that the Son and Spirit possess the divine essence in a way less than the Father does. Since the Son and Spirit are therefore less than the Father (in whatever way we define 'belonging less to' here), it's hard to see how this sort of thing would not be a case of subordinating the Son and Spirit to the Father. If we hold to the substratum view, we would therefore want to find a way to explain how the divine essence could belong more to the Father than to the Son in such a way that did not amount to subordinationism.

14 comments:

mutabilitie said...

Initial thought: well done writing this. Second thought: I find myself looking for a definition of a 'divine person' or 'person' here. I think this is crucial b/c when you write 'person' I think for Henry this consignifies two properties, an absolute thing (substance) and a relative characteristic (personal property). So, to say either 'the Father produces the Son' or the 'divine essence produces the Son' seems to need some clarification--because the first sentence means 'the divine essence and some personal property' and the second means just what it says. Henry clearly goes with the former (divine essence + personal property), which explains how the Son is produced.

Interestingly, and frustratingly, Henry does say in one place that the Son has the divine essence formally in se, but principiatively from the Father (ab alio). So, Henry offers two orders to consider, the formal property of a divine person, and the order of origin (e.g. principiation). If you keep this in mind, perhaps this helps to work through this question. Perhaps Henry is saying that 'formal determination' is according to the generic view, and the 'principiative determination' is according to the substratum view. So, depending on the particular consideration in question, you can get either or both answers from Henry depending on whether you look at personal properties alone, or each 'person' alone. :o)

mutabilitie said...

With the 'production of the Son' in question and not the formal properties of the Son in question, it seems Henry says that the ungenerate divine person perfects the intellectus of the divine essence in two ways. In one way it is perfected formally (my interpretation), and another way it is perfected principiatively (my interpretation).

If we ask then whether a divine person instantiates the divine essence (generic view: GV) or the divine essence instantiates the divine person (substratum view: SV), perhaps it would seem that GV explains divine formal perfection, and SV explains divine principiative perfection. So, for Henry, depending on whether you are talking about divine persons simply (formal perfection), or about divine person principiatively (principiative perfection), you get either GV or SV.

I think this is right b/c Henry does seem to slide back and forth between GV and SV depending on the context. In other words, a question to ask of Henry is whether his use of 'divine essence' is used equivocally in these two considerations/orders? He probably is-- but I need more time to write this out more fully. But for now, it's a question of... whether the two kinds of perfections cancel each other out or not--e.g. whether or not principiated knowledge (the Word) adds any perfection to formal knowledge, and it seems that it does--b/c Henry argues that the Word is required, as quasi practical knowledge, for the ad extra production of real creatures. And perhaps, the Word doesn't add any formal intellectual knowledge, but does add 'self-consciousness' for being able to produce a creature for the creature's own good, rather than knowledge of a creature which imitates the divine essence. In other words, formal perfect knowledge about God, whether of the divine essence itself, or of possible creatures (divine ideas) who imitate the divine essence---and so, perfect principiated knowledge (the Word) has to do with knowledge for the individual creature to be created, rather than only as a reflection of the divine essence.

mutabilitie said...

The first paragraph of the 2nd post is a little confusing. I'll re-write it:

Henry considers the Father in two ways regarding the divine intellect. A formal consideration (essential act), and a principiative consideration (notional act). It is the latter which discuss the production of the Son, and in turn, this is _not_ a formal consideration of the Son simpliciter, but only a principiative consideration.

JT Paasch said...

1. Lots here to think through in your posts. I need to figure out a little better what you mean by all these special terms. For now, what do you mean by 'principiatively'?

2. It may be that Henry equivocates on the role of the divine essence, but he may not. One can have the divine essence as the substratum of a person (i.e., as that which instantiates the person), and the substratum can still contribute formal properties to the whole object. For example, if a lump of clay instantiates a statue, the clay contributes formal properties (clay properties) to the whole object (the clay statue). So Henry might not be equivocating if he thinks of it this way. There are probably other strategies to work this out too.

3. Yeah, I've been struggling to find a good way to explain how SV entails that the Son comes from the divine essence. As I have it here, it's very muddled and confusing. It needs a lot of cleaning up.

Here's my current attempt at it.

A basic principle is this:

(A1) Objects act, not their properties.

The medievals often say supposita act, not forms, and this is the idea. It is individual things that perform actions, not their properties.

Of course, we can adopt a further principle:

(A2) Objects can perform certain actions in virtue of their properties.

The idea is that the properties might be something like causal powers which can be enacted by any object that possesses those powers.

But again, notice that (A2) is consistent with (A1). The object acts, not the powers. Objects can do certain things in virtue of their properties, but the properties themselves don't do the acting, as if those properties could do some acting on their own, apart from the object they are instantiated in.

So, in the divine case, on SV, the divine essence is the object, and it instantiates the property being a father. So when the Father produces the Son, what acts on this model? It is the divine-essence-object. Sure, that object exemplifies the property being a father, and that object produces the Son in virtue of the property being a father, but it is still the object that acts. That object is a father, of course, because it instantiates the property being a father, but it is the object that acts, not the property. It can't be the property, according to (A1). So on SV, if we want to uphold (A1), we have to say the divine essence produces the Son, because the divine essence is the object that does the acting.

Of course, this does not mean that the divine essence does the acting apart from the Father. No, the divine essence just is that object which is the Father, just as a lump of clay is that object which is a statue. But the point is that it is the divine essence (as Father) that acts, not the property being a father.

Notice that this is not the case on GV. On GV, the object that acts just is the Father. That object (the Father) of course instantiates the divine essence, but there is no question about the divine essence acting her, since it's just a property, and by (A1) properties don't act.

Anyways, perhaps that makes some more sense.

mutabilitie said...

I mostly agree with what you say. Have a look at SQO 54.4, Ad 4 and Ad 5. I'm slowly working through these, and here he differentiates between some power (intellect) considered absolutely, and considered relatively. In the former, it is an essential act by divine persons; but in the latter, this act by the Father is productive of the Word/Son. So, it seems to me that Henry says it is the Father who produces the Son, _not_ the divine essence. In fact, he says that the former is a remote cause for the production of the Son, and the latter is a proximate cause for the production of the Son.

So, as with all things Henrician there is a double consideration of a divine power.

(A1) The intellect in the divine essence, shared by all divine persons.

(A2) The intellect in the Father which is productive of the Son.

It is A2 that explains the production of the Son. And this is made explicit when he says that A1 is a remote cause, and A2 is the proximate cause for the production of the Son.

With A1 and A2 in mind, we can understand how SV entails the Son is produced from the divine essence. If A1 did not causally contribute to the production of the Son, then it'd be harder to see how the Son is 'from the divine essence'. If A2 did not causally contribute to the production of the Son, then it'd be hard to see how the Son is not another 'thing' than the divine essence--for the Son just is the divine essence as a real relation. [Keep in mind Henry's account of 'relations' and 'things'--cf. Flores.]

Henry expressly says in this passage that the relations he has in mind are not opposed relations, but diverse relations (whatever this means exactly). I think he's trying to take more seriously the emanation account, etc.

JT Paasch said...

Now you're talking about the properties in virtue of which the Father causes/produces. But that still doesn't address which object/thing/person/suppositum does the act of producing. That's what I'm after, not the properties (causal powers) it might have, or the various ways that we can consider it.

You're right that Henry wants to say that the Father produces the Son, not the divine essence. If he said it was the divine essence, he'd be violating Lateran IV (to give just one reason why he doesn't want to say this).

But my point is that it's hard to see how he could avoid saying it's the divine essence. If the Father is (a) the personal property being a father which is instantiated (b) in the divine essence, then we have to ask: what acts here? Is it (a), is it (b), or is it (c) the whole object that includes both?

We can't say it's (a) the personal property, because properties don't act. Objects/individuals do. Indeed, it would be odd to say that just the personal property acts, but not the object in which it is instantiated.

Nor can we say (b) if we mean the divine essence apart from any of its properties, because the divine essence can produce the Son only in virtue of having the father-property.

So we have to say (c) the whole object which includes (a) and (b) acts.

To put this another way, the divine essence is necessary to produce the Son, but not sufficient because it needs the father-property to produce a son. The father-property is necessary to produce the son, but not sufficient because properties can't act. Only objects can. So only the whole object, the divine essence with the instantiated father-property, is sufficient to produce the Son.

But, what is that object? Well, on SV, it's the divine essence which instantiates the property being a father. So in the end, it is the divine essence after all. A divine essence with a father-property, but still the divine essence.

Compare with the red sports car that causes a reflection on the side of my car. What acts here? Is it (a) the car, (b) the red, or (c) the whole object that includes both? We can't say (a), since properties don't act, individuals do. Nor we can say (b), if we mean the car apart from the red, because the car can only cause the reflection of red in virtue of its red property. So we have to say (c) the whole object that includes both. But what is that object? It is the car, which has the red property. That is, the car is a necessary condition, and the red is a necessary condition, but only a car with a red property is sufficient to cause a red reflection.

JT Paasch said...

That said though, my argument doesn't need the divine essence to be a producer. All it needs is that the Son issues out of the divine essence, because then the Son 'comes out of' a part of himself.

mutabilitie said...

When I write, 'Father', always take this to mean (c). But to say the divine essence instantiates the Father would be to say that the Father is 'ab alio', in this case, from the divine essence. But this is a problematic interpretation of Henry precisely b/c he describes the Father as the one who is not from another. So, you have to take Father as (c), and that the personal property of the Father is not reducible to the divine essence as such; each property of the Father is irreducible to the other. For the Father does not emanate from the divine essence, after all, as the Son and Holy Spirit do.

Anyways.. I'll write more soon; gotta go right now.

JT Paasch said...

True, the Father is not from another. I don't usually think of instantiation as involving causal origin. An instantiated property isn't necessarily produced or caused by the object in which it is instantiates. But, nevertheless, the word 'instantiate' can sound like a verb.

So if you like, we can use the term 'to instantiate' as a verb indicating causal origin, and we can use 'exemplify' as the word that doesn't indicate causal origin.

So when a property occurs in an object, that object exemplifies the property, and when something causes a property to come to be exemplified in some object, that property is instantiated.

In this case, instantiation wouldn't technically apply to the Father. It would only apply to the Son and Spirit. But exemplification would apply to all three persons.

mutabilitie said...

This sounds right. We could add onto 'to instantiate' by saying that the Son and Holy necessarily instantiate the divine essence.

Re: subordination, I think Henry does subordinate the Son and Holy Spirit, but, in a similar fashion to Scotus, he says that each divine person equally 'has' the divine essence. They all have the same 'form' (divine essence), it is just that they differ in the way (i.e. how the 'form' is communicated to the Son and Holy Spirit are diverse) they have this 'form'.

In SQO 54.4 Ad 5 he discusses 'form' and 'mode of communication'/'communicated form' a bit; interestingly, it is Ambrose who is his main interlocutor here. And further, he likens the divine essence to a 'form' and the persona property to a mode of the 'form', such that both the divine essence and personal properties are (quasi) forms. So yean, divine essence as quasi matter is not quasi prime matter, but quasi 'element' (e.g. clay, bronze... divine essence).

Also of interest, is that when he likens the divine essence to matter, he indicates that 'matter' is not generated in creatures, but only forms are generated. So when parents procreate their child, they make a new form that is united with matter. In other words, personal properties of the Son and Holy Spirit are 'generated' and the divine essence takes on 'new' forms through the production of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

D. W. McClain said...

I got scared by the length of your post and scott's comments, so let me be the rude guest and post without first looking for the answer, like all the newbs do on troubleshooting forums.
Jet, you say you wonder if it will make a difference if we look at it as a substratum or a form. I agree, it doesn't much seem to make a difference, but with this caveat - both ways ultimately contain within their analogies a distinct separation in the principal players, be it the three distinct people who, albeit, share a humanity, or the three distinct statues, albeit, from the same lump of gold or marble or, if you're maplethorpe, shit.. Isn't the tricky thing about the Trinity that essence and existence can't be separated, yet we can find not comparable analogy to explain that?

how does this affect the issue?

JT Paasch said...

Scott -- yep, I think we're reading the same Henry texts now. =) Yeah, that's why I say Henry holds to the substratum view, because he likens the Son's production to producing a form in some matter. It's just like the way a sculptor produces a form (of a statue) in a lump of clay. The sculptor doesn't produce the clay, he just produces the form in the clay. Same thing in the divine case.

Of course, a producer/sculptor is different from the material/clay, but in God these coincide.

JT Paasch said...

Danny boy -- I usually think of the essence/existence problem as falling more under the topic of 'the divine attributes' than under the topic of the trinity.

But let me see. If I could construe it in terms of the trinity, then I guess the question would be whether any of the persons have some essence or existence that the other persons do not.

I personally think all of God's attributes are shared by all three of the divine persons. No one person has any properties the others do not (except for the personal properties....and possible indexical knowledge, but I'm still thinking about that one). For example, I do not think the Father alone is wise, but not the Son and Spirit. I think all three persons are wise because they all share the property 'being wise'.

I think the same goes for essence and existence. I think all divine persons share the same essence and the same existence. I don't think one person has an essence that the others don't, and I don't think one person has some existence that the others don't.

So yeah, that's my own personal approach to that. Perhaps someone might differ? Perhaps one of the persons has some essence, existence, or both that the other persons do not have?

JT Paasch said...

Dan, I made a new post on the divine attributes, FYI.