Thursday, February 12, 2009

Aquinas on what kinds of correlatives distinguish the Son and Spirit

It's been some time since I've posted, as I've been busy writing a paper on Arius and Athanasius. That's pretty much done now, so I can jump back into what I've been posting about for the last couple of months, namely one of Aquinas's argument from the Summa Contra Gentiles on the filioque. This argument is fairly complicated, so I've been posting on it for some time now.

Up to this point, Aquinas has argued that spirits can only be distinguished as opposites, and the only kinds of opposite features that can distinguish the Son and Spirit are correlative opposites (like 'double' and 'half', or 'father' and 'son'). But then Aquinas wonders which kind of correlative opposites distinguish the Son and Spirit. In the last post, I explained that Aquinas says there are two basic kinds of correlatives: sameness-correlatives and action-correlatives. Sameness-correlatives are 'being the same as' (or 'being different from') with respect to substance (i.e., identity and distinction relations), quantity (equality and inequality relations), or quality (similarity and dissimilarity relations). Action-correlatives obtain between things that do an action and things that have that action done to them. Okay, so that's where we got to last time. Let's move on.

Given these two kinds of correlatives, which kind applies to the Son and Spirit? Aquinas says the first kind (sameness-correlatives) doesn't apply. Long before Aquinas’s day, Augustine established that the Father, Son, and Spirit must all be the same in substance, quantity, and quality. That is, they are all the same substance (they are all the very same God), they are all equal in magnitude or greatness, and they are all qualitatively similar (all have the same divine attributes).

Aquinas accepts this Augustinian rule, and so the divine persons can’t be different in any of those ways. Consequently, they can’t be opposites in any of those ways either. If two things are the same, they’re not opposites. Cicero and Tully are not opposite substances because they’re the same substance; two 10kg blocks are not opposite in weight because they have the same weight; and two white objects are not opposite in color because they’re the same color. So the divine persons are not opposites with respect to sameness-correlatives.

That leaves the second kind of correlatives, i.e., those based on action. But here, Aquinas makes an odd statement:

When it comes to correlatives based on action or passion, one of the pair of correlatives is in a subject that’s unequal in power [to that of the other’s subject]. The only exception are correlatives based on origination, for there nothing is designated as the ‘lesser’. Rather, in cases of origination, we find something that produces another which is similar and equal to it in nature and power.

Aquinas seems to be saying that most of the time, when one thing acts on another, one of them has more power than the other. But there’s a special case where this doesn’t happen, and that’s called ‘origination’. In cases of origination, one thing produces another, and the producer and the product are the same kinds of things (similar in ‘nature’, as Aquinas puts it), and they have the same degree of power.

What I don’t get about this is the claim that an action always involves one thing that has more power than another. What about when living organisms beget offspring? In those cases, Aquinas is happy to say that the producer and the product are the same kinds of things, and so they would also be equal in power. Humans are humans, and they have the exact some innate powers, irrespective of whether they’re fathers or sons.

Perhaps Aquinas is thinking about the raw materials that a producer uses to make a product. Raw materials don’t have any of the powers they have once they’re fashioned into a product (raw steel isn’t drive-able, but a car is), and so of course the producer has more power than the raw materials it uses to make a product. Or maybe Aquinas is thinking of offspring that need to develop their powers. Human zygotes don’t initially have the same powers as their parents. They have to develop those powers.

More generally, perhaps Aquinas is thinking that every action involves an agent and a patient, where the agent has active powers (powers to do something), and the patient has passive powers (powers to have something done to it). Thus, for every standard case of action down here on earth, the agent is more powerful than the patient.

But if that’s right, then Aquinas thinks ‘origination’ is a very specific kind of production that occurs only in the Trinity. Natural generation here on earth would not count as ‘origination’. Only in the Trinity is the producer and the product totally equal in power, for that’s the only instance of production that doesn’t involve any ‘moment’ when the patient (an underdeveloped product or the raw materials) has less power than the producer.

There might be something else going on here too. In most cases of production, producers cause their products to come to exist. That is, products depend on their producers for their existence. One would think that this applies in the Trinity too. If the Father produces the Son, then surely the Son depends on the Father for his existence.

However, the Son is supposed to have aseity -- and part of what it means to have aseity is not to depend on anything for existence. How then, can the Son both have aseity and be produced? This is a difficult issue, and I don’t intend to go into it here. The point is just that Aquinas might be thinking that products normally don’t have aseity, but in the divine case, the products (the Son and Spirit) do have aseity, and so he uses a special word -- ‘origination’ -- to talk about that special kind of divine production.

Still, that seems a stretch. Aquinas makes no mention of aseity or existential dependence here. Instead, he talks about the producer and the product being the same in kind and power. So I would think my former comments about power are closer to the mark.

In any case, Aquinas concludes from this that ‘origination’ is the only action that applies to the Son and Spirit, and so the only kinds of correlatives that can apply here are those based on origination. And presumably, these correlatives are the features of ‘being the producer of’ and ‘being the product of’ for an instance of origination. Finally, then, Aquinas has identified the opposite features in question. These are the features that distinguish the Son and Spirit.


Scott Williams said...

At the beginning of the post you mention the filioque issue; how does that fit in with what you report from the SCG on producer / product? Is it just that the Son is the and the Holy Spirit is the product? I'm sure that can't be right -- b/c the very same correlatives obtain btwn. Father and Son, and btwn. Father and Holy Spirit. I'm sure there's gotta be more than this; something besides the psychological stuff.

The aseity issue is fascinating. I once read Henry on this -- it was bizarre stuff. Suffice it to say, he tries to get around this problem by distinguishing btwn. aseity with regards to substance, and aseity with regards to personal agents. So, all divine persons have aseity with regards to substance, but only the Father has aseity with regards to personal agents. I wonder whether Aquinas makes the same move somewhere.

JT Paasch said...

As for your first paragraph, I don't understand what you're asking about.

As for the second, yes Henry does argue that the Son and Spirit have aseity as one of their formal characteristics, and this is not incompatible with the Son and Spirit being produced. (They are produced as certain kinds of things, and so they have certain features that all members of that kind have. One of those features, in this case, is aseity.)

Aquinas probably does talk about this in distinction 9 of his Sentences commentary (that's where all these guys talk about this), but I haven't read that.

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