Thursday, December 10, 2009

Henry of Ghent against Peter Lombard on the Creation Problem

Henry is acutely aware of the Creation Problem, and this comes out very clearly when he disagrees with Peter Lombard.

Peter Lombard lived at the beginning of the 12th century (1100-1160), and he is a very important figure for medieval philosophy. The reason is this: he wrote a very long book on theology called the Sentences. It is essentially a compilation of quotations from church fathers on a variety of topics. Lombard arranged all this material into a series of ‘yes/no’ questions, with quotations on the ‘yes’ side, and quotations on the ‘no’ side. And occasionally, Lombard would give his own opinion too.

Before long, the Sentences became the standard textbook in theology. In the 13th and 14th centuries, if you were a doing a PhD in theology, you had to lecture on the Sentences. And his was like your dissertation. It was your big theological magnum opus. So Peter is very important simply because he wrote the major medieval textbook for theology.

Now, at one point in the Sentences, Peter asks if the Son is created from nothing. Peter of course says no. The Son is not produced from nothing. He is produced from something.

To back this up, Peter appeals to the Nicene Creed, the earliest Christian Creed. The Nicene Creed says that the Son is produced from the Father’s substance, so Peter says, “the Son is not produced from nothing, he’s produced from the Father’s substance.”

But what does that mean? Peter explains it like this: he says the Son is produced by the Father, who is a substance.

Well, Henry points out that that’s all well and good, but creatures are produced by a substance too, namely God. And creatures are created. So just saying that the Son is produced by a substance does not tell us that the Son is not created.

As Henry sees it, in order to show that the Son is not created, we have to say that the Son is produced from materials in some sense. Otherwise, the Son would be produced from nothing, in which case he would be created.

So Henry really seems to buy into this Avicennian idea that if you produce something without materials, then you create it. And since Henry doesn’t want to say that the Son is created, he says the Son must be produced with materials in some sense or other.

Now, Henry knows this would have sounded absolutely crazy to his contemporaries. I mean, this is the age of high scholasticism. This is the age of perfect being theology. God is the most supreme being, he is “that than which nothing greater can be conceived”. And the greatest conceivable being is going to be totally perfect, and that means God is going to be totally good, totally perfect, and totally immaterial. He won’t be limited by material dimensions, or anything like that. So Henry knows that his contemporaries are going to say, “Whoa! God is not material in any way!”

So Henry needs to show exactly how or in what sense we can say that the Son is produced ‘with materials’. That is what I will discuss next.

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