Thursday, December 17, 2009

Henry of Ghent on How the Son is Produced 'From Materials'

As I explained in the last post, Henry of Ghent argues that the Son must be produced from materials in some sense, for otherwise the Son would quite literally be created 'from nothing'. Still, Henry recognizes that he needs to explain how that is possible.

To do that, Henry points out that according to Aristotle, you produce things by taking a lump of matter and giving it a form. As an analogy, a sculptor makes a clay statue by taking a lump of clay, and giving it a statue shape. Similarly, says Aristotle, anything that gets produced is made by taking a lump of matter and giving it a form.

Henry likes this model. He points out, “look, the matter is not produced, but the form is”. A sculptor doesn’t produce the clay. She simply gives it a shape. Something similar happens in the Godhead.

According to Henry, and indeed all his scholastic contemporaries, each divine person includes two ingredients: first, there’s a shared divine essence. This is a single item that all three share. So it’s not like sharing a piece of cake where you cut it up into pieces and dish it out. The divine essence is one, undivided thing that exists in all three persons.

Second, each person has a unique ingredient that belongs only to them. These are called ‘personal properties’. So to take the Father and Son, the Father’s unique ingredient is called fatherhood, and the son’s is called sonship. So the Father and Son each share one divine essence, but they also each have their own unique ingredient, fatherhood or sonship.

Henry then says, “look, the divine essence is shared by the Father and Son. So the Father doesn’t produce it in the Son. He just shares it. Sonship, on the other hand, does get produced with the Son. It is unique to the Son, so it only exists when the Son does. So the divine essence is not produced in the Son, but his sonship is.”

And that’s just like a clay statue. The clay does not get produced, but its shape does. So Henry concludes that the divine essence is like a lump of matter, and the personal properties are like forms.

If you can imagine three gold statues all made from the same lump of gold at the same time, that’s very close to what Henry has in mind.

Now, if you think about the medieval context here, this might seem like a really wild idea. This is the age of high scholasticism and perfect being theology, so surely Henry would get condemned as a heretic, and denounced as a crazy man.

But amazingly, that’s not the case. Henry actually ended up with a number of loyal supporters on this issue. Among his students, and even among the next generation of students after that, a number of them thought Henry had hit the nail on the head.

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