Thursday, December 3, 2009

Solving the Creation and Subordination Problems

In the last two posts, I described what I call the 'Creation' and 'Subordination' problems. Here, I want to say something about different ways to solve these Problems. Christian scholastics are dealing with two sets of claims. On the one hand, they have a set from Aristotle and Avicenna (from Aristotle: things can only be produced with materials, from Avicenna: things produced without materials are created and inferior to their producers). On the other hand, they have their own Christian set of claims about divine production (namely, T1, T2, and T3 from the last two posts). As I explained in the last two posts, putting these two sets of claims together results in the Creation and Subordination Problems.

To avoid these two Problems, a scholastic thinker like Scotus or Ockham must reject something from either set of claims. As for the Christian claims (T1-T3), scholastics like Scotus and Ockham feel that T1 and T3 are required by Christian doctrine, for T1 is required by the Nicene Creed, and T3 is required to avoid subordinationism. Consequently, they are not going to reject T1 or T3. However, authors like Scotus or Ockham do not think that T2 is required for orthodoxy in the way that T1 and T3 are. Rather, they see T2 as just a very plausible claim.

In principle then, a scholastic thinker could reject T2, and that could be one way to avoid the Creation and Subordination Problems. For instance, if one were to say that the Son is, in fact, produced from some sort of pre-existing material, then the Son would not be created from nothing, and by consequence, the Son would not necessarily be less perfect than his producer (the Father).

But of course, T2 is extremely plausible, so anyone who wants to reject it would have to explain how a divine person --- who is entirely spiritual and therefore without any material components at all --- could be produced from 'pre-existing materials'. And that is certainly no easy task.

Alternatively, someone Scotus or Ockham could reject one of the claims from Aristotle or Avicenna. That too could be a way to avoid the Creation and Subordination Problems. However, Aristotle’s and Avicenna’s theories are designed to explain production, so if one were to reject a part of these theories, they would have to provide an alternative account, and that too is no easy task.


Tom F said...

nice posts - i'm eager to see where you will take this, especially on the subordination problem, where the standard Aristotelian commitments seem most vulnerable.

JT Paasch said...

Interesting. Can you say more about what you mean regarding the Aristotelian commitments being vulnerable?