What is the Bible?—Part 3

Jesucristo-la-vid-y-los-sarmientosI’d like to add another point relevant to our understanding of Scripture (from here and here). This point bears less directly on the nature of the Bible’s composition and truthfulness and more on its interpretation and authority. I’m very much in process on this point and hope readers will appreciate the tentative nature of my comments. I’m test-driving this in an attempt to aim in the direction of where I think more settled conclusions are likely to be found.

(6) SENSUS COMMUNIS, or a “communal reading” of Scripture — at least on the essentials. To be sure, there’s certainly a sense one could give to the notion of sola scriptura which is compatible with what we’ve already said in points 1-5. The Scriptures relay that sufficiently truthful historical-social-religious context necessary for the Incarnate One’s self-understanding and vocation. That (i.e., incarnation), we argued, was the primary point of creation and election of Israel. Naturally, it is to the Scriptures (and not to the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita, the Avesta of Zoroastrianism or the Quran however profitable they may be) that Christians look to understand those events which ground their self-understanding, their religious inspiration and worship, their ethical core, and their missional/vocational calling. So there’s certainly a ‘sola’ to affirm in this sense with regard to Scripture as the authoritative source of Christian identity and vocation. If that’s all one means by sola scriptura, I don’t know any Christian who would disagree.

But this is not the popular understanding given to sola scriptura by the Evangelicals I grew up with. What’s typically meant is not only that the Scriptures are the authoritative source of doctrine and theology for the Church (there’s agreement there) but that the individual believer is the final arbiter in determining doctrine and belief for him/herself, a kind of creedal sola fidelis (the ‘believer alone’, i.e., ‘my’ reading of the text is the authoritative one for me).

As such sola scriptura entails a certain mistrust of community and with that, of course, of tradition. No surprise on the minimal regard for tradition among Evangelicals. But it may surprise our Evangelical friends who value their identity as ‘relational theologians’ to hear someone suggest that they are in effect isolationist when it comes to finally deciding what the Bible authoritatively teaches; so let me try to describe where I’m coming from.

‘Community’ is promoted as an essential value at the heart of life and belief by relational theologians (like open theists). God and creation are about ‘community’ — communal identity, communally defined and driven mission, crossing traditional boundaries in cooperative efforts to forge a wider and deeper sense of community (because that makes us more like the trinity of divine persons who have their being and identity in community), etc. You get the point—‘being is communion’.

But so far as I can tell this doesn’t translate into how we (Evangelicals of the ‘relational’ sort) finally interpret Scripture, more specifically how the authority of Scripture to determine belief and doctrine is negotiated by the individual. For when it comes to this authority, it seems the individual considers him/herself to be the final arbiter in saying just what that authoritative teaching is. Scripture’s authority effectively reduces to the individual’s authority (to interpret and decide for him/herself). On this point little of the concern for ‘the relational’ survives into how those of us who otherwise value relational being end up determining our faith and identity as Christians. What happens in Evangelicalism is the individual takes sola scriptura to mean Scripture’s authoritative meaning is ultimately fixed for the individual by the individual alone — sola fidelis (the believer alone). After all, individual believers are indwelt and empowered by the Spirit. Shouldn’t this mean final arbitration on matters of interpretation and doctrine, indeed, in saying just what “Christianity” essentially is, rests with each individual believer? Shouldn’t the Spirit’s indwelling and enlightening the individual believer mean the individual is where the Scripture’s authoritative meaning is determined? Only “I” can say what the Christian faith finally is, what its essential beliefs are, etc. True, I’d be wise to listen to other voices, ancient and modern, but in the end, only “I” can finally say what “the faith” is, what “the Church” is, etc. Here the authority of Scripture to settle faith and practice is taken not to describe the boundaries within which the Church is to ‘say together’ what the Church is and believes; rather, that authority is reduced to the individual standing before God. I’m just wondering if this is really the best way to go.

Joyful_MysteryWithout wanting to suggest that individuals not read and interpret Scripture but just let other church authorities read it for them and tell them what it means and what they’re to believe (an equal but opposite abuse), I do want to suggest that something is amiss with the sola fidelis reading. The Church after all is Christ’s “body,” a “community,” a “communion” of faith and identity formation. Only that community as a community can decide who they are, what they believe, and what they exist for. To argue that every individual believer is authorized by God to define the Church for him/herself and its faith, as indispensable as the individual is, looks like a failure to maintain a ‘relational ontology’. An irreducibly relational ontology would, arguably, mean a relational or communal reading and understanding of Scripture (sensus communis).

I am, for better or worse, a Protestant. Whatever value sola scriptura might have for Christian unity, Protestants have failed more than any other tradition to achieve or demonstrate it. Now that every individual believer is deputized by the Spirit to determine the meaning of Scripture and identify what the Church and her essential faith commitments are, every believer just is his/her own Church, own faith, own mission. I don’t have a safe, trouble-free path from the ‘text’ (which we all agree speaks with authority) to individual believers, but it seems to me that the Church as a community ought to share in the mediation of this authority if we’re going to be ‘relational theologians’ through and through. This is why I suggest sensus communis, a relational-communal reading of Scripture.

One way to approach this which might help suspicious Evangelicals warm to the idea is to consider that fact that Evangelicals are already implicitly committed to the communal mediation of Scripture’s authority and to a certain extent its key doctrines as well, in their acceptance of the traditional canon. The very texts Evangelicals hold to be authoritative Scripture and whose key doctrines they reserve the right to determine for themselves (as individuals) were in fact settled on by councils on the basis of, among other things, their teaching. These writings and not others were adopted as canon in conciliar agreement on the basis of a shared reading of their content and teachings.

But we cut off the branch we’re sitting on if we agree that these books are our authoritative canon fixed by conciliar agreement but then reject that same authority when it comes to definitive questions of faith and interpretation. It was the authority of conciliar agreement that settled on which texts in fact embody Scriptural authority. So if we accept the standard canon without conducting our own investigation of all the relevant literature to establish the canon for ourselves as independently as we want to interpret it, we are implicitly accepting the authority of the Church’s conciliar agreement to determine for us which books shall speak to us with final authority. But it makes little sense to accept as authoritative the conciliar-communal agreement which fixed those texts we take to be authoritative Scripture if we then dismiss the authority of that same community on matters of interpretation. How do I dismiss the authority of a Church on the basis of authoritative texts whose identity as Scripture I accept on authority of that same Church? Unless I’m going to fix the canon as independently as I want to interpret it, I’m implicitly presupposing the authority of the councils/agreements that gave me the Scripture. The authority of Scripture, then, is mediated communally to me already. I just thought this is a point lost on most Evangelicals and worth considering.

Just thinking on it.

(Picture here.)

Discerning the Mystery : Andrew Louth

1176010Recent conversations regarding the nature of divine transcendence and language bring to mind Andrew Louth’s excellent Discerning the Mystery: An Essay on the Nature of Theology (1990). Father Stephen discusses it a bit on his blog, as does Aaron Taylor. But the entire essay is also available online (and shared here).

NB (7/31/2014) I see that Scribd has removed the online version of Louth’s book. You may find it here.

Tuggy Interview: Stephen Holmes’ The Quest for the Trinity

quest-for-the-trinityStephen Holmes’ The Quest for the Trinity (2012) is on my to-read list (toward the top, when I get the cash) and is the topic of discussion of Dale Tuggy’s interview with Holmes. It’s an informative and helpful discussion. And you’ve got a second very interesting interview on the book with Holmes here. Thanks to Dale for landing such great interviews.

What is the Bible?—Part 2

30Continuing our thoughts on Scripture from Part 1.

(3) FUNCTIONAL INERRANCY. In what sense must the Scriptures be sufficiently truthful, then? That’s difficult to say. But to venture an answer at this point, we’d say first that its being difficult to say shouldn’t be a reason to conclude that Scripture is absolutely error-free. Secondly, and more specifically, we’d suggest that Scripture ought to be a sufficiently truthful source for Christ’s first-century self-understanding as fulfiller and executor of God’s promises to Israel and the redemption of the world. Third, its truth should be sufficient to inform and facilitate human transformation into Christlikeness. In a word, it must be sufficient as a means to the rightly perceived ends for which Christ self-identifies and suffers as the ground for Christian discipleship and character transformation. Much of our modern struggle with issues surrounding the question of inerrancy stems from our desire that the Bible be much more than this.

Thus we’re essentially arguing that Scripture is ‘functionally inerrant’ where its function is understood first to be the securing of a worldview adequate for the development of the Word’s incarnate self-understanding (identity and mission) and then secondly as a means for character formation into Christlikeness.

No particular text need be required to do all the lifting. No one text need embody all the relevant truthfulness sufficient for these ends. Indeed, errors may exist within Israel’s understanding of God and themselves as his people, and these errors may be expressed within Scripture. That’s rather to be expected. In our view there’s no need to suppose that Christ or any of the apostles were inerrant in every belief they held. What’s required is adequacy of function relative to Incarnation and character formation.

The Old Testament is thus for Christ before it is for us, and it is only for us insofar as it is understood through him. Israel’s religious traditions and history of relationship with God need not be inerrant in every recorded detail of every text on every level. Rather, the cumulative tradition on the whole has to be capable of functioning as an adequate context for Christ’s self-understanding and mission. And the resurrection assures us we have that.

What are those sufficiently truthful aspects of the biblical narrative without which we could not make sense of the empowering role it played in forming Christ’s self-understanding? Among them are surely the truth that there is One God, that God created the world, that God chose Israel as the context in which to pursue his wider purposes of redemption, that this pursuit included the divine promise of a descendant who would be the means of universal blessing, etc. These can doubtless be expanded upon. But if Christ was fundamentally mistaken on these in his message, it’s difficult to see what God is in fact validating by raising him from the grave. But since Christ did self-identify in such terms and since this self-understanding is fundamentally vindicated by God’s raising him from the dead, Christ can be said to embody, as any telos does, its true anticipations, the only truth of the Old Testament worth being ultimately concerned about. Whatever else may be false in the text, it matters not to the truth that matters at all. And it is simply false in light of the resurrection that if there be a single error in any textual claim then all is lost. The Bible functions without error in its demonstration of the truth/falsity of all things relevant to the identity and mission of the risen Christ and his execution of the promises of God for our redemption and transformation.

How then do we know whether any biblical claim is true or false? How do we know which is which? In many detailed cases we simply cannot know. But the broad strokes can be confidently perceived. Still, in the necessary respects we require, Scripture’s truth is self-authenticating to faith. That is, where its narrative is believed and lived in and through Christ, it either proves itself truthful in all the ways we require (i.e., it saves, it heals, it transforms and perfects us) or it does not. This is where Scripture functions inerrantly in us relative to our identification with Christ. Personal transformation into Christlikeness is the purpose and proof of the only inspiration we should concern ourselves with. To want something more or other than that tends to idolatry.

We have no fail-safe methodology for always distinguishing true from false claims. We do agree that texts are to be assumed truthful until shown otherwise. This is universally how we manage communication. And the primary thing to keep in mind regarding biblical texts is their relevance to those beliefs Jesus held which were also essential to his possessing the self-understanding necessary to his being the means by which God redeems the world and brings it to fulfillment. All we have is a risen Christ who truthfully identified his own life, mission and resurrection as the fulfillment of God’s choice of and covenant relationship with Israel and who invites us to live the life he lived.

(4) CANONIZATION OF HISTORY. In choosing a particular man and his descendants to be the context into which God would incarnate, God chooses to identify himself as a covenant partner with Israel, and that means with her successes and failures, with the truth they perceive and the falsehoods they embrace, with the violence they pursue and the good they manage to achieve. It all gets chosen by God as the space in which God’s incarnational and redeeming work is embodied. This space is fallen but not so hopeless as to be void of all truth. God remains committed and engaged. In choosing Israel God is choosing the whole world. He simply chooses to work within this nation with respect to securing a context adequate for the Incarnate One who will mediate God’s purposes universally.

We are thus arguing for the canonization of Israel (as opposed to her texts per se) as the sacred space within which God creates the conditions sufficient for incarnation. Are the OT ‘texts’ inspired? In the sense that these writings are the written record of that created covenantal space God has sanctified for pursuing his incarnational purposes, yes. And it’s a mixed history; a history of misconstrual, of despairing nationalism, of religious hubris, but also of honest praise and humble dependence upon God. It’s a history that sufficiently succeeded at preserving the socio-religious conditions necessary for incarnational vocation. Israel is that space in the world where God does not give up on carving out a worldview sufficient for incarnation. They got it right enough for what ultimately mattered.

What is truthful then is the manner in which Israel (her worldview and actions as inscribed as Scripture not just in Scripture) and we alike are confirmed or judged (whichever the case may be) based on Christ our telos. We really do read the Old Testament in light of Christ apart from whom the Old Testament is simply a narrative with no conclusion. And here the conclusion interprets the previous chapters—where those chapters were going, where they get it wrong or right, what they mean, how they matter or not, and how and where they demonstrate the transforming judgment of Christ which embraces and defines us all.

(5) CHRIST-CENTERED READING. How do the OT texts function “usefully…” as Paul suggests they do (2Tm 3.16), “…for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness”? Only as read and understood through Christ. For Paul, there simply is no usefulness to the OT texts outside of Christ. Furthermore, this usefulness is for teaching, rebuking and correcting relevant to development of Christlike character and the doing of good works. Thus, the OT can be trusted when read Christologically to shape godly character and to empower the doing of good. That’s its purpose. Uses outside of this narrow purpose, whatever they are, are not explicitly embraced by Paul’s belief in the purpose of Scripture.

But traditional ‘inerrantists’ implicate the truth of any biblical claim in the truth of every other claim, so that if any link in the chain proves false, the purpose of Scripture fails utterly. We view the relationship not as links in a chain, one after the other and so on, but as bodies orbiting a center, and that center is the risen Christ. Christ exercises a gravitational pull, so to speak, over all of Israel’s traditions and texts which revolve in their orbit around Christ, sometimes approaching theological truth better than at other times. So where inerrantists typically see the truth of any one text (say, the text claiming Christ rose from the dead) as implicated in the truth of every other text (say, an understanding of Jonah as literally swallowed by a great fish), we suggest viewing the truth of all texts as relative to Christ, so that Christ becomes the determiner of the relevancy of Scripture as a whole, the same way the Sun is the central force that determines the course and trajectories of those bodies that rotate around it. To what extent is the course trajectory of a planetary body ‘accurate’? To the extent that it maintains its course relative to the Sun, not relative to the orbits of other planetary bodies.

However, Paul claims “all Scripture” is God-breathed (2Tm 3.16). Isn’t that equivalent to claiming all Scripture is equally truthful and thus inerrant? Not necessarily. For example, humankind is also “breathed into” by God and becomes a living soul and yet retains this “God-breathed” status even as fallen and prone to error. He inevitably remains the consecrated space in which God works to secure his incarnational purposes. Similarly, all Scripture is God-breathed in the sense that God is choosing all of THIS history — good and bad, true and false—as the sanctified space in which God works to prepare an adequate social-religious context for Incarnation and redemption.

What is the Bible?—Part 1

With the publication of Five Views on Biblical Inerrancy (2013), Evangelicals continue their on-again off-again conversation about the nature of Scripture (its inspiration, authority & truthfulness). Peter’s Enns’ Inspiration and Incarnation (2005) brought what was a back-burner issue and moved it front and center. And it looks now as if another WTS Old Testament prof is in trouble. Similar to Enns is Kenton Sparks’ (2012) Sacred Word, Broken Word: Biblical Authority and the Dark Side of Scripture (centered more on the question of divine violence).

A slightly different perspective on the debate can be found in Craig Allert’s A High View of Scripture? The Authority of the Bible and the Formation of the New Testament Canon (2007) which we’ve introduced already. Allert approaches the subject of what the Bible is and what it’s for within the context of the development and determination of the canon. Very worth the read. I liked it just for the different approach it offers.

In response to challenges to traditional evangelical views, Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? A Critical Appraisal of Modern and Postmodern Approaches to Scripture (2012; eds. Bock, Hoffmeier, Magary) offers a conservative evangelical view. And with the increasing adoption by evangelical scholars of an evolutionary understanding of human origins (and others that view Genesis 1-3 as indifferent to the question of origins), the question of ‘inerrancy’ is fully front and center once again, as is evidenced by the Evangelical Theological Society’s 2013 Annual meeting in Baltimore dedicated to discussing the question—yet again.

Dwayne and I thought we’d like to share some of our thoughts on this important matter. These are not final conclusions by any means. We have questions on aspects of this issue like others do and would like to offer a few suggestions as a way to process how we’re coming to understand Scripture as uniquely inspired.

(1) ISRAEL AND ITS HISTORY AS A SUITABLE CONTEXT FOR INCARNATION. Our first suggestion is to place the incarnation at the center of one’s understanding of God’s unitive purposes for creation and view Scripture as subservient to these ends. If God is to incarnate and as an individual develop his sense of a unique identity and mission, he needs to be born into a cultural-historical-religious context sufficiently truthful to inform that development. No one develops an understanding of who they are and what their destiny is apart from these contexts. So the question of a context sufficient to shape the Incarnate Word’s embodied worldview and self-understanding is paramount, and in our view that is what Scripture is primarily about. The Word could not have been born randomly into a culture which was not an adequate means of identity formation. Creation is the context for incarnation to begin with, yes, but beyond that the construction of a suitable context for identity formation is what God’s choice of Abraham and Israel is fundamentally about. All else extends by implication from this single purpose.

Thus the history of Israel — her identity as a nation, her calling, her religious traditions and her Scriptures — is the context that will inform the development of the Word’s identity and mission. This context must be sufficiently truthful for that purpose. And the place this history is primarily embodied is, of course, Israel’s Scriptures. The worldview housed in that tradition will become the context in which Christ develops his own sense of identity and mission in the world, communicates that identity and mission to his disciples, and is finally empowered to fulfill that mission in his death. Hence that context needs to be sufficiently truthful for this purpose.

This is demonstrated when we see Jesus in fact identifying himself and his mission in terms of being the fulfillment of Israel’s religious traditions, hopes and her unique calling. And the truth of that identification is not incidental to the fulfillment of his mission through death by violent means. It empowers Jesus to endure his Cross and is further validated by the resurrection. We should conclude therefore that Jesus’ first-century, contextually defined self-understanding is sufficiently truthful to govern his sense of unique calling and to empower him in the pursuit and fulfillment of it. This is what the NT means when it speaks of God validating Christ’s identity and mission by raising him from the dead.

(2) SCRIPTURE AS INSPIRED. We imagine the human authors of Scripture inspired by God in much the same sense that God inspires anybody — through the prevenient grace of his presence working in cooperation with what is present on the human side of the equation. Hence, inspiration achieves greater or lesser approximations to the truth as it works with and through the beliefs and limitations of authors.

What makes the Bible unique as God’s word, then, is not the manner or mode of inspiration (which we think should be understood as typical of divine inspiration universally), but the subject matter with which God is concerned. It is the ‘what’ and not the ‘how’ which makes the Bible unique, i.e., the content and its purpose which in the case of Scripture make what is otherwise the standard mode of God inspiring human thought to be something unique and unrepeatable. Biblical inspiration, we might say, is unrepeatable because this history, this context, this pursuit of this purpose (incarnation) are all unrepeatable and not because God inspires humans ‘here’ in some unique and unrepeatable way.

Where it concerns “texts,” inspiration is not God conscripting merely the faculties of human subjects and supervening upon their exercise to compose statements which might have been foreign to their human authors prior to the composition of the text. Rather, inspiration has as its object primarily the enlightenment of the human author, perhaps over the course of years through many experiences, and only secondarily the complexities involved in seeing that texts are composed a certain way.

For example, a text like Galatians simply is Paul — in all the complex relations and beliefs that defined him at that point in time, including God’s presence at work in him, perhaps over decades, sufficiently shaping his worldview. Once that is done, simply put a pen in Paul’s hand and leave him to say what he believes. Hence, the letter is no more or less than who Paul the believer had become at that point. God is no more present in the letter than he is in the man who writes. So inspiration doesn’t, it seems to us, write texts per se, as much as it shapes persons who are freed to speak and write what God has done in them.

Might some errors belonging to these persons find their way into the text? Yes. No human author possesses an inerrant set of beliefs. No one person’s transformation and world-construction is complete or error-free. But overtime, enough of the truth needing to be said gets said in enough ways that a worldview is formed adequate for the Incarnate One and the Church as his Body. This means we view inspiration as relative in the first sense to preparing a context adequate for incarnation and not primarily about providing us a philosophical or scientific textbook with inerrant answers to whatever questions we might put to it.


Christ & Horrors—Part 10


With this post we conclude the relevant portions of MMA’s Ch. 5, beginning with Part 7 and continuing right on to this Part 10. Once this ruminates a bit we’ll return with a post to process her arguments out loud.

Metaphysical refocussing: Arguably, semantics presupposes metaphysics; putative truth conditions vary with ontological commitments. Metaphysical revision might dictate a change in the semantics as well. Medieval Latin school theologians have modified Aristotle by endorsing

(T10) it is metaphysicall possible for a primary substance x that is essentially of substance-kind K also to possess/be/come to be of substance-kind K’ (where K is not the same as K’) contingently and non-essentially.

For them, the flip side of this claim is that

(T13) it is metaphysically possible for any creatable substance nature to be ontologically dependent upon something else as its subject.

In the Categories, Aristotle advances individual substance things as necessarily primary substances, the ultimate subjects which it is metaphysically impossible to subject to (in the sense of ontologically dependent upon) anything else. Aquinas, Scotus, and Ockham concede that Aristotle not only captures the way things for the most part are. He gives a correct analysis of the metaphysical default position: apart from Divine intervention, individual substance natures will be primary substances and no creature has power to subject them to (make the ontologically dependent upon) anything else. But they reasoned that the case of Incarnation reveals something about individual substance natures that Aristotle was in no position to know: viz., that each and all of them has the metaphysical possibility of being subjected to (made ontologically dependent upon) something else by Divine power. Ockham went on explicitly to draw the conclusion that not only Divine persons, but each and every created individual substance (e.g., Socrates, Beulah the cow, Brownie the donkey, Fido the dog), has the metaphysical possibility of being an “alien” supposit for a created individual substance nature of another kind.

My suggestion is that these metaphysical revisions complicate our semantics. Once it is claimed that not only Aristotelian accidents but individual substance natures can be ontologically dependent, once it is admitted that alien supposition is possible, then one has to relativize the predicates to the substance nature in question: not just “x is F” but “x is F qua N.” Where N is the nature that x cannot exist without, then “x is F qua N” collapses into/entails “x is F.” But where x is an alien supposit of N, “x is F qua N” does not entail “x is F.” Suppose God caused Socrates to assume a bovine nature. From “Socrates is rational qua human” we could infer “Socrates is rational simpliciter” because Socrates is essentially human. But from “Socrates is not rational qua bovine” we could not infer “Socrates is not rational simplicity” because Socrates is not essentially a cow but only an alien supposit of the bovine nature. Socrates would really share the same substance-kind — bovinity — with Beulah. Both Socrates and Beulah would be cud-chewers qua bovine. But Socrates would not share with Beulah the predicate “cud-chewer simpliciter” because of the way Socrates possesses bovinity.

14fc9c8ba40dcb4101837830997ef9e8Likewise, “the Divine Word is omniscient qua Divine” entails “the Divine Word is omniscient” because the Divine Word is essentially Divine. But “the Divine Word knows neither the day nor the hour qua human” does not entail “the Divine Word is ignorant simpliciter,” because the Divine Word is an alien supposit of the human nature. This result is not un-Chalcedonian, however, because the difference between valid and invalid inferences from the secundum quid to simpliciter propositions does not reflect the content of the human nature predicated but the different ways in which Socrates and Christ have their natures. Chalcedon requires us to attribute a real human nature — a real human body and a real human soul — to Christ. But Chalcedon also requires us to attribute them to Christ in a different way from the way we attribute them to Socrates. Qualifying the predicates captures the point that the subject is characterized or denominated by the nature for which it is an alien supposit. Since it is not characterized simpliciter, you do not get contradiction — which is the very result we want.

If one asks what I mean by “qua” when I say “x is F qua N,” I mean that N is the nature by virtue of which x is F. But “by virtue of which” is ambiguous between two meanings, both of which I intend. In some cases, N is the nature by virtue of which x is F because N entails F: e.g., “Socrates is rational qua human” “the Divine Word is omniscient qua Divine.” In some cases, N is the nature by virtue of which x is F because N entails the real possibility of F. In Aristotelian metaphysics, the substance nature makes a thing of such a kind as to have accidents from various determinable ranges and not to be able to have accidents of other kinds: e.g., being an angel makes something the kind of thing that can have thoughts and choices; being a body makes something the kind of thing that can be colored. Being human makes the Divine Word the kind of thing that can eat figs, but it doesn’t settle the question of whether He will actually eat figs during His earthly life.

One further point requires clarification. My soteriological plot requires God to perform human actions and to suffer human pain and grief in roughly the ways that the Gospels describe. It is easy to imagine, however, that since the Divine Word is essentially God the assumed human nature is like a ventriloquist’s puppet which the Divine Word operates through Its Divine thought and will. Divine determinism is, of course, an ancient and honorable if controversial position in philosophical theology. Certainly, medieval Latin school theologians agreed that God creates and sustains all creatures, and concurs in the exercise of their active and passive causal powers. Certainly, the Blessed Trinity will do for Christ’s human nature whatever the Blessed Trinity does for any other creature — create, sustain, and concur. What is important for present purposes is to see that our medieval Aristotelian account of hypostatic union does not, by itself, imply the determination of the Divine Word’s human agency by Its Divine agency, or that the Divine Word is related to Its human agency only through the mediation of Its Divine agency. This is easier to see by considering the different example of Socrates’ assuming (becoming the alien supposit for) an individual bovine nature. When Socrates chewed cud or swatted flies with his tail or became agitated at the swishing of the matador’s red cape, his human nature would not ipso facto be engaged at all, for his human nature included no power to mobilize such bovine activities before, and acquires none with the hypostatic union. Socrates’ acting and suffering through his bovine nature would be unmediated by his human nature. Socrates is the ultimate subject of bovine acting and suffering because of the ontological dependence that the individual bovine nature bears to him.

5.3 Systematic preferences
My focus on horrors leads me to agree with Swinburne that the Divine nature is mutable and passible, although ever exercising self-determination over whether and how it changes. Taking a page from Hartshorne, I want to say that Divine omniscience involves God in feeling all our feelings, while Divine love for the world expresses Itself in the Trinity’s experiencing God-sized grief and frustration over human horror-participation. Such Trinitarian sympathy would mean the Godhead changes and is very likely acted upon. But it would not suffice for Divine solidarity with humans in horror-participation, for, however ghastly the things that we and God experience, the Divine mind cannot be “blown” by them; Divine meaning-making capacities cannot be stumped by them. God’s comprehensive consciousness recontextualizes them in a field that includes joy and delight in the Divine perfections, in the Divine persons’ love for one another, in cosmic excellences beyond our ken (See the YHWH speeches in Job 38—42:6). Even in the midst of horrors, Divine imagination already sees a way around them, Divine power is mobilizing ways and means to make good on them, not only globally but within the frame of each and every individual horror-participant’s life. As Anselm says, Divine Wisdom doesn’t start what it can’t finish, and Divine Power always finishes what it starts. Put otherwise, even if Divinity is mutable and passible, the Divine Persons in Their Divine nature are not vulnerable to horrors. For God to share the horrors, God has to become a kind of thing that can be radically vulnerable to horrors. And this will require a finite range of consciousness with limited powers to cope.

(Pictures here and here.)

Christ & Horrors—Part 9

tumblr_mn4rdqX1ah1rvkkr4o1_500We’re continuing on here with MMA’s Ch. 5 (section 4) of Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology (Ch. 5, pp. 108-143). You may have noticed that I’m not including her footnotes either. I should be able to finish up her Ch. 5 in one more post. Then a post to assess things.

4.2 Characterization and contradiction
No sooner is characterization secured than the contradiction problem raises its head. Indeed, it might seem that Christology is trapped in a dilemma: either the Divine Word and the human nature are united enough for characterization — in which case the Divine Word is the subject of contradictory properties simultaneously, or they aren’t united enough for characterization — in which case Nestorianism seems to follow.

Limited denomination? Traditional Christology requires that the Divine Word and the human nature be joined in such a way that the Divine Word can be characterized from it. But the traditional tag — communicatio idiomatum or sharing of the predicates – was recognized early on not to mean that whatever is truly predicable of the ontologically dependent thing is truly predicable of that on which it ontologically depends. (i) This is trivially true, since the ontologically dependent thing is ontologically dependent on its subject, but the subject is not ontologically dependent on itself as on a subject. (Ontological dependence is not a reflexive relation: a thing may be independent, but nothing can be ontologically dependent on itself!) Likewise, the assumed nature is really distinct from the Divine Word, but the Divine Word is not really distinct from Itself. (ii) More substantively, neither the essence nor the definition of the ontologically dependent thing would be truly predicated of its subject. Whiteness is essentially a color and a quality, but Socrates is not essentially or otherwise a color or a quality. What is true is that by virtue of the ontological dependence of whiteness on Socrates, Socrates is denominated from these, so that Socrates is colored and Socrates is qualified. (iii) Again, the origination properties of the ontologically dependent thing are not thereby truly predicated of the subject on which it depends. Socrates’ whiteness may begin to be at tm, but it does not follow that Socrates begins to be at tm. But Socrates is denominated from this origination property, so that it is true that Socrates begins to be white at tm.

All the same, these more technical observations do not seem to address the cases most important for Christology: that the Divine Word walked and talked, touched and spat, was ignorant of the day and the hour, suffered within the frame of a finite consciousness, was possessed of a mind that could be “blown,” whose meaning-making functions could be brought at least temporarily to a halt by the pain and degradation of crucifixion.

Qualifying the assertions: One ancient and honorable way to handle the Contradiction Problem is to explain that it is qua Divine that God the Son is eternal but qua human that He is born of a virgin, qua Divine that God the Son is omniscient but qua human that He does not know the day or the hour. Recent philosophers cast suspicion on these moves, however. Without further metaphysical underpinnings it is easy to reduce to an absurdity. Why could we not equally well claim that “x is a round square” is not contradictory even though it implies that “x is a figure without angles and x is a figure with four right angles,” because really “x qua round is without angles and x qua square has four right angles,” and angleless pertains primary to round while four-times-right-angled pertains primarily to square?

Medievals probed how the “qua” should be understood to function and distinguished three principle ways, (1) Reduplication: Strictly, they held that in statements of the form “x qua G is F” the “qua G” functions to give the reason why the predicate F attaches to the subject x. Accordingly, such propositions were expounded by something like the following: “x is F and x is G and all Gs are F.” Thus, Socrates qua human is rational” is true, while “Socrates qua white is rational” is false, because all humans but not all white things are (necessarily) rational. Qua-propositions reduplicatively construed are of no help with the Contradiction Problem in Christology, however, because “x qua G is F” entails “x is F.” On a reduplicative analysis, “The Divine Word qua Divine is omniscient” and “The Divine Word qua human is ignorant of the day and the hour” entail “The Divine Word is omniscient yet ignorant of the day and the hour.”

The Transfiguration _4(2) Specification: Less properly, the qua-clause is taken to qualify the subject term x, by “distracting” it from standing for the whole and making it stand instead for the named part (the G in “qua G”) of which the predicate F is literally true. Consider the ancient example “the Ethiopian is white with respect to his teeth.” Taken specificatively, “with respect to his teeth” distracts the subject term — “the Ethiopian” — from standing for the whole Ethiopian to standing instead for his teeth, which are literally and truly white. Likewise, in “Christ qua Divine is omniscient,” the subject term stands for His Divine nature or for the Divine Word which is really the same as the Divine nature, while in “Christ qua human does not know the day or the hour” the subject term stands for His humanity. When the qualification is taken specificatively, the inference “x qua G if F; therefore x is F” is invalid. Contradiction is averted: it will not follow from “the Ethiopian is white with respect to his teeth” that the Ethiopian is white; and it will not follow from “Christ qua Divine is omniscient and Christ qua human does not know the day or the hour” that Christ is omniscient and Christ is not omniscient.

To apply the specificative analysis to the Christological propositions is to treat Christ as a whole made up of really distinct parts, which can serve as really distinct subjects of the contradictory properties. The trouble here is the same as that for mere aggregation: the specificative interpretation threatens to remove contradiction at the expense of characterization, for it is not generally true (indeed is very often false) that a property truly predicable of one part is truly predicable of another part or of the whole of which it is a part. Yet, God, the Divine Word, is supposed to be the One Who is not only omniscient, but ignorant of the day and the hour!

This difficulty did not escape medieval attention. Aquinas and Soctus both distinguish two kinds of cases. (i) Sometimes a prediate F applies to a part P where the predicate F is the type of predicate that could also apply to other parts or to the whole W of which P is a part. For example, the table leg might weigh two pounds, but weight is a property that pertains to the other legs, to the table top and to the whole table. Thus, one can’t infer from the fact that the table leg weighs two pounds that the whole table weighs two pounds. (ii) But there are other cases in which a predicate F applies to a part P (a) where P is the precise or only part of W to which F could apply, or (b) where P is the principle part by virtue of which F would apply to the whole.

For an example of (ii.a), hair is the only part of Socrates that could be literally blond. Aquinas says, because of this, Socrates’ having blond hair makes it at least figuratively true that (the whole) Socrates is blond. Analogously, since Christ’s human soul is His only part that could be ignorant of the day and the hour (because the Divine Word is essentially omniscient), it is at least figuratively true that (the whole) Christ is ignorant of the day and the hour. This way, we can have figurative characterization without contradicting the literal truth that Christ is omniscient.

For an example of (ii.b) Aquinas and Scotus identify the heart or the chest as the principal subject of health. Aquinas is willing to say that Socrates is figuratively healthy because his heart/chest is healthy. But Scotus is willing to allow that — if the heart/chest were really the principal or only relevant part — we might even say that Socrates is literally healthy because his heart/chest is healthy. Scotus does not find this much help with the Christological characterization problem, however, because neither the human nature nor the human soul is Christ’s principal part. These observations would not allow us to infer from “Christ qua human is ignorant” or “Christ qua human is a creature,” that Christ is ignorant or that Christ is a creature. Likewise, with “an Ethiopian is white with respect to his teeth”: “Whiteness” is apt to pertain to other body parts (e.g., skin) as much as to teeth, so that whiteness in the teeth is not sufficient to make it appropriate to call the Ethiopian as a whole white. By contrast, skin might seem to be his principal colored part, by virtue of whose blackness it would be appropriate to say that the Ethiopian is black.

(3) Qualifying the predicate term: The remaining alternative is to let the qua-clause qualify the predicate term. Scotus says that the qua-phrase distracts the predicate term: on this analysis, the predicate in “the Ethiopian is white with respect to his teeth,” is not “white” but “white-toothed.” Likewise, in “Socrates is blond with respect to his hair” the predicate is not “blond” but “blond-haired.” In “Christ qua human is a creature,” the predicate would be “created human,” and “Christ qua human is a creature” would not entail “Christ is a creature.” In general, “the Divine Word is F-qua-Divine and not-Fqua-human” seems both to keep characterization and to avoid contradiction! Was this not the desired result?

In his book The Metaphysics of Christology, Richard Cross remains dubious. On this analysis, where the qua-clause is taken to qualify the predicate term, it turns out that, in “the Ethiopian is white with respect to this teeth” and “Socrates is white ,” different predicates are asserted of the Ethiopian and of Socrates, for the Ethiopian is said to be white-toothed, while Socrates is said to be white simpliciter. Likewise, Christ or the Divine Word will be said to be humanly ignorant, while Peter and Paul are ignorant simpliciter. Christ or the Divine Word will be denominated from the assumed nature, but the same predicates will not be true of the Divine Word as of mere humans. Cross charges that this is theologically inadequate, because Chalcedon asserts that “our Lord Jesus Christ…is the same (homousios) with us as to His manhood.”

Cross worries that two-natures Christology is locked in yet another destructive dilemma:

Either [a] the qua-phrase distracts the subject or [b] it qualifies the predicate.
If [a] it distracts the subject [to the human nature itself], then [c] the human-nature predicates aren’t predicated of the same subject as the Divine-nature predicates [viz., the Divine Word].
If [b] it distracts the predicate term, then [d] the Divine Word doesn’t have the same predicates predicate of It through Its human nature as we do through our human nature.
Each of [c] and [d] fails to conform to the requirements of Chalcedon.
Both ways [e] the simple literal predication of the human nature property of Christ and/or the Divine Word is ruled out — which also fails to conform to the requirements of Chalcedon.

My own reply is that Chalcedon’s demand that Christ be homousios with the Father with respect to Godhead and homousios with us as to His manhood does not require the simple predication of the human nature or the predicates that flow from it. It takes a brief metaphysical excursus to grasp what I have in mind.

(Pictures here and here.)


Christ & Horrors—Part 8

maxresdefaultFollowing on the heels of Part 7 in this series, here begins section 4 of MMA’s aforementioned Ch. 5. It’s heavy lifting. I apologize for those who have no patience for philosophical speculation. But I think she provides a coherent model for understanding the Incarnation.

4 Medieval metaphysics, Aristotle revised again!
4.1 Real distinction and characterization
Like Aristotle but contrary to Swinburne, medieval Latin school theologians take human being for a real, not a nominal essence, one that is — in all non-miraculous cases — contemporary-sense essential to the primary substances that have it (e.g., to Socrates, to Plato, and to each of us). That meant that for them — unlike Swinburne — their endorsement of (T10) carried with it the claim that a given natural kind might be essential to some, but only contingently characterize others.

Not only do they treat natural kinds as susceptible of real definition[, T]hey reify the natures by treating them as really constitutive of the things to which they belong. They read Aristotle to be claiming

(T12) a primary substance (e.g., Socrates) is necessarily identical with the individual substance nature (Socrates’ humanity) that is contemporary-sense essential to it.

Their endorsement of (T10) drove them to draw a further distinction that never entered Aristotle’s mind, to contemplate Aristotle’s contrast between primary and secondary substances by positing two types of concrete individual substance things: primary substances (e.g., Socrates or Beulah the cow) and individual substance natures (Socrates’ humanity; Beulah’s bovinity). They needed to claim that it was possible for something that is not essentialy human (preeminently, a Divine person, the Divine Word, Who is essentially Divine) to unite itself to a really distinct concrete individual human nature in such a way as to be characterized by it and to be the ultimate subject of the actions and passions that are done and suffered through it.

Faced with an analogous problem — how to unite really distinct Divine and human souls — Swinburne throws up his hands, insists that it is impossible. If the only type of union available between really distinct substance things were aggregation, then Swinburne would appear to be right. Mere aggregation can unite any really distinct things into a whole (e.g., the Taj Mahal and the honey bee in the hive), but the union would be too loose for Christological purposes, because it does not support any literal sharing of attributes (communicatio idiomatum) — any literal denomination or naming of one part from another (e.g., the Taj Mahal is not truly said to be a honey–maker, nor is the bee truly called a beautiful building).

Medievals recognized three ways in which one thing might be named from or denominated from something:

(a) per se denomination: the Divine Word is Divine per se and Socrates is human per se; the Divine Word couldn’t exist without being Divine, and Socrates couldn’t exist without being human;
(b) per accidens denomination: Socrates is white per accidens. Socrates is really distinct from whiteness and is contingently white in the sense that Socrates could exist without being white;
(c) extrinsic denomination: Socrates is older than Plato and shorter than Aristotle and uglier than Alcibiades.

harris_cartoonBy [T9] the Divine Word as essentially Divine could not be human per se and essentially. But extrinsic denomination seems too loose to reflect human nature’s actually belonging to the Divine Word as Its own. Accordingly, Scotus and Ockham take as analogy denomination per accidens.

Medieval Latin Aristotelians reify not only substance natures, but some or all accident natures, qualities chief among them. Yet, from their Aristotelian point of view, white Socrates is not a mere aggregation of Socrates and whiteness; whiteness inheres in Socrates. Likewise, they want to say, the Word made flesh is not a mere aggregate of Divinity and humanity; the individual human nature is assumed by the Divine Word.

But what is the metaphysical difference between mere aggregation and inherence? Medieval Latin Aristotelians cite three features:

(a) co-location: Socrates and his whiteness are in the same place at the same time;
(b) potency-actualization: the whiteness actualizes a potency for being white in Socrates;
(c) ontological dependence: the whiteness essentially depends on Socrates for its existence in a non-efficient-causal way.

(a) does not seem relevant to angels (as essentially immaterial substances) and their inhere accidents. Likewise, it is of no help in understanding the Divine Word’s relations to the human nature, because the Divine Word is either nowhere (because immaterial) or everywhere (by virtue of Divine knowledge and power) and no more where the human nature is than where everything else is.

Medievals rules out (b) on the philosophical ground that the Divine Word as simple cannot be a subject of inherence. They also excluded it on philosophico-theological grounds. Philosophy tells us that, when whiteness actualizes a substance’s potency for being white, it affects how it is qualified; and when a substantial form actualizes matter’s potency to receive it, it affects the substance-kind to which its subject belongs. Medievals reasoned that human nature is a substance-kind. If it actualized the potency of some subject to receive it, it would affect the substance-kind to which its subject belonged. Since the Divine Word is essentially Divine, such potency-actualization would result in a metaphysically impossible and theologically impermissible confusion of natures! Likewise, the other way around, if the Divine Word were supposed to inhere in the human nature!

Scotus concludes that the most relevant relations is (c), an accident’s ontological dependence on its subject. Scotus emphasizes that this relation is not to be identified with (although it bears some analogies to) efficient causal dependence. All creatures are efficient causally dependent on all three persons of the Trinity as their first efficient cause. But not all creatures are assumed by the Divine persons. Likewise, a subject (e.g., the intellect) may be an efficient partial cause of some of its accidents (e.g., an act of understanding), but this is a different relation from the ontological dependence the accident has on it as its subject. Scotus declares that ontological dependence of a broad-sense property thing on a subject is sufficient for characterization. Even if whiteness did not actualize a potency in Socrates, Socrates would be the subject on which the whiteness ontologically depended and that would be enough to make it true that Socrates is white. Likewise, ontological dependence by the assumed human nature on the Divine Word is sufficient for the Divine Word to be contingently denominated from the human nature.

Even if the Divine Word had no potency to be actualized by the individual human nature, it might seem that, if the Divine Word is first not-related and then related, the Divine Word undergoes a change—contrary to Divine simplicity and immutability. To avoid this, Scotus invokes the doctrine of non-mutual relations. Sometimes the truth of “aRb” requires a relation thing R in a and a co-relation thing R’ in b (e.g., where this wall is similar in color to that wall). But other times it is enough if a is the term of a relation-thing R’ that inheres in b (i.e., if bR’a). Scotus imagines that the Divine Word (a) will be the term of such a dependence relation (R’) that inheres in the assumed human nature (b) without any corresponding R-thing inhering in It (a), and that this will be enough to make “the Divine Word assumes the human nature” true.

Although this idea of non-mutual relations was widely accepted among medieval Aristotelians, anyone who — like Swinburne — denied immutability and impassibility to be essential to Godhead could allow that the Divine Word acquires a new relation of assuming when it assumes the human nature. Nor would this necessarily renew their worry about the fusion of natures, for it is one thing to suppose that human nature inheres in by actualizing a potency in Divinity or Divinity inheres in by actualizing a potency in humanity. It is another to suppose that Divinity is first not inhered in and then inhered in by the co-relative of the ontological dependence relation in the human nature — that is, by the relation of sustaining or supporting or suppositing the human nature.

What is key is that the ontological dependence relation that Scotus identifies be sufficient for characterization. Scotus says that it is: the ontological dependence of whiteness on Socrates suffices for the truth of “Socrates is white,” and the ontological dependence of the human nature on the Divine Word would suffice for the truth of “The Divine Word is human” and be enough to license the further creedal predications: “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, buried, but rose on the third day.”

(Pictures here and here.)


Christ & Horrors—Part 7

divinesparks11One of my top three reads for 2013 was Marilyn McCord Adams’ (MMA) Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology. Parts 1-6 are available for catch-up if you like. In the next few installments I’d like to present her Ch. 5 in which she attempts to work out a metaphysics of Incarnation faithful to Chalcedon, that is, a view of Incarnation where the Son is truly incarnate without ceasing to be all he eternally is in experienced triune relation and uninterrupted creational vocation. I’m going to re-present her entire chapter 5. It’s a piece of ‘metaphysical thinking’ — so both our Orthodox friends and Barthian-McCormack fans might wince a bit. But once presented, we’d like to come back and focus on those features we find especially helpful. Her Ch. 5 divides in to smaller sections numbered 1 through 4. This post (Part 7) contains sections 1 and 2. Section 3 of her chapter covers Richard Swinburne’s work on the Incarnation. I’ll be omitting this section and moving in Parts 8 and 9 to present sections 4 (which comprises MMA’s view) and 5 (Conclusion). If you’re familiar with the earlier posts on MMA, you know she’s a brilliant, thoroughly thoughtful and articulate writer.


5 | Recovering the metaphysics: Christ as God-man, metaphysically construed

Central to my “Chalcedonian” approach to Christology is the insistence that it is God who becomes human. Positively, from the viewpoint of my cosmological hypothesis, Incarnation is key to satisfying God’s unitive aims in creation. Negatively, Divine solidarity is key to the solution of human non-optimality problems: Stage-I defeat requires that it is God who participates in horrors. Both ways identify God as the One of Whom we affirm that He was born of the Virgin Mary; that He walked and talked; spat and touched; ate, drank, and slept; that He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered, died, was buried but rose on the third day.

Yet, common sense joins with philosophy and Myth-of-God-Incarnate theologians to press Mary’s question: “how can this be?” (Luke 1:34). By way of an answer, I shall outline two accounts of the metaphysics of Christology: one offered by Richard Swinburne in his book The Christian God; and the other inspired by a family of formulations defended by thirteenth- and fourteenth-century medieval Latin school theologians. Like all theories, each has its costs and benefits. My own preference is for the second, but I believe that either is sufficient to rebut the mythographers’ charge that the notion of a God-man is unintelligible.

1. Doctrinal desiderata
First, a brief reminder of the historical parameters of the discussion is in order Chalcedon laid it down that

(T1) in Christ there are two distinct natures—one human and one Divine;


(T2) in Christ, there is a real unity of natures in a single person or supposit;

While Ephesus made their corollary explicity;

(T3) in Christ, there are two wills—one human and one Divine.

Already in the first quarter of the sixth century, Boethius took it for granted that “person” or “supposit” (suppositum, hypostasis) means the same thing in the doctrine of the Trinity (one God, three persons) as in Christology (two natures, one person), because the second person of the Trinity (i.e., God the Son, the Divine Word) was supposed to be the One Who became Incarnate. Boethius’ definition—

(D1) a person is an individual substance of a rational nature;

and its implicit companion understanding:

(D2) a supposit is an individual substance—

had the authority of a classic by Anselm’s time. Thirteenth-century medieval Latin school theologians had reached consensus on the following interpretive theses:

(T4) in the Incarnation, human nature is assumed by the Divine Word;
(T5) the Divine Word is its own supposit/person and hence the single person or supposit in Christ;
(T6) the Incarnation of the Divine Word is a contingent matter of Divine free choice;
(T7) the Incarnation of the Divine Word is reversible (having become human, the Divine Word could cease to be human) but will in fact never be reserved.

Yet, both Boethius’ definition and medieval Latin school theology’s metaphysical developments of these doctrines found their philosophical roots in Aristotelian philosophy, to which we now turn.

nativity2. Aristotelian background
Metaphysics is inherently controversial. But in the Categories, Aristotle aims to articulate the common sense view that there are things, which are characterized by features, some of which are more permanent than others.

Seeking to order such intuitions, he distinguishes substance from accidents, and primary substances (eg., Socrates, Beulah the cow, Brownie the donkey) from secondary substances or substance-kinds (e.g., man, cow, donkey).

(i) The secondary substance or substance-kind is “said of” the primary substance and is that through which the primary substance is constituted as the very thing it is (e.g., Beulah the cow is made the very thing she is by bovinity; Socrates, the very thing he is by humanity).

(ii) Accidents “exist in” primary substances and characterize them in ways that the primary substance could exist without (e.g., Socrates is pale in winter but becomes tan in summer, was once, but in adulthood is no longer, shorter than his mother, etc.).

(iii) Primary substances neither exist in (like accidents) nor are said of (like secondary substances) anything, but are the ultimate subjects of the properties.

Aristotle took the substance- and accidents-kinds with which he was concerned to be natural kinds, not nominal essences — kind-terms (like “desk” or “bachelor”) that are the products of human linguistic conventions. Human and whiteness are real essences: what -it-is-to-be human or white is what it is prior to an independently of human attempts to conceptualize and talk about the world.

Medieval interpreters, harmonizing across Aristotle’s works, read him as an essentialist — that is, as holding that

(T8) for each primary substance x, there is a secondary substance-kind K that pertains to it per se and is essential to it, in the sense that x could not exist without being a K.

Because the necessary connection is not between concepts (as in “a bachelor is an unmarried, post-pubescent male”) but between the thing (Socrates or Beulah) and the kind (humanity or bovinity), the connection is said to be necessary de re. Because such essential substance-kinds constitute the primary substance as the very thing it is, Aristotle also held:

(T9) for each primary substance x, there is only one second substance-kind K that pertains to x through itself and is essential to it, in the sense that x could not exist without being K.

It is impossible for any substance individual to have two substance-kind natures essentially, for that would involve its being constituted as the very thing it is twice-over!

How, then, can one individual be both Divine and human? If the Divine Word is constituted as the very thing It is by Divinity (together with the person-distinguishing property of Filiation), how could it take on human nature as its own? This problem remains commonsensical. What Beulah is is a cow. Surely, Beulah could not also be a donkey; nor could Beulah be a donkey instead!

Unmodified Aristotelian essentialism raises a problem for how a substance individual could have two substance-natures essentially, in such a way that it could not exist without them. Unmodified Aristotelian essentialism rests here, because it doesn’t envision any other way for a substance individual to have or be characterized by a substance-kind.

But the doctrine of the Incarnation does not assert that the Divine Word possesses two substance-kinds essentially (and so does not run afoul of [T8] and [T9]. Rather it maintains that the Divine Word is essentially Divine, couldn’t exist without being Divine, but contingently begins to be human (in c. 4 BCE). The doctrine of the Incarnation holds that

(T10) it is possible for a primary substance x that is essentially of substance-kind K also to possess/be/come to be of substance-kind K’ (where K is not the same as K’) contingently and non-essentially.

Nowadays, this is terminologically confusing because substance-kinds are often referred to as essences, setting up an equivocation between contemporary-sense essential possession (x possesses K essentially=def x couldn’t exist without possessing K) and essential possession as possession of a substance-kind as one’s own (x’s being K where K is a substance-kind). But the former usage of “essential” refers to the way the property is possessed (in such a way that the thing couldn’t exist without it), while the latter refers to the type of property possessed (a substance-kind property rather than an accident). Commentators needlessly worry that if the Divine Word does not possess human nature in the way that we do—i.e., contemporary-sense essentially, in such a way that we could not exist without being human—then the Divine Word isn’t fully or perfectly human—i.e., doesn’t really possess all of what goes into being a human being. What the doctrine requires is that the Divine Word—while essentially Divine—contingently come to possess human nature in such a way as to be characterized by such features. So far as I know, no one (not even the total absolute kenoticists of chapter 4) has envisioned the Divine Word’s possessing human nature essentially in such a way that the Divine World couldn’t exist without being human. Most Christian theologians would agree: not only is this false; it makes no sense!

Even if Incarnation does not require the idea that one substance individual has two natures contemporary-sense essentially (in such a way that it could not exist without them), mere characterization is enough to make the so-called Contradiction Problem arise:

1. Jesus is God (Chalcedonian definition).
2. Jesus is a human being (Chalcedonian definition).
3. God is omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good, eternal, immutable, impassible, infinite (partial analysis of what it is to be God).
4. Human beings are rational animals and so generable and corruptible, mutable and capable of being causally affected and suffering; finite and so of limited power and knowledge (partial analysis of what it is to be a human being).
5. Therefore, Jesus is infinite and finite, immutable and mutable, omnipotent but limited in power, omniscient but limited in knowledge, immutable and impassible, ingenerable and incorruptible but susceptible of growing in wisdom and stature and suffering death on a cross—which is multiply contradictory.

Faced with statements apparently of the form “x is F and x is not F,” one may choose between two basic strategies for removing the contradiction and eliminating the assertion that genuine contradictories are true of the same subject in the same respect eternally or at one and the same time. One is to argue that it is not really the same subject x that is the proximate subject of contradictory properties, so that really the situation is that x is F but y is not F, or that z is F and y is not F (where x is not identical with y, and y is not identical with z). The other is to argue that the predicates only appear but are not really contradictory, so that it is not a matter of x’s being F and not F, but of x’s being F and not G. Obviously, one can also combine the two strategies, insisting that same-subject and same-property affirmed and denied are both only a matter of appearance.

In Christology, however, these strategies represent complementary risks and temptations. The first — arguing that different subjects are Divine and human, respectively — seems to flirt with Nestorianism. The second—maintaining that the predicates are not really contradictory — may redefine Divinity and humanity in ways that no longer capture what Chalcedon intended (a problem charged against some versions of partial absolute kenosis descussed in chapter 4).

(Pictures here and here.)