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.)


One comment on “Christ & Horrors—Part 10

  1. tgbelt says:

    For the analytic eggheads among us, these blog conversations are helpful:

    Bill Vallicella (Maverick Philosopher): “Supposita” (Feb 2010)

    Dale Tuggy on the above (Feb 2010).

    Bill V again: “What’s the Difference Between Substance and Supposit?” (Aug 2013)

    Bill V again: “Trying to Understand Ockham on Supposita in Light of the Incarnation” (Aug 2013).

    Pay close attention to the comments made by Dr. Lukas Novak (Charles University, Prague) through the comments section on all the above.


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