We’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.”
(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-F–qua-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.