Archive for August, 2008

De Ente et Essentia

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

Phil suggests that I read De Ente et Essentia, also known as On Being and Essence, a short treatise on these fundamental concepts of metaphysics which (I am told) St. Thomas wrote for the edification of one of his brother friars who was having trouble understanding them. This puts me in good company.

I had planned on getting a little further through the Compendium Theologiae before tackling this; but it so happens that I’ve just gotten to the chapter entitled “Ontology: Essence” in Jacques Maritain’s Introduction to Philosophy, and I thought I’d give St. Thomas’ explanation a try before Maritain’s.

This leaves the question of translation. I’ve found two different translations on-line; one which dates to 1965 and which appears to be by Joseph Kenny, O.P., and another by Robert T. Miller which dates to 1997. The former translation appears to be plainer and easier to understand, but it also bills itself as “a translation and interpretation.” There’s no indication of what “interpretation” means in this context, nor is there any copyright information. The translation by Miller, on the other hand, is translated less simply, but clearly indicates that it may be copied provided that the relevant notices are preserved. Consequently, it may be a better choice for the kind of treatment I’ve been giving the Compendium.

Does anybody have an opinion as to which translation is more accurate?

CT 63: Personal Acts and Personal Properties

Sunday, August 24th, 2008

It is the nature of the Father to actively generate–to actively pass on His nature–as Thomas shows in Chapter 63. This is one of the more technical chapters we’ve had in a while:

We can perceive from this discussion the nature of the order between the personal acts and the personal properties. The personal properties are subsistent persons.

Indeed they are, as Thomas has shown in the preceding chapters. Now we see that each of the persons has His own characteristic act, that is in keeping with His nature:

But a person subsisting in any nature whatsoever, acts in virtue of his nature when he communicates his nature; for the form of a species is the principle for generating a product that is of like species.

God not being a species, one can only take the bolded phrase as an example, or analogy. And so the Father acts in virtue in His nature when He communicates His nature–that is, His Word, the Son.

Does this principle also hold true for us, as persons? Thomas is stating it as a general rule, so it seems that it should. How so?

My nature is human, that is, I have the nature of a rational animal. I am a person because I am a subsistent being with a rational nature. Now, it’s clear that I act in virtue of my nature when I (with help, obviously!) bring forth children: “a product that is of like species”. But the definition of “person” is focussed on rationality. How can I generate a product that is rational?

In one sense, I suppose I’m doing so right now (at least, I’m trying to) but it seems unlikely that a blog post is “of like species” with me as a human being.

But back to Thomas:

Consequently, since personal acts in God have to do with communicating the divine nature, a subsisting person must communicate the common nature in virtue of the nature itself.

I presume that “common nature” refers to the divine nature itself, that which all three of the persons share. So each of the persons must communicate the whole of the divine nature, because that is, in fact, the nature of each of the persons.

I suppose another way of putting this is that it’s not like each of the persons have their own unique bits, giving them them their own unique capabilities: to say that would be to divide the One into parts.

Two conclusions follow from this. The first is, that the generative power of the Father is the divine nature itself; for the power of performing any action is the principle in virtue of which a thing acts.

OK, I guess. I can accept this, but I haven’t quite gotten my head around the bolded statement. It’s sometimes easier to see what is so than precisely why it is so.

The second conclusion is that, according to our way of conceiving, the personal act of generation presupposes both the divine nature and the personal property of the Father, which is the very hypostasis of the Father. This is true even though such property, regarded as a relation, follows from the act. Thus, in speaking of the Father, if we attend to the fact that He is a subsistent person, we can say that He generates because He is the Father. But if we are thinking of what pertains to relationship, it seems we should say, contrariwise, that He is the Father because He generates.

Everything in God, one might say, happens at once. When we describe the procession of the Son from the Father, and then of the Holy Spirit from the Father and the Son together, it’s easy to fall into the error of thinking that these things happen in sequence. But there is no time in God, and no change. We are not discussing how He came to be how He is; He simply is this way.

So we can say both “He generates because He is the Father” and “He is the Father because He generates”.


Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

The other day we ran into the term suppositum. I looked it up on Google, and found this bit from the Catholic Dictionary’s entry for person:

Rationalis naturae — Person is predicated only of intellectual beings. The generic word which includes all individual existing substances is suppositum. Thus person is a subdivision of suppositum which is applied equally to rational and irrational, living and non-living individuals. A person is therefore sometimes defined as suppositum naturae rationalis.

Thus, a suppositum is an individual substance; a person is an individual substance, a suppositum with a rational nature.

Now you know.

What’s All This Then?

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

I can tell from the logs that new folks are coming through from a variety of other places, including Google, so it seems to me that I should explain once again just what’s going on here.

What I’m doing, at present, is working my way chapter by chapter through St. Thomas Aquinas’ Compendium Theologiae, also known as the “Shorter Summa”. I’m not reading ahead, generally speaking; when I sit down to write each blog post I’m coming to the chapter fresh and quite literally working through it, trying to follow the argument as St. Thomas develops it line by line.

So what you’re getting in each post are my reflections as I work through the text, as I try to relate what I’m reading to what’s gone before and to what I understand from other sources, and my questions about the bits I don’t understand.

In other words, do not take my words as any kind of authoritative pronouncement, even if I sound quite certain about them. This blog is simply my way of learning about St. Thomas’ philosophy and theology, and of inviting others to share in the process.

CT 61: Dependence of the Hypostases on the Personal Properties

Saturday, August 23rd, 2008

It’s morning, I’m reasonably well rested, and I’ll try to keep my sense of humor under better control today. In Chapter 61, Thomas continues his discussion of the Persons of the Trinity:

This makes it clear that if we were to remove the personal properties by intellectual abstraction, the hypostases could not remain.

Remember that hypostases is the Greek word we usually translate as “persons”. So what does Aquinas mean by “remove the personal properties by intellectual abstraction”?

If a form is removed by intellectual abstraction, the subject of the form remains. Thus if whiteness is removed, the surface remains; if the surface is removed, the substance remains; if the form of the substance is removed, prime matter remains.

Any existent being we encounter has essence and accidents, and as we remove the accidental forms, as we abstract them away, in our analysis of that being, the being remains. Consider a white teapot. I can abstract away the whiteness, and consider just the shape and the function and the porcelain of which it is made. I can abstract away the shape, and consider just the porcelain–the substance, the shape being an accidental arrangement of the porcelain. I can abstract away the substance, the substantial form, retaining only prime matter.

But if the subject is removed, nothing remains.

So I can’t go any further than that, or there’s nothing left to contemplate. And although I can contemplate the concept of the prime matter of which the teapot is made, I can’t really separate the substantial form from the prime matter of the teapot–or there would no longer be a teapot.

But while I can do this kind of analysis with a teapot, God is not a teapot. As Thomas regularly points out, God and creatures are different, God is a special case.

Although, possibly, God is, in fact, the general case, and each teapot is a special case. Moving along:

In the case of God, the personal properties are the subsisting persons themselves. They do not constitute the persons in the sense that they are added to pre-existing supposita; for in the Godhead nothing that is predicated absolutely, but only what is relative, can be distinct. Therefore, if the personal properties are removed by intellectual abstraction, no distinct hypostases remain. But if non-personal notions are thus removed, distinct hypostases do remain.

There are some logical machinations going on here that I don’t understand, but the result is clear: the three personal properties are the relations are the three Persons of the Trinity. If you abstract them away, you can still contemplate the Godhead as a single unity, as we in fact did in the early chapters of the Compendium. But you can’t abstract them away and still contemplate a Triune God. Put simply, if you abstract away the Trinity, you’ve abstracted away the Trinity.

What the upshot of this is, I am unclear, but glancing ahead I see that Thomas isn’t done with this line of development.

CT 60: The Number of Relations and the Number of Persons

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

I am trying most sincerely to work through one (1) chapter of the Compendium Theologiae each day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health, presumably finishing before death do us part. (I’ve been uniformly healthy throughout, as it happens.) But let me just say that late on Friday evening after a date with Jane, Chapter 60 is not something I wanted to see. This is not the result of any reasoned argument on my part, or on Thomas’ part for that matter. It’s a simple judgement: “Oh, —-, this chapter is long!” But it is Friday, and I can sleep in a little tomorrow morning. So let’s give it our best shot, shall we?

Thomas begins:

We must realize that, although the relations subsisting in the Godhead are the divine persons themselves, as was stated above, we are not to conclude that there are five or four persons corresponding to the number of relations.

So there’s the problem: why three persons rather than five, when it is really the relations that subsist in the Godhead?

For number follows distinction of some sort. Just as unity is indivisible or undivided, so plurality is divisible or divided. For a plurality of persons requires that relations have power to distinguish by reason of opposition, since formal distinction necessarily entails opposition.

I promise to learn Aristotelian logic.

If, then, the relations in question are closely examined, paternity and filiation will be seen to have relative opposition to each other; hence they are incompatible in the same suppositum. Consequently paternity and filiation in God must be two subsistent persons.

Suppositum? But, it’s true, paternity and filiation are not reflexive relationships.

Innascibility, on the other hand, although opposed to filiation, is not opposed to paternity. Hence paternity and innascibility can pertain to one and the same person. Similarly, common spiration is not opposed either to paternity or to filiation, nor to innascibility. Thus nothing prevents common spiration from being in both the person of the Father and the person of the Son. Accordingly common spiration is not a subsisting person distinct from the persons of the Father and the Son. But procession has a relation of opposition to common spiration. Therefore, since common spiration pertains to the Father and the Son, procession must be a person distinct from the persons of the Father and the Son.

OK, you start with three persons, you discern five relations that distinguish them, you examine the relations and determine that three persons are distinguished. It’s as though Thomas is checking his work.

Accordingly the reason is clear why God is not called “quiune,” quinus, on account of the notions, which are five in number, but is called triune, on account of the Trinity of persons. The five notions are not five subsisting things, but the three persons are three subsisting things. Although several notions or properties may pertain to a single person, only one of them constitutes the person. For a divine person is constituted by the properties, not in the sense that He is constituted by several of them, but in the sense that the relative, subsisting property itself is a person. If several properties were understood as subsisting in themselves apart, they would be several persons, and not one person. Hence we must understand that, of the several properties or notions belonging to a single person, the one that precedes according to the order of nature constitutes the person; the others are understood as inhering in the person already constituted.

In short, three of these notions, or properties, are more important than the other two. I’m tempted to say that three of them are essential, but that’s clearly not right: all of them are essential, in the everyday sense of the word; in fact, all of them are necessary, in the philosophical sense of the word. You get all five together, always, whether you want them or not.

So what are the three important notions?

Thus it is evident that innascibility cannot be the first notion of the Father, constituting His person, because nothing is constituted by a negation, and also because affirmation naturally precedes negation. Further, common spiration presupposes paternity and filiation in the order of nature, just as the procession of love presupposes the procession of the Word.

Hence common spiration cannot be the first notion of the Father, or of the Son either. The first notion of the Father is paternity and the first notion of the Son is filiation, whereas procession alone is the notion of the Holy Spirit.

Paternity, filiation, and procession. Even in my state of fatigue, I saw that coming.

Accordingly the notions constituting persons are three in number: paternity, filiation, and procession. And these notions must be strict properties. For that which constitutes a person must pertain to that person alone; individuating principles cannot belong to several individuals. For this reason the three notions in question are called personal properties, in the sense that they constitute the three persons in the manner described. The remaining notions are called properties or notions of the persons, but not personal properties or notions, because they do not constitute a person.

So this is why Thomas drew the distinction between properties and notions: because only three of the five are properties in the strict sense, personal properties as he calls them here.

One wonders why Thomas goes into all of these; but the titles of the next couple of chapters make it clear that he’s defining them for a reason. We’ll just have to be patient.

Analytics Free for All

Friday, August 22nd, 2008

Phil has begun posting, bit by bit, a translation of Fr. Alain Contat’s Logica at a blog called Analytics Free for All. This is a fairly recent book, written originally in Italian, on Aristotelian/Thomistic logic. Fr. Contat is a Thomist philosopher and Swiss diocesan priest. I’ll be reading along; and if all of this stuff is new to you, as it is to me, you might enjoy it as well!

CT 59: Why These Properties Are Called Notions

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

One problem with going through the CT one chapter at a time, like this, is that I generally don’t look ahead…and sometimes a question I have with one chapter is answered by the next–as now, when the purpose of Chapter 59 is pretty clearly only to cast light on the matter of CT 58:

These five properties can be called notions of the persons, for the reason that the distinction between the persons in God is brought to our notice through them.

OK, they can be called notions. I’m agreeable. I don’t see what we gain by calling them notions, rather than properties.

On the other hand, they cannot be called properties, if the root meaning of a property is insisted on, so that a property is taken to mean a characteristic pertaining to one individual alone; for common spiration pertains to the Father and the Son. But if the word “property” is employed in the sense of an attribute that is proper to some individuals as setting them off from others, in the way that “two-footed,” for example, is proper to man and bird in contradistinction to quadrupeds, there is nothing to prevent even common spiration from being called a property.

So property, strictly speaking, isn’t quite right…but it’s unlikely to mislead, either, it seems to me. If Thomas can square it with his conscience, I’m quite willing to call even common spiration a property.

Since, however, the persons in God are distinguished solely by relations, and distinction among the divine persons is manifested by the notions, the notions must in some sense pertain to relationship. But only four of the notions are real relations, whereby the divine persons are related to one another. The fifth notion, innascibility, pertains to relation as being the denial of relation; for negations are reduced to the genus of affirmations, and privations are reduced to the genus of habits, as, for example, not man is reduced to the genus of man, and not white is reduced to the genus of whiteness.

As Phil keeps pointing out, I need a thorough grounding in Aristotelian logic. I think I understand what Thomas means by “negations are reduced to the genus of affirmations”; I’m far less sure about “privations are reduced to the genus of habits”, though I have a suspicion that a thomist‘s recent post about habitus/habit/habitude is germane here.

I can see that “not white” is a privation of “white”, rather than a negation; there are a spectrum of colors, with fine gradations. Why “white” should be identified as a habit, I am not at all sure. Or perhaps “white”/”not white” isn’t an example of that.

As I’ve remarked before, bootstrapping is a pain. It’s a pity that there’s no royal road to learning.

But OK, point taken: innascibility, though not a relation, is a negation (or a privation?) of relation, and that’s good enough.

And now, on to the passage that answered some questions I had:

We should note that among the relations whereby the divine persons are related to one another, some have definite names, such as paternity and filiation, which properly signify relationship. But others lack a definite name: those whereby the Father and the Son are related to the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is related to them. So for these we use names of origin in place of relative names. We perceive clearly that common spiration and procession signify origin, but not relations that follow origin. This can be brought out in the case of the relations between the Father and the Son. Generation denotes active origin, and is followed by the relation of paternity; and nativity signifies the passive generation of the Son, and is followed by the relation of filiation. In like manner, some relation follows common spiration, and the same is true of procession. But as these relations lack definite names, we use the names of the actions instead of relative names.

The relation of the Father to the Son we call paternity, and the relation of the Son to the Father we call filiation, because the relations are in some sense analogous to the human relations we call by those names, and because the Son, Jesus, identified Himself as the Son of the Father. But the other relationships we don’t have good names for; they have no straightforwardly obvious human analog. So, lacking good names, Thomas uses the names of the actions which give rise to the relations: common spiration and procession.

This is clearly somewhat painful for him; it’s becoming clear to me that logic and metaphysics involve a myriad of fine and subtle distinctions, and that if one confuses them one will begin to blunder about like a drunken elephant. (As an example, here is Fr. Alain Contat’s explanation of everything going on in the proposition “Peter is polite“, courtesy of Phil.)

CT 58: Properties of the Son and the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

Thomas has shown the properties of the Father that distinguish Him from the Son and the Holy Spirit; in Chapter 58 we move on to the properties of the latter:

Two properties must pertain to the Son: one whereby He is distinguished from the Father, and this is filiation; another whereby, along with the Father, He is distinguished from the Holy Spirit; and this is their common spiration. But no property is to be assigned whereby the Son is distinguished from the Holy Spirit alone, because as we said above, the Son and the Father are a single principle of the Holy Spirit.

This is essential the same as we saw yesterday, with the replacement of paternity with filiation, “son-ship”.

Similarly, no single property is to be assigned whereby the Holy Spirit and the Son together are distinguished from the Father. For the Father is distinguished from them by one property, namely, innascibility, inasmuch as He does not proceed. However, since the Son and the Holy Spirit proceed, not by one procession, but by several, they are distinguished from the Father by two properties. The Holy Spirit has only one property by which He is distinguished from the Father and the Son, and this is called procession. That there cannot be any property by which the Holy Spirit may be distinguished from the Son alone or from the Father alone, is evident from this whole discussion.

I’m finding the above two sections to be somewhat dizzying. I don’t see how the Son proceeds from the Father by several processions. It looks like one procession to me: the Son is the Father’s word. Similarly, the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son together, which again looks like one procession. Or, perhaps, Thomas is saying that the Son proceeds from the Father in one way, and hence is distinguished by one property, filiation, while the Spirit proceeds from the Father and Son in another way, and hence is distinguished by a different property, procession. I think that must be it.

Accordingly five properties in all are attributed to the divine persons: innascibility, paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession.

OK, though I think the name of that last one, procession, indicates mental fatigue on somebody’s part, given that paternity, filiation, and spiration all appear to be kinds of procession, generally speaking.

Tuesdays with St. Thomas: Books about St. Thomas

Tuesday, August 19th, 2008

Jeff Vehige has posted a list of the books about St. Thomas that he has found most helpful. Interestingly, I’d only heard of one of them, Chesterton’s St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox. I won’t steal his thunder; go take a look.