CT 59: Why These Properties Are Called Notions

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.)

4 Responses to “CT 59: Why These Properties Are Called Notions”

  1. Negation is a statement that denies one thing of another. (in the logical order)

    Privation is one thing not existing in another. (in the order of being)

    a thing and its opposite are always contained in the same genus because they are the same kind of thing, because lacking cannot exist on its own.

    Therefore, negations are grouped with affirmations, and privations are grouped with habits (in the sense of having something, like having whiteness) (meaning the first subgroup of the category quality, cf Aristotle, Categories 8, 8 b 26-28).

  2. I certainly don’t mean to be discouraging by pointing out the need for logic. Clearly you have both the desire and the disposition for abstract thought, the only piece missing is the training or habit of thinking in a certain way.

    It’s like the training difference between a soldier and some guy out in a field with a gun who really loves his country – there are certain techniques and concepts that just cut out so much of the trouble of discovering what to do on your own, so you don’t have to reinvent “slicing the pie” and so forth.

  3. Will says:

    Oh, that wasn’t discouragement. That was rueful acceptance of the amount of work involved. :-)

  4. Brandon says:

    I found the “privations are reduced to the genus of habits” rather puzzling myself at first; but this, I think, may just be an unnecessarily wooden translation — as Phil says, in context the term has to be understood as ‘having something’ (or else ‘something had’). So the distinction is between what is lacking (privations) and what is had (‘habits’).