Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Latin theology and canon law

The following dialogue comes from Dave Armstrong's blog.

Tim Enloe remarked that he was interested in the effect of nominalism on the medieval concept of dominius, which inspired me to go on the following digression about Brian Tierney's theory of natural rights:
"Tierney observes that realism and nominalism are both completely unequipped to describe relationships between entities; they only describe entities themselves. I view the ramifications of that observation to be hugely significant, particularly in light of the East-West controversy over Augustine's formulation of the Trinity in terms of relationships as opposed to distinctions within the essence. If one is looking to describe relationships in the context of a Trinitarian philosophy, it seems that Augustine's account of the Trinity (and divine simplicity) would be helpful if not essential for coming to a Christian account of societal relations. It makes societal units and relationships of primary consideration, which could explain why the emphasis on divine simplicity in the West led to the Western legal system and governmental structures. Conversely, in the East, the emphasis was strongly on the Emperor's role in society and church, particularly in canon law, and one must wonder if the separation from Augustinian thought had anything to do with it. Eventually, I think that this analysis could be profitably extended to describing the role of the Pope and the bishops in the Church, but for now, I think the basic concept that the Latin concept of the Trinity could be a philosophical framework for describing Christian relations is simply fascinating. But, alas, this leaves me with a whole lot of reading to do before I can even speak intelligently about it."

Daniel Jones replied:
"It is very interesting that you bring this up. I have come to the reverse conclusion in my thinking now (surprise!), and it has taken me a while to unpack this information regarding simplicity. I firmly believe absolute simplicity is one of the motivating factors driving the filioque and the papacy. This is why I think Orthodoxy and Catholicism have two very different theologies. I've spent countless hours studying this topic, and I just don't see how the Latin view can be rectified, or made compatible with the metaphysics of the essence-energies distinction in Orthodoxy. I'm afraid that the neo-Platonic view of a simple essence, needs to be scrapped. If the act of willing is identical to the divine essence, I do not see how we can distinguish between generations (in the Trinity) and creation—thus creation being necessary and even homoousion with God (a kind of pantheism). Either necessary creation, or only "events" in God that are necessary (generation and procession) —thus God inacapable of creating. Note St. Gregory Palamas:
If according to the delirious opponents and those who agree with them, the Divine energy in no way differs from the Divine essence, then the act of creating, which belongs to the will, will in no way differ from generation (gennan) and procession (ekporeuein), which belong to the essence. If to create is no different from generation and procession, then the creatures will in no way differ from the Begotten (gennematos) and the Projected (problematos). If such is the case according to them, then both the Son of God and the Holy Spirit will be no different from creatures, and the creatures will all be both the begotten (gennemata) and the projected (problemata) of God the Father, and creation will be deified and God will be arrayed with the creatures. For this reason the venerable Cyril, showing the difference between God's essence and energy, says that to generate belongs to the Divine nature, whereas to create belongs to His Divine energy. This he shows clearly saying, "nature and energy are not the same." If the Divine essence in no way differs from the Divine energy, then to beget (gennan) and to project (ekporeuein) will in no way differ from creating (poiein). God the Father creates by the Son and in the Holy Spirit. Thus He also begets and projects by the Son and in the Holy Spirit, according to the opinion of the opponents and those who agree with them. (Capita 96, 97)
Another problem is proof-texting in the Fathers issues surrounding the filioque. Orthodoxy is happy to acknowledge that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son (or through the Son), within the context of "energetic" procession or eternal manifestation, but not in the context of hypostatic procession. See Lossky for the technical issues: http://www.geocit…I just don't think the Latin view with it's 'relations of opposition' of a simple essence is robust enough to maintain the diversity of persons in the Trinity (not to mention the apophatic nature of God's incomprehensibleness and transcendence). The question becomes, does the ability to spirate come from the Godhead or from a hypostasis?
Partly what is motivating me is realistic thinking. The Augustinian nature/grace dialect that I'm so vigorous to defend against the Reformed—maintaining synergy—falls apart under the context of absolute simplicity. If grace is a created effect or quality in the soul (which is all it can be if there are no uncreated energies of the Trinity), I do not see how Augustine is justified in his defense against Pelagius' De Natura—creature is still la creature by any other name (even if it is a superadded good). Which brings up another interesting point, if the most that we have union with is a created quality (even though in principle Charity is identical to the divine essence ST IIa. IIae. Q.23 A.2, AD. 1) this looks dangerously Arian. One might suggest divine indwelling, but this can't be union since we can't become God essentially. In short my defense of Augustine's nature/grace dialectic fits better under a real metaphysical distinction between God's operations and his essence, in order to maintain the real ontological divide between nature and grace—contra total depravity.
Actually, I think it is Rome's dogmatic isolation from the East that has brought about these differences. I love Augustine and Thomas, but I don't think they had the metaphysics in place (although one person has indicated to me some traces of the Cappadocian distinction in De Trinitate, but I haven't investigated it yet) to work out some of these problems like St. Maximus. Take a look at Free Choice in Saint Maximus the Confessor by Joseph Farrell http://www.amazon… and http://www.amazon…
Currently, I have not left the Roman Church and don't plan to right now; I'm a person in need of lots of prayer. If I was to ever become Orthodox, it would be a long prudent decision, and I would be more than willing to retract (and repent of) the assertions I've made above about Latin theology if shown otherwise. But where I stand right now looking at these questions, I cannot."

Fortunately, I had a backup plan in the likely event that I ended up getting embarrassed by the Orthodox argument (those guys are way too smart!), which appears to have happened here. Not knowing enough to meaningfully respond to this argument, I will take the "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" approach. Assuming arguendo that the Eastern formulation is the correct one, it seems that a Christian society would still have to address social relations in some meaningful analogy to the internal workings of the Trinity. Would Gregory Nanzianzen's perichoresis formulation serve that purpose? I've always been curious about how the Latin circumincession concept differed from perichoresis based on the different descriptions of the Trinity, and I think is relevant to that discussion as well. Mostly, I'm just looking for a good place to start looking into the doctrine of the internal dynamics of the Trinity from an Eastern and Western perspective. Any suggestions are welcome.


At 8:10 AM, Blogger cparks said...

Mostly, I'm just looking for a good place to start looking into the doctrine of the internal dynamics of the Trinity from an Eastern and Western perspective. Any suggestions are welcome.Phillip Sherrard's The Greek East and the Latin West deals with this topic in depth. Granted, he deals with the differences in the starkest terms and, generally, Catholics won't like his conclusions, but I think the book is necessary reading on the topic. Personally, I've come to think that he proves too much, but I'm no scholar, so I'll refrain from judging him.

One chapter is available on the web: From Theology to Philosophy in the Latin West.



At 3:14 PM, Blogger CrimsonCatholic said...

Thanks for the tip, cp!

More related discussion at Dave Armstrong's blog.

Chris McAnall:
Perry or Daniel, could you please elaborate on this essence/energies distinction, and its connection to defense of the Trinity? I'm a bit confused right now, but you've peaked my interest.

For starters,
essence = God's nature
energies = God's actions

Is that right?

I understand that it's not part of God's nature to create us, that this was an act of His free will. His perfect free will would be part of his essence (or nature). I got a little lost with the divine will and human will of Christ. How and why is it that there is no connection between the fact that His human will is totally undertermined by His divine will and the fact that it is impossible for Him to sin?

Also, does what Jesus says in Matthew 24:36 relate to all of this? "But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only." I thought the Father and the Son share everything in common, including divine knowledge. If anyone can explain, please do; I've always been confused by this one.

2004-11-06 16:48


Perry Robinson:

God's nature is both his energies and his essence. God's nature is wider than his essence. Or there is more to being God than his essence. His energies are his activities, wisdoms, powers, intentions, plans, etc. All of these terms are used to designate his energies. The relation is Essence -> Power-> Activities. So the idea is that you can indirectly identify the essence of an agent or object by its activities. One act of creation for example is produced by the activity of the Father and the Son, so that implies that they have one essence. But notice that this is an indirect argument. It does not grant positive or direct rational access to the divine essence. Likewise, the Son and the Spirit are deity and of one essence with the Father because the Son and the Spirit both deify in their soteriological activities (The Great Physician). Only God can put you into union with such to make you divine, therefore since the Son and the Spirit do so, it follows that they are God or deity also. This is why Christ is called the Wisdom and Power of God because the many logoi are summed up in the Person of the ONE LOGOS. This is why the Son reveals the Father and the Spirit. The Hebrews only dealt with the Son which is why the Gospels say that He came to his own and they did not receive him. They never heard the Father's voice nor saw his form. This is why there are no legitimate icons of the Trinity. The essence of God tho remains eternally hidden and inaccessible, even in the afterlife (hence no beatific vision). This is why the Cappadocians for example say that they worship that which they DO NOT KNOW.

God's faculty of will is of his essence, which is why there are not three wills between the three persons, but only one divine will. There is the personal use of the faculty by each of the three persons. The volition to create is the persons willing to create, not a necessary emanation from the divine essence. To will to create is personal and free. (This is why in Gesthemane, Christ is speaking of his human will "Not my will…" and not his divine will. The end or telos that his human will is directed towards is the natural good of self preservation. But in the act of freely willing to submit to the divine will (*read ascetical element HERE*) salvation is furthered. The choice was not between an evil act and a good act, but between TWO GOOD ACTS, the preservation of life and the salvation of the world.)

Christ's human will being free from determination means that the relation for us in salvation between God's will and our will is synergistic as well. They co-operate, one doesn't co-opt the other. The lack of divine determination guarantees that Christ's human willings are free. The impossibility of Christ sinning is gotten from his human will in its faculty and its personal use fused together or fixed in the Good. And since God the Good is complex and an infinite plurality (God's energies or God's "good things" are infinite in number) Christ always has a plurality of Good things to choose from. This is why it is possible to still have alternative possibilities and yet never be able to sin. (The implication is that simplicity isn't necessary to gaurantee permenance or stability) Our problem is that our use of our faculty is not meshed together with our natural faculty of willing and the end it is naturally directed towards (the Good).

This is why we deliberate about the good because our mode of willing and our faculty are not hooked up. There is a hesitation about the Good in us, a mutability that is only done away with in the acquasition of virtue. We deliberate between real and apparent goods- Not to steal or to steal? Christ dosn't deliberate, he simply chooses one of many actually good courses of action. The idea is that the faculty of will is of the ESSENCE of an agent, while the employment is of the PERSON. Faculty is essential and activity is hypostatic. If will were personal, there would only be one will in Christ since he is one Person and three wills in the Trinity. IF that were so, it would be impossible to prove the Trinity from the activities of God since different wills would imply different activities or acts. You would be left with a kind of tri-theism and Tri-theism is BAD.

As to Matthew concerning knowledge, it is important to keep in mind that the Person of Christ is IN both natures. It is not just that both natures are related to the one divine Person of Christ. Christ is one divine Person IN both natures. Intellect like will is a faculty of the nature that is used or employed by the person. The human intellect is limited and can only contain so much knowledge. As we grow older our intellectual faculty increases in capacity, which is why Christ is said in Luke to grow in knowledge. So a helpful way to think about it is that Christ has access to knowledge by two different faculties as constituents of their respective natures (human and divine). Christ IN the human nature has access to a limited amount of information and so he can truely speak in a way of limitation, of ignorance. And since it is the divine PERSON doing the knowing from that respective nature, then it is the Person who is said to be ignorant. This is why it is correct to say that there are things that God DID NOT KNOW. Just like it is correct to say that God DIED. The human nature did not suffer on the Cross since natures do not suffer, PERSONS DO. The divine PERSON, God, suffered death and died. The divine nature remains immutable and impassable. This is how it is possible for it to be the case that the Person is both ignorant and knowing with respect to the faculties of each nature. On this point the Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants all agree. If there wasn't a REAL and personal union between the natures, if the divine person did not suffer, then he can't make you divine either, he can't put you into union with God and heal you. In which case you are still under the reign of death and sin. (Heb 2:14) This is why the Theotokos (Mary) is so important, because in her is summed up all of human nature. She is the end of a puryfying process started by God's Covenants culling out a people for him and not a instantaneous leap to that state. This is in part what it means to say that the Law is a school master leading to Christ. This is why the Psalms say that the Law of God is perfect, converting the soul. In Mary is summed up all of human nature. She is the best that humanity has to offer purified, by God and her will together. This has to be so, if it weren't, Christ would not take on all of our nature upon him, but just an instance of it, a part of it if you will. But he doesn't, he takes up all of it and he gets all of it from Mary. This is why she is fit to be the God-bearer. This is why she is favored. And this is why in Orthodox theology she is called the CO-cause of Creation and Salvation, since in her freely willed acceptance comes the slavation of the world, of all of human nature since humanity is the microcosm or recapitulation of creation (Ireneaus). In her free willed act of acceptance God's predestination for human nature is fulfilled. This is why Mary is venerated because she is literally and not just figuratively the Second Eve. In her synergy or co-laboring with God comes the Incarnation which is why she is called the Gate of Salvation (from Ezekiel), the Gate thru which the Lord and Salvation passes on to us. To think of Mary as not summing up all of human nature in her is to reject Chalcedon's Christology, which has Christ taking upon himself ALL of human nature, not just qualitatively but quantitatively. This is what it means to say that Christ is FULLY human since Christ is fully divine in that ALL of the divine essence dwells in Christ (just as fully as it does in the Persons of the Father and the Spirit.) If not, then we equivocate on the term "fully" in the Chalcedonian definition. This implicit rejection of Chalcedon, viewing Christ as taking on an instance of human nature, is what makes, IMHO, penal theories of the atonement necessary. Since if the Incarnation doesn't save since it is not putting human nature into union with God and hence not healing it, then something else is needed. It is then necessary to see salvation in terms of relation rather than union, of standing instead of healing, of rights rather than Life.

Just some more thoughts.

Perry Robinson aka Acolyte-

2004-11-06 21:56


Wow, I'm glad that I asked the question! Its going to take me a while to get through all of the stuff that came after it though!

<>< Del

2004-11-06 22:28


Daniel Jones:
I'd like to add one more thing to Perry's excellent explanation. When Perry said there is 'No Beatific Vision,' he is not saying that there is no vision of God in the eschaton (or in the Old and New Testament). Such would contradict Palamas, the Fathers, Prophets, and the apostles that the 'light of glory,' the 'kingdom (reign) of God,'Angel of the Lord' , the light of Mount Thabor, etc. is none other than the uncreated light that is no less than God. Deification implies and presupposes vision and participation in God. The light of glory is not some light that passes in and out of time, appealing only to the senses, but is the very divine darkness and light (ala St. Dionysius). It is both a knowing and an unknowing; no human term could be predicated to describe it.

What he means by 'No Beatific Vision', is vision of the divine essence, which is unknowable and incommunicable. To know the divine essence would be to truly be "like" it, or to become absorbed into it.

The reason I believe that the essence/energies distinction is so important to an exposition of the Trinity is that I see no other way to maintain the ontolocial divide between generation (of the Son) and procession (of the Spirit), which are necessary to God, and creation which is free.



Post a Comment

<< Home