Wednesday, August 29, 2007

More from the mailbag

Raymond Maxwell Spiotta has quite a list of intriguing filioque and Palamism questions that I will answer as best I can. Sorry it took so long, Raymond, but you ask hard questions! On the first issue:

1.) Please define "Hypostatic Procession/Origination," both in Latin & Greek terms.

JP> It's hard to delineate them in this way, because for Latin theology, it seems to me that causality is a question of what the substance is and how it got to be that way. Consequently, I think it just isn't possible to separate the origin of hypostasis and the origin of ousia in this way without rendering the concept senseless. What distinguishes the Son from the Father, for example, is not that one is the origin of hypostasis while the other is the (proximate) source of ousia. What distinguishes the two is that the Father is the source of the Holy Spirit in one way and the Son is the source of the Holy Spirit in another way. I suppose the way to look at this is that Latin theology sees multiple ways to be a source of the same thing, so that both the Father and the Son are the source of the Holy Spirit's substance (both hypostasis and ousia) but in different ways.

2.) Does the Son play a part in originating the Hypostasis of the Holy Spirit, as one might think given Florence's asseveration that the Holy Spirit has "his essence and his subsistent being from the Father together with the Son"? I've seen arguments made that the Latin Filioque need only imply a flow of ousia to the Holy Spirit from the Son, and I've also seen such anti-Western polemicists as T.R. Valentine admit the possibility of such a Filioque. How would the two concepts differ, and what are my reasons for limiting the scope of Latin dogma to the latter concept?

JP> The differences are basically what I outlined above, and I don't think the Latin dogma can be made to fit the Greek separation. Historically, the Latin dogma was based on an Aristotelian concept of existence (substance), and there's no way to coherently limit the Latin belief given that understanding of causality. To put it another way, I can't think of any way to separate the two in a manner that wouldn't have made Boethius gag.

3.) I've been interacting with a Catholic apologist on the meaning of the phrase in the Florentine Defnition, "cause, according to the Greeks." He has asserted:


"Now, ... When Florence says that the Greeks admitted that the Son is also the "cause" of the Spirit, they were NOT saying that the Greeks called the Son an "aition" of the Spirit. Indeed, they were NOT saying that the Greeks DIRECTLY STATED that the Son is a "cause" at all --that is, Florence was NOT claiming that the Greeks USED THE WORD "cause" to describe the Son in regard to the Spirit.. Rather, speaking as good Scholastics (and largely insensitive to Byzantine sensibilities), all that Florence meant was that the Greek fathers supported the Scholastic understanding that the Son, along with the Father, is the "cause" of the Spirit. The Council's statement is a totally Latin / Scholastic expression, which pays no heed to the Patristic language of Greek theology. It is speaking in the "Latin-ese" of the medieval Western Church. So, the idea of an "aition" is not even being considered in the statement. This is not what is meant by "cause.""


Do you think there is anything going for this interpretation of the Council's words? It seems to me there isn't - that what the Fathers meant by "cause, according to the Greeks" is, pretty self-evidently, Aition - but I don't know.

JP> It seems to be a pretty good read of the Council as far as I can tell. I don't think it was remotely a comment on what the Greeks actually believed or an attempt to equate the Latin concept with what the Greeks believed, or if it was, then it was clearly mistaken. I don't think it was anything other than an attempt to point out what the Latins meant when they used the term, not what the Greeks meant by it. And what the two meant was clearly different.

On Palamism

1.) Is there any possible parallel between the Latin formulation of 'absolutedivine simplicity,' where the diversified 'attributes' of God are to beunderstood as only conceptually diversified perceptions of the unitas essentiae,and the Byzantine understanding of the Uncreated Energy as being 'indivisiblydivided?' At present I've yet to discover how the basic Augustinian idea ofGod's Essence's equivalent identification by 'Goodness,' 'Wisdom,' 'Power,' &c.can be reconciled with the Basilian account (e.g. "When all these highattributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence?"). Mightthe Byzantines & Latins be able simultaneously to embrace their respectivetheological conceptions with an equal degree of metaphysical rectitude, and ifso, could you do some of the grunt work for us who are new at this, and map outsomething of a basic vocabulary and chart some terminological correspondences?

JP> In my opinion, it's extremely difficult. The way that one would do it is to investigate the idea of power to see if there is common ground. In the Eastern account, powers are signs of nature, and the divine nature is characterized by the indivisibly divided power. In the Western account, power is a matter of degree of perfection, ranging from a mere vestige of the Trinitarian power to the pure act of the Trinity. What I'm having a very difficult time doing is to see how to explain that the indivisible division of Eastern divine simplicity is literally the same thing as the infinite power of Western divine simplicity.

The oneness part is easy to understand, but in the Eastern view, this is a unity of a collection of real things. When the Westerns use terms like Wisdom and Love, they are intended to connote infinite degree, not separate kinds of things (as if the Trinity were simply separate powers or energies of the divine essence). Thus, in the psychological analogy, separating the faculties is not intended to connote a number of real "things" as it would be in the East. Likewise, the relations of opposition aren't intended to convey the sort of opposition between disparate things as they would be in Eastern dialectic. In fact, it is quite the opposite; it is intended to show identity by the fact that they are poles of the same infinite degree. What shows unity in the Western account is precisely what shows improper separation in the Eastern account. But the fundamental indivisible division in the East sounds like improper division of the infinite in Western ears. Apart from each side just realizing that they are talking about entirely different metaphysical issues, I don't know how to reconcile them.

2.) If one even can, how would one express the Augustinian/Scholastic idea ofthe Beatific Vision in Palamite terms? Obviously, the distinction is stark inWestern thought between our mode of knowing God now and in the eschaton, whereasI don't see the distinction put as strongly by Byzantium. Is there any elementof Palamite thought that might approximate this distinction? Also, if God's'Essence' can be known only hereafter, and if God is esse/essential pure andsimple, how is the Westerner to circumvent the objections of the Oriental inclaiming that he can have no real knowledge of God in this life?

To be honest, I think this is just a difference between Platonic and Aristotelian intellection. The sort of identity between knower and known in Platonism is just plain opposed to the identity claimed in (Western) Aristotelianism. The Western account is of a supernatural cognitive faculty (faith) that perceives the spiritual in a certain kind of way and of a sort of intellectual vision that produces a different sort of identity in Heaven (even then, though, it is possession of the divine essence as end, a sort of sure eternal progress and an intuition of one's infinite capacity, not a comprehensive intellectual grasp of the divine essence). Again, I don't really know how one can explain that the Western claim isn't what the East thinks it is. Part of it is that they think Western Aristotelianism is identical with some Middle Platonist/Peripatetic syntheses, an assumption that I consider unrealiable.

Hope that helps, and sorry I took so long.


Post a Comment

<< Home