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9/06/2018 9:45 pm  #1


On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

John West wrote:

It seems reasonable, if Christianity is built on an absurdity, to explore other religions, before considering mysterianism.
[...]
(Christians are welcome to reply to the linked paper's arguments, but I ask that they start a separate thread to do so.)

The first and third of the questions raised by Vallicella in that paper...

Bill Vallicella in 2002 wrote:

This article raises three questions that appear to threaten the coherence of orthodox Chalcedonian incarnationalism. First, how can one person exemplify seemingly incompatible natures? Second, how can one person exemplify seemingly incompatible non-nature properties? Third, how can there be one person if the concept of incarnation implies that one person incarnates himself as another person?

... are neatly answered by an understanding of the Incarnation (in fieri) / Hypostatic Union (in esse) built on the real distinction between essence/nature and act of being, which can be summarized as 3 points:

1. The divine essence or nature is the Subsistent Act of Being. Since each divine Person is the divine nature, each divine Person is the Subsistent Act of Being (in a different mode).

2. Each human person is a composite of a contingent act of being and a human nature. The act of being in question is that of the spiritual soul, because the atoms of the body existed before the person's conception and will exist after the person's death. (BTW, this implies that a human soul separated from the body is still a human person, pace some Thomists.)

3. The Incarnation (in fieri) / Hypostatic Union (in esse) means that Jesus' human nature exists, from the moment of its creation, by the Subsistent Act of Being in filiation mode.

Thus:

- Jesus is not a human person because his human nature exists by the Subsistent Act of Being in filiation mode, the Hypostasis of the Son.

- Peter is a human person because his nature exists by Peter's contingent act of being.

Note that only a divine Person can assume a nature different from his Own, because only a divine Person is just an act of being (the Subsistent Act of Being) without an essence/nature that is different from that act of being. (Or in other words, because only the divine nature is an act of being, the Subsistent Act of Being).

This answers Vallicella's first question and nullifies the premise of the third. Not having access to the text of the paper, I do not know what Vallicella meant by the second question, "how can one person exemplify seemingly incompatible non-nature properties?".

Additional info:

The above philosophical explanation of Chalcedonian Christology based on the real distinction between essence/nature and act of being was held mainly by two Thomists: Capreolus and Billot. There is another position on this subject within the Thomistic school, held by Cajetan and Garrigou-Lagrange, which adds to the above the notion that Jesus' human nature existed in a different, "assumed" mode. In my opinion, whether that was the actual case or not is not really relevant for a philosophical understanding of the Incarnation.

For those interested in comparing the above philosophical explanation with those offered by Christian theologians who denied the real distinction between essence and act of being, I mention that I had already written a thread on the subject.
 

Last edited by Johannes (9/06/2018 9:48 pm)

 

9/07/2018 8:25 pm  #2


Re: On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

Johannes,

I think what I'm going to do is ask a few clarifying questions, and then come back to this thread when I have more time to give it late October – early November. (I'm sensitive to the fact that this is an existentially important topic for a lot of people here, and think it would irresponsible to discuss it without giving it the time and attention it deserves.)

i. You're trying to explain the unity of the divine and human natures* by reducing the relation between the divine and human nature to the relation between the existence and essence of a being*. Is that right?
ii. What is Being? You look like you're adopting a property or property-instance theory of Being (like Barry Miller) in some of your comments.
iii. What is the relation between Being and a being?

I might have follow-ups. 

*I'm using nature in the broad sense of the first paragraph here. As far as I can tell, this is also roughly the sense the Council of Chalcedon used it in. (It's the sense BV uses it in in his paper.)
*I'm going to follow a convention from the Heidegger literature and start “being” with a majuscule 'B' when using it in the sense of esse and Sein and a miniscule 'b' when using it in the sense of ens and Seiende

 

9/08/2018 12:57 pm  #3


Re: On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

Re naming conventions for "being", I have already adopted one in all my posts which I think is more useful when dealing with theology, so I will keep to it:
- B for Subsistent Being (Esse),
- b for contingent being (esse),
- "entity" for ens.

Re using nature as synonym of essence, I agree. In fact, they are synonyms in standard Christian theological terminology: "If anyone does not confess that the physis or ousía of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is one, as also the power and the authority [...] let him be anathema." (Constantinople II Ecumenical Council).

To note, if by ens we mean the individual, particular, concrete, really existing subject, then it is a synonym of hypostasis, as I showed in this thread.

Also to note, essence can be understood in a particular or a universal sense. I will adopt the former sense, which is the standard in Christian theology.

Addressing now your questions:

i. Yes, I explain the Hypostatic Union between Jesus' divine and human natures as the relation between Existence (capital in this case because it is subsistent) and essence.

ii. I think we can take existence/esse (whether subsistent or contingent) as a primitive notion for the purpose of this discussion.

iii. A real Entity (Hypostasis)/entity Is/is, i.e. Exists/exists. In the particular case of Divine Hypostases, Each of Them Is in one of three modes: fontal plenitude and paternity, filiation, and passive spiration or procession.

 

Last edited by Johannes (9/08/2018 1:00 pm)

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9/08/2018 7:12 pm  #4


Re: On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

Johannes wrote:

ii. I think we can take existence/esse (whether subsistent or contingent) as a primitive notion for the purpose of this discussion.

In question (ii), I'm distinguishing between the conceptual question and the ontological question. The conceptual question is: “What does 'Being' mean?” The ontological question is: “What is Being?” or, if you prefer, “What is the essence of Being?”. I'm asking the ontological question.

The reason I'm asking it is that I can only think of two answers that satisfy the real distinction: the property theory and the paradigm theory. The property theory makes the relation between the human and divine natures instantiation (which I'm assuming you don't want) and runs into contradictions; and the paradigm theory makes the Being of contingent individuals their unity, rather than a real constituent or part of them, and so on it the relation between Being and contingent beings doesn't make sense as a model for Christ Incarnate. In other words, I'm asking because I'm trying to figure out what exactly is going on in your theory, and right now I can't.

 

9/09/2018 4:09 pm  #5


Re: On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

John West wrote:

In question (ii), I'm distinguishing between the conceptual question and the ontological question. The conceptual question is: “What does 'Being' mean?” The ontological question is: “What is Being?” or, if you prefer, “What is the essence of Being?”. I'm asking the ontological question.

Note that (contingent) essences are spoken of (contingent) entities, i.e. of those entities that (contingently) exist. But (contingent) existence is not one such entity, therefore it does not make sense to speak of the (contingent) essence of (contingent) existence, which is what you mean by "Being". In contrast, Subsistent Essence and Subsistent Existence are identical.

John West wrote:

The reason I'm asking it is that I can only think of two answers that satisfy the real distinction: the property theory and the paradigm theory. The property theory makes the relation between the human and divine natures instantiation (which I'm assuming you don't want) and runs into contradictions; and the paradigm theory makes the Being of contingent individuals their unity, rather than a real constituent or part of them, and so on it the relation between Being and contingent beings doesn't make sense as a model for Christ Incarnate. In other words, I'm asking because I'm trying to figure out what exactly is going on in your theory, and right now I can't.

The point here, to be honest, is that I have never read on theories of existence. It was actually your last post which prompted me to become aware of Barry Miller's property theory and of Bill Vallicella's paradigm theory. Therefore, a thorough response to your question would require me to study those theories and see which one of them, if any, is compatible with my previous answer. Which is a no go not only on practical grounds but also in principle: since the explanation of the Hypostatic Union as that between Subsistent Existence (or Act of Being) and contingent human essence is temporally prior to Miller's 1992 and Vallicella's 2002 works, it is wholly legitimate to formulate said explanation in a way that is agnostic of those works. Moreover, it is the duty of any Christian proposer or holder of a particular theory of existence to make sure that said theory is compatible with the above explanation of the Hypostatic Union or to offer an alternative philosophical explanation thereof. (So that, since I do not propose or hold any particular theory of existence, I'm free of that duty!)

Let us consider an angel. His contingent existence (however it is defined) is bound biunivocally (or bijectively) with his contingent angelical essence. Since no other contingent essence can be bound to his contingent existence, the angel cannot be anything else in addition to angel.

In contrast, Subsistent Existence is not bound to an Essence that is distinct from Subsistent Existence Itself. Therefore a contingent essence can be bound to Subsistent Existence.

Note that:

- the assumed contingent essence must be bound to Subsistent Existence since the very moment of its creation;

- the "unbinding" would mean that the assumed contingent essence would cease to Exist;

- more than one contingent essence can be bound to Subsistent Existence, so that another Incarnation of the Logos as an individual of another rational animal species in another planet is possible in principle.
 

Last edited by Johannes (9/09/2018 7:37 pm)

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9/09/2018 8:15 pm  #6


Re: On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

Johannes wrote:

Note that (contingent) essences are spoken of (contingent) entities, i.e. of those entities that (contingently) exist. But (contingent) existence is not one such entity, therefore it does not make sense to speak of the (contingent) essence of (contingent) existence, which is what you mean by "Being". In contrast, Subsistent Essence and Subsistent Existence are identical.

This tracks some of the intuitions behind Vallicella's paradigm theory.* The trouble is that if you try to model the relation between the divine nature, the Son, and the human nature, Jesus, on the relation between God and contingent beings in it you end up with just an ordinary contingent being like any other (i.e. the Son contingently unifying Jesus's constituents and Jesus as just a guy). 

So that, since I do not propose or hold any particular theory of existence, I'm free of that duty!

I'm using Miller and Vallicella as representatives of the most up to date versions of those theories.* My problem, without mentioning either of those men, is that I don't see any way to assay the relation between essence and existence that lets me model the Incarnation.

*Miller (an analytic Thomist) would disagree with you here. Davies (another analytic Thomist) would agree, I think, but there is no way to model the Incarnation using the real distinction on his account of existence.
*The property theory long predates Miller (and, I seem to recall reading somewhere, was at least implicitly accepted by most Thomists until recently) and Vallicella's general theory goes back at least to some of the scholastics and, probably, to some of the Platonists. (Implicitly, I think you probably are a property theorist of some type, where property is taken in the sense opposed to substances rather than instances. (At least, your replies make the most sense to me on property theories).)

 

9/09/2018 8:21 pm  #7


Re: On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

The above is valid without need to articulate what precisely the binding between essence and existence/Existence is.

Try to see this from my perspective: I'm trying to model the relation between the Son and Jesus in Christ Incarnate based on the relation between existence and essence in contingent beings. I can't really do that without knowing what the relation between existence and essence in contingent beings is. (I suppose I could just accept that there is something that somehow works out, but then I don't see why I shouldn't just say the same thing about the Incarnation, and I'm trying to avoid making those kinds of moves right now.)

Anyway, I'm not going to be bullish about this. I can make most of Vallicella's arguments without a specific model of the Incarnation to attack. (I'm a little worried that the ambiguity in your theory is going to come back to haunt us when you reply later on, but hopefully we can deal with that when it comes.) I actually think any theory that makes contingent existence a constituent of contingent beings fails (and your theory does seem to commit you to this so that you have something to model the Incarnation on in the first place), but I can make that argument if it comes up later.

 

9/09/2018 9:10 pm  #8


Re: On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

Anyone who wants to buy “Incarnation and Identity” can do so here. They can also find the start of a discussion between Bill and Brandon about its first argument here (and the rest of it by following the links in the blog articles).

 

9/10/2018 1:47 am  #9


Re: On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

John West wrote:

The trouble is that if you try to model the relation between the divine nature, the Son, and the human nature, Jesus, on the relation between God and contingent beings in it you end up with just an ordinary contingent being like any other (i.e. the Son contingently unifying Jesus's constituents and Jesus as just a guy). 

The text in italics is definitely not my position, and I wonder on what basis you thought it was. Maybe my statement "the explanation of the Hypostatic Union as that between Subsistent Existence (or Act of Being) and contingent human essence" left some room for misunderstanding, and I should have said "the explanation of the Hypostatic Union as that between a contingent human essence and Subsistent Existence (or Act of Being) in place of ordinary contingent existence".
 

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9/10/2018 1:56 am  #10


Re: On philosophical objections to the Chalcedonian Incarnation doctrine

John West wrote:

I'm trying to model the relation between the Son and Jesus in Christ Incarnate based on the relation between existence and essence in contingent beings. I can't really do that without knowing what the relation between existence and essence in contingent beings is.

As long as you postulate that contingent existence and contingent essence are really distinct, you can state that the relation between the Son and Jesus' human nature is the relation between existence (in this case Subsistent Existence) and contingent essence, without the need to articulate precisely what the relation between existence and essence in contingent beings is.
 

Last edited by Johannes (9/10/2018 1:57 am)

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