Dooyeweerd on Aristotle

This is from the first 28 pages of New Critique of Theoretical Thought vol 3. I never finished the book because he spent the latter part of it talking about the law-structures of different plants.  I couldn’t see how this was meaningful.

Critique of Thomist metaphysics

Substance: possessing a permanence unaffected by change (Dooyeweerd 4).

  • Our experience of the identity of a thing is always temporal.

Dooyeweerd claims that the traditional view of a thing standing behind a thing contradicts the Christian conception “of human selfhood as a spiritual center,” whose nature is a self-surrender to God (6).

Traditional views of substance see it as a “kernel” under the accidents

To what, primary substance?  It cannot be a pre-theoretically conceived thing, for that is always bound “to the subject object relation” (10).

So what is ousia? Dooyeweerd: “It cannot be a mere relation between form and matter since in Aristotelian metaphysics and logic the concept of substance functions as the independent point of reference” (11).  The category of relation is thinner and accidental.

Nor can it be composite or synthetic, since there must be a unity prior to this.

The Greeks could never latch onto the Creational idea of substance as a structure of individuality (16). [JBA–what is an individuality structure and how is that different from a substance?]

If matter is the principium individuationis, then there can’t be a real idea “of the structure of individuality” (17; since this idea isn’t encased in matter).

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Harvest of Medieval Theology

Narrowly speaking, this is a work on the theology of Gabriel Biel. As it is, one must be careful extrapolating Biel’s thought onto the canvas of late medieval theology. On the other hand, Oberman conclusively argues that Biel’s nominalism is not the stark break from an earlier Pristine Thomism that one often thinks.

Indeed, as one narrative has it (Pickstock, After Writing) in the beginning there was Thomism. Instead of a serpent, we have Duns Scotus. Instead of Cain, the Reformation. While this narrative has been refuted, it holds sway among certain circles. Oberman’s thesis has the merit (no pun intended) that “nominalism” had many varieties, and rather than ruining a pure medievalism, faithfully developed many points and anticipated Trent on others. Now, on to Gabriel Biel.

Biel’s theology can be structured around a dialectic: ordained power and absolute power.

The potentia ordinata and absoluta should not be seen as two different ways of divine acting, since all of God’s works ad extra are united (Oberman 37). God does things according to the laws he has established, potentia ordinata. However, he can do everything that does not imply a contradiction, potentia absoluta.

de potentia ordinata: necessity of the consequence; relates to the contingent order. Since this is not a logical absolute, this means humans cannot predict what predestination per the contingent order will do, since it is contingent (this is a huge point in later Reformed Scholastics).

de potentia absoluta: this does not mean that God can do anything he wants. It means he can do anything that doesn’t imply a logical contradiction. This distinction allowed scholastics to speak of miracles in the created order without the later Humean charge of a violation of natural law.

These categories allow Oberman to move from prolegomena (natural knowledge of God) to epistemology proper to man’s created state to justification and beyond. What makes this book so exciting is that everything is interconnected.

Facere quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam

Do what is in you–this line summarizes Biel’s thought. It forces him to rework sacramental theology, justification, anthropology and even Mariology around it. And Biel knows all of this. Per creation and the Fall, original sin is simply an “outgrowth of natural difficulties” already present (129). Grace, therefore, “means the infusion by which man is made a friend of God and acceptable for final beatification” (136). This leads Oberman to conclude: “grace is not the root but the fruit of the preparatory good work” (141).

Biel’s conclusions are not surprising. If his maxim holds, then whenever he comes across something that seems to imply divine power “closing the gap,” so to speak, then it needs to be refocused.

Habitus and Justification

The pre-act of Justification: “the dignitas of an act is its bonitas with respect to its heavenly reward…The habit of grace is the necessary bridge between bonitas and dignitas which gives the viator a de condigno claim on his eternal salvation” (161). And consistent with Biel’s de potentia ordinata God must grant the reward to once the conditions have been met (168).

habitus: disposition necessary before man is beatified. Parenthetically, Oberman notes Biel’s concern over a problem–another area where Biel paints himself into a corner: how can one talk about free will if one has a habit of grace? Aren’t people enslaved to their habits, whether good or bad?

Three stages of Justification
Acquire the habit of grace. “The sinner can reach the demarcation line” between the state of sin and the state of grace; he does what he is able to do (175).
meritum de congruo: semi-merit that is a spontaneous act and worthy of its reward. This creates an initial problem, since no human act is worthy of heaven. That’s okay, though, if we remember the above dialectic (absoluta/ordinata). God has committed himself de potentia ordinata to reward meritum de congruo.

Are There Reformed Antecedents?

It is commonly charged that the Reformation nominalized the pristine beauty of earlier theology. But can we really say that Reformed theology is nominalistic? Not really, or not without heavy argumentation. Oberman notes concerning justification, “Biel explicitly rejects the position which later was to be characterized as Protestant” (183).

PREDESTINATION

Again, Biel’s dialectic appears and governs his thought. The potentia absoluta is God’s mercy. What causes predestination? We must first ask what is meant by cause. Biel will eventually define cause as order of priority (189). Not surprisingly, Biel will soften predestination for the most part (and this is certainly a move away from Anselm and Aquinas).

SCRIPTURE AND THE CHURCH

Keith Mathison took a lot of heat because Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox for his categories Tradition I and Tradition II, except that Mathison didn’t invent these categories; Oberman did. Oberman points out that the church has long differed over whether “Tradition” is an independent stream alongside Scripture. What is important for Oberman’s argument is that the nominalists who opposed the Pope for the Council all agreed that Tradition (II) was an independent stream. Thus, any charge that nominalism is the antecedent to the Reformation is clearl false.

Evaluation

This book deserves highest possible praise and widest possible dissemination.

Dooyeweerd and Thomism, some notes

This is from the first 28 pages of New Critique of Theoretical Thought vol 3.

Critique of Thomist metaphysics

Substance: possessing a permanence unaffected by change (Dooyeweerd 4).

  • Our experience of the identity of a thing is always temporal.

Dooyeweerd claims that the traditional view of a thing standing behind a thing contradicts the Christian conception “of human selfhood as a spiritual center,” whose nature is a self-surrender to God (6).

Traditional views of substance see it as a “kernel” under the accidents

To what, primary substance?  It cannot be a pre-theoretically conceived thing, for that is always bound “to the subject object relation” (10).

So what is ousia? Dooyeweerd: “It cannot be a mere relation between form and matter since in Aristotelian metaphysics and logic the concept of substance functions as the independent point of reference” (11).  The category of relation is thinner and accidental.

Nor can it be composite or synthetic, since there must be a unity prior to this.

The Greeks could never latch onto the Creational idea of substance as a structure of individuality (16). [JBA–what is an individuality structure and how is that different from a substance?]

If matter is the principium individuationis, then there can’t be a real idea “of the structure of individuality” (17; since this idea isn’t encased in matter).

Prima Facie reservations on Thomism

Reasons why I won’t commit to Thomism.  And why a “Reformed Thomism” is an uneasy alliance.

  1. Does Thomas hold to Aristotle’s view that two contrary principles can’t coexist?  Would this rule out the Incarnation?
  2. Thomas’s view of habitus is incompatible with the Reformed view of imputation.
  3. Thomas’s view of punishment and mortal sin demands Purgatory.
  4. If the soul is the form of the human body and a subsistent thing (aliquid subsistens), then Aquinas is hard-pressed to maintain the immortality of the soul.  (I know that sounds “Greek,” but all Christian positions must affirm that the soul survives the death of the body).
    1. I know Aquinas says a “subsistent thing” exists in its own right (ST I, q. 75, a.2).
    2. But if this is his argument, then what precisely has he advanced that the Augustinian-Platonic tradition had not yet advanced?
  5. I’m uneasy with his take on individuation.  Initially, matter is the principle of individuation.  But this is problematic for angels, since they are immaterial.  So he says each angel is its own species. So we have a tension.  Angels can’t be form + matter, yet the nature of divine simplicity seems to suggest that an angel can’t be identical with its existence.  So an angel is rather an admixture of act and potency.  What is immaterial potency?
  6. Much better to stay with the Augustinian-Platonic tradition on this one.  Or even the Greek fathers for that matter.
  7. Does Thomism demand transubstantiation?  How do Reformed guys square with that?

A Franciscan Counter to Thomism

This is not a rebuttal or refutation of Thomism.  It is a medieval alternative. I will offer my problems with Thomism in another post.

From the O’Donovan’s From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Chritian Political Thought.

Notes on Bonaventura.  This follows a lot of my reading on the Thomists.  Basically, I have the same feeling about Thomism as I do about a loose tooth.  I don’t know exactly what’s wrong, but I am scared to bite down really hard.

I suspect that a Thomist ontology is in tension with an Augustinian ontology.  I am following closely the O’Donovans’ reading on this point. (which is basically what I do on everything).

  1. Franciscan poverty was redefined from purely practical to legal terms.
    “The friars renounced, individually and in common, all ownership of property, so that they had mere use, not legal possesion, of temporal goods” (O’Donovans 309).
  2. “The Way of Evangelical Perfection.”  There is an intimate relationship between covetousness and pride in disordered human love: “That the soul’s excessive love of other beings and things, its consuming passion to possess them, is always for the sake of aggrandizing its own powers” (310).

Bonaventure and the Four Rights (311)

  1. The natural right of using necessary things universally available in creation, the community of earthly goods indispensable to sustenance.
  2. The divine right by which all things belong to the just, the community of righteous possession of the whole earth and of the Lord who made it
  3. the Civil Right, the community of private ownership of temporal things.
  4. The Right of Ecclesiastical Donation, the community of holding goods dedicated to God and conferred upon the churches.

For Bonaventure, the Franciscans had nonproprietary or simple use of goods owned and conceded by others per the first two rights.  But this isn’t simply a return to Adam.  As O’Donovan reads it, it is “a restoration mediated by participation in the cross of Christ” (311).

But I’m not a Thomist

I’ll try to make clear where I stand on Aquinas and Thomism.  I consider myself in “general conversation” with the Thomist tradition.  I find Thomas remarkably clear on the doctrine of God, quite profound on Christology, and very tantalizing in epistemology.

I commit myself to none of his positions, though.

And it is entertaining to watch Neo-Thomists tell you which Thomisms are the good guys and bad guys.  I lean closer to Kerr and De Lubac.

I am hesitant to commit to Thomas’s view on the soul.  I remain too much of a Augustinian/Platonist/Bonaventurian/Bernadian to commit myself on that point.