Tuesday, August 24, 2004

A Thought on the Holy Incarnate Word, Addendum I

Bill Vallicella at Maverick Philosopher has posted an interesting response (and some nice compliments) to my thought on the Incarnation. He is right that my terminology is a bit rough and loose (most things written here are rough and loose, since Siris is, in effect, my notes and jottings opened to be read for whomever might be interested, with all the advantages and disadvantages of that). It's clear that I made a rather serious error in discussing his argument; although I confess this leaves me rather puzzled about the argument itself. I'm a bit hesitant on this point because, having received Vallicella's reply, it seems clear to me that I must be completely missing something essential to his argument, and I don't know what it would be. So in this post I will give not so much a response (in the sense of an answer) to Vallicella as a set of notes in the attempt to formulate my puzzlement; if he's still interested in continuing the discussion, he can help me out a bit, or if anyone else has anything that might help, they can chime in. But before I get into this I just want to clarify something that wasn't clear in the original post; I said "Contradictions can only arise if X is A and Y is ~A in the same respect" -- this was assuming, although it wasn't adequately clear in the post, that we are already supposing that X is the same as Y -- i.e., in parallel to the problem at hand. Now, I'll rough out my puzzlement a bit. He says:

True, Brandon is one and the same person whether clothed or unclothed just as the Son is one and the same person whether unincarnate or incarnate. But Brandon unclothed is identical to Brandon clothed. They are one and the same person.


I can agree with this. What worries me about 'identical' here is that Brandon unclothed and Brandon clothed are not indiscernible (there is one way they are, and this the way Vallicella intends - I will get to that below; bear with me - I think it will become clearer later why I'm taking a preparatory route before getting to his actual claims). I can, remaining the same person, have properties that would be contradictory if I had them in the same respect, as long as I don't actually have them in the same respect. For instance, I can be both clothed and unclothed if I am clothed now and unclothed later. (Pierce, I think, says somewhere that time is that in virtue of which contradictories can be predicated of the same subject). Therefore the mere attribution to a subject of properties that, if they exist in the subject in the same respect, would be contradictories, does not constitute a contradiction unless A) they can be shown actually to be attributed in the same respect; or B) the respects in which they would need to be differentiated cannot be attributed to the same subject without contradiction.

If one is considering whether the Chalcedonian formula is consistent, (1) is irrelevant, since the formula is the denial that they are attributed in the same respect. So it's (2) that's in play; in other words, the question at hand is nothing other than the very question of whether one person can be both God and man without contradiction.

Recall the triad at the root of the discussion:

1. Necessarily, if two things are identical, they share all their (non-intentional)properties.
2. God the Son and Jesus do not share all their (non-intentional) properties.
3. God the Son and Jesus are identical.

I think I was a bit sloppy in discussing this; Vallicella, in retrospect and in his response, clearly means (3) to indicate the same as my consideration that the Son and Jesus are one person. I slipped into treating (3) as being stronger than it was really meant to be; the reason I made this error, I think, is that if (3) is taken simply to mean that the Son and Jesus are one person, it only generates inconsistency in combination with (1) and (2) if they are considering only sameness of person as well. In other words, not every non-intentional property that might be identified as belonging to the Son or to Jesus is relevant; only those properties that are necessary for being this person, the Son, and for being this person, Jesus. If this is the case, though, then Chalcedon is not really in question at all; what is in question is all of the conciliar formulations, since they all identify Jesus as the Son of God. I'm not saying this to quibble, because the philosophical issues don't change much; I bring it up to clarify why I may have confused something about Vallicella's argument. I made the mistake of considering too closely what was distinctively Chalcedonian rather than the whole of the Chalcedonian formula - I defended the two natures formula; and (3), concerned only with sameness of person, doesn't pose any danger to the two-natures formula itself via (A), which is a common complaint against Chalcedon. Vallicella sometimes seems to be making this sort of complaint; but if I took him in this sense (looking over my post again I must have, but perhaps not consistently) I must have misunderstood him in this (and thus slipped, unfortunately, into taking the identity involved as being stronger than 'numerical identity of person', thus requiring an indiscernibility with regard to more properties than Vallicella intended), because taking (3) as a statement of the sameness of person, his argument can't be that divine properties and human properties contradict [i.e., if taken in the same respect] but simply that one person can't be both divine and human. And if this is true, (2) must mean something like:

The non-intentional properties necessary for being this person, the Son, and the non-intentional properties necessary for being this person, Jesus, are not the same.

But if the only concern is sameness of person, then on the conciliar view of the Incarnation this is false because the only non-intentional properties necessary for being this person, strictly speaking, are those necessary for being this divine person (who becomes incarnate).

So my puzzle is this: I don't see an interpretation on which the three members of the triad can all apply to Chalcedonian incarnationalism. If we take (2) in the sense in which it would apply to Chalcedon, it must mean, "There is a difference in non-intentional properties between the Word in itself and the Word as incarnate" (i.e., the incarnate properties themselves). If this is so, however, no inconsistency is generated unless (3) is meant to indicate that the Word in itself and the Word incarnate are simply the same thing, i.e., the Word cannot, without contradiction, be non-incarnate. I took it to be something along these lines, although perhaps not consistently. If this is the case (3) is inconsistent with (2), but (3) is not orthodoxy. But this is not what Vallicella intended, so it can be set aside.

If (3) is applicable to Chalcedon, it can only be because it simply means "God the Son and Jesus is the same person"; but if this is the case, the whole triad, to be inconsistent, must generate an inconsistency with this in Chalcedonian incarnationalism itself. But it can't, because if we are considering only whether God the Son and Jesus is the same person, (2) does not apply to the Chalcedonian doctrine, because it would have to be taken in a sense that would be exactly equivalent to saying that God the Son and Jesus are not the same person. In this scenario (2) would be inconsistent with (3), but it wouldn't be orthodoxy.

One reason I think I'm definitely missing something is that on both these scenarios (2) and (3) turn out to be direct contradictions; (1) doesn't really add anything. I can't think of a scenario in which it would, however, because I can't think of a scenario in which it would not be both the case that (A) (2) and (3) are direct contradictions; and (B) one of the two contradicts Chalcedonian Christology. This is ultimately why I got a bit sloppy and made my error; I find the argument to be shifty in this way, and can't find an interpretation of the triad that both generates an inconsistency and applies to Chalcedon. Thus my perplexity; I seem to have failed to understand some move in the argument.

Now to other issues. Given my perplexity on the bigger issue I just discussed, I don't know how far off I am in understanding him on these; but I present them in the hopes that, if the preceding doesn't help clarify my perplexity, something in the following might.

I had said that the (orthodox) doctrine of the incarnation "is the doctrine that the unincarnate Word took on incarnate properties." He suggests that I might not have understood the doctrine, and says:

But the Incarnation is not a case of a thing acquiring an accidental property, or a set of accidental properties; the Incarnation is a case of a particular being -- indeed a necessary being -- becoming identical to a particular contingent being.

I'm afraid, however, that the Chalcedonian doctrine is the doctrine that the Word became man by taking on properties, namely, the properties of human nature. In Chalcedonian orthodoxy, the Incarnation is a case of a particular person, who is a divine and necessary being, without ceasing to be a divine necessary being, assuming the properties of contingent human nature so as to be this human being born of Mary who died on the cross. This is the whole point of the two-natures doctrine. This is the whole raison d'etre of the Chalcedonian formula: The divine (and thus necessary) person did not become a contingent (and thus non-divine) person, the divine (and thus necessary) nature did not become a human (and thus contingent) nature; but the person with the necessary nature also assumed or took on a contingent nature.

The Chalcedonian doctrine, in other words, is that something necessary became identical to something contingent only if you mean that something necessary remains identical in the relevant way to that same necessary thing with something contingent added. (I think this is another way of stating the point above.) I don't think I've misunderstood it on this point.

So, for instance, when the question is asked, "how can the Son, who is spatially unlocated also be spatially located?" the answer would be: the Son's being spatially unlocated simply means that the Son has no spatial location in virtue of his divine nature. When He becomes incarnate, He gains a spatial location, but it's not in virtue of His divine nature, but in virtue of His human nature. Likewise, His divine nature is an impassible nature; it remains an impassible nature throughout. The Son cannot suffer in virtue of His divine nature, or perhaps I should say for clarity, the Son cannot suffer-in-virtue-of-His-divine-nature; but He can suffer in virtue of His human nature (or, for clarity again), He can suffer-in-virtue-of-His-human-nature. In other words, impassibility is a natural property; talk about impassibility indicates something about the divine nature. By adding a passible human nature, the Son becomes passible, but in a different respect. It would be possible to argue that it is a contradiction for Him to have both respects. This would be a more direct line of argument than the incompatible triad argument, since it wouldn't be an argument for Chalcedon's inconsistency but for the straight-out falsity of its claims. But I don't see at all on what basis one could argue for this (i.e., that would not be answerable by the reduplicative strategy); so I don't really have anything to say on that point.

So, to sum up, I'm considerably perplexed (hence both the length and the wavering in the post). But I am enjoying the chance to talk about this, and so I thank Bill Vallicella for his response, which has given me further food for thought. I occasionally read his weblog in browsing the philosophy blogs on the web, and it's always a stimulating read. I wish I had his talent for precision while blogging; I have difficulty, I'm afraid, keeping blogging and rambling apart (this post is perhaps an example!). I don't think I really realized that the article and the blog were authored by the same person until I came across the Philosophers' Carnival post; but the reason I picked the article to discuss was that it was a good discussion of the subject. Lots worth thinking about!

Update (25 August 2004): I've given a simpler and clearer summary of my puzzlement here.

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