Monday, March 06, 2006

The Coherence of the Incarnation

HERE is a logical attack on the coherence of Incarnation.

Vallicella’s argument consists of three parts and is presented as “a trinity of tightly interconnected problems” in the introductory section of his essay:


(P1) How can one person, hence one individual, exemplify seemingly incompatible natures? (P2) How can one person exemplify seemingly incompatible non-nature properties? (P3) How can there be only one person or hypostasis if, as is arguable, the very concept of Incarnation implies that one person incarnates himself in, and as, another person?


He begins with the following assertion:


The difficulty common to (P1) and (P2) may be cast in the mold of an inconsistent triad:
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.

(1) is a version of the Indiscernibility of Identicals, which is surely very secure


The “Indiscernibility of Identicals” is misplaced if we consider that the Incarnation has to do with the identity and continuity of a Person (singular) not of natures (plural).

Then he has an entire section entitled “The Apollinarian Defense and the Ambiguity of ‘Incarnation”. The Apollinarian heresy has to do with how one defines “human nature” and has no bearing on the orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation when human nature is defined correctly.

In the following section, Thomas V. Morris’s treatment of this question in The Logic of God Incarnate, is introduced in terms of the three distinctions he says are raised by Morris.

A clearer and more detailed treatment of Morris’s position can be found HERE.

I was going to say that both Vallicella and Goncalves pick up on a most serious blunder committed by Morris. But on further reflection I’m not sure it is a blunder. In any case, here is how Goncalves puts the knife in:

For example, Morris sees "possibly coming into existence, coming to be at some time" (p.67) as not essential to being fully human. Now, on the traditional Christian view of creation, one which I am fairly confident Morris adheres to (c.f. p.68), it would appear that having a human body implies having been created. If coming into existence is not essential to being fully human (and Morris states that all mere humans are fully human) then there exists at least the logical possibility of the existence of an eternally pre-existent corporeal human being.

Does “the [mere] logical possibility of the existence of an eternally pre-existent corporeal human being” require that such a being actually exist? It’s a bit of the Anselm’s Ontological Argument but in reverse.

Nevertheless, this is no fatal error to Morris’s defense of Orthodox Christology for there is metaphysically nothing to prevent the pre-existent Logos from taking on human nature at some or any point in time.

Vallicella asserts: “But mere humanity is not a kind-nature” .

My response is: “Well how do you know that?

Goncalves, in his essay, spends considerable effort trying to defeat Morris’s distinction between “kind nature” and “individual nature”. He even calls on the great name of Quine. But his efforts are nevertheless inconclusive --- a point conceded by Goncalves himself. And, so Morris’s usage is unfalsified which is all that Morris needed to maintain a successful defense of his position.

Vallicella then brings in S5 modal logic without any explanation as to why it is relevant and makes this most curious conclusion which only serves to support Morris’s thesis :


Of course, given that I am non-divine, and non-abstract, it follows necessarily that I am a contingent being. But it does not follow that I am necessarily a contingent being.

Yeah right, which is also the very condition which permits the Incarnation as a logically coherent possibility.

Vallicella then very perceptively makes the following comment:



“Now being a creature, if not a kind-essence, is surely a general essence. So individual essences are beside the point.”

But even this is not a defeater for Morris’s defence of Orthodox Christology. Consider a genus or a set containing only one being or element. For the purposes of our discussion, let that being be the Creator-creature or the Logos-man individual essence. Is this “individual essence” not also a “kind essence“?

He later seems to recover from his appeal to Apollinarianism in the section entitled “The Asymmetry of Incarnation and the Doctrine of Anhypostasia” but then shows with the following comments how he has completely misconstrued the Incarnation.



“The agent is God the Son, the one who incarnates himself, and does so freely. The locus of Incarnation is the one in whom the Son incarnates himself. Now either the Son incarnates himself in himself, in which case agent and locus are identical, or he incarnates himself in another, in which case agent and locus are distinct. (…) it also has the much more serious defect of violating the result of the last paragraph: to understand the
concept of Incarnation is equivalent to understanding that agent and locus of Incarnation are necessarily distinct.(…) But if the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, this can only mean that the Word became an individual concrete human
being, and not a human being in the abstract. Surely nothing can become man without becoming a man. God can become man only by becoming a particular man. So the point stands: God the Son incarnates himself in, and as, another
.”


There are not two or more persons involved in the Incarnation .There is only one Person, one Principal and He is the Logos who takes on human nature. There is thus no “agent” and there is no “locus”.

He then concludes :



Indeed, this must be the doctrine if it is to avoid both Docetism and Apollinarianism. For if the Logos becomes man without becoming a man complete with a human personality, then either he is only apparently, but not really, a man (Docetism), or he is a divine being in a human body
(Apollinarianism)”

This is indeed a false contrast between Docetism and Apollinarism. Of course , the Incarnate Logos is “a man complete with a human personality”. This is no defeater as regards the Orthodox doctrine of the Incarnation. What Vallicella asserts actually falls into the error of Nestorianism.

Let’s not stop here. We can go beyond these attacks on Orthodox Christology to a more positive formulation of the doctrine. This has already been done in church history and so here are some of these important insights as given in Louis Berkhof’s The History of Christian Doctrines :

“ The important distinction between nature as substance possessed in common, and person as a relatively independent subsistence of that nature, is entirely disregarded” (p.105)

“The most prominent opponent of Nestorianism was Cyril of Alexandria. According to him the Logos … formed the only personal subject in the God-man” (p.105)

“… the ecumenical Council of Chalcedon was convened in the year 451, and issued its famous statement of the doctrine of the Person of Christ. (…) The most important implications (…) are the following : (1) the properties of both natures may be attributed to the one Person, as, for instance, omniscience and limited knowledge (2) the suffering of the God-man can be regarded as truly and really infinite, while yet the divine nature is impassible. (3) it is the divinity and not the humanity that constitutes the root and basis of the personality of Christ (4) the Logos did not unite with a distinct human individual, but with a human nature” (p. 107)

“Leontius [of Byzantium] stressed the fact that the human nature of Christ is enupostasia, not impersonal but in-personal, having its personal subsistence in the Person of the Son of God from the very moment of the incarnation” (p.109)

“(…) the Logos is the formative and controlling agency, securing the unity of the two natures. The Logos did not assume a human individual, nor human nature in general, but a potential human individual, a human nature not yet developed into a person or hypostasis” (p.110)

“ There is a circumincession of the divine and human in Christ, a communication of the divine attributes to the human nature, so that the latter is deified and we may also say that God suffered in the flesh” (p.111)

“(…) there is co-operation of the two natures, and that the one Person acts and wills in each nature” (p.111)

1 comment:

SteveJ said...

The philosophical complexity of trinitarianism is at odds with the New Testament thought-world. The doctrine can't possibly be an essential part of the gospel that the common people heard gladly from Jesus. Who among the common people can even articulate it?