The Byzantine Christ (Bathrellos)

Bathrellos, Demetrios.  The Byzantine Christ: Person, Nature, and Will in Maximus the Confessor.  Oxford.

Cappadocian View of person and nature:  ousia has the same relation to hypostasis as common has to particular.  A nature/essence becomes a person/hypostasis by possessing particular idioms.  Problem with this:  if the human nature of Christ lacked particular characteristics, it would not be a real nature (38-39).  For Leontius, however, to nature applies the logos of being while to hypostasis applies the logos of being by itself (41). 

 anhypostasis:  without a person/hypostasis.  The anti-Chalcedonians wanted to prove that without a nature there is not a person, and to introduce a human nature of Christ is to introduce a human person of Christ, which is sheer Nestorianism.  What Leontius wanted to say is that if the human nature existed apart from the Logos, it would exist as a human person.  But it doesn’t exist apart from the Logos. 

 Leontius of Jerusalem defines hypostasis as “distance, separation, and subsisting by itself” (45). 

 We must reject the claim that a human nature cannot exist without a human person.  The human nature of Christ is an authentic human nature.  It never existed as a human person because it never existed apart from the Divine Logos (46). 

 Unity of the Logos and Monotheletism:  It is true that an overemphasis on the divine hypostasis of the Logos in Christology may overshadow and eventually undermine the completedness of Christ’s humanity.  Two points need to be made:  there is no necessary connection between accepting that Christ has a divine hypostasis, on the one hand, and monotheletism on the other hand.  If the will and energy are natural faculties–faculties of the nature–the divinity of the Person does not endanger them (53). 


 Actually than rather denying a human will to Christ, monotheletism resigned it to a merely passive state (66, incidentally, this is the view of hyper-Calvinism). 

 The humanity of Christ is more or less a passive instrument (71). 

 The monothelites operated under the presupposition that a difference of wills necessarily equals an opposition of wills.  This is the same reasoning by today’s postmodern thinkers regarding an ontology of violence:  differance is perceived as violence/opposition. 

 Organon concept:  Is the fact that the Logos moves the human flesh of Christ necessarily a monotheletite statement?  No.  One can say this (per Cyril and Athanasius) as long as one doesn’t undermine the human will (93).  

 The Dyothelite Christology of St Maximus the Confessor

Maximus sought the unity of Christ not on the level of nature but on the level of hypostasis (101). 

Hypostasis: it is an essence with idioms, or the essence of an individual man that includes all his idioms (102).  Mode of existence = it is impossible for beings to exist without their mode of the existence.  However, person is not identical with mode of existence (else we turn the humanity of Christ into a person).  Hypostasis responds to the question “who” and indicates an “I” (104; cf. von Balthasar).  Hypostasis is an ontological category.  It does not have to do with the existential domain in the modern sense nor with the unity of consciousness (104). 

Maximus distinguishes the human nature of Christ from the human person:  a hypostasis subsists by itself.  The humanity of Christ was never a hypostasis because it never subsisted by itself (104). 

Hypostatic (a)Symmetry

In Christ the divine nature exists prior to the human, whereas for man the soul comes into existence simultaneously with the body.  In Christ the divine hypostasis is personal. 

Maximus and Essence

Maximus identifies the divine essence with the three persons of the Trinity, but this is aimed not at erasing the all-important distinction between nature and hypostasis, but rather at excluding any sort of tetra-theistic conception of God which would make the essence would be a fourth God beside the three Persons (109).  Accordingly, Maximus identifies Christ with the two natures, in order to prevent a tertium quid existing alongside the natures (e.g., this is what Bulgakov meant by Sophia).   The “who” is identified with the “whats” without being reduced to them (109-110). 

The Ontological Priority of Person/hypostasis over nature/essence

Hypostasis is necessarily nature but nature is not necessarily hypostasis (111). 

The Logos is identifiable with the Divine Nature according to Nature and with both Natures according to Hypostasis

The flesh differs with the Logos according to essence.  “Therefore, it is clear, that for Maximus, whereas the Logos is identical with both natures according to hypostasis–since both natures are united in one hypostasis, which is identical with the incarnate logos, who is their hypostasis–he is identical wtih the incarnate Logos–he is identical only with the divine nature according to nature (112).


Notes on Muller’s PRRD vol 4

Roscellin: confirmed anti-realist.  This view led him to declare that every existent thing is a unique individual: so-called universals are “mere words.” (Muller 26).  

The problem with Boethuis’s definition of person:   The definition ultimately poses all manner of problems for the doctrines of Trinity and Christ when the concept of individual substance is taken to indicate a unique entity essentially distinct from other similar entities” (27).  

Anselm on Human nature:  Human nature refers to the conjunction of the several properties and predicates that identify the nature, generally considered, as human—and this is prior to the more particular consideration of the single person as human, as participating in human nature. (27)

Anselm on Filioque:  followed standard Augustinian line that the processions::psychological love

  • As for the Greek claim that the concept of double procession resulted in the error of two ultimate principles in the Godhead, Anselm could respond that just as the creation of the world by all three persons does not result in a theory of three ultimate principles, so does the procession of the Spirit from the Father and the Son not result in a theory of two principles: for the three persons create as one God, and the Father and the Son are one God in the procession of the Spirit (Muller)

Difficulty of Defining “Person.”

Alexander of Hales:  good is self-diffusive.   bonum est diffusivum sui.  “Thus, the “distinction” of the persons in the one divine essence is the “difference of relation or of mode of existing” that arises “by reason of origin.’  (Muller 39). Further, “Thus, according to Alexander, distinction in God between essence and person is not a real distinction (secundum rem), but only a distinction of the rational intellect (secundum intelligentiam rationis); nonetheless, the distinction between persons is real even in God

Alexander objects to the claim that the distinction between persons and essence or between relations and the divine substance must either be according to substance or such as subsists between a thing and another thing (secundum rem) or merely according to our intellect (secundum intellectum solum). The first distinction would rule out divine simplicity, the latter would render the Trinity a doctrine fashioned in the human mind. Alexander responds that, in its inward economy, the one and same divine essence, is disposed as Father, who is neither generated nor proceeded from another; as Son, who is generated from another; and as Spirit, who proceeds from both—and that this manner or mode of being is “not merely according to the acceptation of out understanding, but in fact according to the thing itself.” Thus the Godhead must be considered both in terms of “the identity of substance” and in terms of “a disposition according to the consideration of origin or first principle”—in the first instance, there is the essential identify of the divine persons, in the second, there is the disposition or plurality of the Godhead according to “the predicament of relation” (40)

Thomas Aquinas

Latin authors preferred to speak of the Father as principium rather than cause, unlike the Greeks.  An efficient cause, for example, is perceived of as a different substance than its effects (Muller 47)!

Aquinas’s denial of real distinction is a denial of a substantial distinction.   He wants to deny that any distinction that would make the essence one “thing” and the “persons” other “things.”

Attributes do not result in a conceptual opposition.  Relations do.

Early Reformation Doctrine of Trinity

Structure of the Book

Clarifying medieval discussions on filioque:  all Westerns agreed that the Spirit proceeded from Father and Son as from one principia.  Causal language was eventually abandoned, for it implied the Son/Spirit to be of a different substance (effects are not the same substance as causes).  Further, and right before the Reformation, the Trinitarian life ad intra was lining up with the work ad extra (Muller 59).

The Reformation forced thinkers to restate the doctrine of the Trinity anew.  Advances in historical criticism and typology meant that some exegesis needed revisiting.  Muller notes three basic issues: the inheritance of Patristic vocabulary, renewed exegetical battles against the Socinians, and a new philosophical vocabulary (62).  

Subordination:  talk of Christ’s subordination referred to his mediatorial kingdom, when he handed it over to the Father (115).

The Terms of Trinitarian Orthodoxy

Trinitas: equivalent to Trium Unitas: “the subject itself, in its primary definition, denies composition in the Godhead” (169). God is not unitary, but unum; not triplex, but trinum.

Substantia, essentia, ousia: with regard to substance, the individual is primary and the genus secondary in the ontic sense. A genus will always be the predicate of a primary.  We would say “Simon is a man” and not “man is a simon.”

Keckerman:  essence is the whatness or quiddity, substance the existing individual.


Tertullian: a persona is identified by one who has substantia (178).

Socinians: person is identified with primary essence, which would yield three gods.  This allowed them to exclude Son and HS from Godhood.

Turretin: person is an individual intellectual suppositum (III.xxiii.7).  See 2 Cor. 1:11.

Proprietates, relationes, and notiones:

Property:  a distinguishing characteristic of a subsistence not shared with other subsistences (187).

Notio: the way in which the three subsistences are distinct from one another.






The Trinity of Persons in their Unity and Distinction: Theology and Exegesis in the Older Reformed Tradition

Calvin: (see mainly Institutes 1.13.1).

Bullinger: Decades 4.3

Musculus: essence signifies that which is common; substance that which is proper to all persons.  Musculus follows Hilary and Jerome where substance is hypostasis, rather than ousia (Muller 206).

Order and Distinction of the Persons

Keckermann: the mode of God’s existence does not differ from the mode of God’s essence. The persons are distinct not by degree, state, or dignity, but by the order, number, and manner of doing (Trelcatius).

Objection: does essential identity demand personal identiy? The Reformed generally respond that this is true for finite essences (Muller 211).  The orthodox are slowly moving away from the old Cappadocian argument of three men having the essence of manness. The problem is that this moves from “genus (man” to “Genus (God)”, yet God isn’t a genus.

Nor is it a quaternity: the three persons plus the one essence.  Persons and essence are not distinct as a thing (res).

Exegetical Issues and Trajectories

The Reformers assumed a hermeneutic of movement from shadow and promise to fulfillment (214).

The Deity and Person of the Father

Covenant of redemption:

Eternal decree and election of Christ.  God works either by his decree or the execution of it (Perkins). As the Reformed saw that this was Trinitarian, they began to see the covenant of redemption.

The order of the persons ad intra in the opera personalia is mirrored ad extra in the opera appropriata (Muller 268).  These are modes of operation contributing to the ultimately undivided work of the Godhead ad extra. The works of the Son and Spirit terminate on their persons.  By terminate we mean the terminus is paired with a fundamentum. This pair means a relation of acts bringing about relations (268). The fundamentum is the source; the terminus is the conclusion of the action constituting the relation.

Venema: “The Father being the originating–the Son the efficient–and the Holy Spirit the Perfecting cause.”

The Person and Deity of the Son

The problem of subordination:   Col. 1:15 uses protokotos, not protoktistos.  Lordship, not creation (Rijssen).

Generation: a communication of personal existence without any multiplication or division of essence (284).

Aseity of the Son

The issue: Calvin denies explicitly that the Son is from the Father “with respect to his eternal essence” (Muller 325). The Son is generated per Sonship, not divinity.

However, Ursinus: the essence is absolute and communicable.  The person is relative and incommunicable.

Arminius rejected Calvin’s view, insisting that “Christ, as God, has both his sonship and his essence by generation” (329).

Procession of the Holy Spirit

The Reformed try to get around the asymmetry of the Father and Son generating a divine person while the Spirit does not, in the following way:  “in modo, since the way of generation terminates not only in the personalitas of the Son but also in a ‘similitude’, according to which the Son is called the image of the Father, and according to which the Son receives the property of communicating that essence to another person. In contrast, the Spirit does not receive the property of communicating that essence to another person, inasmuch as the way of spiration terminates only in the personalitas of the Spirit and not in a similitude of the Father

Review: Plantinga, Nature of Necessity

The most difficult yet most important book (outside of Bible) I have read. Somebody described this book perfectly: “I felt like I was up against a Level 97 Boss and I was only Level 70.”plantinga

Plantinga begins his survey of modal ontology with a discussion of de re and de dicto statements.

de dicto: predicates a modal property of another dictum or proposition (Plantinga 9).
de re: x has a certain property essentially.

The problem: “suppose we are given the object x and a property P. Is it possible to state general directions for picking out some proposition–call it the kernel proposition with respect to x and P–whose de dicto modal properties determine whether x has P essentially” (30)?

While such a question seems arcane, it does allow Plantinga to furnish the theist with a number of highly useful concepts and tools, like possible worlds. A possible world is the way things could have been, a possible state of affairs (44). But not every possible world is a possible state of affairs. “A state of affairs must be maximal or complete.”

From this Plantinga gives a fine, if not always lucid, presentation of essence and nature. An essence could also be a set of properties (76). An essence is a set of world-indexed properties (i.e., that is those which exist in every possible world; 77). Essential properties: the properties Socrates has in every world he exists. Essence: the instantiation of the above properties.

Plantinga uses these tools to deal with the atheologian’s problem of evil. First of all, what is freedom? Freedom: no causal laws and antecedent conditions determine whether I will or will not act.

The initial defense: a world containing creatures who are sometimes significantly free is more valuable, all things considered, than a world with no freedom (166). Therefore, creatures that are capable of moral good are also capable of moral evil.

The problem: if God is omnipotent, then how come he couldn’t create a world where all the creatures freely do what is good? Plantinga takes a brief detour and clarifies what we mean by creation. God does not create everything (e.g., he does not create his own properties, for example). Rather, God creates some things and God actualizes states of affairs (169).

Plantinga gives a rather dizzying survey of the Ontological Argument. While I have my doubts on its psychological efficacy in debates, the Ontological Argument, especially Plantinga’s retelling of it, serves a crucial role in defining what we mean by God and what it means for God to have properties.

This allows Plantinga to utilize the concept of Transworld Depravity: Every world that God actualizes, given person P’s freedom, P takes at least one wrong action (185). It is possibly true (not necessarily) that any world God actualizes has P doing wrongly.

Plantinga concludes his discussion with the Ontological Argument. The crux of the matter is this: a) is existence a predicate? b) is existence a great-making property?

Kant denies (a). I am not sufficient to judge whether he is right or not. In any case, (b) is more interesting. Can (b) be proven adequately to the unbeliever? Maybe, maybe not. However, for the believer for whom the existence of God is already a settled issue (whether rightly or wrongly) (b) certainly follows (and thus informs one’s systematic theology).

Further, given Plantinga’s possible worlds semantics, a maximally great being will exist in every possible world.


This is the hardest book I’ve ever read. The above is a fourth grade summary of what I think Plantinga said. The appendix on symbolic logic is like what math would look like if it were designed by Satan.

I found a lot of useful logical tools. I am not sure all of Plantinga’s arguments are fully developed. For example, I like the idea of transworld depravity. I am just not sure why the atheologian will not object in the following way: “Why could God not create a world in which transworld depravity doesn’t obtain? Must freedom then entail transworld depravity?” Indeed, this is problematic for the doctrine of creation.

A patristic ordo theologiae

The following summary comes from years of studying and interacting with Joseph Farrell’s theological works.  I had a breakthrough yesterday on the nature of the soul. Many substance dualists see the soul as the person, yet Christologically this is impermissible, as Christ has two souls yet is one person. Farrell’s definition of the person, as seen below, shows that the person is more than the soul.  This is why animals have souls but they aren’t persons.ghd

Def. Person = an absolutely undefinable concrete uniqueness without analogy to any other person, save in that very uniqueness.  It is important to remember that we are not defining person in terms of the functions of soul or nature.

Leontius refined it to mean “being-for-oneself.”  It is what distinguishes a concrete being from others of the same genus (HuvB 223). It is the ontological subject of the ascription of an essence, not the consciousness of such a subject.

Some terms:

  1. soul: the animating principle.  Not to be confused with the idea of “person.”
  2. nature: the whatness of a thing. Nature exists in a “mode of existence,” which is the hypostasis (Loudonikos 93ff). Essence, substance, being, genus, or nature.  The actual concrete reality of a thing, the underlying essence, (in earlier Christian thought the synonym of physis.)
  3. attribute: the static quality which something possesses (I prefer the term property).
  4. operations: the dynamic quality which something does by virtue of being what it is.
  5. Agency: surprisingly, a nature can function as an agent, in that natures have operations.  This doesn’t confuse person and nature, though, since the doing of a nature is seen more in the category of capacity.
    1. If an individual person acts, then it is the mode of his operation and such mode is exclusively personal.

The ordo:

Persons –> operations –> essence

Who is doing it? What are they doing? What are they that are doing these things? Heresies in the early church arose by confusing the essence with some operation (Eunomianism–seeing the nature in terms of the operation of unbegottenness).



Definition of Essence

Some notes from Jay Richards’ Untamed God.

The definition of essence is a set of properties that an entity exemplifies (64). A property is some fact or truth about an entity in the world.  In our usage we want to say that Socrates has necessary/essential properties without saying that Socrates is necessary to every possible world.  We would say it like this:

“S has P and there is no W in which S has the complement ~P of P.  

Property actualism states that S has no properties in worlds in which he does not exist.

□(x)(P(x) → E(x))

Therefore, The essentialist argues that there is a distinction between essential divine properties and accidental (contingent) divine properties (90). Property: a state of affairs concerning entities of different types. While saying there are contingent properties in God seems to depart from the tradition, it really doesn’t.  God’s deciding to create the world is a contingent divine property. God has P in every world.  God’s essence is concretely instantiated in every possible world (95). God’s essential attributes, those he has in every possible world, are divine ‘perfections’ (96).  “They include all those properties susceptible to perfection.”

Review: Untamed God

This is a magnificently fine book.  Richards seeks to offer a robust defense of classical theism, yet he is sensitive to the challenges. He mostly succeeds.

Thesis:  “Christians should affirm that God has an essence, which includes his perfections and essential properties, and should attribute to God essential and contingent properties” (Richards 17).

Essentialism: belief that so-called ‘de re’ modality is relevant to our understanding of God.  It is appropriate to speak of a cluster of properties which God necessarily exemplifies and without which he would not be God, and contingent properties which he only has in some possible worlds (18 n1).

In chapter 2 he gives a dizzying, yet helpful account of modal logic.  He presents the S5 system, in which all possible propositions are necessarily possible.  This allows him to draw upon Plantinga’s account of possible worlds as “maximally consistent states of affairs.”  

The definition of essence is a set of properties that an entity exemplifies (64). A property is some fact or truth about an entity in the world.  In our usage we want to say that Socrates has necessary/essential properties without saying that Socrates is necessary to every possible world.  We would say it like this:

“S has P and there is no W in which S has the complement ~P of P.  

Property actualism states that S has no properties in worlds in which he does not exist.

□(x)(P(x) → E(x))

Therefore, The essentialist argues that there is a distinction between essential divine properties and accidental (contingent) divine properties (90). Property: a state of affairs concerning entities of different types. While saying there are contingent properties in God seems to depart from the tradition, it really doesn’t.  God’s deciding to create the world is a contingent divine property. God has P in every world.  God’s essence is concretely instantiated in every possible world (95). God’s essential attributes, those he has in every possible world, are divine ‘perfections’ (96).  “They include all those properties susceptible to perfection.”

Richards has several chapters on Barth and Hartshorne, noting some promising moves in the former and rebutting the latter.  The chapter on Barth traded on an unresolved question:  Did Barth hold to strong actualism?  I think he did.  Richards isn’t so sure.

He ends the book with a fine chapter on divine simplicity, noting the numerous ways it has been employed in the Tradition:

(1) all divine properties are possessed by the same self-identical God.
(2) God is not composite, in the sense that he is not made up of elements or forms more fundamental than he is.
(3) God’s essence is identical with his act of existing.
(4) All God’s essential properties are coextensive.
(5) All God’s perfections are identical.
(6) All God’s properties are coextensive
(7) God’s essential properties and essence are strictly identical with himself.
(8) All God’s properties are strictly identical with himself.

Question: when the medieval denied God has accidents, is he denying what the essentialist is affirming, that God has contingent properties (225)?  Maybe not.  The essentialist, for example, says contingent relations are divine accidents, but Thomas calls these external relations ad extra.

The medievals denied that “goodness” and the like were accidental to God, because they (rightly) wanted to deny that God participates in the form of Goodness.  But this isn’t what the essentialist is claiming.

Therefore, the essentialist accepts (1)-(4), noting that “existence” today doesn’t have quite the same connotations as existence did for Thomas.  (5) is tricky.  (6) seems unproblematic.  (7)-(8) are deeply problematic.