Transcendental Multiplicity

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The study of the plurality of persons has made us touch on the question of 'number' in God. We have already hinted at this in relation to the word Trinity. Trinitarian faith compels us to acknowledge 'multiplicity': no 'multiple', no real Trinity.

But what is this plurality to do with? The problem arose very early, and with an acerbic punch, in the very first Trinitarian debates within scholastic theology. One of Abelard's first masters, Roscelin de Compiegne, aroused a heated debate by refusing to accept that the three divine persons could be one single reality (una res). For Roscelin, the affirmation that the three divine persons are a single reality cannot enable one to safeguard the givens of faith, since, amongst these persons, only the Son became incarnate. Consequently, Roscelin held that the three persons are three realities (tres res), which nonetheless have power and will in the way in which three angels or three human souls do so.46 This is the origin of the scholastics' question, which is still there in St Thomas' writings: 'Can the three persons be called ''three realities'' (tres res)?'47

Anselm of Canterbury hit back at Roscelin's thesis in his Letter on the Incarnation of the Word. Conceiving Roscelin as a nominalist dialectician, Anselm accuses anyone who holds his view of tritheism: 'Surely either they intend to profess three gods, or they do not understand what they are saying.'48 In Anselm's analysis, the cause of this error is a misunderstanding of how individual and universal are connected: 'For in what way can those who do not yet understand how several specifically human beings are one human being understand in the most hidden and highest nature how several persons, each of whom is complete God, are one God?'49 According to Anselm, Roscelin's thesis introduces a fissure into God's unitary nature.

46 According to Anselm, Epistola de incarnatione Verbi. See also Roscelin's letter to Abelard (PL 178. 357-372). For an exposition of Roscelin's thought about the Trinity, see J. Hofmeier, Die Trinitatslehre des Hugo von St. Viktor, Munich, 1963, pp. 9-26.

47 Thomas, I Sent. d. 25, q. 1, a. 4; cf. Bonaventure, I Sent. d. 25, dubium 3. The question was carried into the twelfth century by Peter Lombard, who notes the Augustinian sources of the idea (I Sent. dist. 25, ch. 2, nos. 4-5; vol. I/2, pp. 193-194).

48 Anselm, Epistola de incarnatione Verbi (2nd version), in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, ed. Brian Davies and G. R. Evans, Oxford, 1998, pp. 233-259, p. 238.

Thus Anselm faults 'Those contemporary dialecticians (rather, those heretical dialecticians) who consider universal substances to be merely vocal eman-ations'.5° On a theological level, the abbot of Bec replies to Roscelin by making a distinction between that which is common within God (the divine essence) and that which is distinct (the persons and their properties). The three persons are one single res (substance or essence); if one chooses to speak of three res, one can only be making the word 'res' stand for the relations, not the substance.51 Anselm retraced the main steps of his reply in a letter addressed to Foulques, bishop of Beauvais, to be read before the assembled Council of Soissons (1092); the council would condemn Roscelin's erroneous conception of the Trinity.

Abelard also reacted against Roscelin's thesis. In a letter sent to the bishop of Paris around 1120, the Master of Pallet explained that the principal aim of his writings on the Trinity was to refute Roscelin's tritheism, condemned by the Council of Soissons.52 The Theologia Summi Boni (and its later elaborations, the Theologia Christiana and the Theologia Scholarium) aim to furnish a defence of traditional Trinitarian doctrine in response to the new 'dialecticians'. In his own thesis, Abelard developed an understanding of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by means of the attributes of power, wisdom, and goodness: we will return to it in connection with the theory of appropri-ations.53 Abelard avoids the perils of tritheism by excluding numerical plurality from God. So, he does not accept that one can speak of God as being 'three' or 'many' (multa) in an unqualified way: God is 'many persons', but he is not 'many', and there is, 'in an absolute sense', no 'three' (triaper se) in God. For Abelard, prefixing 'three' to 'persons', in the phrase 'three persons' is accidental (accidentaliter). Properly speaking, the number is not applicable to God. Because he was quite clearly taking into account only the numerical terms which derive from quantity, Abelard rejects numerical plurality in God and excludes the idea that there is in God a 'three in an absolute sense'. There is a multiplicity of properties or of 'definitions' but there is neither numerical plurality nor diversity in God.54 Thus, it was Abelard who opened the question of 'numerical terms' within scholastic Trinitarian theology.

5° Anselm, Epistola de incarnatione Verbi (2nd version), in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, ed. Brian Davies and G. R. Evans, Oxford, 1998, p. 237; Evans and Davies have 'logicians', not 'dialecticians'. Roscelin's nominalism or 'vocalism' (which claims that only words or vocal sounds and singular things exist) is considered to have been the starting-point for the debate about universals; cf. A. de Libera, La querelle des universaux de Platon a la fin du Moyen Age, Paris, 1996, pp. 142-146.

51 Anselm, Epistola de incarnatione Verbi, ch. 2.

52 C. J. Mews, 'Introduction', in Petri Abaelardi Theologia 'Summi Boni', CCCM 13, Turnh-out, 1987, p. 39; cf. PL 178. 355-358.

53 See below, in Chapter 13, 'The origins of the Idea of Appropriations'.

54 Abelard, Theologia Summi Boni, Book III, ch. I, nos. 5-7 (CCCM 13, pp. 159-161).

In the Sentences, Peter Lombard still thinks of the terms for number and quantity as being closely connected. 'When we say three persons, the number three does not affirm either numerical quantity nor any diversity within God.' For this reason, the Lombard ascribes a purely negative meaning to the 'numbers' we use in speaking of God, as in one, two, three persons. The phrase, 'one Father is used to exclude the idea that there are many Fathers. The expression 'one God' rules out a plurality of gods. The phrase 'many persons' or 'three persons' excludes the idea of God as one single, solitary person (that is, Sabellianism). When we say 'the Father and the Son are two persons', we mean that the Father is not the only person within God, that neither is the Son the only person, and that the Father is not the Son—and so on.55 How can one make positive affirmations about there being 'number' in God without fragmenting the divine unity?

Much nearer to Thomas, the Summa of Alexander of Hales explains that, 'in the divine persons, there is no number in an absolute (simpliciter) sense, and nor can one properly speak of there being so', for that would entail a diversity of substances: there is no 'number' in the quantitative sense, but there is just a 'certain number' of persons at least to the extent that one person is distinguished from another as to origin.56 Albert the Great provides a more detailed consideration, one which distinguishes several kinds of 'numbers'. The important step is his acknowledgement that, 'in a certain way' one can positively affirm that there is a number in God, in relation to the personal distinctions which come about through the properties of origin.57 On the matter of divine unity, Albert has also thought through why one should notice the difference between 'one' as a numerical principle, (relating to number as quantity) and the 'one which is convertible with being' (relating to the oneness which every being has).58 Benefiting from Albert's analysis, Thomas excludes quantitative, numerical manyness from God but recognizes that there is in God a transcendental 'multiplicity'. He takes up this approach in his Commentary on the Sentences (and thus in his tenth Quodlibet), and then, in a more developed way, in the Questions De potentia and in the Summa theologiae.59

Like St Albert, Thomas sets aside the reply to the question made by the Master of the Sentences. In attributing a merely negative function to the numerical terms in our language for God, Peter Lombard only took into account the connection

55 Peter Lombard, Sentences, Book I, dist. 24 (vol. I/2, pp. 187-189).

56 Summa Fratris Alexandri, Book I (ed. Quaracchi, vol. 1, nos. 313-316).

59 De potentia, q. 9, a. 7; ST I, q. 30, a. 3; cf. I Sent. d. 24, q. 1, a. 4; Quodlibet X, q. 1, a. 1.

between plurality and quantity. But the numerical terms in our Trinitarian speech do not just play a negative role: they say something true about the Triune God. It is here that the transcendentals enter the picture. In the same way that one must distinguish between one as the 'numerical principle' and one as 'convertible with being', so one must distinguish the multiplicity which results from quantity and the multiplicity which embraces every genus (like the one), that is, the multiplicity pertaining to the 'transcendentals'.6° One as transcendental ('convertible with being') stands for being in its undividedness: being is one in the degree that it is not divided. This had already been thought through in the study of the unity of God: 'one does not add anything to being, but is just the negation of division; one effectively just means undivided being'.6i Like the affirmation of the unity of each person, affirming the unity of the Triune God thus consists in the affirmation of the reality to which one attributes unity, and in the denial of division.

The one which is convertible with being adds to being only the denial of division; for 'one' means 'undivided being'. Therefore, whenever we call anything 'one' we mean that it is an undivided reality; for instance, to speak of 'one man' is to signify an undivided human substance____when we say 'the [divine] essence is one', the term

'one' refers to the undivided essence; when we say 'person is one' we mean that the person is undivided.62

The originality of Thomas' thought is expressed by the application of this idea to plurality or 'multiplicity' in the Trinity^3

In so far as they enter into statements about God, numerical terms,____are taken from the 'multiplicity' which is transcendental (multitudo secundum quod est transcendens). This multiplicity has the same relationship to the many things of which it is predicated which 'one' has to the 'being' with which it is convertible____when we speak of a 'multiplicity of things', 'multiple' here refers to the things in question with the implication that none of them is divided____and when we say 'there are many persons', we signify those persons, each in its own indivision. For, by deWnition, a 'multiple' is something made up of unities.64

61 ST I, q. 11, a. 1. Being (ens) is one in so far as it is 'non-divided', 'undivided'.

62 ST I, q. 30, a. 3; De potentia, q. 9, a. 7: 'The one which is convertible with being affirmatively posits being itself and adds nothing to it but the denial of a division.'

63 On this topic, see G. Ventimiglia's excellent book, Differenza e contraddizione, Milan, 1997, pp. 191-245.

64 ST I, q. 30, a. 3. In his response to the first objection (ibid., ad 1), Thomas repeats: 'Since ''one'' is a transcendental, it has a wider range of meaning than ''substance'' or ''relation''; so, too, has ''many''. Hence when used of God both terms can stand for both substance and relation according to the context.'

The numerical terms in our Trinitarian language affirmatively posit each reality which they qualify, without adding anything positive to it—for if it did, one would fall straight back into the composition which Abelard and Peter Lombard rightly tried to avoid—except the affirmation of the unity of each person. The transcendental multiplicity of the persons thus consists in the affirmation of each one person, and in the affirmation of the distinction of each person from another. Otherwise put: it affirms each person by adding two negations: the person is undivided, and that person is not someone else.65 In the same way, the theologian can show that multiplicity genuinely belongs to the reality of the Triune God: 'the unity and the multiplicity intended by the numerical terms which we attribute to God does not only exist in our minds, but really exists in God'.66

These remarks show the seriousness with which Thomas addresses himself to the real plurality of the divine persons, without attenuating his concern for the unity and simplicity of the three persons: the upshot is that he can articulate a Trinitarian monotheism. Unity does not exclude plurality, and plurality does not obstruct unity. ' ''One'' does not exclude the ''many'', but rather division____And ''many'' does not exclude unity, but rather division between the realities out of which the manyness comes together.'67 One thus has a theoretical explanation of why it should matter that faith affirms a real plurality of persons. The original concept of transcendental multiplicity expresses the new step which Christianity takes in its understanding of the relation between the one and the many; it is placed at the heart of Trinitarian theology. The introduction of multiplicity (multitudo) into the transcenden-tals is an expression of the key status of plurality in Thomas' own thought. The intelligibility of the profession of faith in a plurality of persons is thus theoretically ensured.

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