How Scotus Might Gift Zizioulas Coherence

Zizioulas’ musings evoke images for me that work really well, metaphorically & theopoetically.

And any rhetorical & liturgical approach, which is that existentially persuasive & intuitively appealing, just has to implicate some coherent ontological account?

For example,

  • 1) Leading w/hypostases rather than ousia,
  • 2) recognizing, in the order of intelligibility, the essential dependencies of individual essences,
  • 3) interpreting each as personal &
  • 4) trinitarian dynamics as relational –

How might we best conceive such modes of identity?

Scotus, too, eschews substantial references to hypostases (e.g. primary substances & subsistences), recategorizing them as exemplifications!

He doesn’t altogether abandon substance-talk, but relocates primary substance to ousia (Thomist analogue being secondary substance), thus avoiding causal dynamics (act-potency ascriptions).

Zizioulas’ critics point out that, at some point, he must retrieve substantial distinctions into his relational ontology to avoid conundra of the one & the many & metaphysically differentiate un/created realities and I suspect Scotus could gift the coherence, which some opinions (nod to the Dude) hold, his account lacks!?

A Scotus Glossary

divine realities

  • extreme realism
  • numerically singular essence
  • immanent universal
  • communicability or predicability = exemplifiability
  • persons = exemplification
  • individuality is not nonexemplifiability but indivisibility
  • communicable essence (like secondary substance)
  • indivisible essence (like primary substance)
  • persons = exemplifications not individuals or substances (b/c incommunicable)

determinate realities

  • moderate realism
  • numerically many essence
  • created universal
  • divisibility = instantiability
  • individuality = noninstantiability
  • persons = individuals or substances (communicable)

The Scotist approach to divine syllogistics is not over against, for example, the Thomist, but addresses divine realities on its own terms. Both Scotistic & Thomistic trinitarian approaches well conform to our classical creedal formulations.

There are theological contours implicit in our creeds, which, when explicated, metaphysically, can only employ meta-ontological, semantic references, not ontological descriptions. The Scotistic glossary makes more explicit how this is the case, when differentiating divine & determinate realities by using neologisms. Of course, the definition of such coinages still must make explicit the extensive nuancing required in distinguishing divine & aristotelian syllogistics.

For example, such nuancing as set forth in a Dionysian-type logic, where:

God is | x | is true kataphatically & trans-analogically; as a simile, analogically & literally or metaphorically & nonliterally;

God is | not x | is true apophatically & literally; and

God is neither | x | nor | not x | is true relationally & really.

Put another way, consider DBH’s admonition from The Hidden & the Manifest:

This donation of being is so utterly beyond any species of causality we can conceive that the very word cause has only the most remotely analogous value in regard to it. And, whatever warrant Thomists might find in Thomas for speaking of God as the first efficient cause of creation (which I believe to be in principle wrong), such language is misleading unless the analogical scope of the concept of efficiency has been extended almost to the point of apophasis.

I’m sympathetic to Zizioulas’ eschewal of substance-talk in trinitarian logistics. However, I receive it as more of a rhetorical than substantial (double entendre intended) critique, because, point of fact, properly parsed & nuanced, neither Latin nor Greek Fathers, Augustinians nor Cappadocians, Chalcedonians nor Alexandrians, Thomists nor Scotists, when speaking of the Trinity, however much they may have implicitly relied on a univocity and/or analogy of being, ever really employed ontological categories, such as in terms of modes of being. Rather, properly understood, they spoke semantically using meta-ontological categories, such as in terms of modes of identity.


This category error should be avoided when critiquing other trinitologies or we’ll end up caricaturizing them.

If Zizioulas wanted to advance our trinitarian conceptions, idiomatically, perhaps he could’ve followed in Scotus’ footsteps, updating Scotus’ neologisms? And perhaps he should’ve begun his project meta-ontologically using vague semantical references rather than ontologically with robust metaphysical descriptions?

How might one commence such a project?

A Proposed Relational Meta-ontology Glossary

Personhood – a cluster concept including communion & otherness

Essence or ousia – primary not secondary substance for divine realities

Divine person – exemplification of relational personhood & incommunicable

Human person – individual self-consciousness, communicable or predicable

Person – cluster concept including ekstasis (moving toward communion or unitive striving) & hypostasis (particularity or haecceity via idiomata)

The Father – not personal cause but unoriginate originator in order of intelligibility (essential dependencies) & eternally generating (donatively & eucharistically) communion & otherness (persons via ur-kenosis)

Essential Dependencies – donatively gift not what one is, essentially, but how one is, economically, in the order of intelligibility not ontologically, not a substantial subordination

Divine Other – person or hypostasis, neither an individual (i.e. not an indivisible essence or primary substance) nor an essential nature (i.e. not a communicable essence or secondary substance)

Human Other – person or hypostasis as self with both individual & essential natures

The One or monasBegetter and Emitter, of whom the others are the one begotten and the other the emission

Necessity – refers to ousia or nature but only applies to instantiations of secondary substances (hence not predicated of divine primary substance)

Divine Nature or Essence or Ousia – refers to primary substance as numerically singular essence, which, as an immanent universal exhibits communicability or predicability or exemplifiability (hence not predicated of human primary substances, which instantiate only created universals or secondary substances)

Necessary Being – Borrowing Hartian phraseology, this language is misleading unless the analogical scope of the concepts of necessity & being have both been extended almost to the point of apophasis, for divine ousia refers to primary substances & created ousia refers to secondary substances, where necessary or contingent ordinarily would refer to the hypostatic instantiations of same.

Divine Necessary Being – could only refer to personal hypostatic exemplifications of the divine ousia as the numerically singular, communicable primary substance, which entails eternally communicating communion (ekstasis) & otherness (hypostasis). As such, in a dynamical, relational ontology, necessity would refer not to an essential whatness but the economical howness of divine realities, which does not involve causal, substantial transmissions but unitive strivings, loving relationalities or perichoresis, which, semantically, are logically not ontologically necessary. Hence, beyond the primally gratuitous paterological ur-kenosis, ad intra, a pneumatological kenosis ad extra donates the gratuity of creation & a Christological kenosis gifts the gratuity of grace. And by gratuitous, we mean radically free.

Divine Oneness – can be expressed

  • 1) essentially (singular, communicable, primary substance, whatness or propria of esse naturale), an Augustinian conception
  • 2) hypostatically (ad intra paterological ur-kenosis & Christological & pneumatological ad intra communing and ad extra kenoses, howness or idiomata) and
  • 3) dynamically (synergeia of trinitarian will, of the esse intentionale via energeia & oikonomia).

After Thoughts

To me, this would all still entail, it seems, only an “analogy of universals,” which would implicate an extreme realism for the immanent divine universals but only a moderate realism for instantiable created universals.

If, by universals, one refers to shared properties like HOW one acts & as WHAT one acts,

Then, even unable to generically specify WHAT thus acts divinely, i.e. only able to apophatically say what one is not & only able to analogically imagine what one is connotatively like,

One could apophatically distinguish divine & creaturely realities by defining the latter’s shared essences as divisible, the former’s as NOT so & the latter’s persons (substances or individuals) as communicable, the former’s persons (nonsubstantial exemplifications) as NOT so.

Such apophatic predications of the divine essence would guarantee more conceptual compatibility & logical consistency than related, but still very much distinct, kataphatic affirmations.

For example, to be more clear that I wouldn’t mean to say that the divine essence is one per some strictly numeric determination, I’d want to say, instead, that it includes, rather, Oneness, itself (per a verbally iconic denomination.) And I’d emphatically not want to refer to divine being per any strictly generic determination but, instead, refer, rather, to Being itself, again, strictly denominatively.

Orthodox Dialogue on the Trinity

The Father is the primordial source (arch‘) & ultimate cause (aitia) of the divine being. ~ 1992 Orthodox-Reformed dialogue

in ineffable ways that are beyond all time (achronos), beyond all origin (anarchos), & beyond all cause (anaitios). Orthodox-R. Catholic dialogue 2003

Not everything Torrance had to say is acceptable to the Orthodox. The disagreements are real & not trifling. But the affinities also are significant, & the mutual respect is profound.

Such language is misleading unless the analogical scope of the concept of efficiency has been extended almost to the point of apophasis. ~ DBH, The Hidden & the Manifest 4/

What’s instructive about the trinitarian dialogue cited above, beyond the significant descriptive & normative agreements expressed in those joint statements, is the manner in which it was conducted with such prayerful, respectful, charitable dispositions of all participants. 5/5
In recent years, with much dialogue & many joint declarations among Anglican, Roman, Orthodox & even Reformed traditions, even interpretations of such as the MOF & Filioque present fewer conceptual stumbling blocks to a rather BROAD creedal consensus re Trinitarian doctrine?


A Brief Defense of Common Sense

Our “participatory imagination” engages “common sense.”


Our common sense derives from events encountered, first, nondiscursively & preconceptually, & is, next, articulated by our stories, & finally, organized by our conceptual mapmaking.


I have chosen to interpret Aquinas, Scotus & Peirce as providing meta-ontological heuristics that, more than almost anything else, amount to a robust defense of common sense & insistence on the epistemic indispensability of our participatory imagination.


Why, then, all the subtlety, nuance & neologisms? Why a Summa, for goshsakes? How, then, do such peripatetic wanderings arrive at anything more than a metaphysical haystack of philosophical straw, if all we’re talking about is common sense?


That irony comes about precisely because, as we employ our common sense & participatory imagination, we’ll often discover, nondiscursively, more than we can say, discursively, and we’ll often know, preconceptually, more than we can map, conceptually.


Many have variously described distinct aspects of this “knowing” such as in terms of connaturality (Maritain), an illative sense (Cardinal Newman), a tacit dimension (Polyani) & abduction (Peirce), all which are prior to robustly inferential understandings, for example, of creedal & moral realities. Such a knowing can be existential, confessional, performative & participatory, though always certainly anticipating, albeit inchoately, sapiential, theoretical, informative & conceptual formulations.


There’s undeniably a sensus fidei (of laity, theologians & bishops) that might be conceived as a charism of discernment & graced via nondiscursive instinct, intuition, empathy, heart knowledge, innate inclinations or synderesis. And it’s going to be obscure & unsystematic before it gets discursively appropriated with any degree of conceptual clarity. We must not forget that this sensus, as grace, pertains to all the faithful, and that we can learn something of God even from the ordinary, distracted, confused, ill-informed, sinful, & ecclesially marginalized. This is also why a written tradition presupposes an oral tradition, wherein the stories once told & prayers once prayed will indispensably contribute to any proper theological interpretation beyond mere texts.


So, there’s a LOT going on of a logical nature, tacitly & implicitly, in our common sense & participatory imagination. And they’re so fearfully & wonderfully made that it’s systematic explication does require no small effort that yields no simple schema. Their elaboration yields such as the first principles & the various causations, entails realism & fallibilism, eschews nominalism & essentialism and norms practical reasoning even under speculative uncertainty.


For a good grasp of how our participatory imagination works, think of how one’s “hometown knowledge” works. To give a stranger directions, one needs determinative descriptions like how many blocks (numerically), which direction (locatively), which street signs (indexically) and, perhaps, a map. To give a fellow inhabitant directions, one who participates in the same imaginary, one might only require a denominative connotation: “You’re looking for directions to the local IGA store? Ha ha, silly! That’s just Mr. Gower’s Grocery!”


The chief problem with dismissing our concrete participatory imagination & common sense, esteeming only conceptual map-making, is that we can inadvertently jettison first principles, causations & realism, things we’ll want to go beyond but never without. We’ll end up subverting science, itself, along with our common sense, embracing epistemic dead-ends like logical positivism, radical empiricism, metaphysical ignosticism, theological noncognitivism & scientism.


What I personally discovered in examining the defense of common sense as inheres in Aristotle, Aquinas, Scotus, Peirce, Maritain, Newman, Polyani et al is a type of second naiveté, a re-enchantment, the realization that, everything I felt & believed, when making my joyous First Communion, when learning my Latin responses as an altar boy, when baptized in the Spirit & first prayed in tongues, is ultimately eminently defensible, philosophically, and still rationally actionable, existentially. The proper use of my common sense & participatory imagination in a community of earnest inquiry & value-realization very well epistemically entitled me long before I had a more precise understanding of how. I’ve told my loved ones that, if they trust their common sense & participate in an earnest community of value-realizers, they don’t have to follow my path, where I happily discovered thru various means that my common sense was justified by that grace we experience as common sense, itself. The rest is — so much straw!

2 thoughts on “How Scotus Might Gift Zizioulas Coherence

  1. From the semantic references of divine trinitarian syllogistics, while we hesitate to articulate their metaphysical implications, for example, regarding substantial, hypostatic & dynamical forms of unity, we can properly imagine (via our vague categories & concepts) that there’s something super-eminently integral, intimate & invitatory about divine realities.


  2. Below’s a great example of a trinitarian argument engaged as a logical exercise, semantically, creedally affirming THAT the nature & hypostases relate per certain essential & personal modes of identity, i.e. not HOW, ontologically, per modes of being.


    Trinitarian syllogistics re essential & personal modes of identity don’t gift us wholly comprehensible conceptions – no-thing that should urge one to issue forth with rich & literal analogical discourse, ontologically (e.g. a decadent scholasticism?).

    Instead, suitably constrained, apophatically, such semantic logics do, otherwise, urge us to burst forth with rich theopoetic imagery precisely b/c what’s analogically impoverished can still be metaphorically fecund, if only b/c, lacking such onto-undergirding, those metaphors will necessarily cascade & collapse very quickly?


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