I was just thinking about how pivotal it is to get foundations right; that is in regards to doing theological and biblical thinking and work. If the theologian or exegete starts at the wrong spot, then all the subsequent thinking after that is built on a sandy land. This is why I think having a robust doctrine of God is so highly important. If we get our doctrine of God wrong, then everything after that will be side-ways. This is concerning to me, and it should be for all Christians (it’s something worthy of loosing sleep over, at points). I was prompted to think a little more about this because of a facebook correspondence I just read from a friends wall. He had mentioned that he was looking for some resources on a ‘substance metaphysics’, and another friend of his (on facebook)—who happens to be an earth shatteringly brilliant theologian, and well known—challenged him by asserting that there is no such thing as a ‘substance metaphysics’ in the history of Christian ideas and interpretation. And yet, this claim (from this well known Roman Catholic theologian)—that there is no such thing as a substance metaphysics in the ‘history’—runs counter to the claim that there indeed is (such a thing as a substance metaphysics).
The way I have always understood a ‘substance metaphysics’ (and I say ‘always’ relatively), is to appeal to something like Aristotle’s (and Thomas Aquinas’ appropriation of this) ‘essence/accidents’ distinction. The essence being the ‘thing’ that represents an essential thing or cluster of things (like attributes) that defines and makes something what it is—like for Thomas Aquinas, the rationale or intellect (the mind) is what is definitive for his anthropology; and being a theologian, for example, is not (this would fall in the realm of accident, for a person could be a person still, without being a theologian; but that person could not be a person without their intellect etc.). And yet, this big name Roman Catholic theologian (on the facebook wall and thread that I am referencing) is challenging anyone to actually define what ‘substance’ means when the theologian refers to a substance metaphysics.
I have a quote somewhere from post Reformed orthodox theologian and historian, Richard Muller, wherein he defines what so called ‘created grace’ entailed in a Medieval theological context (it’s from Muller dictionary of Protestant Latin theological terms). This is where I would go in illustrating an answer to this challenge laid down by this big named Roman Catholic patristics theologian. In other words (and this is just off the top, for the blog), ‘created grace’ is someThing, like a substance or stuff, placed into the accidents of humanity; it is this stuff of grace that man can cooperate with (the habitus), and thereby appropriate salvation by cooperating with God. Or, in Roman Catholic theology, created grace could be illustrated by looking at their view of the eucharist. In other words, the eucharist (the elements of bread and wine), are actually imbued with the actual corporeal body and blood of Jesus Christ (and thus serve as dispensers of God’s grace). So it is the actual ‘substance’ of bread and wine that convey and become God’s grace to humanity; and yet these things are inanimate things, and not personal.
Anyway, I would love to know how this big named Roman Catholic theologian understands this Aristotelian/Thomist distinction of essence and accident; and how this does not flow from what has become known as substance metaphysical.