"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

— A Commentary on the Third Part of St Thomas' Theological Summa

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.


Two Theories About The Hypostatic Union

It is of faith, as we have said, that the union of the two natures in Christ was personal or subsistential,[469] as the Council of Ephesus stated,[470] and for this reason the union is called hypostatic. But theologians dispute about what formally constitutes a person, or what is meant properly by personality or subsistence.

Hence, after a brief examination of the theories condemned by the Church, we must explain those freely disputed among theologians.

Theories condemned by the Church. There are two, namely, Gunther's system that reduces personality to consciousness of oneself, and Rosmini's that would have personality to consist in freedom of will or in dominion over oneself.

Gunther's theory.[471] According to Gunther the fundamental question in philosophy is the theory of knowledge, which, he said, has its foundation in the consciousness of oneself, which is what Descartes taught. Gunther rejects pantheism, of course, but he admits a substantial unity of all created beings, considering these to be manifestations of the same substance, which he calls nature. This nature that is unconscious of itself, becomes conscious in man.

Hence Gunther holds that personality properly consists in a consciousness of oneself, and this note belongs to the rational soul.

From the notion of personality Gunther seeks to explain the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation. He is unwilling to admit that God is conscious of Himself by His essence, for then there would be only one person in God. If, therefore, says Gunther, God knows Himself, it is because in Him subject and object are in opposition, and he affirms the equality of each. The subject conscious of itself is the Father, the object conscious of itself is the Son; finally, the consciousness of equality between each results in the Holy Spirit. Thus Gunther seeks to demonstrate the Trinity, and reduce it to the order of philosophical truth. In this we have the essence of semi-rationalism, which does not deny supernatural revelation, but seeks to reduce all revealed mysteries to truths of the natural order, as if revelation were supernatural only as to the manner of its production, not substantially or essentially, namely, on the part of the object revealed.

Gunther also denies the freedom of creation, admitting the absolute optimism of Leibnitz. Just as the elevation of the human race to the supernatural order was necessary, as Baius contends, so also was the Incarnation.

Finally, Gunther explains the union of the Word incarnate. His theory that personality consists in a consciousness of oneself leads to Nestorianism, for there are in Christ two consciousnesses, just as there are two intellectual natures. Gunther, however, in order to avoid the heresy of Nestorianism, devises a theory that scarcely differs from it, inasmuch as he makes the human nature in Christ conscious of its subordination and dependence on the divine nature. But this condition is already verified in all the saints, and is not something special that is found in Christ alone.

This theory, as also Gunther's semi-rationalism, was condemned by Pius IX in his papal brief to Cardinal de Geissel, archbishop of Cologne.[472]

This theory is refuted philosophically and theologically.

Philosophically. Consciousness of oneself testifies to or asserts the identity of our person, but does not constitute it. This means that we know and remember from our past lives that we are the same persons, and consciousness of ourselves tells us that we are today the same persons we were in the past. Therefore both memory and consciousness imply or presuppose an already constituted person; they merely announce the presence of or are attributed to person. They constitute only the psychological aspect of personality.

Hence the saying: I am conscious of myself or of my personality; if consciousness constituted personality, we should have to say: I am conscious of my consciousness. Person is a substance, whereas consciousness is an act.

Confirmation of the preceding. If consciousness together with memory constituted personal identity, this identity would be lessened, in fact would be destroyed, as often as the exercise of memory or consciousness is lessened or suspended.[473]

Expressed briefly, a person is a subject conscious of itself, but it must be first constituted as a subject in order that it be conscious of itself.

Theologically. Gunther's theory is refuted by the very fact that it posits in Christ two persons regardless of his wishes; for Christ's humanity is conscious of itself, and so is the Godhead. Nor does he avoid the error of Nestorianism by saying that Christ's humanity is conscious of the subordination to and dependence on the Godhead; for this union, which is already realized in the saints, is nothing else but a moral and accidental union with God's judgment and will. Pius IX was right in condemning this theory. Modernists express themselves in almost the same terms as Gunther.

Rosmini's theory. Rosmini (1797-1855) did not start, as Gunther did, with the "cogito" of Descartes, being more of an ontologist than Gunther. St. Thomas says: "The first thing conceived by the intellect is being. Hence being is the object of the intellect."[474] But Rosmini teaches[475] that what is first conceived by the intellect is the beginning of being, which is something divine, belonging to the divine nature; it is something divine not by participation, but in the strict sense it "is an actuality that is not distinct from the remainder of the divine actuality";[476] "it is something of the Word."[477]

All Rosmini's theories are deduced from this principle.

1) He seeks to prove the Trinity about the same way Gunther did, by distinguishing in God between subjectivity, objectivity, and sanctity, or between reality, ideality, and morality, inasmuch as these are three supreme forms of the being, namely, subjective being, objective being, and their union by love.[478]

2) He denies the freedom of creation, as Gunther did.[479] He admits generationism or traducianism, saying: "The human soul, by coming in contact solely with its intuitive sentient principle, becomes a being, and by this union that principle, which before was only sentient, becomes intelligent, subsistent, and immortal."[480] Rosmini held that the will constitutes human personality, by which everyone is responsible for and master of himself. Hence Rosmini teaches: "In Christ's humanity, the human will was so rapt by the Holy Spirit to adhere to the objective entity of the Word, that it gave up completely to the Word its human control.... Hence the human will ceased to be personal in Christ as man, and, although it is a person in other human beings, in Christ as man it remained a nature."[481]

This theory is refuted both philosophically and theologically about the same way as Gunther's.

Philosophically. It is false to say that the will constitutes the person in human beings, for the will is attributed to an already ontologically established person, such as Peter or Paul, and the will is this will, since in that it is the will of this particular subject, by itself separately existing. Person is a substance, whereas will is its accident, an inseparable accident, indeed, but a predicamental accident, although it is not a predicable, which means that it is not contingent.

Theologically. Rosmini's theory leads to Nestorianism, for the union it admits is only a union of wills or a moral union, such as we find in the saints, who would differ from Christ only according to the degree of their love for Him.

What results from the condemnation of these two theories?

It follows that merely phenomenalist or dynamistic notions of personality cannot be reconciled with the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation, as we showed in another work.[482]

According to the empiric phenomenalism of Hume, Stuart Mill, and Taine, we have knowledge only of phenomena or states of consciousness, but not of the "ego" itself as substance. But conscious facts are united according to the laws of association, and then personality is established by a dominating state of consciousness. But if there be a psychological disturbance, as in madness, some think that there are two personalities, for at times a person considers himself a king, and at other times a servant.

The rational phenomenalism of Renouvier considers personality to be an a priori form of our mind, which unites all that belongs to us. Our existence is merely so far as it is represented.[483]

As for the dynamic evolutionism or philosophy of becoming (of such philosophers as H. Bergson), person is neither an association of phenomena nor a certain category of the mind, but it is a vital and free impulse, which manifests itself in an unbroken series of divers states of consciousness.

It is evident, however, that the person of the Word incarnate, as conceived by the Catholic Church, cannot be either a certain association of phenomena or a certain category of the mind, or a vital and free impulse; all these pertain to the finite and hence created order, and cannot constitute the uncreated personality of the Word incarnate.

But in contrast to either empiric or rational phenomenalism, or the philosophy of becoming, traditional philosophy may be called the philosophy of being, inasmuch as the formal object of our intellect is neither an internal nor an external phenomenon, nor a category of the mind, but it is the intelligible being of sensible things. This is, as H. Bergson avows, the natural metaphysics of human intelligence, or the conception of natural reason, or the sensus communis, which develops by a gradual process from the confused state of rudimentary knowledge to the clearly defined state of philosophic knowledge. Gradually our intellect ascends from the knowledge of the being of sensible things to the knowledge of the soul and of God, who is conceived as the First Being or as the self-subsisting Being.

According to this philosophy of being, however, person is something more profound than phenomena and their laws, either empiric or a priori, something of even deeper significance than the becoming of being that underlies phenomena, for it is a substance of a rational nature by itself separately existing, or an intelligent and free individual subject, permanent in itself, by itself operating, and hence conscious of itself and because of free will responsible for its actions. Briefly, person is an intelligent and free subject. Hence the aforesaid theories consider only the psychological or moral aspects of personality, but not ontological personality, on which these aspects depend. This ontological personality is that by which a person is a subject or a whole by itself separately existing, intelligent and free.

As we said, a person enjoys a threefold independence, inasmuch as its being, its understanding, and its will are not intrinsically dependent on matter. Thus it is evident that ontological personality is the foundation of psychological personality and of moral personality.

It is also apparent that those notes which constitute personality, namely, a subject subsisting in itself, endowed with intelligence and freedom, are absolutely simple perfections, which can be attributed analogically and in the proper sense to God, whereas, on the contrary, merely phenomenal personality cannot be attributed even analogically to Him, since God is absolutely above the phenomenal order.

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"Let no one wear a mask, otherwise he will do ill; and if he has one, let him burn it."

St Philip Neri

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"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"It is well to choose some one good devotion, and to stick to it, and never to abandon it."

St Philip Neri

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