Monday, February 9, 2009

Problems With Eastern Orthodox: The Person/Nature distinction

In Eastern Orthodox theology there is a distinction between a person and a nature. A nature in this view would be a thing that has instantiated properties. A person is not a nature nor is it an instantiation of a nature. The reason this is so is to avoid Christological heresies such as Nestorianism. For if a person is an instantiation of a nature or is a nature itself then you have two persons in the incarnation which would be Nestorianism. I do not think one has to buy this distinction to avoid Christological Heresies, but nonetheless their motivation is a good one. The problem with this position is that it leads to pure nominalism:

P1: Nominalism is the view that general predications of individual things are merely names and not instances of universals.

P2: The Person is not a instantiation of a universal

C: All predications of a person are nominalistic

If a person does not instantiate any universals then what is predicated of the person is merely a fictional title or a title based on names alone. This is significant because the Eastern Orthodox often accuse Protestants of being nominalists because of their view of legal justification by faith alone (as if nominalism in all respects were irrational or theoretically deficient). But here it seems that the Eastern Orthodox reasoning on this point is inconsistent and arbitrary since with regards to persons they have no problem with being nominalistic. Thus, this shows two things 1) the eastern view of person is nominalistic, 2) Eastern Orthodox no longer has a philosophical critique about the Protestant view of Justification on the basis that it is nominalistic.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I don't think your syllogism holds at all. P2 is not a normative/dogmatic Orthodox position: what we might be able to say about the Orthodox position is that "hypostasis" is not an instance of nature. If it were, we'd have to accept monophysite theology as normative Christology, though we would still have Trinitarian issues.

I think the problem that critics of nominalism in Protestant though have at root is that nominalism is a late medieval scholastic outgrowth, so if it is foundational to dogmas invented in the the 16th century, it is by definition not relevant to the Apostolic teaching.