Divine Substance

Divine Substance

Divine Substance

Divine Substance

Synopsis

Oxford Scholarly Classics is a new series that makes available again great academic works from the archives of Oxford University Press. Reissued in uniform series design, the reissues will enable libraries, scholars, and students to gain fresh access to some of the finest scholarship of the last century.

Excerpt

This study belongs partly to logic, partly to the history of ancient philosophy, and partly to theology. I intend to review the concept of substance as developed by the ancient Greek philosophers, and especially by Aristotle; and then to consider how, when, and in what degree this concept affected the doctrine of God developed by Christian writers of the first four centuries A.D., and especially the Trinitarian concept of one God in three Persons.

'The concept of substance' is, of course, a piece of technical shorthand; the so-called concept is really a complex of notions embodied in a changing tradition of philosophical thought. In the main I shall be dealing with the notions expressed by the Greek word ousia and by some other closely related terms which came to be rendered in Latin by substantia. It will soon be made clear that the English word 'substance' is by no means an exact equivalent of ousia; there is of course a continuity of philosophical tradition which connects them, but the English term underlines some of the classical implications of ousia and obscures others. At times it might seem more appropriate to write of the 'being' of God or natural objects, or to use some colourless term such as 'entity'; or again to adapt one's rendering to the context and speak sometimes of 'existence' or 'reality', sometimes of 'essence' or 'nature', sometimes of 'material' or 'stuff'. But there are disadvantages in breaking up what to the ancients was a single complex of thought; and on balance I prefer the conventional term 'substance' as on the whole the least inadequate to convey the whole range of associations which would influence the writers of the early Christian centuries.

I have not conceived this as a purely historical study; on the contrary I have tried to give serious attention to the logical problems presented by terms like 'being', 'identity', and 'unity'. Further, it has been my ambition not only to clarify such problems but to commend them to the attention of Christian theologians; since it seems that writers on the history of Christian thought are sometimes handicapped by an uncertain grasp both . . .

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