Bill Long 10/4/05
Trying for Precision
The previous essay concluded that by the 19th century the meaning of procatarctic cause was becoming clear in medicine. It was the "immediate" or "external" or "occasional" or "exciting" cause of the medical problem to be treated. We saw also the word procatarctic emerged in the 17th century, however, to describe either the immediate or the remote cause. I think there is a latent ambiguity in the translation of the underlying Greek word. Something that is "first" or "antecedent" in cause may either be something first in importance (which might be the most recent cause) or first in time (hence the remote cause).
The Rise of Proegumenal
Though the first attestations of the word proegumenal, derived from a Greek word meaning to "precede" or "lead," are also in the 17th century, the OED quotations do not become really clear in meaning until one from 1656 and then a citation from 1711. The first one is in a theological context: "The inward, or proegumenall moving causes of the glory of believers come next to be considered. 1. God's love of Christ, 2. God's righteousnesse." I suppose that an external or procatarctic cause of glory might be the preaching of the Word or the profession of faith in Christ. But note that at first it is the "internal" meaning of proegmenual that is emphasized, rather than anything having to do with a "disposition." Nevertheless, the OED defines proegumenal as "preceding, predisposing; applied to an inward predisposing cause, as distinguished from the immediate or exciting cause." This is a very 19th century way of reading the word. The bridge between the two can be seen in a 1711 philosophical work: "Aristotle, says he, divides..the Efficient Cause into the Procatarctick, Proegumenick, and Instrumental." Thus, at least in philosophical discussion of the 18th century, the threefold distinction seemed to have been made.
This quotation ought both to comfort and scare us. It comforts because it shows, right before our eyes, how the linguistic vagueness or imprecision of the 17th century was cleaned up in the 19th because of the help of 18th century philosophy. Medicine, then, was simply following the current reading of Aristotle. But, the thing that ought to scare us is that this 1711 quotation talks about these three causes not as constituting the world of causation but only the way that Aristotle's Efficient Cause was divided. As we know, Aristotle identified four causes. Yikes. Are we going to run into yet other problems?
Well, before we leave proegumenal, we ought to say, then, that by the 19th century it became identified with the predisposing cause. What is it in the way things are arranged or predisposed? How is the thing "inclined?" Even though the distinction between external and internal had been made, one gets the impression that proegumenal is to be understood more as the remote cause or the first cause in a chain.
A Meaningless Digression
Before moving on to synectic cause, however, I want to follow up on equotation from the 17th century in which procatarctic is used in a theological context. Let's see the quotation, learn a little theology and see how and if it makes sense. The 1627 quotation is from the Puritan pastor William Sclater's exposition of II Thessalonians:
"I can but wonder at Arminius and others, seeking in the vessels of Mercy, the Procatarcticke Cause of Election."
When Sclater talks about the "vessels of mercy," he is referring to a passage in Romans 9 which had already become a favorite in the arsenal of Reformed preaching against the proto-Arminians. In Rom. 9:22-24, Paul asks,
22 What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: 23 and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory, 24 even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?
Reformed theologians loved these verses because it seemed to suggest that God had two big categories of people, whom the Reformed called the elect and the damned, but whom Paul seemed to refer to as the vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy. Arminians, on the other hand, seemed to suggest that we had a role in determining our own "election," and that the categories were not really "fixed" by God. In other words, the "vessels of mercy" for Arminius were those people who had possibly contributed to their own preparedness for this condition. All you needed to be was a "vessel of mercy" before you died; God's supposed ordaining of you in that role form before the foundation of the world was simply Calvinistic ranting.
With this understanding, let's see how we understand Sclater's quotation. When he says that the Arminians would see in the vessels of mercy the Procataractick cause of salvation, he is saying that they see this designation (vessels of mercy) as the immediate (rather than predisposing?) cause of salvation. Calvinists would have argued that salvation was a disposition, settled in the eternal counsels of God; Arminians would say that salvation is still "open." 'Become a vessel of mercy,' would be their advice. They see, therefore, in the vessels of mercy, an immediate cause of election, an encouragement to "grab" election with both hands.
Whew! That was a long digression for something that arguably is important for fewer than two people in the world. Nevertheless, we can see the demands that a Puritan preacher tended to place either on his readers or hearers. I am still not sure I understand it fully.
Now, having put these two causes to bed, side by side, let's turn to synectic and see what confusions it brings.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long