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In the construction "hoc quod", can the antecedent of "hoc" (neuter) be indifferently a masculine, neuter, or feminine noun; or must the gender agree (i.e., the antecedent be neuter)?

What prompted my question was St. Jerome's translation of the Wisdom of Solomon 1:7:

hoc quod continet omnia, scientiam habet vocis.

Must "hoc" here have a neuter antecedent?

cf. "What 'containeth all things' in Wisdom 1:7?"

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  • Good question. Omne quod dat mihi Pater, ad me veniet : et eum qui venit ad me, non ejiciam foras from John 6:37 has a similar use of neuter for a masculine antecedent.
    – Figulus
    Jun 1, 2023 at 3:21

2 Answers 2

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Grammatically, there is no antecedent, hence no agreement is necessary (or possible)

The demonstrative hoc doesn't always have an antecedent. There is none here, any more than there is an antecedent for "that" in English in the phrase "that which contains all". Rather, this is the usage described as follows in Lewis & Short's entry for hic:

Very freq. referring to a thought that follows, and which may be expressed by a relative sentence [...] α With relat. clause

My analysis implies that it is not possible for the word to agree with its antecedent in gender, which of course raises the question of how it does receive its gender. I would say the neuter is used here with the semantic meaning of "that (thing)".

I think the use of "hoc quod" weighs no more strongly against interpreting the referent as the Holy Spirit than the use of "which" instead of "who" in English

I will now move on to the theological question this seems to be based on. I don't think the neuter gender of "hoc quod..." excludes coreference with "spiritus Domini" (or necessarily implies a view of the latter as not being a person, in the theological sense), any more than the use of "which" instead of "who" does in the English version. There is a connotation when using "hoc quod" that you're not talking about a person, but I think this is rebuttable, especially when talking about God.

The God of Christianity is of course often described as a personal god, and in Trinitarian theology, God is considered to be three "persons". Despite this, however, it is obvious that the Holy Spirit is not the same kind of entity as a human man or woman, and I don't think that there is anything very strange about using a neuter pronoun in certain kinds of relative clauses that refer to the all-encompassing or all-powerful nature of God (where the implied meaning is that God is not only superior to all other persons, but to all created things). Consider that the neuter gender of Greek "πνεῦμα κυρίου" obviously doesn't prevent this phrase from having the same meaning as Latin "spiritus Domini". (Incidentally, I think "hoc quod continet" is a translation of the Greek neuter present active participle "τὸ συνέχον".)

As a comparison for the wording in Latin, consider the use in Aquinas of neuter pronouns in Summa Theologiae to introduce the relative clause used to define what the word "deus" means, such as "id quo maius significari non potest", "aliquid quo maius cogitari non possit" and "illud quo maius cogitari non potest". It is not ungrammatical to use "id", "aliquid" and "illud" in this context, despite the fact that "deus" is a masculine noun, because the gender of the pronoun does not depend grammatically on the gender of the word "deus". And it is semantically clearer to use a neuter pronoun to introduce this kind of relative clause because if you instead used "is", "aliquis" and "ille" in a definition of God (or if you used "he"/"someone" in English), it sounds like you're just talking about "someone greater than anybody else", which sounds too limited to express the idea of something greater than everything in the universe.

For the reasons above, I don't think it would be well founded to view "spiritus Domini" as being grammatically excluded from being the referent of "hoc quod continet omnia, scientiam habet vocis". Of course, there could be reasons aside from grammar to interpret this relative clause as referring to something else.

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  • I think you mean there is no determinate antecedent.
    – Geremia
    Jun 2, 2023 at 0:05
  • @Geremia: I prefer to say there isn't one because I would reserve the term "antecedent" in the context of grammar for a word or phrase that meets all of the folllowing criteria: it precedes the pronoun, is coreferential with it, and is grammatically linked to it. In this case, even if "spiritus Domini" (or alternatively, "orbem terrarum") is coreferential with "hoc", it is not grammatically linked with that preceding phrase, as shown by the lack of grammatical agreement in gender.
    – Asteroides
    Jun 2, 2023 at 0:08
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No, it does not agree with any noun because there is no noun, and none is implied either. It must be neutral, because if it was masculine or feminine, the meaning would be rather different.

Quod X, hoc Y

or simply:

Quod X, Y

– in this type of relative clause, which gives a general rule (a type of conditional relative, by the way), the neutral subject stands for any thing, concrete or abstract, but usually not a person. If it was masculine, it would imply the unknown subject is a person, and if it was feminine, it would imply it was a female person:

Hoc quod continet omnia → that which contains everything
Hic qui continet omnia → he who contains everything
Haec quae continet omnia → she who contains everything

Interestingly I have not found this spelled out explicitly anywhere, but open any collection of Latin adages at the letter Q and enjoy a plethora of examples:

  • quod nocet, docet
  • quod licet Iovi, non licet bovi
  • qui tacet, consentire videtur
  • quem di diligunt, adolescens moritur
  • quidquid agis, prudenter agas, et respice finem

… et caetera. For some reason, the letter H is not so fruitful, I'm afraid.

Note that it would be different if there was a noun: Haec res, quae continet omnia &c.

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  • … unless I'm misreading this, and hoc quod omnia continet is just a circumlocution for orbis terrarum 🤔 May 29, 2023 at 23:30
  • "the neutral subject stands for any thing, concrete or abstract, but usually not a person" is exactly what I was wondering. If you could substantiate this from a Latin grammar book, I'll accept your answer. Gratias ago tibi.
    – Geremia
    May 31, 2023 at 3:40

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