Perfect Being Theology, Theistic Personalism, and the Eclipse of the Apophatic

Readers of this blog will by now be well-acquainated with the term “theistic personalism.” It was coined by Brian Davies to describe what he believes to be a problematic understanding of divinity, commonly advanced by analytic philosophers. He specifically names Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, perhaps the two best-known contemporary Christian philosophers on the planet. Unlike the metaphysically simple God of classical Christianity, theistic personalists begin with the notion of God as an incorporeal person. “Person” here means just what it does in our ordinary discourse—a being that possesses intelligence and will. To this divine Person we may attribute various properties, such as omnipotence, omniscience, goodness, righteousness, benevolence, and so on. These properties are typically determined by perfect-being extrapolation and a plain reading of the Holy Bible. Philosophers of the analytic school debate among themselves which properties may be properly attributed to the Deity. Does God foreknow the future, for instance? Some say yes, others say no. How can even the Creator know what hasn’t happened yet? Many theistic personalists deny divine impassibility and mutuality. “Indeed,” comments Davies,

many of them make a point of doing so. Why? Largely because they think that, if God is impassible and unchangeable, then he cannot be taken seriously as a person. The persons we call people are changed by what they encounter and discover. They are modified by other things. And, says the theistic personalist, this is how it must be with God. An impassible and unchanging God would, they argue, be lifeless. Such a God, they often add, would also not be admirable. We admire people who can be moved by tragic events. We admire people who can become elated when good things happen. And, theistic personalists sometimes say, we can admire God only if he, like admirable people, is suitably affected by the good and the bad which occurs in the world. (An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, chap. 2, pp. 12-13).

Theistic personalists also commonly reject the metaphysical attribute of divine simplicity, both because they deem the notion philosophically incoherent and because it ostensibly contradicts the biblical portrayal of divinity. The God of the Bible is, if nothing else, a distinct individual with distinct properties and perfections. As William Lane Craig remarks: “the doctrine of divine simplicity is one that has no biblical support at all and, in my opinion, has no good philosophical arguments in its favor.”

Classical theists wonder whether the deity of theistic personalism can be properly described as God. David B. Hart is characteristically blunt:

Many Anglophone theistic philosophers …, reared as they have been in a post-Fregean intellectual environment, have effectively broken with classical theistic tradition, adopting a style of thinking that the Dominican philosopher Brian Davies calls theistic personalism. I prefer to call it monopolytheism myself (or perhaps “mono-poly-theism”), since it seems to me to involve a view of God not conspicuously different from the polytheistic picture of the gods as merely very powerful discrete entities who possess a variety of distinct attributes that lesser entities also possess, if in smaller measure; it differs from polytheism, as far I can tell, solely in that it posits the existence of only one such being. It is a way of thinking that suggests that God, since he is only a particular instantiation of various concepts and properties, is logically dependent on some more comprehensive reality embracing both him and other beings. For philosophers who think in this way, practically all the traditional metaphysical attempts to understand God as the source of all reality become impenetrable. (The Experience of God, pp. 127-128)

While I have not come across any rejoinders from the analytic theologians to the criticisms advanced by Davies and Hart, I imagine they would emphatically reject any suggestion that in their prayers and reflections they are intending any other God but the Holy Creator rendered in the biblical witness and worshipped by Christians for the past two thousand years. All affirm that he is a metaphysically necessary being, existing in all possible worlds. As Swinburne puts it: “His existence is not merely an ultimate brute fact, but the ultimate brute fact” (The Coherence of Theism, p. 277). Most affirm that God created the world from out of nothing and continues to sustain it by his providential will. How then can the God of analytic theology be compared to a god? Aren’t the classical theists being more than a bit unfair?

Barry Miller does not think so. In chapter 1 of his book A Most Unlikely God, he contrasts the classical theistic understanding of divine nature and attributes with what he calls “perfect-being theology.” He cites Thomas Morris as a notable practitioner of this “Anselmian” method. Given the limited availability of Miller’s book, I thought I would quote him at length:

In challenging the controlling notion of God employed by perfect-being theologians, I have no wish to deny that he is indeed the absolutely perfect being. What I shall be denying, however, is their particular understanding of that notion. Aquinas, for example, understands a perfect being as Actus Purus, a being devoid of all potentiality; Maimonides conceives of it as One, a being ‘without any composition of plurality of elements’; but Anselmians understand it as a being having the maximally consistent set of great-making properties or perfections. Whether the Anselmians’ view is acceptable, however, depends on what they mean by a perfection. As explained by Morris, it is a property that fulfils the following conditions:

1.01.  It is better to have than not to have.
1.02.  It may vary in degree.
1.03.  It is ‘constituted by the logical maximum of an upwardly bounded, degreed great-making property.’ Omnipotence and omnipotence are offered as examples.

The procedure for determining which great-making properties belong to God could hardly be simpler, namely, if having property P contributes to the excellence of a thing that does have P, then an absolutely perfect being has P, otherwise the being does have not have P. Among those that pass the test are omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omniscience, and indeed all the perfections.

The Anselmians’ notion of a perfection has immediate implications for their understanding of God’s transcendence over his creatures. They succeed in setting him well apart from his creatures, many of which may perhaps have great-making properties but no one of which would have even one of them to the maximum degree possible. On this view, the gulf between God and creatures would therefore be wide, and perhaps unimaginably so, though it would not constitute an absolute divide. It is difficult to see how it could be more than a difference of degree, since the terms indicating his properties—‘powerful,’ ‘knowing,’ ‘loving,’ ‘merciful,’ ‘generous’ and so on—seem to be univocally of God and creatures. True, when applied to God, those terms are often qualified as ‘maximally powerful,’ ‘all knowing,’ ‘infinitely merciful,’ unsurpassably generous,’ but the qualifiers do nothing to change the sense of the terms they qualify. Hence, the role of ‘maximally,’ ‘all,’ ‘infinitely,’ and ‘unsurpassably’ cannot be that of alienans adjectives like ‘decoy’ in ‘decoy duck,’ or ‘negative’ in ‘negative growth,’ each of which does serve to change the sense of the term it qualifies. Rather, they are merely superlatives, which of course leave quite intact the sense of the terms they qualify. Thus understood, God’s properties are merely human ones, albeit extended to the maximum degree possible.

As conceived of by perfect-being theologians, therefore, God turns out to be simply the greatest thing around, some kind of super-being that would be quite capable of evoking admiration and wonder, but who could scarcely be described as being absolutely transcendent, or as being worthy of worship. The point is that the terms that perfect-being theology predicates of God are being used in precisely the sense that ipso facto precludes their being predicated of a God who is absolutely transcendent, since it is a sense in which they could equally be predicated of creatures. The difference between creatures and any God of whom they really could be predicated would therefore be simply one of degree. Although this may seem to be a hard saying, it follows straightforwardly from the fact that absolute transcendence cannot be attained merely by extending human attributes to whatever degree is deemed to be ‘maximal.’ The Anselmians’ God is therefore anything but ineffable, for not only can we talk about him, we can do so in precisely the same terms as those we use in talking about humans. Such a view succeeds in presenting God in terms that are comfortingly familiar, but only at the price of being discomfitingly anthropomorphic. (pp. 1-3)

The give-away here for Miller is the univocity of language for God. For perfect being theology, to say that God is “wise” and that Plato is “wise” is basically to say the same thing, though God’s wisdom is also qualified to be far, far greater. In this sense, the eternal Creator and his creatures share all sorts of properties in common. The difference between the two entities is relative, not absolute—at least so it appears.

The contrast between the God of analytic theology and the God of the Church Fathers and medieval doctors is stark. Although St Basil of Caesarea and St Gregory of Nyssa may have affirmed the univocal use of language when speaking of the divine propria, they also insisted upon divine simplicity and the incomprehensibility of the divine essence. How they pulled this off is the burden of Andrew Radde-Gallwitz’s ground-breaking book, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity. But for the Cappadocian brothers, God remains absolute Mystery, as he was for St Augustine, St Maximus the Confessor, and St Thomas Aquinas.

But the Mystery appears to disappear with the analytics.

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117 Responses to Perfect Being Theology, Theistic Personalism, and the Eclipse of the Apophatic

  1. Julian says:

    Father Kimel,

    One of the qualities that you left out of your account of perfect being theology is necessity. God, for philosophers such as Plantinga, is a necessary being. I think that quality would provide an inseparable chasm between God and all contingent beings. I don’t know which view of God is correct. Try as I might, I don’t understand divine simplicity. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you for pointing out the omission. I have added it to the text of the article.

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  2. Doesn’t God’s self-disclosure in the God-Man Jesus invite a concrete analogy of being? One which looks not unlike “perfect-being-theology”? If not, how ought the Christian disciple to look upon Christ as an example to be imitated? Ought he? Is this a breach of apophaticism? I wonder what someone like Robert Jenson would say to this. He obviously comes at the issue from a different angle than the so-called anglophone analytics, but I think his version of divine personalism is driven by a deeply apophatic impulse – hence his encouragement to focus on the God who acts in history and not attempting to push beyond this “economic” revelation in an effort to eff the ineffable . (Sorry if this seems off topic)

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I suspect that the objections that folks like Hart and Davies raise against perfect being theology can also be advanced against Jenson’s understanding of God (though I have not given this much thought, at this point). I do know that I no longer find persuasive Jenson’s contention that the early Church uncritically embraced a Hellenistic understanding of divinity. Robert Sokolowski’s little book The God of Faith and Reason got me wondering about this many years ago.

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  3. Between the Cappadocians on the one hand, and Ps.-Denys and Maximus on the other, there is Proclus, who provides the means of naming the simple and unnameable.

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  4. Julian says:

    Yes, only I’m not sure I like Swinburne’s view of necessity as the “ultimate brute fact.” “Ultimate brute fact” suggests that ultimate reality is irrational. It’s just there, without any way of comprehending why it should be there. I think that God’s necessary existence is something that is the ultimate rationality. We may not be able to understand it now, but I hope that when we see God face to face, we will.

    And perhaps that’s when divine simplicity will make sense to me, as well.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I agree, Julian. To speak of God as the ultimate brute fact is ultimately unsatisfactory. As Hart notes, a necessary being of this kind “would not provide any ultimate solution to the question of existence but would himself be just another existential mystery added to all the others” (The Experience of God, p. 115). Of this necessary being we would still ask, why?

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  5. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    The necessity of God is not the issue, but rather the identity in God of essence and existence, possibility and actuality. This identity is what prevents the “mystery to disappear” as it does with the analytic theologians – drop the coincidence of essence and existence in the divine nature and one will be left with a “being among beings”, or, in other words, mono-poly-theism.

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  6. I tend to think the strongest argument for simplicity is the one DBH brings up: that there must be some comprehensive singular principle which metaphysically accounts for all Gods properties being his own. Ironically, this is the very argument that analytical theologians don’t address.

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  7. Julian says:

    I think that the necessity of God is the quality that distinguishes God from all contingent beings. The question of why or how God can be a necessary being may lead to the idea of divine simplicity. I wouldn’t know.

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  8. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Julian,

    Necessity only leads to simplicity if grounded in actus purus, which is categorically denied by the theistic personalists.

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  9. Julian says:

    Apo, I wouldn’t know if you’re right or wrong. All I know is that the most basic question is “Why is there something rather than nothing?” If reality is rational, then there must be an answer to that question that makes sense. And the answer would seem to entail that there is something that must exist necessarily. For all theologians, this is God.

    Now perhaps for God to exist necessarily, divine simplicity must be true. I wouldn’t know.

    Let me ask a question: If divine simplicity is true, does it follow that God exists necessarily? Or would it be possible that God not exist?

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  10. apophaticallyspeaking says:

    Julian,

    Yes, divine necessity can be understood to follow simplicity, and vice versa for that matter. But the metaphysical necessity of God is not all that interesting – theists by definition agree upon this. Thus the Church fathers had no argument with their detractors about the existence of God. Most commonly what was at stake for them, and here too for us, is the nature of the divine nature – what do we signify when we speak of “God”?

    If we are denoting a being who possesses, and participates by measure or degree in its attributes such as goodness, truth, power, etc., then, regardless of the measure we may ascribe, we are speaking of a being who is like any other created being. If, however, we denote a being in whom there is no distinction between potentiality and actuality, no difference between its nature and existence, no difference between what it has and does, no distinction between its attributes and its existence, then, and only then, are we referring to that Being who is infinitely unlike any created being: the God who is goodness. The identity of God’s attributes with His existence (i.e. God is identical to his attributes) is what, in short, the doctrine of divine simplicity entails, and this is precisely what “theistic personalists” reject.

    Hope that helps.

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  11. Martin says:

    That was a very useful post, but it confused me at first reading because when I saw “analytic theology”, I immediately thought of people like John Haldane (St Andrews) or Ed Feser. But since both of those guys appear to be firmly in the classical theistic position and opposed to theistic personalism so described, you kept losing me when you equated, rather than contrasted, the analytic approach with theistic personalism.

    However, subsequent digging suggests that Haldane’s approach would better be described as analytic _Thomism_, (a term he coined, apparently), and although I’m not sure Feser would self-identify as such, his writing does come across as being of that ilk.

    Have I got the distinction right?

    But if so, then since it’s perhaps reasonable to see analytic Thomism as a subset of — i.e. lying within — analytic theology as a whole, isn’t there a more precise way of identifying precisely what kind of philosophical approach it is — i.e. not the “analytic” _per se_ — that correlates with theistic personalism? If theistic personalism is not a product of theology _à la_ the philosophy of Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Ayer, etc then exactly what *is* its source?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Martin, your comment got stuck in the moderation queue, and I didn’t notice it there until this evening. My apologies.

      Regarding the term “analytic theology”—a distinct theological approach now exists that goes under that label. Check out Michael Reas’s Introduction to the book Analytic Theology.

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  12. brian says:

    Ah, I do not have time to properly engage this interesting discussion. Just a few recapitulations of what has already been touched on. I apologize that this will be a rather haphazard response.

    The perfect being god of mono-poly-theism is the perfection of any possible creature times infinity. Yet because such a god is on the same plane of existence as that of creatures (univocal being), a divinity of that sort is part of the set that includes creaturely being. One does not get a true analogy of being from such a metaphysics, because analogy requires an infinite difference between Being that possesses existence as essence and being that is dependent and contingent. Note that any notion of analogy that would be rooted in univocal being can only understand analogy as a kind of hyperinflation of known qualities: power, goodness, knowledge times infinity (it’s a “geometric, mathematical” conceptualization.) Analogy and metaphor (a bearing with that crosses genuine boundaries, that involves real transcendence) requires a qualitatively differentiated notion of being.

    Here is another implication. If god and creatures are both subsets of univocal being, being is the larger category that explains both god and creatures. Whatever necessity one might apply to the god, it must derive from a being that is shared by both god and contingent creatures. The relation between such a god and creatures would then also be relatively extrinsic. However, if one understands the absolute uniqueness of divine Being, such that in comparison to creaturely existence, one could say (apophatically) that God does not exist, then it becomes possible to understand the relation between God and creatures as much more intimate, a creaturely participation in being that is granted as gift, a receptivity made possible by a constantly attentive and renewed loving origin.

    The “brute fact” of theistic personalism implies that for theologies based on such a view, the deep metaphysical question of why there is something and not nothing is not asked with sufficient perspicuity and wonder. The kind of being they imagine that would include both god and creatures is not rich enough or mysterious enough to avoid the exact same kind of shrugging of the shoulders and lack of wonder that one discovers in modern positivism. As I say about fundamentalists, all these sort are moderns – their dissociation from classical Christian metaphysics is indicated in a deeply impoverished understanding of transcendence. Divine simplicity is one of the best “names” for transcendence. Those who find it puzzling, abstruse, unbiblical (William Lane Craig) have not thought through the implications of Triune God and creation ex nihilo.

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    • Tom says:

      Let me try to express the frustrations of some, not trained analytic folks (cause I’m not one of those). Just average people trying to think consistently through their faith.

      I’ve already logged my issues with bashing ‘theological personalism’. That’s got to be the worst possible term to use in identifying something as heretical as objectors take this to be. It leads to questions that spawn even more confusion: Question: “Wait, the Orthodox don’t think God is ‘personal’?” Answer: “Well, no. Of course God is personal. The most personal being there is!” Question: “So why is ‘personal’ the term of choice here?” It never ends up making sense to me. I get wanting (needing) to say God isn’t just another item on the inventory of “things that exist” all in the sense that have their being in temporal becoming. But to name this particular error by tagging it with perhaps the most wonderfully rich concept in the English language (‘person’) is PR suicide for the objecting view, even if you’re right.

      As for perfect being theology—methodologically speaking—I don’t see the problem. In fact, I don’t even see an option. Every Orthodox objection to perceived analytic excesses with ‘perfect being theology’ proceeds basically by assuming what it’s objecting to, via., by arguing that these excesses violate what the Orthodox perceive to be necessary features of divine perfection (i.e., simple as opposed to complex, ex nihilo-free with respect to creation as opposed to existing in necessary relationship to non-divine realities, etc.). But what is that but a version of perfect being theology? I don’t see how it’s even possible to do Christian theology apart from listening to our best intuitions and reasoning regarding perfection. What’s the alternative? Of course we can disagree over what counts as great or perfect. But can we really exile from our methodology all belief that bearing God’s image should set us the path of thinking through our faith in relation to our best intuitions (rational, moral, existential, etc.)?

      For example—what’s DBH do last year in his Notre Dame piece of the morality of universalism based on ex nihilio? That is, why reject determinism? Why reject eternal conscious torment? Well, part of the reason at least is the manner in which supposing the truth of these claims violates our categories of reason and morality. The positions don’t “fit.” And that “fit” is on our side of the uncreated/created divide. God can’t be a God who consigns anyone to perpetual torment. Why? Because our ‘reason’ and ‘moral experience’ abhor such conclusions. So we should listen to our minds and experience and not conclude that God does such a thing. Does anyone else see the issue here? This is a version of perfect being theology. And when Calvin (or Piper) take refuge in divine ineffable mystery and transcendence as grounds for dismissing what our our rational or moral/existential categories tell us about God in this regard, the Orthodox (well, DBH in this case) object!

      I’m not trying to convince anybody of anything, but to those of us simple-minded folk on the outside listening, it’s very confusing.

      A last confusion. If the ineffable God is absolutely, infinitely, qualitatively other than us, if he’s that which none of our categories can apprehend (and I’m not disagreeing, just going with it for now), exactly how do we ‘know’ (as Brian argues) that such a God can then be MORE intimately present to us in our created being? How does it follow from such absolute-categorical-unqualified otherness that greater intimacy is made possible between it and us? How is it not as possible that intimacy is rendered absolutely impossible? How would you ‘know’ that that which you absolutely cannot know is or isn’t, does or doesn’t, do and empower as you suppose? I don’t get the logic or epistemology at work.

      A final clarification. I’m not a process theologian, but I’ve brought this complaint to process theists I know (process folk with PhDs, not street hacks). I say, “You guys subsume God and world underneath a single category of ‘being’ and so posit ‘being’ as some third reality that embraces both God and world. That’s a mistake.” Every time I mention this I get the same response: “Yes, it is a mistake, Tom. But that’s not what we’re doing. We don’t suppose God and creatures alike conform to some third reality we call ‘being’. We absolutely view God himself ‘as’ that being. Creatures share in it, are like God, exist because of God, conform more or less in their experience to the necessary existence/experience of God. But we never suppose God and world together instantiate some 3rd category or reality called ‘being’ or conform it ‘it’.” And I know enough process thought to know this really is the case in terms of how they do theology.

      They might all be heretics. I don’t know. I’m just suggesting this last clarification to help classical theists at least frame their objections in a better, more informed way. If you accuse those you have in mind of making the error of positing a 3rd ontological something that stretches over both God and creation, you’ll be talking past them. Same thing if you accuse them of taking “person” to be ‘the’ best starting point and path along which we have for thinking about God. Let’s agree they’re drawing the wrong conclusions. OK. But let’s at least get clear on what it is they’re saying and how they’re saying it.

      Tom

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      • brian says:

        Alas, Tom, I am busy today and cannot do justice to your complaint/thoughts.
        I will take another run at it when I have the time. For now, I share some of your misgivings about “theistic personhood.” After all, the largest burden of my dissertation and much of my mature thought has centered around the concept of the person. What I argue, however, is that we typically confuse person with individual and that the only full-fledged person history has known is Jesus Christ. Personhood is a Trinitarian category and humans only approach it as a product of theosis. We have some sense of what it means to be a person, but it a dynamic, open potentiality that is yet to be fully realized. Real personhood is an eschatological achievement, though, of course, this does not mean we can treat temporal selvings as less than persons. I suppose perfected personhood is what we are after.

        And, of course, perfection is an attribute of God, but those who espouse perfection within the context of univocal being really are making a fundamental mistake. And you know that Hart and myself have argued strongly against “theological nihilism” that would understand apophaticism as a means to reject any meaningful connection between human language and concepts and our knowledge of God. The whole point of the analogy of being is that there is a genuine connection between our finite, intelligible knowledge and the God who transcends all finite horizons. If one stays within the plane of univocity, there is not enough room for difference, mystery, growth into ever deeper appropriation of what one obscurely, (yet truly) knows. If one drops analogy, the refusal of univocity can lead to the kind of perplexity you articulate on behalf of “ordinary folk.”

        I’ll have to touch on Process theologians another time, though I tend to see them through the lens of Hegel, which may be unfair.

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        • Tom says:

          Thanks Brian. No rush.

          I think what I’m most interested in is a ‘how to’ guide to analogical predication in theological contexts. I don’t doubt the answer lies in that direction since pure univocity and equivocity both fail. However, I have no idea ‘how’ to manage that middle/analogical road. The best I can come up with (because it’s what I see classical friends do) is basically to construct theological language along univocal lines (be logical, don’t violate the axioms of identity, non-contradiction, take terms at face value, etc.) and then when you’re done radically qualify it all and say it doesn’t mean anything within the scope of creaturely existence (which is basically the only scope we have and how and why we constructed things the way we did to begin with) and appeal to sheer faith to rescue us from utter nihilism. That doesn’t look like a theological methodology to me, but maybe it’s all we’ve got.

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          • brian says:

            No, I do not accept such a frail and famished thing. It’s not all we’ve got because the real live actual universe is never univocal. Univocity is a mode of perception one can adopt, but one is not limited to it and a more acute and reflective mind will recognize in “ordinary experience” a perduring mystery. What we know and experience has an in-built “vector towards transcendence” that is “always already” the trace of “many dimensions.” Identity, non-contradiction, all that, has its legitimate uses, but theo-logic will ask that one sometimes break the logic of the world. Chesterton’s paradoxes may become facile at times, but his basic sense that God must be approached through paradox is correct.

            It’s true that God’s similarity to His creatures is always contained within a greater dissimilarity, but the trace is genuine. If it doesn’t mean anything at all like what we know from creaturely existence, analogy is meaningless and one is indeed left with nihilism.

            You need to listen to poets and artists as much as philosophers to get this more right, btw. And now I really have to pretend to work:)

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          • Tom says:

            Poetry and art are saving me. Yes.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Tom, please describe exactly what you mean when you say that God is a person.

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        • Tom says:

          I don’t know exactly what I mean.😀 But I’ll try as soon as I can to describe where I’m at.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I shall wait with bated breath, Thomas.

          In the meantime a couple of brief thoughts:

          1) If Aquinas is right, God does not belong to any genus, including the genus of person; hence he is not a person standing alongside other persons, just as he is not a being standing alongside other beings.

          2) Before we call God a person, we must first go the route of negative theology and deny he is a person. We can also run the matter the opposite way: if God is person, then we are not persons.

          3) I believe it is perfectly acceptable to describe God as a person, as long as we make clear that when we speak this way about him we are speaking analogically. At least I think that analogy is the proper category. I can also see reasons why one might interpret this language as metaphorical.

          4) If we call God a person, what word should we use to speak of the three “persons” of the Godhead?

          5) Given that all Christian classical theists believe that we may worship, adore, petition, and intercede with God, why does it matter whether we call God a person? It appears that the Church got along for centuries just fine without calling God a person? So what’s the big deal?

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        • Tom says:

          Fr Aidan: Please describe exactly what you mean when you say that God is a person.

          Tom: Fair enough, though when I’m done I need you to tell me exactly what you mean when you God is personal. So—

          1) I would never say God is “a” person. First, I don’t want to suggest that God is “an” instance of a genus in the way we all want to avoid saying God and creatures both participate in some third reality called ‘being’. I don’t think using “a” need entail that kind of instantiation necessarily, but I still want to avoid language moving in that direction. But more importantly, even when using the substantive “person,” I don’t think God is “a” single person. I think he’s three persons. I prefer the more adjectival “personal.”

          2) I agree “personal” can’t mean for God everything it means for us (univocity). Some obviously essential features of personhood as we experience it (embodiment, gender differentiation, temporal becoming, finitude, to begin with) cannot qualify God’s personal existence.

          3) My only avenue for making sense of the middle ground between univocal and equivocal dead-ends is to go with the transcendentals: truth, beauty, goodness. God as personal is that which our experience of truth, beauty and goodness are an embodied, differentiated, finite and imperfect image of. But there are some aspects of our experience and knowledge of truth, beauty, and goodness without which I couldn’t understand our experience even in analogical terms, i.e., consciousness, rationality, volition, relatedness, etc.

          4) So where’s the leave me? The only way I know to approach saying God is personal is to begin with what personal experience means in our case (any analogical predication has to “being” there as well) and then by faith throw up a Hail Mary and confess I don’t know how “exactly” how this language approximates or apprehends God. I can’t reduce God to univocity (IF that means God and I each participate in a third something). I also can’t do the nihilism of the equivocal. And I can’t deny God exists. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to ‘do’ analogical. Still waiting for something to take me by the hand and demonstrate that. I the meantime, I pray and relate to God the only way I can—as a person, believing him to whom I pray and whose presence in/to me is more real to me than I am to myself, is the original ‘person’, the real deal, of which we are images. Then I pray the Jesus prayer, remind myself that God is more than I can comprehend (but not less), and go from there.

          Maybe all this amounts to is univocal predication accompanied by repentance and humble admission of my ignorance.

          Tom

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          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            “I have no idea how to ‘do’ analogical”

            Not to worry, you don’t have to do it because you are analogical, bearing the image of God, reflecting divine likeness but not mistaken for the original, similar yet dissimilar.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Tom, if the question of theological language really is an issue for you, then the place to begin is with Aquinas’s theory of analogy. It’s not the last word on the topic, but it’s most definitely the first word. Gregory Rocca’s essay “Aquinas and God-Talk” is a helpful introduction. Rocca has also written a book on the topic: Speaking the Incomprehensible God.

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          • Tom says:

            Thanks! I’ll check them out.

            Do any Orthodox thinkers explore analogy, or are they and Aquinas in perfect agreement on this? Pseudo-Denys comes to mind, yes. I was wondering if any modern Orthodox thinkers treat analogy at length.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            …any analogical predication has to “being” there as well”

            *begin* there as well.

            Like

  13. Rob says:

    Tom,
    In a lot of ways, I believe you are thinking on some very good lines, and it is no sad thing to end up declaring that God is a mystery that reaches to deep to fathom, so long as we first enter the shallows that our minds can reach. One thing I have found helpful when reflecting on this matter, is to remember that ALL of creation participates in God and is thus reveals his glory in some sense. Nicholas of Cusa has a wonderful way of talking about how all modes of vision (that is conscious being) are encompassed in God’s more fundamental vision in which we all participate. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that if God is the Good who imparts goodness to the tree as much as the human person (and thus is present in both). If he is revealed in the redwood as well as the child partly revealed then God is necessarily wholly mysterious to us. When we see creation we can but look at it and say “It is good” and awe at He who gives it being. Of course, we affirm that humans participate in God to the greatest of degree of all created things but he is present in all and this means that the categories we have won’t do justice to Him as he surpasses them all. Analogy is our way of indicating how God surpasses and encompasses all things not merely that he is inchoate. Anyway I suppose I merely mean to say that God’s intimate relation to all creation and not just (though especially) us has helped give me some perspective on how to attempt to think about God’s transcendence but these may very well be things you have reflected upon yourself,,

    Rob

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Thank you Rob. I see your points. I find the transcendentals (you mention the Good) a helpful way to approach this.

      Like

  14. Tom says:

    Does this help? It helps me. I could repeat it all here, but it’s easier to link to it. Sorry.

    https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/who-and-what-god-is/

    Like

    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Tom,

      Such a framework doesn’t quite work – the analogous similarity/dissimilarity spans both the cataphatic and apophatic (or the who/what, as you put it).

      Like

      • Tom says:

        Given Orthodox Christology at work, I wouldn’t expect the divine ‘who’ (hypostasis) to be as unknowable as the divine ‘what’ (nature). Interesting. Thanks Apo!

        Like

        • Tom says:

          I’m quite surprised actually. That is, given Chalcedon (one person/two natures) the ‘person’ is equally revealed and present in both/either natures, i.e., there’s no loss of “personal” identity (‘Who’ God is) when viewed with respect to his humanity though it remains the case that ‘what’ God is (the divine essence/nature) is not so revealed.

          Like

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Chalcedon affirms that Jesus of Nazareth is the Only-begotten, the pretemporal divine person, God the Word, the second person of the Trinity. Even the identity, the who, exposes the infinite interval of being. Personal identity then provides us no way out of the univocal/equivocal conundrum: even the revelation of the Persons confronts us with the infinite abyss of the uncreated/created ontological divide. We cannot, then, use language in regards to person revealed (i.e. Jesus of Nazareth) who is affirmed to be divine being, to univocally predicate the same on human beings.

            Now I have to pretend to do some work. 🙂

            Like

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Tom,

          That would seem to be the a priori of those that reject divine simplicity (i.e. theistic personalism): that uncreated person can be understood univocally from created person. The criticism we level at doing theology alone those lines is that one conceices of God as human writ-large – a being among beings.

          The analogous interval posits the divide between uncreated/created not as an issue of mere epistemology (along the cataphatic/apophatic lines as you put it), but more fundamentally as an interval of ontology.

          Liked by 1 person

        • There is no divine “what”, and so any talk about a divine “who” can’t be had in the sense you’re using it for human beings, for any “who” is determinate just as any “what”.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. “contextualized” was autocorrected to contextual ice.

    –because ice is too cool to be caught hanging around in its native context, I suppose…

    Like

  16. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Tom: “So Orthodoxy’s ‘One person, two natures’ is mistaken because there is no divine nature.”

    Tom, before you go on your vacation from all this scholastic distinguishing, I want to suggest that you already believe what Gregory and Apophaticallyspeaking are suggesting. In fact, if we are to understand the Incarnation of Christ, as propounded by the Councils of Chalcedon and II Constantinople, we need to grasp the all-important theological point in saying that God has no nature, no nature, that is, in any way we can comprehend. I have tried to say something along these lines in my earlier articles on the radical transcendence of divinity (see, e.g., “The Grammar of Transcendence.

    This, I think, is the point of St Thomas’s insistence upon the divine simplicity. Consider this sentence of Brian Davies that I quoted in my article “Divine Simplicity as Negative Theology: ““God has no nature in any intelligible sense. He is divinity through and through without parts or aspects.” All creaturely beings are distinguished from each other by their composite natures. We distinguish deer from crabs by specifying and comparing their respective natures. But God is not distinguished from creatures in such a way. If he could be, he would exist with them on the same metaphysical plane—i.e., he would be a god.

    Robert Jenson makes a similar point about St Gregory of Nyssa’s innovative claim that the divine Being is infinite Being:

    Infinite being cannot be something other than its own infinity, for were it something, it would just thereby be marked off from other things and would have a boundary, a finis, which is what ‘infinite’ denies. Just this observation was the occasion of the Greeks’ aversion to infinity: an infinite something would have no spatial shape, no form, and so in their thinking would be nothing at all. ‘Infinite form’ is a Platonic or Aristotelian oxymoron; so also, therefore is “infinite deity” (quoted in “St Gregory Nyssen and the Infinity of God).

    Both divine simplicity and divine infinity demonstrate that the difference between God and creatures is not established by contrast, for the divine being exists beyond all such contrasts.

    It is this radical difference that makes it possible for God to assume a human nature (with body, mind, and soul) without destr0ying or overwhelming it. I will speak to this in my next article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I should add, Tom, that once you “get” this radical non-contrastive, non-competitive understanding of the divine transcendence, not only will you have the answer to all the kenotic christologies that you hate, but you will also see why it makes no sense to posit temporality of God.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Ya’ll aren’t hearing me. I’m not suggesting God’s nature ‘is’ intelligible and comprehensible to us. I’m agreeing is ‘isn’t’. If nobody heard that in my piece, perhaps I communicated poorly (though it seems pretty obvious to me that I made that clear). And I’m not suggesting God is constructed from an independent nature and three persons who “combine” to make God.

        But that’s OK. Nobody appreciated Einstein’s 1905 paper at first either!😀

        Like

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          I don’t think anyone accused you of suggesting God’s nature is comprehensible, Tom. The objection is to your suggestion that as far as God’s identity is concerned we can speak univocally and that this then provides us with knowledge as to “who” God is. No need to rehash the objections.

          As to His humanity we can univocally affirm that Jesus is fully human (as we are, save sin), but He is a divine being, not a human being, and this is where univocity breaks down and we must speak and think analogously, even of the incarnate Christ.

          Hope that helps.

          Like

          • Tom says:

            Thanks Apo. We may then just have a disagreement.

            Apo: As to His humanity we can univocally affirm that Jesus is fully human (as we are, save sin), but He is a divine being, not a human being.

            Tom: I wouldn’t agree God isn’t a human being (i.e., Jesus). That’s precisely the point. But I’m not trying to expand the human univocally to embrace the divine via hypostatic-personal reality. That would violate Chalcedon. But “so far as” hypostasis is concerned, that is, so far as personal identity is concerned, that fact that the two natures aren’t compatibly reducible to one another (because divinity is transcendent of humanity) doesn’t undermine the sense in which the Son is as fully, personally, and unreservedly present “as Son” with respect to humanity as he is fully, personally and unreservedly present “as Son” with respect to (transcendent) divinity. In other words, the Person of the Son transcends his human nature, yes, but only so far as his divine ‘nature’ is concerned, not so far as his ‘person’ is concerned.

            Tom

            Like

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Tom: I wouldn’t agree God isn’t a human being

            How do you understand Chalcedon then? It affirms that the pre-temporal Only-begotten Son took on human nature and is dwelt on earth: Jesus of Nazareth. There’s only one being (not two beings, a divine being and a human being), one person subsisting in two natures.

            Tom: “….. the Person of the Son transcends his human nature, yes, but only so far as his divine ‘nature’ is concerned, not so far as his ‘person’ is concerned.”

            nor do I understand how it speaks to the issue of theological signification.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            Apo: How do you understand Chalcedon then? It affirms that the pre-temporal Only-begotten Son took on human nature and is dwelt on earth: Jesus of Nazareth. There’s only one being (not two beings, a divine being and a human being), one person subsisting in two natures.

            Tom: Right. That’s precisely my view. I didn’t say God Incarnate is a separate “being” (as in “entity” or even “hypostasis”) from the Logos. By saying God is “a human being,” I only mean to say God the Son is the human Jesus, human nature enhypostatized by the Logos (without abandoning in the least the fullness of his divine nature). But Jesus was a human being, a human person, i.e., a person with a human nature (if even contingently human and necessarily divine).

            Like

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Tom: ” But Jesus was a human being, a human person, i.e., a person with a human nature (if even contingently human and necessarily divine).”

            That is a very problematic reading, Tom, nowhere to be found in the fathers, ever. Jesus is the pre-temporal Word of God, of one essence with the Father and who was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary. We call her and insist on calling her the Theotokos, following Ephesus, for she gave birth neither to a human being, nor to a human person, but to God the Word, very God of very God, the preexisting uncreated Divine Person, the Only-begotten Son of the God Father.

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Apo, I don’t think you and Tom disagree on this christological point. It’s just a matter of clarifying the terminology you are using.

            Like

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Fr Aidan/Tom,

            OK then let’s try that again: there’s only one subject, one being, before and after the incarnation, that is the one divine hypostasis (person), God the Son. One person (one being, one subject) two natures. Unlike human beings, Christ’s humanity does not have its own (human) hypostasis (there is only one divine subsistence of God the Word). And unlike Christ, we are not divine beings, nor do we have a divine nature. Christ is a divine being that took on, incarnated, human nature in his divine hypostasis. Chalcedon: “This one and the same Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son, must be confessed to be in two natures, unconfusedly, immutably, indivisibly, inseparably….not separated or divided in two persons, but one and the same Son and only begotten God the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ.” So it is said that at conception it was not that a human being was first created (i.e. independent pre-existence of a human being) to whom then God united himself, but rather at conception God the Word formed living flesh for Himself. “Wherefore we speak not of man as having become God, but of God as having become Man” and so, “the flesh became Word without losing what it had, while identifying with the Word according to the hypostasis” – St John Damascene.

            Like

          • Not sure about this idea of a divine “subject” in this strong sense.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            I absolutely agree Mary is the Theotokos and gave birth to God the Word, very God of very God. I think we’re missing each other in the details.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            Nowhere found in the Fathers that God became a human being, “a man”?

            I’ll start with St. Paul (not a ‘father’ I suppose): “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, ‘the man’ Christ Jesus.” (1Tim 2.5).

            Irenaeus: “If the Word became a man, it was so men may become gods.”

            Clement of Alexandria: “Yea, I say, the Word of God became a man so that you might learn from a man how to become a god.”

            Athanasius: “Just as the Lord, putting on the body, became a man, so also we men are both deified through his flesh.”

            If there’s any belief Orthodoxy lives and dies for, it’s that God became “a human being.”

            Like

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Tom, I don’t think I said that you said that the divine nature is comprehensible. What I am suggesting, though, is that when we use the word “nature” of God we are pushing the word to the breaking point. We have no more idea what “divine nature” means than we know what “God” means. Clearly “nature,” when used to refer to the infinite Creator, does not mean what it means when we use it to refer to creatures. Let’s call it an apophatic place-holder. Consequently, it makes paradoxical-sense to say that God does not have a nature, just as it makes paradoxical-sense to say that God is nothing. Thus St Gregory Palamas: “Every nature is utterly removed and absolutely estranged from the divine nature [physis]. For if God is nature, other things are not nature, but if each of the other things is nature, he is not nature; just as he is not a being [on], if the other are beings [onta]. And if he is a being, the others are not beings” (Capita 78). And John Erigena:

          We believe that he made all things ouf of nothing, unless perhaps this nothing is he himself, who—since he is extolled as super-essential above all things and is glorified above everything that is said of understood–is not unreasonably said to be “nothing” through excellence, since he can in no way be placed among the number of all things that are. For if he himself is at once all things that are and that are not, who would say that he is or is not something, since he is the being and more than being of all things? Or, if he is not something, by excellence and not by privation, it follows that he is nothing, by infinity.

          It is precisely the radical transcendence of the holy God that authorizes us to speak in these crazy ways. How else can intimate the Mystery?

          Like

          • Tom says:

            Fr Aidan: What I am suggesting, though, is that when we use the word “nature” of God when are pushing the word to the breaking point. We have no more idea what “divine nature” means than we know what “God” means. Clearly “nature,” when used to refer to the infinite Creator, does not mean what it means when we use it to refer to creatures.

            Tom: Totally agree, which is why I suggested: “Apophatic about God’s nature.” God’s [divine] nature (however carefully we have to use the word “nature”) isn’t *just another nature*, as you say.

            But it seems to me that the Creed’s “one person, two natures” requires us to celebrate the fully “personal” disclosure of God without suggesting that the divine “nature” is thereby equally disclosed. The “nature” isn’t incarnate to the constraints of embodied finitude. It can’t be. The “person” is. That’s Chalcedon. But I hear here the objection that the “person” of the Son must equally be as inaccessible to us as the divine “nature” and for precisely the same reasons. But that seems an obvious contradiction of Chalcedon, for it is particularly the “person” (not the “divine nature”) who is incarnate and revealed to us. Chalcedon closes the door to human apprehension of the divine ‘nature’ (per se, whatever that nature is, we can’t know IT) and opens wide human apprehension of the ‘person’ (of the Son, whom we CAN know).

            I’m a bit surprised at the objections to say the least.

            Tom

            Like

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            Tom: “The “nature” isn’t incarnate to the constraints of embodied finitude. It can’t be. The “person” is. That’s Chalcedon ”

            Not at all, absolutely not!

            Neither Christ’s divine nature nor his person is constrained by the finitude of the incarnation. Says St John Chrysostom: “O Christ, present in body in the tomb and in soul in Hell, as God Thou wast in Paradise with the thief and on the throne with the Father and the Spirit – Thou, the Infinite Who fillest all things….”
            St John Damascene “…in the last days, without leaving the Father’s bosom, took up His abode in an uncircumscribed manner in the womb of the holy Virgin….”

            One cannot separate nature from person.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            I agree the Incarnation doesn’t constrain the divine nature, Apo. The Son is truly incarnate, having a human experience not exceeding the limits of developmental stages, ignorance, finitude, embodied location, etc., and yet the same Son is, if I can put it crudely to parallel the thought, having a divine experience that does exceed the limits of his embodied state. So what I’m saying is that the divine nature is ‘not’ constrained by the latter (we agree!). Divinity is not reduced without remainder to the physical, finite, limitations of the Incarnate state. As Cyril of Alexandria says, “For although visible as a child and in swaddling clothes, even while he was in the bosom of the virgin that bore him, as God he filled the whole of creation and was fellow ruler with him who begot him. It was not in or by virtue of his human nature (with respect to his humanity he was merely a zygote in Mary’s womb) that he filled the whole creation. It was by virtue of his divine nature that he abided in his pre-temporal state without cessation. One person defined by both natures.

            I agree we can’t separate nature from person. But in Christ’s case, we can’t separate EITHER nature from the one Person, and the natures, though inseparable because united in the one Person, retain their respective modes of being (one eternal, the other finite, one filling the whole cosmos, the other spatially bound to his mother’s womb, etc.—the one Person is subject of both). So we attribute both experiences, or modes of being, to one and the same Person.

            Tom

            Like

          • apophaticallyspeaking says:

            And to follow up, and hopefully not add to your surprise, your suggestion that “to celebrate the fully “personal” disclosure of God without suggesting that the divine “nature” is thereby equally disclosed” doesn’t therefore hold. Christ’s nature and his person are both subject to revelation and inaccessibility.

            Christ incarnate is, after all, and remains, we confess with Chrysostom, “Thou, the Infinite.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            Apophaticallyspeaking: And to follow up, and hopefully not add to your surprise, your suggestion that “to celebrate the fully ‘personal’ disclosure of God without suggesting that the divine ‘nature’ is thereby equally disclosed” doesn’t therefore hold. Christ’s nature and his person are both subject to revelation and inaccessibility.

            Tom: If ‘person’ and ‘nature’ are both equally, to the same extent, in the same sense, and for the same reasons subject to revelation and inaccessibility, then why ‘one person and two natures’? It is not the ‘divine nature’ that is incarnate per se. It is the ‘Son’.

            I’m not saying the Person of the Son is not inaccessible in any natural sense. Of course he is ‘with respect to’ his divine nature. What I’m saying is that ‘with respect to’ person we have a fully personal disclosure of the Son via Incarnation. We don’t have that kind of disclosure of his divine nature via Incarnation. Is that nature transcendently present? Of course. It’s transcendentally present in all creation, and faith perceives that this is so. But the divine ‘nature’, I’m suggesting, isn’t the subject of incarnation. The ‘person’ is.

            I’ll let this go. I just thought it might contribute to Fr Al’s post which had to do with how language functions (cataphatic/apophatic modes of speaking). It seems to me that Christology’s ‘one person, two natures’ gives us a clue into how language itself can be a vehicle for divine revelation. If it dudn’t work, or it’s heretical, just chalk it up to my madness. But I appreciate the push back. Thanks!

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Tom, I haven’t said anything about the Incarnation and the personal knowledge of God thereby mediated. My comments have been focused on how we might make sense of the claim that God has no nature. I find bringing the Incarnation into the mix at this point unhelpful, unhelpful at least for me as I try to think these things through. We were talking at the level of philosophical theology and suddenly we are debating what Chalcedon means and whether the incarnate Son is a man.

            Would it be okay if we hold off discussion of the Incarnation until my next posting and focus our attention in this thread on the differences between classical theism (which, after all, is presumed in some sense by Chalcedon) and theistic personalism?

            Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        I don’t recognize any “hate” in my disagreement with kenoticism. And I believe I’ve been kinder to kenoticists than the Orthodox were to Arius and Nestorius, and kenoticism is as wide of the mark as their Christologies were.

        Like

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Okey dokey, Tom. “Hate” was too strong. My bad. How about “disagree”? I know you at least disagree with kenotic christology.

          Like

  17. yieldedone says:

    I don’t even know what to say about this conversation.

    Honestly.

    Yikes.

    Glad to NOT be chrismated (Lol!),
    D

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Tom says:

    Fr Aidan,

    You have Radde-Gallwitz’s book on Basil. Look at ch 5 and note Basil’s argument for the difference between ‘knowing that God is’ and ‘knowing what God is’ (p. 122ff). By the latter (‘what’) he means the “essence” of God, which is ‘not knowable’. And by the former knowledge (‘that’) Basil doesn’t mean merely the belief in the existence of God, as we might say, “I believe that God exists.” It’s more than that. For Basil, knowledge that God is is full of content since it’s based on God’s free and personal acts (creating, redeeming, revealing, etc.). God is knowable/accessible in this latter sense, though not in the former. That is, we can know that God is from his acts (true knowledge of God) but we cannot know his ousia, his essence/nature. This is basically what I’m getting in with my distinction between ‘who’ and ‘what’ God is.

    Because we DO truly know God in his personal acts, we have intimate knowledge of ‘who’ he is. But this knowledge is not knowledge of his ‘essence’ (his ‘what’). This basic distinction I find helpful when it comes to theological language which, interesting, is how Basil found it helpful. When we’re talking about God’s essence, I’m suggesting we don’t know that at all. I might even go beyond the Orthodox reservation to speak apophatically of the essence and say that since we cannot know/experience it we should not attempt to develop theories about how to talk about it, period. But I’m happy to agree with a less reserved classical apophaticism regarding the essence. That’s fine. But when it comes to the ‘person’, to ‘who’ God reveals himself to be (what Basil describes as knowing that God is) in his acts, we are on far surer ground because we’re standing on God’s concrete acts within creation. It’s within this context of ‘who’ God reveals himself to be via his acts that I’m suggesting cataphatic language proceeds based in the ‘common usage’ of words (just as RG argues was Basil’s view). Basil’s difference between our ‘knowing that God is’ but not ‘knowing what God is’ is one example from a Father that not everything about God is equally inaccessible/knowable or apprehendable by us or our language. We do distinguish therein, and that was my essential point.

    Tom

    Liked by 2 people

    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Tom: “not everything about God is equally inaccessible/knowable or apprehendable by us or our language”

      That was never disputed. I did affirm that “Christ’s nature and his person are both subject to revelation and inaccessibility.” Inasmuch as his person is revealed, so is his nature, but neither is exhaustively revealed, nor equally. One cannot bifurcate the two.

      This touches on the classic EED conundrum in which some claim or ask if “God’s essence/nature can/will be seen”. To which my reply is an emphatic “no” because there’s no essence/nature in existence without a personal subsistence. One cannot bifurcate the two. Pious non-sense as one author calls this type of discussion.

      Like

      • Tom says:

        I’ll let Basil know.😀

        Liked by 1 person

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          isn’t there some protestant problem with that? 🙂

          Like

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Tom,

          A more serious answer, FWIW I don’t think St Basil may not be the right source to shed light on the univocal/analogical approach to theology, something that is acknowledged in passing by RG as this issue remains undeveloped by Basil who utilized a univocal approach (p.139). RG also notes the developmental stage of Basil’s conceptions, such as that of the distinction he fails to make between propria and ousia (see p 133ff).

          What do you think of Rahner’s dictum?

          Like

  19. Tom, Apo., Fr.,

    I really would be curious to hear what your reactions would be to my recent post on Christology, and, basically, my grounds for affirming the divinity of Christ, particularly in the light of Chalcedonian Christology:

    https://intotheclarities.com/2016/05/23/confession-why-this-is-not-an-apologetics-website-part-five/

    I wonder whether it is helpful, particularly for Tom, or whether it merely repeats the issues that seem to be causing the snag. I really do mean to invite feedback: if you disagree, do tell me! I’m not trying to self-promote; I want dialogue. I post this here because it seems relevant to the discussion so far, and I hope it contributes. I’ll follow up with another exegetical post in the next few weeks that offers some of the exegetical and historical-traditional background to my understanding, but I hope this is helpful. It’s too sketchy, but then again, I wanted to try and keep it short.

    Fr., forgive me for the link. I already feel bad about it, but I hope it furthers and continues the conversation. I look forward to your next post on Christology.

    -Gregory

    Like

    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Gregory,

      Not sure I find it altogether helpful. It appears your concern is in regards to polemics or the communications of the faith in general?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Apo.,

        I treasure your honesty. I wish you’d said more about why you didn’t find it helpful — or, at least, “altogether helpful”.

        To answer your question: my concern is with what is public, and so also with public language. When we say that Jesus is divine, and even is God, it is a confession borne of the peculiar Christian experience, but confessed in a language that is not proprietarily Christian, but is (and was) public. My concern there was to explain to those within and those without why I am not interested in selling anyone my religious identity, but also to offer an explanation as to why my _being_ a Christian and _having_ such an identity is not hostile to a concern for, and a commitment to, public things — that, indeed, the peculiar Christian experience does (and must) account for itself with public language (for there is no private language), even if it concerns a peculiar kind of experience that is not had publicly, the way that one might point a telescope to the moon and see its features.

        It seems to me that the issue of divine simplicity is tightly related to these issues, as DS does not require any kind of special experience, but seems to follow upon any realist ontology. When Muslims and Christians debated about the affirmation of the divinity of Jesus, they did not simply confess fundamentally different private experiences, or shout the school-opinions of their respective groups, or chant their own exclusive holy books at one another: they answered one another by appeal to common principles, for conversation can proceed in no other way. That conversation _can_ so proceed is, it seems to me, because there is something in common that we can all see, and so _homologia_ (agreement) discloses the _logos_ (order/rationality) of things via _logos_ (speech). When people use trump cards or authorities to arrest the flow of _logos_, or when they approach _logos_ as a sophistical tool to gain power and control, then what is common can’t be found, but this is not the fault of the _logos_, but of the speaker-asserter, who is no longer speaker-dialoguer. Agreements alight upon universals, and the root of all universals is in the One-Beyond-Unity, and the Goodness-Beyond-Being, by which all that is shared is known. “And this all men accept to be God”, to use Aquinas’ phrase. If we are to speak of the divinity of Christ at all, if we are to intelligibly confess and believe it at all, then the experience generating this affirmation must be homologous to the public understanding of what the word “God” refers to.

        Concern about the divine-humanity of Christ, therefore, would seem to be a concern about what the word “divinity” means. If we say that God is revealed in his acts, and that the person is disclosed, and not the nature, then I propose that we have no idea of what we are talking about. We cannot say that a divine person has appeared if we do not know what the word “divine” signifies, and the sense of “person” cannot smuggle in un-simple things into the Godhead unless it wishes to forfeit the word “divine” or “God” altogether.

        And no: I do not think, at all, that this means giving up Trinitarian theology.

        Pax et Bonum,
        -G

        Liked by 1 person

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Gregory,

          Some thoughts: it seems to me that indeed Christian faith stems from a private and personal encounter; but yet, all the same, the “object” of our faith has a profoundly public dimension, such that “Wisdom crieth out in the street”. So I do not think it is merely a private/public concern of language and signification; rather it is also a fact not everyone accepts the claims of the Gospel. So, to put that in different words, fundamentally what concerns us is that, even though the revelation of God is public, we have stopped our ears and closed our eyes to the very public language and events of the Gospel (this handicap can be applied both inter and intra personally, so it seems to me.) This is not to downplay the importance of the need to clarify terms, concepts, significations, and so forth, that are utilized when we engage in conversation – your point about the homologous is well made in that regard.

          “If we say that God is revealed in his acts, and that the person is disclosed, and not the nature, then I propose that we have no idea of what we are talking about”

          Yes, absolutely, which is precisely my critique of Tom’s assertion. There’s no such thing as nature or essence (of anything) that does not subsist in particular. We cannot, therefore, conclude that while person is disclosed its nature remains entirely unknown. When I behold Gregory typing on his keyboard, I behold a personal subsistence whose nature/essence is human. Gregory’s appearance to me is a disclosure (in part) of a hypostatically subsisting human nature: revelation of person discloses its nature. This disclosure in turn allows us to observe distinctions between various natures – the nature of a human is unlike the nature of a horse in this and that way.

          If one wants to know human nature, one will have to acquire knowledge of particular enhypostatized instances (i.e. beings) of such a nature. I suggest this is no different for the divine nature. We can know divine nature by beholding the person of Christ. To put it stronger even still, the incarnation of the person of Christ perfectly revealed the pre-temporal reality whereby God is the God he is. It is difficult to improve on the words of DBH:

          There is a perfectly proportionate convertibility of God with his own manifestation of himself to himself; and, in fact, this convertibility is nothing less than God’s own act of self-knowledge and self-love in the mystery of his transcendent life….his hiddenness – his transcendence – is always already manifestation…

          So there we have it. The revelation of God as trinity of persons Father, Son and Holy Spirit is the essential revelation of the being of God as God.

          Liked by 1 person

          • There does not seem to be anything to accept without the event of unifying recognition in the mirror of the face, though. Otherwise we end up saying Christ is divine… why?

            Also, how exactly would you say that Christ is public?

            Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Gregory, your article is germane to our discussion. No apology is needed for directing our attention to it.

      As I understand your view (and correct me if I’m wrong), you are claiming that if Christians proclaim Jesus is divine, we need to be able to demonstrate that he fulfills the public, commonly accepted conditions for divinity. Or as you phrase the matter in a comment below: “If we are to speak of the divinity of Christ at all, if we are to intelligibly confess and believe it at all, then the experience generating this affirmation must be homologous to the public understanding of what the word ‘God’ refers to.”

      I agree and disagree. When the gospel moves into a different culture, it encounters pre-existing understandings of divinity. Missionaries will no doubt work with those pre-existing understandings, even while radically re-interpreting them in light of the gospel. One such reinterpretation will probably involve helping them to understand that the true and living God is not a being that exists in ontological continuity with the world—i.e., he is not a god but the infinite Creator who has made all things from out of nothing. Conversion, therefore, necessarily entails conversion to and acceptance of the Church’s understanding of divinity. So is the Church’s understanding of deity homologous to that of non-Christian society? The answer, so it seems, must be yes and no.

      But the question may be even more difficult. If Aquinas is right, then we Christians do not know the meaning of the word “God.” We cannot offer a definition of divinity. He is absolute Mystery. The non-believing culture may well be able to offer a definition of divinity, but we properly cannot. Hence to confess Jesus Christ as divine is to confess that the man Jesus participates in and communicates the same Mystery that God is. He is Mystery. Or as Herbert McCabe puts it: “The mystery of Jesus is, like all mysteries, the mystery of what ‘God’ means.”

      Liked by 2 people

      • “we need to be able to demonstrate that he fulfills” – but this demonstration cannot be made. The perception of it only occurs in the event of recognition in the mirror of the face of Christ. One can make sense of the vision, and account for it to those who have not had it, only in public language.

        Where does Aquinas show this radical agnosticism you ascribe to him?

        I offer no de-finition of God, who is not finite. Also, sensing the mystery is not at odds with what is classically meant by God, but the approach you contrast with what I’ve tried to lay out sounds more like an Occamist one than a Thomist one.

        This is all very helpful to me; great thread.

        Like

  20. Tom says:

    The reply column is too tight far right, so I’ll bring this down here. Easier to read.

    Gregory,

    Thanks for the link to your post. Not sure I followed you, but your qualifying it with Apo helped me.

    I love the concern that public existence demonstrate faith claims. I don’t think anything is every absolutely “private.” That is, “being is communion.” To be is to be in relation, which renders “private” experiences a fantasy, for the self-aware Christian mind. “Personal” yes. “Private,” not really. They’re not the same. Even when I’m doing something supposedly secretly (privately), with no one else around, God is present. If that seems a trivial qualification of individual privacy, that’s because we have yet to experience ourselves as living, moving, and having our being in Christ. As far as I’m concerned, “public” is all there is, and Christ is that which makes its unity possible.

    As for your and Apo’s concern about my statement that in the Incarnation the ‘person’ and not the ‘nature’ is known, I’m not sure what to say. I’m not suggesting we don’t speak at all of the divine nature/essence. ‘One person, two natures’ would be meaningless with saying something of the divine essence/nature. I did afterall say, “Apophatic about ‘what’ God is.” So I’m not averse to speaking ‘of’ the essence. But we do not “know” the essence. We know of it through knowing God in his free and personal acts. So you’re right, Gregory, “we cannot say that a divine person has appeared if we do not know what the word ‘divine’ signifies.” But we arrive at a sense of what divinity is through God’s acts manifest in creation, through his free and personal acts, particular through the Incarnation, and not through direct, unmediated access of the ‘essence’.

    So when Apo says, “there’s no such thing as nature or essence (of anything) that does not subsist in particular” I completely agree. ‘Persons’ are not free-floating, nature-less realities. I haven’t suggested they are. And equally (Apo clarifying again), “If one wants to know human nature, one will have to acquire knowledge of particular enhypostatized instances (i.e. beings) of such a nature.” Precisely! And if one wants to know divine nature, Apo? What would have to happen? As you say, we’d have to acquire knowledge of the ‘instances’ by which God is the God he is divinely, i.e., we’d have to “know” the begetting of the Son from eternity, the procession of the Spirit, the divine acts by which God is the God he is. But we cannot walk into that and take notes. Inasmuch as our own material personal existence mirrors God as image, the way any work of art reveals its artists, and inasmuch as that God acts in the world supremely through Incarnation, we can speak ‘of’ the divine essence apophatically. But things are somewhat different, I claim, with the ‘person’. Why? Because the Son is homousious with us in our humanity, though we cannot be homousios with him in his divinity. So our inability to know divine essence/nature doesn’t leave us in the dark with respect to the divine Person/Son. And, wonderfully, his being divine doesn’t prevent him from becoming fully human. He can fully instantiate his personhood in and through human being. Thus our speaking of who he is can proceed along the lines of a nature we can and do know, in which case language apprehends ‘person’ in a way it cannot apprehend ‘essence’. Thank you Fr Aidan for telling me to read RG’s book on Basil!

    Tom

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom: “Thank you Fr Aidan for telling me to read RG’s book on Basil!”

      You’re welcome, Thomas. It’s about time you got around to it. I’ll get you educated eventually.😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • apophaticallyspeaking says:

      Tom: “And if one wants to know divine nature, Apo? What would have to happen? As you say, we’d have to acquire knowledge of the ‘instances’ by which God is the God he is divinely,”

      The instance is the personal subsistance of the divine nature, which is Christ incarnated, not the “even” of begetting or spirating. To learn about human nature, it does not require knowledge of generation.

      It seems to me what you are proposing is that personal subsistence wholly obscures essence/nature. But likely I am misunderstanding you.

      Like

      • apophaticallyspeaking says:

        that was meant to read “event” of begetting or spirating.

        and I should clarify: “It seems to me what you are proposing is that in the case of the divine nature in the person of Christ, personal subsistence wholly obscures essence/nature. The incarnation, then, reveals Christ’s humanity but not his divinity.”

        Like

        • Tom says:

          Apo: I should clarify: “It seems to me what you are proposing is that…[t]he incarnation reveals Christ’s humanity but not his divinity.”

          Tom: I think we may be talking past each other, each passionate about establish a concern that isn’t really at odds with the other’s concern. I don’t want to ware folks down, or ware out my own welcome, so I’ll pull out with this final comment and wait for future posts on it from Fr Aidan (if his back lets him engage, I hear his back is out).

          Certainly we can agree that Christ’s ‘humanity’ is present and known immediately (for other human being who knew him). John says we “we’ve heard him, seen him with our eyes, touched him” etc. Being homoousious with us in our humanity makes experiencing him in terms of our own humanity possible. No controversy there.

          But what they saw, touched and heard (over all, Christ’s virgin birth, sinless life, death and resurrection) compelled them to conclude that though he was truly human (no doubting that), he wasn’t ‘merely’ human. He was accomplishing what only God could accomplish (forgiving sin, for example). Slowly it dawned on them that the salvation they knew and the worship they ascribed to Christ meant he had also to be homoousious with the Father. You know all the history better than I. So, why so slow in realizing this? Isn’t the ‘divine nature’ perfectly on display in all its infinitude right there ‘in’ and ‘as’ the material life of Jesus? Isn’t Jesus’ ‘divinity’ as straight-forwardly perceived and known as his ‘humanity’? Obviously not. Why it is not so is the difference I’m exploring.

          I’m not exiling the divine nature from the Incarnation or suggesting that nothing is implied about God’s nature from the Incarnation (or from any of God’s acts). John says, “He who was from the beginning, who we have heard, who we have seen with our eyes, who we have looked at and our hands have touched….” John reasons ‘from’ the concrete, incarnate life of Jesus (hearing, seeing, touching him) to identifying him with being him who is “from the beginning,” a phrase that does not assert the uncreated eternity of the human nature [the flesh John is touching]; it asserts the eternity of the ‘person’ [of ‘he whom’] John is touching). John isn’t seeing, hearing, and touching the divine essence, i.e., the very act of uncreated being (words fail me). No Father thinks we apprehend ‘that’. Paul says, “God lives in unapproachable light.” That ought to settle. We can’t know “that,” though we can know “him who is that.”

          Tom

          Like

      • Tom says:

        Apo: The instance is the personal subsistance of the divine nature, which is Christ incarnated, not the “even[t]” of begetting or spirating.

        Fr Aidan wants to unpack this in terms of the Incarnation in an upcoming post, so perhaps we should just wait, although his question re: “nature” entails the wider question of Incarnation. I’ll just say (if I’m following you), that the Incarnation (presupposing, as it does, the creation of the material order) isn’t the act by which God defines himself “as divine” per se. Incarnation is how God defines himself “as human” per se. If the two (the divine and the human) were perfectly convertible (that is, both ‘essences’ were defined by and as one and the same act), we’d have pantheism and wouldn’t need the “two natures” of Chalcedon at all.

        I’ve said too much and don’t want to get off into a full discussion before Fr Al posts. ;o)

        Like

    • Glad you found it helpful.

      To be clear, I was not concerned “that public existence demonstrate faith claims”, which would amount to apologetics, but that the private –or personal, as that might be a more fitting term– experience of recognition account for itself with the public language, even though the public language could never lead to the particular experience that is accounted for within the public language, and is obligated to give an account of itself in public language. The merits of such a transfiguring event of recognition must also be given in public language, for we can publicly see the merits of things — the value of different things may be disagreed about, but the value-quality of things is public.

      You also wrote, Tom, that “we do not “know” the essence. We know of it through knowing God in his free and personal acts. So you’re right, Gregory, “we cannot say that a divine person has appeared if we do not know what the word ‘divine’ signifies.” But we arrive at a sense of what divinity is through God’s acts manifest in creation, through his free and personal acts, particular through the Incarnation, and not through direct, unmediated access of the ‘essence’.”

      I’ve heard this model before from others, and I’m not sure what to make of it at this point. I guess one of the things I am trying to say is that there is no a question-marked-unknowable that we know through particular events, which events help us to fill-in the question mark with determinate content (there simply _is_ no content to God, who, for this reason, _has_ no “essence”, strictly speaking, for essence=determinacy, and the divinity of Christ is registered, I suggest, in the experience of Christ as all-determining power without limit or shape except the shape that appears in his humanity). God is not a being who acts here, and doesn’t act there.

      Talk about essences only appearing within instances/hypostases seems to imply that there is some kind of theogony/ontogeny within the Godhead, by which the Godhead naturally takes on some kind of undifferentiated differentiation. As soon as we talk about an instance of an essence, we are talking about being, about boundary and determinacy, because there are always a (seemingly) limitless number of instances possible for any essence, and we are always talking about “this” instance, rather than all other possible instances. God has no essence in himself, though, as he has no boundaries, and all boundaries things are drawn out of him: it seems clear that only in the begetting of the Son is the Father distinct at all, though this is not an event in time, or an event at all.

      Thoughts?

      Like

      • Tom says:

        Gregory: I was not concerned “that public existence demonstrate faith claims”, which would amount to apologetics, but that the private–or personal, as that might be a more fitting term–experience of recognition account for itself with the public language, even though the public language could never lead to the particular experience that is accounted for within the public language, and is obligated to give an account of itself in public language.

        Tom: Agree. Personal being is ecstatic. We find ourselves in the faces of others. Personal being is socialized identity. Naturally one’s personal experience of oneself, achieved ecstatically in relation with others, will have to adopt an agreed upon (public) language. I think that’s exactly what the Church and its Creedal language (and language of worship) are. The Church is the ‘public’ context wherein redeemed personal existence is celebrated and maintained. That’s as public as the language expressive of truly personal existence need be. Unredeemed public existence is, as you know, is a failure—personally speaking. The ‘faces’ one meets are not themselves redeemed images of the ‘Face that will not die’ (to bring Loder into it). So the public failure of human personal existence means we haven’t been meeting the Face that never dies in others. We meet deformed faces, and so we get socialized without becoming true persons.

        I might still be way off understanding your point. Sorry. But if I’m close, then I’d agree that personal existence is irreducibly public. But for me the first, immediately public context for personal existence is the indwelling Christ. “I live, yet not I, but Christ.” That’s public, but no other human being can insert him/herself into THAT. But I need some second, mediated public context (Church) to exercise, grow, and celebrate what it fully means for “I live, not I, but Christ” to live with others. I’m not sure how much this first, immediate public experience of personal grounding in Christ requires the language from the second, wider public context in which it finds expression. I’m not even sure this first, most intimate experience of myself in Christ, seeing the Face that will not die, requires ‘language’ at all. But certainly when it moves beyond the “Not I but Christ” into wider Church life, then yes, it requires an agreed upon public language.

        Gregory: Talk about essences only appearing within instances/hypostases seems to imply that there is some kind of theogony/ontogeny within the Godhead, by which the Godhead naturally takes on some kind of undifferentiated differentiation. As soon as we talk about an instance of an essence, we are talking about being, about boundary and determinacy, because there are always a (seemingly) limitless number of instances possible for any essence, and we are always talking about “this” instance, rather than all other possible instances. God has no essence in himself, though, as he has no boundaries, and all boundaries things are drawn out of him: it seems clear that only in the begetting of the Son is the Father distinct at all, though this is not an event in time, or an event at all.

        Tom: Remember, I’m a hack. I don’t have a PhD in systematics or patroloy or anything. That said, it seems to me that we have to use these terms (nature, essence, begotten, unbegotten, proceeding) very carefully (apophatically). I’m not suggesting otherwise. So I’m not sure why my speaking of a distinction (their distinction, not their independence) between ‘person’ and ‘nature’ (a distinction without which Chalcedon would be nonsense) is alarming when Basil, Maximus, and all Orthodoxy (not to mention the Scriptures themselves) all speak of these as well. And I don’t mean these terms in some crude, Process theist, univocal sense. I’m happy to say apophatically, “God doesn’t ‘have a nature’” in precisely the way and for the same reasons I’d agree to say “God doesn’t exist,” i.e., to prevent my (cataphatic) assertions (that “God exists” and that “God has a nature”) from too comfortably settling into a univocal understanding of God and so coming to believe God is just a bigger, more perfect “me.” As DBH says, though analogy can span the difference between infinite and finite, uncreated and created, “it cannot span an absolute antithesis.” And your assertion that “God does not have a nature” to discount apophatically qualified talk of the divine nature seems so matter-of-fact as to suggest your positing that kind of antithesis.

        Tom

        Liked by 1 person

        • It is not an absolute antithesis : such a thing would put a boundary around the infinite, and that bought day would be what is finite. Finite would then boundary infinitude, which would be “NOT finite”. The true infinite overcomes even this distinction. End: analogia entis.

          Like

        • My only major pushback I would offer to what you wrote is that I would go to bat for extra-ecclesiastical society and relationships as having lots of meaning and value – and as releasing faces in the same ecstatic motion you mention.

          Liked by 1 person

        • apophaticallyspeaking says:

          Tom: ” I’m not sure why my speaking of a distinction (their distinction, not their independence) between ‘person’ and ‘nature’ (a distinction without which Chalcedon would be nonsense) is alarming”

          It is not the distinction that is problematic, of course not, I have not claimed this at all. What is alarming is the proposal as to the divine nature in the person of Christ, personal subsistence wholly obscures the divine nature, and this in contradistinction to His human nature, which you claim (again, correct me if I am wrong, I may be misunderstanding you) is somehow not subject to the absence of essential disclosure. The way I read you is that the incarnation reveals Christ’s humanity while leaving his divinity unrevealed.

          Like

          • Tom says:

            My reply a few minutes ago up top might better have gone here.

            So, I’m gonna go pour myself a libation to Asclepius and pray for Fr Aidan’s lower back. (Just kidding. I’ll pray to God for his improvement!)

            Liked by 1 person

  21. Bill says:

    Theistic personalism suggests that God has metaphysical parts. It seems to me that anyone or anything with metaphysical parts needs a cause. If I’m right about what I’ve just told you, then since the theistic personalist God needs a cause, he can’t be the greatest conceivable being. Dr. Craig agrees with St. Anselm when he, the saint, defines God that way and rejects divine simplicity. So I think his theistic personalism and his definition of God are inconsistent with each other. Am I misinterpreting Craig’s theism? To me, theistic personalism sounds virtually the same as atheism.

    Since I’m a Catholic Thomist, I believe the Catholic dogma about divine simplicity.

    Like

    • brian says:

      Bill,

      Perfection is an important attribute of God. The coincidence of the transcendentals and Being are unthinkable apart from perfection. However, for modern men who have “forgotten” Being and who separate thinking from knowing, perfection becomes a hypothetical possibility and not a signature of Being. Anselm, as you may know, is frequently badly misunderstood. It is really poor metaphysics and a diminished understanding of Beauty and its connection to faith that has caused disastrous misinterpretations of Anselm’s argument. Theistic personalism operates within such a degraded metaphysics. It is such a bad concept of divinity that if it is not synonymous with atheism, it is certainly an inducement towards it. Ironically, atheism with regards to theistic personalism could actually be a step closer to authentic theism.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bill says:

        Brian,
        Thank you for writing. I agree with you, especially when I wonder whether analytic philosophy causes part of the problem you’re describing.

        I’m an analytic Thomist who worries that analytic metaphysics can tempt us to think like reductionists. Years ago, when I read Prof. Swinburne’s fascinating book “The Existence of God,” he seemed to reject God’s timelessness by telling his readers that it’s enough to think that God always has existed contingently and always will exist that way. But if Swinburne’s God only happens to exist, then for me, it’s hard to know what God means when says something like, “Moses, tell them that I Am sent you” and what he means by “I am who am.” In those passages, “I am” means “I exist,” right?

        Like

  22. Bill says:

    Oops. Maybe I should have said “the greatest conceivable being” instead of “the greatest possiblle being.”

    Like

    • brian says:

      Hi Bill,

      I’m not impressed with Swinburne.
      I am also not generally sympathetic to analytic philosophy, unless all one really means is the careful use of language, but that’s not all most analytic philosophers mean. According to a Wiki article I just perused, Herbert McCabe, Fergus Kerr, Eleonore Stump, and Alasdair MacIntyre could all be construed as Analytic Thomists. I like McCabe and MacIntyre, in particular, so I guess there must be something to it.

      I am influenced pretty strongly by Thomas, but the Thomism I have absorbed is mainly a product of Pieper, Gilson, Maritain, and Norris Clarke. And yes, I think the analytic mindset can easily become a rationalistic reductionism that falsely limits the cognitive capacity of human being. Recall that reason for the medievals included ratio and intellectus, the latter including as part of man’s reason what we today dismiss as mere subjective aestheticism. I’ve found the Continental tradition much more fruitful as an interlocutor for theology. The Anglo-American bent too often leads to positivism, empiricism, a univocal clarity that can mistake a kind of logic chopping punctilio for insight.

      Liked by 1 person

  23. Bill says:

    Hi, Brian,

    I know that Dr. Stump is an analytic philosopher because I e-mail with her and have read her book called “Aquinas.”

    The analytic tradition comes almost naturally to me because I’m mostly a logician who programmed computers professionally. That’s partly why I wish more logic professors at Catholic colleges would teach logic students more than Aristotelian sentential logic. Then those students probably would know that, in it, there’s no way to deduce the conclusion from the premise in this argument:

    All horses are animals. So every horse’s tail is an animal’s tail.

    To deny the first premise in the next argument and deduce the correct conclusion, you’ll need modal logic, or the argument will be fallacious as you can see.

    If I were a dog, then I would bark.
    I wouldn’t bark.
    __________________________
    So, I’m a dog.

    Like some professional philosophers (I’m an amateur), I almost obsess about clear prose. So though I’ve always Admired Ayer and Quine for their precise writing, I’ve never believed empiricism, let alone logical positivism.

    I’m sorry to say that Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz are the only Continental philosophers I’ve read.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Sorry, I should have said that Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz were the only Continental Rationalists I’ve read.

      Like

  24. brian says:

    Bill,

    Kant, Hamann, the nineteenth century (Hegel, Kierkegaard, Schopenhauer, Schelling, Nietzsche), then Heidegger and the phenomenologists — you’re missing out.

    I surmise you are aware of Thomas’ dictum that “knowledge depends on the mode of the knower?” We can have “clear and distinct ideas” about some things, but as Plato and Aristotle understood, a little bit of knowledge of the divine is more valuable than a great amount of mundane knowledge. There’s a reason Plato employs myth at key points in his argument. Analytic thinkers don’t really understand metaphor and poetics, imo. Not, of course, that one should eschew logic and lucid expression. If you have not read it, I recommend a perusal of Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophical Experience.

    Like

  25. Bill says:

    Brian,

    I’ve read Kant, Heidegger intimidates me, I want to read Schopenhauer, and I ignore Nietszche.

    Speaking of poetics and things like it, Chesterton’s prose annoys because I prefer perfect clarity to clever puns. By far, the most confusing book I’ve read is Fr. George Rutler’s one called “Beyond Modernity: Reflections of a Post-Modern Catholic, another book full of prose like old Gilbert Keith’s.

    Most of my philosophy professors were analytic philosophers. But I paid prose enough attention to notice ambiguity that even some of them didn’t see until I pointed it out. So to overheat my brain enough to ignite my hair, just force me to read Vatican II’s documents or anything by Derrida. Pope John Paul II’s modernist theology of the body probably would start another fire, too.🙂

    The Divine Comedy is the only poem I enjoy.

    Ideally, I would be a Frege scholar or a pure mathematician partly because my graduate school advisor, Dr. Anthony M. Ungar, was a logician and a philosopher of mathematics.

    Like

    • One ignores Nietzsche to one’s folly, and dearth. Read Stack’s _Nietzsche’s Anthropic Circle_.

      Like

      • Bill says:

        Thanks, Gregory. I’ll read it, I hope. Year ago, when I was a prisoner’s pen pal, I bought him a book by a Nietzsche scholar to see whether he agreed often with my friend. And he did. The inmate was a lifer and a high school dropout who wrote much more eloquently than I ever will, especially when he penned an article for a magazine. If hadn’t known him as well as I did, I would have thought he had graduated from college. He reflected on many things when he srent 23 hours a day in his cell with its solid door.

        He grew up a Protestant, became an atheist, reverted to Protestantism, and was the first Greek Orthodox monk his bishop and ever tonsured in a maximum security prison, the securest federal on in the U.S., the Administrative Maximum in Florence, Colorado.

        Liked by 1 person

    • brian says:

      Yes, Rutler’s prose has the quality you mention. I also find it irritating. I think you are a bit harsh on Chesterton. He wrote quickly for Fleet Street, but a work like The Man Who Was Thursday holds up. The importance of paradox for Christian understanding is also not really negotiable, imo. We all have our gifts, our unique paths. Your sensibility is needed, but as someone for whom poetry is essential, I am sorry you appear so restricted. If you like Dante, give Charles Williams’ The Figure of Beatrice a read. And really, Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse is an amazing and underappreciated poem.

      Like

      • Bill says:

        Brian,

        Most of my background is in computer science, so I think like a mathematician. I even prefer artificial languages to spoken ones when the artificial ones are unambiguous. So in my notebooks at the State University of New York at Albany, I wrote some notes in the language of first order predicate logic because it was more readable than a long wordy sentence. In fact, my computer programs are often clearer than my prose.

        While I read something, I want to know what, if anything, it is the author meant by what he wrote. That’s partly why I disagree with deconstructionists when they say that a text’s only meanings are the ones the reader reads into it. It’s one thing to say that there’s no uninterpreted text. It’s another thing to say that a text means anything the reader thinks it means.

        Poetry frustrated me at the university because I always tried to find out what poems meant, not merely what they seemed to mean. So after I mentioned that to a copyeditor, she seemed to think that poetry had no objective meaning.

        Maybe my professor of critical writing when she asked us “what was happening” in the poem she handed out at the first class. I thought, “Well, snow is falling, covering a roof, and landing on the trees.” Since I “automatically” took it literally, I wondered “where she got that” when I woman behind me told us that winter represented old age.

        I know that it’s okay for readers to interpret poems or novels differently. Since I’m an opera buff, I can admire a singer who interprets a role reflectively and insightfully. In fact, a singer can honor a composer and a librettist with a brilliant interpretation of a role. While he does that, I hope, he’ll respect what the composer and the librettist wished. Whether we’re talking about opera, other classical music, fine literature, great poetry, or any other kind of high culture, we need to preserve for future generations to inherit.

        Years ago, the Christian Broadcasting Network produced a rock ‘n roll version of Handel’s Messiah to introduce that oratorio to people who otherwise wouldn’t hear it. My question was whether the would recognize it during a traditional production of it.

        Like

  26. Bill says:

    Brian, I ignore most popular culture, and I prefer philosophy, especially metaphysics, to theology. Sadly, I’ve noticed that, to excel at anything. That’s partly why I’m very choosy when I read philosophy and theology. Existentialism, postmodernism, poetry, and Hegel would frustrate me too much, If I want to read political thought, I probably will get books by Joseph de Maistre, Loous de Bonald, or Roger Scruton. I enjoy Juan Donoso Cortes, too, but his prose tends to be too dense for me to read it long without a a break,

    Like

    • brian says:

      Bill,

      Scruton is often insightful. He has a pithy book on beauty that is rewarding. You are enamored of a kind of Old School European conservative sensibility. It’s an interesting perspective; somewhat small group I should think.

      Deconstructionism is one of those broad terms that is almost too big to be useful. While its ideological use has many of the failings you discern and ultimately, I would agree with those who see it more as the playing out of modernity rather than its repudiation, the notion that it simply feeds egalitarian and subjective relativism is a caricature. Here and there, it sometimes gets it right or at least points to genuine aporias (one of its favorite terms.) As a method to breakdown Enlightenment rationalism and a kind of positivist understanding of nature (by emphasizing the equivocities in our encounter with being,) it has some value, I think.

      You might like a writer like Stanislaw Lem, a Polish sci-fi writer.
      Metaphor is the key element in poesis for artists. The logic you prize will probably find the use of imagery frequently frustrating. I would simply warn that a proper understanding of art and metaphysics does not devolve into random solipsism, nor is it proper to think the poem is solely the product of interpretation, though it is true that a work of art includes within its reality the range of personal appropriations it makes possible. This does not include bad readings. Math and science types often conclude that one can’t get art wrong and that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Beauty may very well be better discerned by the person who has undergone ascesis and a kind of training in wisdom that allows more of reality to be perceived. But beauty is always the radiance of being. There is a kind of pseudo-art in which empty symbols lead one away from reality. This is sophistry and bad art. In short, you can get it wrong.

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      • Bill says:

        Brian,

        I know artists can get art wrong. That’s partly why I mentioned opera, inherited high culture and respect for what composers and librettists wish. Why wouldn’t I when I believe beauty is as objective as existence of E. Power Biggs’s favorite pipe organ?

        The subjectivism I criticize came mostly from postmodernists I’ve talked with online, in person, or both. I’m happy to agree with anyone who argues convincingly for what he believes. In fact, I’m beginning to realize that some postmodernists deserved much more empathetic attention than I paid them, since I used to dismiss what they said, even when I should have know that they probably were right. Sadly, I agreed almost instinctively with some philosophers who taught me when they hated postmodernism. Before I enrolled in a philosophy degree program, I was already biased and stayed that way long, long after I graduated. Everyone has some biases or other, I suppose.

        I don’t treat philosophical writings the way Protestant believers in sola scriptura treat the Bible when they think it’s the only source they need when they want to study divinely revealed truth. Since I rarely trust my judgment, I read scholarly philosophical books, philosophical articles, and commentaries included in, say, an edition of Summa Contra Gentiles and in St. Thomas’s book about being and essence.

        Why did I bring up Derrida and deconstruction? Partly because I believe deconstruction is unfair two authors. It seems to me that scholars, novelists, librettists, poets and other writers write because they want to communicate to or with their readers, their hearers or both. That’s one reason reading an ancient document can frustrate me. I wish the author were here to talk with me. I want to ask, “Do I understand? Is this what you meant? I’m eager to learn from you and to know what it is you were trying to tell me, since I care deeply about you, what you think, and how you feel.”

        Surely, I’m in a political minority because I’m a reactionary. Since I’m also a member of the Catholic Traditionalist movement and a parishioner at a Society of St. Pus X chapel, some may even believe that I’m a schismatic, too. So if they want me to, I’ll be happy to argue why I resist the novelties the Catholic Church introduced before Vatican II and during it. But if I did that here, it would be another needless digression. Anyhow I’m happy to be in the minority we’re talking about. Here in the U.S., my monarchism wouldn’t be popular either. Though I don’t know whether there’s one life, I want to move to a genuinely Catholic European country.

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        • Bill says:

          I meant to write “Though I don’t know whether there’s one, I want to move to a genuinely Catholic country.” Sorry about the typos, everyone.

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  27. Bill says:

    Everyone, I think I’ve digressed needlessly here. If anyone wants to comment on anything I’ve said here, I’ll be happy to reply. But I would hate to hijack any conversation.

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  28. Bill says:

    Since Brian mentioned something that Scruton wrote about beauty, here’s a great article by Scruton.

    http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/19/high-culture-fake

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