Creation as Chaconne

by Pastor Tom Belt

itzhak-perlman-bw-by-akira-kinoshitaBach’s Chaconne for Violin is 12 to 15 minutes of—well, forgive me for putting it this way—the eucharist ingested through the ears, a divine liturgy of pure music. I have well over a dozen recordings by different world-class violinists interpreting this masterpiece. I love every one of them. They’re all faithful to Bach and no two of them are the same.

Recently here at Eclectic Orthodoxy, Dr. Chris Green contributed a thought-provoking post on a persistent question regarding human free will and the possibility of the final reconciliation of all things. Chris engages a piece by Orthodox theologian Nicholas Loudovikos who argues (however cryptic the last sentence of his piece may be) that through the free exercise of their wills human beings may finally confirm their destiny in an irrevocable separation from God. The possibility of such absolute foreclosure is entailed, argues Loudovikos, in the very nature of free will granted us by God. A great deal has been said in objection to this free will defense of hell, and Chris zeros in on several of the objections: it over-values free will as a good in and of itself, it severs the exercise of the will from its divine ground and teleology, and it entails an unacceptably dualistic or two-storied worldview.

I don’t have any disagreement with Chris on these matters. What I’d like to do here is simply reflect upon attempts to bring into harmony belief in a certain (libertarian) understanding of the will, on the one hand, and belief in the final reconciliation of all things to God in Christ, on the other hand. Now, these days I’m tending less toward philosophical and more toward poetic and aesthetic ways to conceive of things. As I tried to describe in God wills our improvisation and Creation at the Improv, using music and art to frame the conversation regarding free will, what the world gives to God is what it gives back to God in improvisation upon and within the grace of being:

You are the themes, the scope, the rhyme
We improvise upon in time,
Are not made less giving away
Your temporal form to what we say;
These forms are what you will to be,
A mirror of your Trinity.

This entire post attempts to unpack those lines. Now, I have a particular interest (virtue or a vice, I can’t tell) in the libertarian understanding of choice, so if my bias skews my reflections here, I’ll be happy to receive clarification and help from others. It’s been a pleasure to learn a great deal from my conversations here at Fr. Aidan’s. I believe, however, that I do appreciate the deeper concerns in Chris’s post. In fact, I share them. Essentially they describe the irresistible teleological orientation of the will toward God (the Good) and thus God as the will’s only possible final resting place. This follows simply from the nature of created being grounded in the unconditional love that creates and sustains it. So the possibilities of Godward movement are already irrevocable given the nature of divine love as the free act that calls us into being. That divine creative act itself is an invitation that constitutes the will’s irresistible orientation toward transcendent goods.

The kind of “absolute narcissism,” then, that Loudovikos describes hell as would be an absolute hopelessness. It would be teleological foreclosure, and that’s the problem, for nothing God creates can fail to possess its being and existence as an invitation to move Godward. This openness to God is given to us as a creative act of love. We don’t first exist and only then relate our existence to God’s invitation as a kind of addendum to the fact that we exist at all. On the contrary, to be at all is to be invited Godward.

Allow me a slight detour here. Some might suggest that in understanding the will to be thus grounded teleologically in God, we have left a libertarian notion of the will behind. One friend cautions me:

So far as I can tell from what you have written, you are passionate to maintain real choice and intentionality as aspects of human willing. First, I do not think one has to be a libertarian to affirm such. Second, I don’t think modern libertarian views can rationally justify intentionality because intentionality requires a metaphysics of the soul that they explicitly or implicitly deny (because the soul is only understood as soul within a metaphysics that is counter to their presuppositions). Modern phenomenology had to rediscover and then give greater attention to intentionality because it had been lost by the current of various modern conceptions…

Naturally, you are not defending any of these modern deformations, but my point is that between Aristotle or Aquinas and the pre-modern articulation that allowed a hard-fought understanding of human liberty to emerge and what we have now are many different conceptions that subtly, covertly, or overtly color the way people use terms today, including those libertarians who carry a sort of “common sense” affirmation of human freedom. Left undiagnosed are precisely those illicit tonalities from various metaphysical conceptions or emotive sympathies that have embedded themselves in modern consciousness so that many exponents of freedom also affirm elements that militate against a fully rational understanding of freedom…

[W]hen people hear ‘libertarian’ today, they hear what you do not affirm. They do not hear what you are defending. The term itself is not useful to you. You may want to add a qualifier like “archaic” libertarian or some such, but that is to introduce an idiosyncrasy that will likely not catch on enough to allow for differentiation.

I’m very grateful for this caution and want to take it sincerely to heart. I agree that to use the term “libertarian” without the necessary qualifications miscommunicates. And perhaps to qualify it sufficiently would weigh any discussion down unnecessarily. I’m not sure. But David Bentley Hart is careful to make the distinction in his response to me on this very question:

If you look at the quotation you cite from my Notre Dame address, I speak only of an “absolutely libertarian act,” and the qualifier is important. Only that conception of libertarian freedom could possibly make sense of the free will defense of hell, because it utterly severs the “gnomic” indeterminacy of the will from the will’s natural teleology. But of course it is also a nonsensical picture of the will in that it is impotent to account for intentionality, and in that pure spontaneity cannot be true deliberative freedom. But, yes, certainly there is such a thing as libertarian freedom of the will, precisely in respect of that transcendent end that liberates the will from aimless and convulsive spontaneous impulse.

The qualification between an absolutely libertarian act ungrounded in a transcendent teleology that guides it, on the one hand, and libertarian choice within an irreducibly teleological orientation toward the good, on the other, is indeed crucial. The latter, Hart appears to agree, is certainly ‘libertarian’ because it recognizes the integrity of the created will’s God-given power for self-determination (even if that power can never be a power to determine itself outside reference to transcendental goods) with respect to embracing the good to which it is always oriented in one form or another. True, this minimal sense of libertarian choice is at best a temporary endowment with a view to our final freedom, but it is nonetheless real. Hart grants that “liberty of choice, then, can be at most only the possibility of freedom, not its realization” (“Freedom, Rebellion, Apocalypse“).

I think this is all a libertarian need say. But it’s an important thing to say. Is there too much of the Enlightenment in the term ‘libertarian’ to make employing it helpful? Could be. My burden is to encourage theists who believe in the libertarian exercise of the will in this minimal sense (under whatever name we refer to it) to hold to it consistently and not qualify it away in the eschaton to secure a terminus ad quem for the reconciliation of all things.

That said, I’d like to reflect upon a few items that come up in Chris’s contribution, particularly the “non-competitive” nature of divine and created willing. As Chris describes it:

[W]e need a non-competitive account of divine and human freedom. We need to understand human being and agency not as a limit to God—created by and as God’s act of self-limitation—but as existing within God’s freedom and because of it, in absolute dependence on God’s supremacy. We need a way of saying that God wills our free response and that our response is  truly free just because God wills it … I would say that this should be taken as axiomatic: I am free to make of myself nothing more or less than what God frees me to make of myself.

I’ve been trying to pin down just what this “non-competitive” notion of the God-world relation means. I don’t at all think human freedom diminishes or delimits God’s capacities to be the loving, triune God he is. Nor do I think any exercise of the will can finally remove one from all possibility of resting finally in God. And I agree too that God wills to sustain us even in and as we do the evil he does not desire. Nor do I see any competition here between the irresistible teleology of the human will oriented irrevocably in God and any free exercise of the will, including any rejection of the good God wills for us, since every rejection of the good by us is at best a misrelating to our ground, a misrelating “within” the Good. But no rejection, or history of rejection, of the good by us can ever come to define our future possibilities without remainder. On this score I agree Loudovikos is mistaken.

imgp5890My concern is not with “non-competitive” language in any of these senses, that is, viewed ontologically, but with such language as a theory of providence void of divine permission as such, or as a way to secure a terminus ad quem for the final reconciliation of all things by supposing God non-competitively brings about the creaturely choices he desires. Maybe everybody is beyond this concern and writing this is cathartic for me, in which case I’m grateful.

It seems to me that when David Bentley Hart describes divine agency and human freedom along non-competitive lines he’s talking about the ontology of created being oriented in an irrevocable openness to and desire for the Good. He’s not talking about the mysterious means by which God may secure specific creaturely choices when and where God wishes. Obviously if that’s what non-competitive means God would always have precisely the world he desires to have, and we know that’s not the case.

To clarify, let me present comments from Hart’s essay “Providence and Causality”:

[I]f providence is in any way a meaningful concept—if, that is, it means something more than simple determinism—it must concern a species of divine action towards creatures that truly remains a work of primary causality while also truly permitting secondary causality a real (if utterly contingent) autonomy. If in any measure this boundary is breached, however—if in any way the autonomy of contingent causes must be denied, qualified, evaded or mitigated, in order to avoid any ‘conflict’ with the infinite sufficiency or absolute sovereignty of the primary causes—then all talk of providence is rendered perfectly otiose. The minimal—if not yet sufficient—condition for any coherent account of God’s providential activity in time must be something like Thomas’s distinction between what God directly and of his nature wills, on the one hand, and what he does not will but nevertheless permits, on the other. Without such a distinction, one is forced to imagine the drama of divine grace and creaturely freedom as in some sense a competition … for apart from any proper doctrine of divine permission, secondary causality appears as nothing but a modality of primary causality, by which the sole determining cause of all events works out its positive decrees among creatures. (The Providence of God, p. 36)

It seems to me that ‘permission’ itself assumes a certain ‘conflict’ or ‘competition’ between divine and human wills. Once we distinguish between ‘natural’ and ‘permissive’ in God’s willing, we’re recognizing that God permits in one sense what he does not will in another sense. God doesn’t will our sin but permits it. He doesn’t will that people reject him but he permits it. Granted, the permission is also ‘willed’, and all that is permitted falls within the wider embrace of the scope of possibilities God provides and the grounding in God of our capacities of reason and choice. Nevertheless, God permits us to reject his will for us, and we succeed at doing so (genuinely if not finally). It seems to me, then, that God doesn’t always get what God wants (to speak in the vernacular), and this in itself betokens a certain “competition,” if you will, even though God always sustains the world in whatever state it is.

In the same chapter, Hart engages Banezian or “classical” Thomistic construals of providence in terms of the praemotio:

It is not a physical necessity, therefore, but a necessity of ‘supposition’; for it lies within God’s omnipotence irresistibly to predetermine an effect as a contingent effect. In the case of the rational creature, God infallibly causes him to act through his own intellect and will. Nor are God and the creature competing causes within the act; so radically different are their proper modes of causality, and so radically distinct the orders to which they belong, that each can be said entirely to cause the act, though as superior and inferior agents. (p. 38)

To be clear, Hart disagrees with this Thomistic non-competitive view which understands creaturely choices as specifically created effects of divine willing. As I read Hart, these are not what are brought into a non-competitive relationship. What is properly viewed as non-competitive?

[A]s primary cause of all things, God is first and foremost their ontological cause. He imparts being to what, in itself, is nothing at all; out of the infinite plenitude of his actuality, he gives being to both potency and act; and yet what he creates, as the effect of a truly transcendent causality, possesses its own being, and truly exists as other than God. (p. 40)

And equally:

Easily the weakest traditional argument in favour of the idea of the praemotio is that God must supply the ‘effect of being’ for each movement of the will from potency to act. For one thing, this line of reasoning simply assumes the identity of ontological causation and efficient predetermination, which is the very issue in dispute. (p. 40)

At this point in following Hart’s chapter, I couldn’t help but recall a question I put to him back in May of 2015 (see the comments section there), about the relationship between divine and created willing with respect to the final reconciliation of all things. I asked:

Might we imagine the logoi of created beings as embodying or specifying a ‘range’ or ‘scope’ … of beautiful expression and not the particular of every form? The divine will (or logoi) would terminate not in the final form of creaturely expression but in the range of creative possibilities offered to creatures to uniquely shape their expressive form.

teleologyHart had no objections. I’m not sure everybody then recognized what a significant point this was. What Hart describes as the ontological nature of the non-competitive relation between divine and human willing (viz., the non-competiveness of our being grounded irresistibly and teleologically in an orientation to shape and determine ourselves within a scope or range of beautiful forms which is our logos) could very helpfully be described as aesthetic-synergistic in nature, not a mechanism for securing specific creaturely choices when and where God wishes (‘this’ happens now, ‘that’ happens then), but rather a mechanism by which God continually grounds us in an inescapable openness to choose responsibly until our choosing rests in its only proper-final end—God.

Again, Hart, summarizing, writes:

God’s good will and his permission of evil, then, are simply two aspects of a single creative act, one that does not differ in intention from soul to soul: God’s one vocation of all rational creation to a free union in love with himself; his one gracious permission that spiritual freedom in some way determine itself in relation to the eternal good towards which it is irresistibly drawn. (p. 46)

Someone steeped in Calvinist debate will hear Hart’s “irresistibly drawn” and think of an irresistible determination of things. That would be a mistake. Hart is after all a libertarian (see above). The irresistible divine draw here is the irresistible teleological orientation of the will in and toward the Good, similar to the law of gravity that irresistibly draws bodies toward the earth’s center. One can jump upwards and move away from the earth on occasion, but one does not thereby deny or escape gravity absolutely. One moves away from the earth under the conditions of gravity’s draw which is always present (defining the possibility and limits). Gravity makes jumping possible. The irresistibility Hart describes, as I understand him, doesn’t determine specific outcomes per se (that’s a Calvinist’s concern), it defines possibilities, and that’s the relevant point for the debate over the reconciliation of all things.

One last comment by Hart, from his presentation at the Symposium “Sursum Actio” at Notre Dame in June 2015 (found on YouTube from 28:56 to 29:55 roughly):

This I suppose is what I find most suggestive and attractive in the Scotist understanding of knowledge, and specifically the knowledge of God, and what I find somewhat lacking in certain other traditional scholastic accounts—the recognition that knowledge arising from an irrepressible loving desire is made complete in the freely given loving delight which completes the primordial movement of intellect and will as an accomplished act of supreme freedom, the loving ‘yes’ to the God from whom the eyes of the soul will never turn, given not simply as the inevitable affective consequence of an act of knowledge already complete in itself and so an automatic response, but as the actual attainment of the deepest and highest knowledge without which the intellect does not yet truly know the truth as truth.

Perhaps what I’m most interested in is stating positively the nature of that “freely given ‘yes'” which is, as Hart says, not automatically entailed in any act of knowledge until it is given, at which point it becomes an “actual attainment” which then entails, we could say, an endless expression of true freedom. But the ‘non-automatic’ or ‘non-inevitable’ nature of the movement that has to be freely traversed prevents (I think) any attempt to secure a specific terminus ad quem or end outside the gnomic-deliberation surrender of the will. What left home (gnomic-deliberative will) has to come home. This home-coming is inevitable in the sense that there is no other irrevocable home for the will but God, and that God’s unrelenting love offers itself to deliberative will and waits. It is not inevitable in the sense that God mysteriously forecloses upon the will’s gnomic-deliberative capacity for constructing a ‘no’ and so gets the ‘yes’ he desires.

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68 Responses to Creation as Chaconne

  1. Karl says:

    I’m just an amateur reader in Theology so I apologise in advance for the ‘unsophisticated’ nature of these questions and comments brought to mind by this excellent post.

    1) It strikes me that many commentators in the related posts and papers are trying to make as seamless and frictionless a unity between God’s will and human will as possible. But does this not in some way negate whatever value humans have. If we are never free to deny God ultimately, then what are we? Puppets who for reasons unknown inflict hideous suffering and destruction and damage on each other and their world while being drawn back through various circuitous ways to the Godhead. Then I have to wonder what the point of the whole business is in the first place. Could we not simply have been created as fully conscious participants in the Beatific vision or whatever you wish to call it in the first place? Presumably it was in God’s power to do so, but he chose not to.

    2) Sometimes when I read Orthodox sites and literature I have the feeling of a downplaying of the problem of evil and suffering. I tend to encounter musical analogies along the lines of life being ‘an unfurling of a beautiful musical work’ with Bach invariably being the usual analogy. Does this not downplay the hideous and almost unquantifiable suffering in the world? In the emphasis on God’s goodness and love, I get the feeling that evil and suffering are written off as a form of ‘collateral damage’ and an evasion of responsibility, almost as if they’re a few ‘bum notes’ in an otherwise seamless performance. I could be wrong, so am open to being pointed to some good literature.

    3) Evil acts and human suffering occur regardless of a final union with God. Therefore that evil and suffering is written into the fabric of Being. It cannot be undone; it can never be said that it *never* happened, regardless of future eschatological events. How we can reconcile this with the characterisation of God as pure Love in Christianity?

    Thank you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      Thank you Karl. I appreciate the questions and I share your concerns. I’m actually an Evangelical (shhh, don’t tell anyone I’m here!).

      Re: (1) – I agree divine and human willing admit friction (competition). I said that in the post. If we choose wrongly for ourselves what God does not will for us, we have ‘competing’ wills in some sense. What’s ‘non-competitive’ in all this is our fundamental orientation toward the good. That is, even when we choose awry (take drugs, rob a bank, lie on our tax return, over-eat, whatever) we are motivated by some perceived advantage, pleasure, self-preservation, enjoyment, fulfillment, happiness, etc., some ‘good’ that we believe our choices will deliver. Even if our perspective on these ends is never perfect, still we can never escape its essential orientation toward perceived goods. Evil as such can never be chosen for evil’s sake.

      That brings us to another of your concerns, namely, whether our value to God, a value that entails the possibility of an eternity of beatitude with God, must not equally entail the opposite possibility, an eternity of torment without him, and it seems to me that our value must not entail the possibility of absolute aesthetic failure (i.e., absolute valuelessness). Consider the nature of the creator-creature distinction within the doctrine of creation from nothing. However symmetrical the God-world relation might be (and I’m the neighborhood heretic here for arguing that it’s symmetrical/reciprocal in some sense!) there has to be an essentially asymmetrical aspect to it, i.e., we don’t ground ourselves, don’t sustain our own existence, can’t constitute our own possibilities of becoming, don’t name the ‘end’ for which we exist, etc. All that is God-given. So whence the ‘possibility’ of irrevocable separation from God? It can only be possible if God constitutes its possibility (as he constitutes all our possibilities of being) with a view to God himself as summum bonum (highest good and supreme value). But what ‘good’ stands as the ‘end’ of the possibility of irrevocable torment? I can construe all conceivable evils as possibilities within the larger embrace of a certain teleological utility that ‘free will’ possesses relative to God (and all utility is relative to God as ‘end’). But I can’t construe an absolute, irrevocable teleological foreclosure within that utility, and that’s the problem.

      Could God simply have created us already finished products, so to speak, without risking the possibility of our choosing awry? I don’t think so. I don’t think there’s any conceivable way to get created sentience into loving union with God apart from our choosing our way into that union.

      Re: (2) – I don’t think we downplay the pain and suffering people experience in our world, but does it not immortalize evil as such to posit an irrevocable state of blasphemy? We want to take evil seriously, but that ought to mean taking it truthfully in light of God as the summum bonum and creation’s possibilities as grounded in God. So whatever evil is, it doesn’t have a ‘meaningful’ role to play in the narrative of creation that derives its meaning from God.

      Re: (3) – Again, I’d want to challenge the idea that since evil has in fact overrun creation that evil is therefore written into the fabric of being. True, history cannot be undone. But the future can so supersede past evils as to make them “comparatively meaningless.” This is precisely what Paul gets at in Rom 8 when he says he considers all present evil and suffering “not worth comparing to the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Not even worth standing in a comparative relationship to what we shall be. So while the past is never “undone,” it can be experienced in a new light, in light of some newer reality or truth. And for Paul that truth is divine ‘glory’, glory no present evil can diminish. Whatever our memories of past suffering will be (and I don’t pretend to know), they won’t qualify that glory which shall define being without end. Rather, that glory will qualify all that’s gone before.

      Hope that helps.
      Tom

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        “I’m actually an Evangelical (shhh, don’t tell anyone I’m here!).”

        We keep Tom around here in order to meet the International Code of Inclusive Blogging. 😉

        Liked by 3 people

    • Maximus says:

      The Bach chaconne in D Minor trope is becoming a bit well-worn in Orthodox circles. Time to put on some Mozart or Schubert.

      Regardless, predictable references to Bach by far beats the anti-Latin resentment of a prior generation of Orthodox theologians.

      Like

  2. Karl says:

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the reply. I appreciate the time and effort!

    If I may again pose some blunt questions and responses:

    1) The idea that every choice and orientation is fundamentally directed toward the good raises concerns for me. Isn’t there a danger of cheapening moral discourse, ie life becomes a version of the ‘It’s all good!’ slogan so beloved by the mindless? And sorry for the obvious examples (I did warn I was an amateur!), but then are we left to say that no one is truly evil? Hitler/Pol Pot/Charlie Manson etc were just ‘misguided’? (“Oops! Sorry about the six million! My mistake!”)

    I have the impression that you are advocating Universalism in some form or other, but then it just puts the old question in my mind: ‘What was all this for?’ You say you don’t think God could have chosen another route, but if we take his omnipotence and omnibenevolence seriously we are surely forced to ask why not. If this mode of Being is the only one, then it sounds suspiciously like a questionable investment scheme: ‘Pain now! Way more pleasure later!’

    2) I am not sure I understand how evil ‘doesn’t have a meaningful role to play in the narrative of creation’. Is not the whole Bible a narrative of Sin, Evil and Redemption? If evil has no meaningful role, then we’re back with my previous question about cutting to the chase of Paradise immediately without the human stage, particularly if there is no memory of evil and suffering in Paradise; it can’t even even serve as a useful reminder: ‘Damn, this Empyrean is so much better than that time I was in a car crash!’

    3) I am not sure how an evil can become ‘comparatively meaningless’ in the prospect of future bliss. I am sure the bereaved mother of an infant would rather have her child with her here and now to raise, nurture and love as opposed to whatever future form a reunion in Paradise may take.

    But anyway, as the tail end of your reply indicates, that’s where speculation ends and faith begins, or not, as the case may be.

    Thanks again!

    Karl

    Like

    • Tom says:

      Karl: (1) The idea that every choice and orientation is fundamentally directed toward the good raises concerns for me. Isn’t there a danger of cheapening moral discourse…?

      Tom: I think it secures moral discourse, for it holds evil truly to be a privation of the good, i.e., truly evil and not good ‘from a certain perspective’. But remember, we’re talking about an ‘orientation’ of the will, not a determination of what we will in every respect. We’re free to determine ourselves within an orientation that always includes ‘the good’, if only implicitly. But we’re not free to determine ourselves without any reference whatsoever to the good. Even when we choose evil, we do so for some perceived good. My sense is this elevates moral discourse by grounding our value (and our choices as ‘valuations’) in a supreme value (God) whose valuation of us cannot be diminished or falsified (or enhanced or improved upon) by evil.

      Karl: I have the impression that you are advocating Universalism in some form or other, but then it just puts the old question in my mind: ‘What was all this for?’ You say you don’t think God could have chosen another route, but if we take his omnipotence and omnibenevolence seriously we are surely forced to ask why not.

      Tom: I do hold to the eventual, final reconciliation of all things, yes. What is it all for if all are finally reconciled? Nothing but the final participation of all things in God’s life – that God may be all in all, that God may express himself contingently in us. As I say, if this end was a possible starting point, then the problem of evil ends up consuming faith (I think), because to suppose God could get one and the same created end without countenancing any possibility of evil but risks evil for the hell of it is to suppose God is other than good, and that would spell the end of faith.

      (Maybe this will help, Karl: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2016/02/08/gods-creative-options/. In the end, there is I think only one possible creation – Incarnation. Creation and Incarnation are one and the same possibility in God.)

      Karl: (2) I am not sure I understand how evil ‘doesn’t have a meaningful role to play in the narrative of creation’. Is not the whole Bible a narrative of Sin, Evil and Redemption? If evil has no meaningful role, then we’re back with my previous question about cutting to the chase of Paradise immediately without the human stage…

      Tom: Creation’s narrative accommodates (tolerates) evil, sure, because we’re free to private ourselves to some measure. In that sense we might say it has a role to play, though I don’t care for the expression. But evil doesn’t write itself into the fullness of divine beauty revealed in our participation of it the way, say, Calvinist’s figure ‘evil’ positively into the revelation of God’s goodness (i.e., that argument that says the revelation of divine glory in creation absolutely requires evil and hell as an enduring backdrop against which we’re able to see and celebrate the riches of grace).

      Karl: (3) I am not sure how an evil can become ‘comparatively meaningless’ in the prospect of future bliss. I am sure the bereaved mother of an infant would rather have her child with her here and now to raise, nurture and love as opposed to whatever future form a reunion in Paradise may take…

      Tom: She’d “rather” have her baby now (for 40 or 60 years) than enjoy her child forever in glorified perfection? Maybe “rather” there is confusing me. But my point was Paul’s conviction in Romans 8. What do you do with “present sufferings not worth comparing to…”? I’m not saying present suffering isn’t real or painful or that we ought to be indifferent to pursuing the highest good of all things. I’m only saying the memory of our suffering won’t be worth bringing into comparison with the glory that we shall know. For example, nobody experiencing the glory of the beatific vision will say, “Wow, this is great, but I can’t help but think it would be greater had I not suffered in the past as I did” as if one’s past suffering can be great enough to forever diminish the present experience of God. Nor will anyone say, “Sure glad I suffered as I did in the past because now I have a crummy backdrop without which I’d be unable to appreciate the vision of God,” as if God’s beauty is only appreciated to the extent we have some evil against which to measure or compare it.

      Feel me?

      Tom

      Liked by 1 person

      • Karl says:

        Thanks, Tom. Again, I appreciate the time and effort.

        A couple of quick points:

        1) If evil is ‘necessary’ because otherwise God would be gambling with evil ‘for the hell of it’, then we surely have a serious problem whereby evil plays a necessary formative ontological role, plus we have a scenario where God can’t ‘avoid’ evil which seems to bring in all the usual chestnuts about God’s omnipotence.

        2) Re the last paragraph, if evil won’t be remembered at all in Paradise then why evil at all to begin with? If it was unnecessary, then God permitted it to be a part of the tapestry of Being for no apparent reason.If necessary, then it is, as above, an essential part of Being. I really don’t see any way out of this conundrum.

        Heck, maybe I’m just a repressed Calvinist.

        Like

        • Tom says:

          All Calvinists are repressed somethings or other! 😀

          I wouldn’t say evil is necessary. Sorry if I was unclear. I’m suggesting it isn’t. Its ‘possibility’ is necessary, yes, but only in the sense that the ‘possibility of evil’ is entailed in the kind of free will God grants us en route to our achieving loving union with him. If evil per se was necessary to God’s ends for creation, then I agree we’d have a real problem on our hands. I hope that helps with your (2). Evil isn’t celebrated or immortalized in memory as having made possible our union with God; it doesn’t get woven into any tapestry (because evil has no substance, makes no contribution to ‘beauty’ as such, grounds no true possibility for the good, etc.). Evil is a “privation” of the good, a “failure” of what exists to be all it can and ought to be. As such, how would evil contribute positively to the good of what exists (by constituting the possibility or the end of what exists, or by improving what is)?

          Tom

          Liked by 1 person

          • Karl says:

            You’re still stuck with the problem of God allowing the possibility of evil, which, semantics aside, is in essence the same as allowing evil. If you take your Genesis seriously in whatever shape or form, it was God who brought the possibility of transgression into the picture by issuing dictats that he knew Man could violate, and this was in a prelapsarian state where Man and God were united.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            I wouldn’t set aside the semantics between possibility and necessity here. It’s everything. Yes, to permit the possibility of evil is to permit evil’s happening should it occur. That’s what it means to permit its possibility. But you spoke of the ‘necessity’ of evil, and that’s a different matter altogether.

            Tom

            Liked by 1 person

          • Karl says:

            But we’re still left with the problem of why God introduced the possibility of a Fall, of Sin, of Evil into a harmonious prelapsarian world. And, of course, no one has the answer….

            Like

          • Tom says:

            (5 AM. Can’t sleep!)

            Well, for my part the possibility of evil is entailed in the freedom granted for creation to make its way toward its fulfillment and end in God, an end not achievable in any other way. So I don’t believe in a prelapsarian harmony God interrupted by introducing the possibility of evil. Creation was always intended for union with God through the responsible exercise of human will, so the possibility of creation and the possibility of evil were always one and the same whatever harmony might have existed.

            Tom

            Liked by 1 person

          • Karl says:

            So you don’t believe in the Fall? But then we’re back at the old scenario of needing an economy of free-will and evil to achieve a greater good than before which reinscribes Evil into the necessity of Being.

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          • Tom says:

            I believe God’s creative act was good and resulted in a good creation. And I believe we’re fallen. So yes, there has to be a fall. What I don’t believe in is a prelapsarian human state of bliss God interrupted by inserting a possibility of evil not already inherent to human being. Hope that helps.

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          • Karl says:

            But to get from Original Good to Fall the possibility of the exercise of evil/sin has to be present, but since, as theologians love reminding us, we are not self-created then that possibility has to be given to us by God; we cannot have given ourselves the option. But there seems no good reason for this whatsoever.

            Anyway, I suspect we passed into the merry-go-round stage of back and forth a few comments back, so I’m happy to leave it there. Thanks again!

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          • Tom says:

            Thanks Karl!

            Just for clarity’ sake – yes, God creates the possibility of evil when he creates us capable of evil (which we’ve always been).

            We can disagree over whether there is good reason for this. I think there is, namely, the possibility of evil is entailed in the kind of freedom we must possess to achieve union with God he desires. Someone who thinks God could create us already in that union from the get-go without the messy possibility of evil would, I agree, face the problem you’re facing. I’m just saying, I don’t face that problem because (a) I don’t think God can create us fulfilled and perfected from our beginning (it’s not a metaphysically possible option), and (b) I think the end for which God creates (viz., final universal fullness of all persons in God) infinitely exceeds in value and worth all the damage wrought by evil.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Karl says:

            Thanks, Tom. I hope all the victims of evil, suffering and their loved ones will feel it was worth the cost. In the meantime, we can but hope….

            Liked by 1 person

          • Tom says:

            Rom 8.18, Bro.

            Like

  3. brian says:

    Tom, I was talking to your friend – he’s certainly an odd fellow, btw – and he was saying that “of course, if God hates evil more than us, sees the harm it does to the Good, feels more deeply the pain involved, Jesus wept, and all that, then it is evident that the world resists his perfect will. If that was enough to destroy any meaningful notion of “non-competitive” freedom, no one could possibly hold such a view.” Having delivered this dictum from Olympian heights, so to speak, he was then silent for such a long time I began to wonder if silence was meant to punctuate the profundity of the moment. Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite was playing softly in the background. I stared down blankly into the dregs of my black coffee. Just as I was about to retreat, he began again. “It’s really a question of transcendence and thinking the difference between God and world. If you want to call this ontological, that’s fine. Obviously, a created will capable of secondary causality is always a relative autonomy. Anyone who can think can see that. But most people who are worrying about all this are not that naïve. What they really mean, what really matters, is whether God has created a large game of risk. He doesn’t have to create, does He? But now that He has, there are rules, aren’t there? Not arbitrary rules like the voluntarists imagine, but consistencies that derive from the very nature of the Good. God is free, but once He creates, He’s committed, isn’t He? That’s where the moderns go off the rails. They imagined freedom as completely arbitrary. If you had all the power, everything was vulnerable to the whim of God. Don’t like the way the game is going, no problem, just change the rules. For a nasty, low-minded cretin like Hobbes, this worked out to the kind of proto-totalitarian malleability that Orwell diagnosed in 1984. Kundera, too, is good at pointing out the icy frivolity of evil, the way a person can be erased from history once they are inconvenient. But God is not free like that because there is a kind of necessity to Love.”

    The sun slanted in through the blinds. Though he doesn’t smoke, he was wearing an old smoking jacket from the 1950s. He paused to ponder a sepia toned photograph of the Serengeti, then deftly moved a piece on a chessboard before resuming. “God’s freedom is beyond necessity and choice the way we think of it. Just as God’s knowledge is not at all like human knowledge, his freedom is not at all like ours. That’s why we have to use analogy, because when it comes right down to it, we always have to remember that our best reception of revelation and our best thoughts of God are still so far from comprehending Him.” Then the cat walked in, demanding to be acknowledged and wanting to sit on the book I had been contemplating borrowing. “She has a book fetish,” he said.

    “So, does obeying the rules mean that a secondary causality can persist forever in opposition to what is best?”

    “Well,” he said, “you have to recollect as I am always telling you that God is utterly free, the pleromatic fullness of the Good, rich with divine love and drama, surprise even, which folks never quite credit. He doesn’t need the creation, per se, and as David Burrell notes, it’s likely he does not choose creation in the way we imagine. Creation is more Zen than that; it’s the soft call of an enchanting beauty, something lovely God was inspired to do. You don’t think God can be inspired, but I think He can. We wouldn’t have poets if it wasn’t that way. The Holy Spirit charms that way. But he wasn’t compelled by anything extrinsic, so you have to ask yourself, would a Good God create if it meant risking the eternal damnation of any creature? Is it possible Goodness can act that way? I don’t think so, so I don’t think God risks that way. He risks another way. He risks the way a loving parent always already accepts any sacrifice needed to protect the child. The Incarnation was always intended. God intends his creation for joy, but there was built into the Incarnation an intimacy even deeper than the ontological dependence of the creature on the primal Being. God knows that his Freedom, like his Personhood is the Ur-Freedom, so he knows that Freedom in its deepest reality is “beyond choice.” And so He knows that love can reach deeper than the mad delusions of creatures and the darkness of perversity so grotesque as to induce nausea and despair. It’s here that it’s good to remember that love is ontological. We are not asked to imagine a tender delight in what is loathsome. Love demands healing and transfiguration. This is no simple and cheap overlooking of what is vile and wicked. Yet when the God-Man comes to us, when Christ is on the Cross, it is not simply the action of God, it is also the action of humanity as God intended mankind. Christ is not an atomized individual as modern liberalism thinks, after all. What he does with his freedom is joined ontologically to each and all. Our genuine being is sourced in the Logos, so it is not some alien thing, but an actualizing of freedom from within. There’s something there that gets overlooked. It’s there that the despair of a radical resistance is met.”

    Then he began to talk about some Finnish woman who writes dreamy, lyrical sci-fi and his usual obsession with Japanese cinema and all that. The cat had decided she wanted treats, so I scooped up that book. It’s David Burrell’s Faith and Freedom. If you haven’t read it, apparently it might be helpful.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Tom says:

      Back at ya in a sec, Brian. Gotta go talk to “my friend” first. 😀

      Like

    • Tom says:

      I was telling my friend that I completely agree, though it was hard to type those words because my cat Sheba kept sitting on my hands over the keyboard. She’s not very interested in theology. Cats. I pushed her farther down the covers toward my feet and went on to tell my friend that my interest in all this is just to secure the final perfection of the will as God first gave it and set it on its path homeward, that the will — as it was given in all its deliberative mess and not something else — was what has to make its way home, and that perhaps (only perhaps), it seemed to me, we are sometimes tempted to bring the will home by supposing it to be something less messy and more predictable. Sheba agreed, and I thought, “Cats are so wise.”

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Jonathan says:

    I’m interested in the Bach as framing device or objective correlative. I can’t quite see it. In terms of music, this essay has made me think more of Wagner than anything else. (Tristan and Parsifal)

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well, my 2 cents, the Orthodox do indeed seem tone deaf to suffering but probably for good reason as they are enraptured by God’s beauty, as anyone can experience in the liturgy. I do think if God wants a real loving relationship, then we must be created with the real possibility of rejecting Him, and that it’s not logically possible to create a being forced into a beatific vision, even if their ground of being is created to do so – that’d be a robot or a dog.



    God has given the beings that made this universe, the angels, some of which rebel against God, all the power to determine it, to co-operate with the Divine plan or not. This makes sense to me as I see true Chaos and true Order, almost in competition. It’s a rare, feint tune, but once I swore I heard the strains of Bach beneath the anguished moans of daily life.

 It’s right that Brian mentions Holst and, although Fr. Puhalo calls entropy “the testimony of a universe in need of redemption” and the Fathers say the universe itself is repenting of its nothingness, it is often high in the stars, not on earth, where we hear this music. The universe is huge, and only on an infinitesimally small speck of rock, in the past few seconds of the Universe’s life, has human evil appeared, hardly ubiquitous, although it seems that way to us. 


    In Eternity is may shrink in significance further, but not really negate, or undo, the evil experienced now, however I agree it’s entirely gratuitous and unnecessary. And unjustifiable.

    Both St. Maximus the Confessor and many Jewish theologians claim the universe was made cracked right from the beginning, and Man’s job was to eventually subdue the Chaos from the garden outward.

    We were made to clean up a mess we didn’t make; then our ancestors chose another way, now all is hopelessly in bondage to sin; all suffering, wounds, death is Satan manifest.

    From the Bible, and my own experience, God’s power doesn’t look like superman’s, it looks like the resurrection, it looks like the power to turn violence into suffering into love which defeats death and evil. If death & evil are contrary to God’s being then no, God doesn’t have the power stop evil with evil. Even the Nazi’s were His beloved children, as much as their victims. It has nothing to do with God protecting their sacred free will to slaughter as they like, it’s that God is love, and can only respond with love. Look at Christ, He overthrew an entire empire, that’s power, but it’s not force, it was done by love – God is weak, but His weakness is much stronger than man’s idea of power.

    A hanged criminal is the power of God.

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  6. Mike H says:

    Great piece Tom.

    First off, that phrase “to be at all is to be invited Godward” is excellent. It strikes me as an axiomatic summary of your essay.

    I’ve read a ridiculous number of blogs posts, essays, and books related to apocatastasis (or whatever other label might be used) over the last two years and have recently noticed just how many of them relate to “free will” in one form or another. I realized what a complex and hotly debated idea it is, but I was surprised and just how often comes back to that. But perhaps that’s as it should be – free will being the language that’s used to talk about evil, suffering, and the human experience.

    But I’d never come across the specific term “non-competitive account of divine and human freedom” prior to Dr. Greens essay. I now see traces of it in places that I previously hadn’t, but I’ve still struggled to understand what is intended by it. One can assert it, but what does it mean? It seems irrefutable, after all, that there is some degree of conflict and competition going on between God and man. As you said, there’d be no need to speak of God’s “permissive will” if there were no conflict that we were attempting to name. And why should this conflict not continue unabated outside of divine coercion?

    If we back up and see that conflict and competition as “permitted” at some level (so not entirely in conflict), the form that “a non-competitive account of freedom” takes from our perspective within time would be a God who is providentially and irrevocably patient. Or a God who enjoys the rush of high stakes gambling I guess. One of the two.

    But the idea that God “runs out of time” or providentially embeds a sort of time deadline within the created order of things as a way to give meaning to life…the idea that “free will” isn’t really “free” or that there are no “real consequences” unless the individual has the power to irrevocably determine or change God’s salvific will in relation to him/herself…. these competing axioms just don’t seem coherent to me anymore. If there is nothing – height nor depth, things present nor things to come, death nor life – that restricts or changes God’s ability to be freely be for humanity in Christ, then there are an infinite number of ways, I would like to believe, in which God’s patience and love might be active and “powerful” as a consuming fire without (1)implying determinism or a terminus ad quem or (2)God being a high stakes gambler/mad scientist.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. QuasarNova1 says:

    A fascinating essay! Unfortunately, the very interesting-sounding Hart article on providence and causality that was linked to appears to not be available in full online (cursed be Scribd’s new paywall!).

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  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I love both the article and discussion. I don’t want to side-track discussion, but I thought I’d make a brief comment regarding divine causality as non-competitive. The non-competitive view flows, I believe, from a proper understanding of divine transcendence and the creatio ex nihilo: God creates the world through an eternal communication of being. It’s not as if God deistically sets the stage upon which the entities of the cosmos now act and are acted upon, nor is it the case that after the eternal act of creation a different eternal act of conservation is necessary (at least Aquinas didn’t think so). There is simply the single act of God making the world out of nothing. If this is true, then this means that absolutely everything that exists— including humanity’s free and spontanous thoughts and actions—is “caused” by God. I put scare quotes around “caused” to emphasize that we are speaking of a causing that is at best only analogous to creaturely causality. It is a causing by creation from out of nothing, not a causing by impacting pre-existing entities. Divine creation does not interfere with free human agency; it secures and grounds it—thus the notion of double agency.

    Hugh McCann proposes the analogy of the relationship between the author of a novel and its fictional world and characters:

    Although God’s creative fiat provides entirely for the existence of our decisions and actions, then, they are not brought to pass deterministically, even from on high. It is as Aquinas says: God, the primary agent, is able to provide for the existence of our own exercises of agency in accordance with our voluntary nature, in a way that does us no violence, and not only fully respects but actually founds our autonomy. The proper metaphor for understanding the relation between God’s action and ours is not that of the puppeteer to his puppet, but rather that of the author of a novel to her characters. The author does not belong to the world she creates, nor do her characters and their actions exist as an event-causal consequence of anything she does. Rather, their first existence is in her creative imagination, and they are born and sustained in and through the very thoughts in which she conceives them, and of which they are the content. The interesting thing about this relationship is that it is too close to permit the author’s creative activity to damage her characters’ freedom. On the contrary, it is perfectly legitimate for her to present them as free and responsible beings. Indeed, it is not even possible for the author to enter into the world of the novel and interact with her characters in such a way as to undermine or pervert their integrity as agents. Only other characters in the novel can do that—subject, of course, to the will of the author.

    As I see it, our relation to our creator is much the same. We, of course, have more than a mental existence; we are real. But we too are brought to be and sustained in being entirely in and through our creator’s will. We are not self-creating in any way, and we can no more engage in decision and action apart from our creator’s will than can the creatures of fiction. God does not, in creating us, act upon us, or produce any intervening cause, even an act of will on his part, that somehow makes us do what we do. There is indeed an exercise of his creative power, but in it he simply becomes the ground of our being, holding us in existence as the content of his creative act. God does not, that is to say, alter our nature or that of our actions merely by providing for our existence. This, I claim, permits all that legitimately belongs to responsible freedom to characterize our actions, just as it does those of fictional creatures. The author of the novel never makes her creatures do something; she only makes them doing it. It is the same with us and God. He does not make us act; he makes us acting, so that the freedom that goes with genuine action can still be present. To think otherwise is to confuse providing for the existence of something and tampering with its nature. Nor should God’s action as creator lead us to worry about our integrity as agents—about whether we will turn out to have a substantive and genuine moral character, or will come across as contrived and manipulated, as somehow lacking a true and unified moral self. There is no reason to expect the latter outcome, especially when an all-wise and powerful God is producing the work. Bad authors may sometimes have to manipulate their characters; a perfect one never does. (Creation and the Sovereignty of God, pp. 107-108; my emphasis)

    I find the analogy between God and creatures and an author and his fictional creation illuminating. Clearly we are in the mystery of paradox and antinomy. Hence we should not be surprised that we cannot fathom the “causal joint” between Creator and creatures.

    For Eclectic Orthodox readers who have been with this blog for two years or more will find the above old hat. I know I haven’t resolved the problems you see with this construal of double agency. Two questions immediately jump out at me: (1) How does double agency inform divine providence? (2) Is God responsible for evil? Regarding the first: I don’t know. I haven’t gotten that far yet in the Summa Theologiae. 🙂 Regarding the second: no. God does not will sin and evil. I take this as revealed truth rather than philosophical reasoning. One day I need to blog on theodicy, not because I have any answers but simply to think the topic with you. I don’t think there’s an easy way to get God off the hook. (Just between you and me, I do wonder whether the distinction between God’s ordaining and permissive will can bear all the weight that want to put on it.) Brian Davies’s book Thomas Aquinas on God and Evil has been sitting on my bookshelf for a long time now. It keeps crying out, “Read me!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike H says:

      Father,

      Have you seen the movie Stranger Than Fiction? All analogies break down at some level, but the movie isn’t all that dissimilar from McCann’s example of the relationship between the author of a novel & it’s fictional world and characters, except in this case the author and main character come into contact with each other. IMO it’s that contact (a sort of immanence?) that marks the distinction between (1)what could only be described as a scientist in a lab doing a sort of twisted experiment (“free will” adding a sort of interesting aspect of unpredictability to the experiment that the scientist may enjoy, but has no bearing on the success of the experiment itself) and (2)an author writing a story.

      Still, as with McCann’s analogy, the distinction between “creating”, “narrating”, and “causing” gets rather fuzzy at times. It’s that “causal joint” thing. A lot remains unresolved.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Great movie! It utterly surprised me. And a good example of the analogy that McCann is suggesting we consider.

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  9. Karl says:

    Thanks to Jonathan McCormack for the heads up on this new David Bentley Hart interview where he discusses the issues of Freedom, Hell, Heaven and his own illness.

    http://tamedcynic.org/tag/crackers-and-grape-juice/

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Karl says:

    Oh, and he reveals that he expects his translation of the NT Testament to appear in nine months or so, and to be attacked from all quarters for it!

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  11. brian says:

    I have modified and expanded here a brief correspondence between Tom and his strange friend. I’m not sure how much it will help – alas, it may obfuscate for all I know, but here is yet another foray into the complex concept of human freedom. The cats know all about this, but they’re not telling.

    To get at a deeper understanding of “non-competitive freedom” is a long conversation — and there is evidently a plurality of concepts, not always consistent with one another, that seem to be covered by that term. Without going into that long conversation or justifying my usage, I will make a brief comment. First, if one thinks occasionalism is an idea that suggests itself as synonymous with “non-competitive” one is certainly off the mark. Occasionalism essentially makes of secondary causality a sham appearance. Created natures are just a puppet show for what is really a pantheist faux drama. In that case, one is hearing “non-competitive” as equivalent to a single operative will. I suspect this is partly the legacy of a Reformation hyper-Augustinian understanding of grace — which, when bereft of double predestination — results in the kind of “mechanical” reading of apokatastasis that everyone objects to as rendering human freedom nugatory.

    This is not the meaning of “non-competitive.” Non-Competitive is only meaningful if created freedom is genuine and not sham. Otherwise, the term is a sophistry meant to distract from a lack of freedom. Let’s go back and look at a correlative aspect of Calvinism as it has been commonly interpreted. Glory, for this sort, is a zero sum game. If you give glory to God, you are not giving glory to creation. If you glorify man, you are taking away from God. The jealousy of God is a desire to hoard glory; to admit glory elsewhere is to engage in idolatry. Now idolatry is a real possibility, but it is misconstrued by this narrative. Let’s look at another theology, consistent with God’s simplicity, transcendence, and intimacy to the creature — the sort of thing we have been articulating for some time on EO. One of the implications of creatio ex nihilo combined with God’s aseity and the revelation of God as love (the metaphysics of Trinity) is that the creation is utterly gratuitous. God is not needy in a creaturely sense. If there is such a thing as a divine eros, it is not driven by lack. There is nothing tyrannical or of an “alienating heteronomy” in God’s Goodness. Consider Desmond’s insistent separation of passio essendi from conatus essendi, his strong affirmation that the giving of agapeic Divinity is not non-plussed or altered by any possible deformation wrought by the striving of conatus essendi. To properly follow this through, one would have to develop some understanding — though critics will find even the attempt hopelessly hubristic — of the distinctive relations of TriUne Being, the manner in which one can understand glory within the Life of God. But I am not doing that here. I am simply asserting that ad extra, God’s relation to his Creation is one of utterly free, generous love. Contrary to “Calvinist” jealousy (I am using this as a stand in for a much broader sensibility), the cosmos itself participates in, is the glory of God. So, one is not faced with a false choice, God or creation.

    Humanity need not discard love for the creature in order to love God. The kind of renunciation often involved in monastic rule and commonly practiced in minor mortifications of the flesh such as those involved in Lenten exercises is only licit as an ascesis at the service of true vision. Dante does not lose Beatrice by seeking God. On the contrary, it is only in finding God that he truly discovers Beatrice. But I did say there is idolatry, there is a diremption of human freedom from its proper end that lies behind the constant anxiety of the Old Testament. And here, modernity helps clarify the experience of idolatry, for the idol is always a manifestation of “bad faith.” Examples are the Cosmos transformed into nature, the person reduced to nominalist individual, the thing reduced to inert object, the creature untethered from its rootedness in the Creator, no longer a gift meant to be raised by theosis to participation in the intimacy of divine life, but a shadow that undercuts its own reality by attempting an absurd self-defining existence apart from the very Source of existence. In this narrative, the jealousy of God is the erotics of agape, the refusal of the loving God to allow a death-bound idolatrous destruction of God’s glory. See the difference? Now substitute freedom for glory.

    One does not discern the full flourishing of freedom by opposition to God. The very capacity for freedom is a Gift from God. God is in that sense an “enabler,” yet if one considers the possibility of eternally refusing the Good as the “engine” that signifies the reality of human liberty, one has erred in a manner similar to bad theologies of glory. This comes from a univocal sensibility that does not think through the difference between God and world, which cannot understand analogy, which is neither univocity, nor equivocity. The chief point to take away from “non-competitive” freedom is that one does not gain or assert authentic freedom by refusing God. Such actions are always a sign of ignorance, madness, or perversity. The sense that one is suddenly free by eschewing the Good is delusional and confused. The full flourishing of perfected freedom is realized by “obedience” as Christ consistently taught. This means, of course, that freedom is ultimately “beyond choice,” because man does not choose his end, but discovers it. Now Thomists recognize this, yet they continue to assert the possibility of eternal damnation. This is because they see the freedom of unique, rational creatures manifest not in choice between indifferent possibilities, but as consent or the refusal of consent to one’s teleological end in God. This is likely going to seem a semantic nicety to normal people. It still looks like a “choice” for or against God that persists, determining an ultimate state. Nonetheless, I think Thomists understand freedom “non-competitively.” Hence, the concept in and of itself does not preclude various eschatological interpretations.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Robert Fortuin says:

    Tom, there’s hope for you yet. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Tom says:

    To Karl: If you don’t have Hart’s “Providence and Causality” (the Scribd link to it is in my post, thank you Fr Aidan!), check it out. My insistence on the necessity of evil’s ‘possibility’ (not its ‘actuality’) to God’s purposes and the impossibility of evil’s positive role in the revelation of those purposes in creation is all there.

    ————–

    To Brian: Thanks for your clarifications and for your offline kindness to me. I wanted to include a couple other interesting quotes from Hart (one on occasionalism; I had to work that in!) from this same chapter, but the post was already too long. He writes:

    “It certainly, at any rate, makes no sense to say that every particular act is a unique creation ex nihilo [Tom: Interesting in light some comments here], of which the distinction between act and potency in creation is a purely formal condition. This would be no better than a straightforward occasionalism – which is surely not what it means to say that all cause are reducible to the first cause.”

    And a very interesting comment makes regarding the relationship between ‘natural’ and ‘gnomic’ will:

    “In the interval between these two movements [natural and gnomic] – both of which are rational – the rational soul becomes who God intends her to be or, through apostasy from her own nature, fabricates a distance between herself and God that is nothing less than the distance of dereliction. For, whatever we do, the desire of our natural will for God will be consummated; it will return to God, whether the gnomic will consents or not, and will be glorified with that glory the Son shares with the Father from eternity. And, if the gnomic will within us has not surrendered to its natural supernatural end, our own glorified nature becomes hell to us, that holy thing we cannot touch. Rejection of God becomes estrangement from ourselves, the Kingdom of God within us becomes our exile, and the transfiguring glory of God within us – through our [gnomic] refusal to submit to love – becomes the unnatural experience of reprobabtion. God fashions all rational natures for free union with himself, and all of creation as the deathless vessel of his eternal glory. To this end, he wills that the dependent freedom of the creature be joined to his absolute freedom; but an indispensable condition of what he wills is the real power of the creature’s deliberative will to resist the irresistible work of grace.” (emphasis mine)

    It seems clear to me that this states my essential point in the post, i.e., that the gnomic-deliberative will must freely surrender, i.e., surrender as a deliberative act of will. Only then does the tormenting glory become the beatific vision. Gnomic deliberation isn’t somehow brought to an end so that the unwilling can then finally yield to God.

    Tom

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Download: “Providence and Causality” by David B. Hart.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Karl says:

    Can anyone honestly read this and say the provision of the possibility of evil is necessary for God’s greater plan? Or that evil is a mere’ deprivation of the good’ and not an active force?

    “The mother of a 10-year-old girl found dead and dismembered in her New Mexico home told police that she sought men online to sexually assault her daughter….According to warrants obtained by the Journal, Martens told investigators she didn’t do it for the money. Martens said she set up the sexual assaults because she enjoyed watching.”

    http://www.local10.com/news/national/warrants-mom-sought-men-to-sexually-assault-daughter-10?utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook_WPLG_Local_10_/_Local10.com

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    • brian says:

      Karl,

      Evil as the privation of Good is a metaphysical concept. One has to have a greater understanding of the nature of ontology, for instance, to properly understand what is being asserted. Unless one thinks evil should be contemplated as an element in God’s makeup or that we are confronted with a dualist metaphysics, evil as the privation of the Good logically follows from a proper understanding of the Good.

      None of this means that evil does not manifest as an active force in creaturely willing or that it does not often take the most hideous, perverse forms. Asserting evil as privation is not sentimental, is not naive, is not blind to depravity.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Karl says:

        Thank you, Brian I have a postgraduate qualification in Philosophy so I’m well aware of the nature of ontology.

        As Fr Kimel said, I don’t believe God can quite be so easily let off the hook, but thanks anyway.

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        • brian says:

          Well, I’m sorry you feel I was condescending towards you. I didn’t realize you were posting this in terms of theodicy. It seemed to me you were questioning the validity of evil as privative. I did not make any claims regarding such “getting God off the hook” and indeed, I have written much elsewhere to indicate a refusal of theodicy (Hart and David Burrell write on this well.)

          Liked by 1 person

          • brian says:

            Romano Guardini was a melancholic fellow apparently. He is supposed to have said that though he knew God would have questions for him, he also would have questions for God. That is the spirit of Job which I prefer to dogmatizers who never wrestle with angels.

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          • Karl says:

            Well, we can certainly agree on that! Peace.

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    • Tom says:

      Karl, check out Hart’s “Providence and Causality” chapter if you haven’t already (see his comments on the positive utility of evil), and his Notre Dame presentation on Creation ex nihilo and universalism – just for the sake of clarifying the terms and vocabulary.

      I don’t see anybody defending the absolute gratuitous and meaninglessness nature of evil as ‘privation’ more passionately or persuasively than Hart, but (in his Notre Dame piece on universalism) even he says:

      “[E]very evil that time comprises…is an arraignment of God’s goodness—every death of a child, every chance calamity, every act of malice, everything diseased, thwarted, pitiless, purposeless, or cruel, and until the end of all things no answer has entirely been given.”

      We simply cannot presently possess a perspective on things so complete that no act of trust (confronting that “arraignment”) is required. In a fallen world faith remains an act of defiance that maintains God is unqualifiedly good and loving in the face of headlines like the one you share. That’s not to say we don’t require help in gaining a perspective sufficient to make such faith a rational act of the mind and will. We absolutely need a reason to believe God is good, and God gives us that (in Christ). But on this rational, meaning-making side of things (which I admit we have to struggle through), what kind of God and creation will you end up with if you suppose evil as such is a reality, an entity possessing a God-given substance (remember, all substances are God-given; we don’t create substances ex nihilo, we only steward creation as given to us) of its own? Who creates the evil you want view as other than a privation upon being? It can’t be us. And once we construct some usefulness, some meaning, some positive part evil plays within the revelation of God’s goodness, what happens our view of that goodness?

      I’m suggesting that the visceral sort of opposition to evil you’re (rightly) feeling assumes an absolute good that is as viscerally unqualified by evil as is your complaint about evil. In other words, if evil serves some good, offers some utility to God that makes possible the revelation of his goodness in creation, why are you so opposed to the slaughter of this precious 10 year old girl in New Mexico? Are you opposed to the revelation of God’s goodness? See where it leads? We can take John Piper’s red pill, lobotomize our moral thinking, and do what he does, i.e., rejoice in her death as right and just from a certain inscrutable perspective. But if you did that, you wouldn’t be opposed to and grieving over her death the way you are.

      Tom

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    • Mike H says:

      Karl,

      Having a young daughter, the article that you linked is right up there with the most heartless and evil things that I can conceive of. And there is a seemingly endless string of stories like this. The explanation that “it must be permitted” would be an unspeakably cruel thing to say to that little girl in the moment of her suffering. If that were my daughter I’m quite certain that I’d cry out for vengeance. Being equally as certain that mere vengeance would accomplish absolutely nothing, I’d probably do it anyways. But absent some sort of restorative component to “justice”, there simply is no salvation, no real making up for anything. Period. And privatio boni is, in part at least, why justice as restorative or teleologically oriented makes sense, at least to me.

      Have you ever read The Doors of the Sea by DB Hart?

      In that recent interview on the Crackers & Grape Juice podcast DBH said that he hadn’t reread the book in years because (to paraphrase) “any explanation is insufficient”. He’s right about that.

      Evil as “a privation of the good” sometimes sounds like a term useful for the classroom but detached from actual existence; philosophical, abstract, and heartless…as if evil really “isn’t that bad” or is “illusory”. I don’t think it needs to carry that connotation though. I could be completely wrong about the implications of “privatio boni”, but to me it ends up meaning (amongst other things) that (1)there is nothing “original” or “eternal” about evil (2)that “good” and “evil” (or “life” and “death”) are not equal but opposing forces that need one another to exist, or that combine to form some greater good that might not otherwise be.

      So I don’t think evil as deprivation = “mere” deprivation. To me, it becomes as much a statement about the nature of good as it does evil. There is, I think, a sense in which evil is “consumed” – and the connotation of something being consumed is that it has some sort of existence that can, in fact, be consumed. But it’s “consumed” for the sake of and in order to reveal the “immortal diamond” that is pure gift. One is not less because some part of themselves – the evil part – has been destroyed and that “substance” is now gone; one becomes more.

      Still. Does all this seem like empty rhetoric sometimes? Yeah, it does. I’m filled with doubts. Life is hard. But the gospel, I think, (and not mere optimism) proclaims that life isn’t an eternal (and largely futile, in the end) battle against the emptiness of an evil that forever leaves traces of itself, but that evil is swallowed up.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Karl says:

        Thanks, Mike. Yes, ultimately if one is a Christian the Gospel and the Cross are one’s first and last resort, not the illusory comfort of Greek metaphysics.

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  16. Tom says:

    I had a question offline, unsure about the meaning of the final sentence in the post:

    “It is inevitable in the sense that divine love pursues us as long as it takes, but it is not inevitable in an hour glass sense in which time is running out on us and if the will doesn’t yield deliberatively in time, God has other ways to bring it about.”

    I’ll try to clarify what I was thinking.

    The “it” there at the beginning is the final, resting of the gnomic-deliberative will in God. I share the hope in the final reconciliation of all things, but my small (annoying!) part to play in this debate is to advocate for the deliberative-gnomic (‘libertarian’, qualified so as to distinguish it from absolute, unmotivated, voluntarist spontaneity) nature of the will’s movement into that final rest. There’s no re-hardwiring the will into something other than a deliberative means of self-determination, something that would foreclose upon the possibility of saying ‘no’ to God and thus get the final desired ‘yes’.

    What left home (gnomic-deliberative will) has to come home; so our ‘yes’ to God has to be a choice between ‘yes’ and ‘no’. That’s why I say there’s no fixing a terminus ad quem on the calendar for the will’s surrender. However, since we’ve ruled out annihilationism and an irrevocable conscious torment through grounding the possibilities of created will and reason in unconditional love, there’s no irrevocable end for the will but God; no home but God. So our coming home is inevitable in an open sense: “Sooner or later,” “As long as it takes,” “God’s got all the time in the world and isn’t in a rush,” or “How’s that workin’ for ya?” kind of sense. This inevitability is the unrelenting love that offers itself to deliberative will and waits. That’s different from the kind of inevitability that says, “Enough already” or “Time’s up” (the hour-glass approach). The latter secures a terminus ad quem by removing the gnomic-deliberative capacity for constructing a ‘no’ to God. The former secures a terminus ad quem through infinite patience and waiting.

    Tom

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    • Tom says:

      “…our ‘yes’ to God has to be a choice between ‘yes’ and ‘no’”…

      I’m not saying human being must irrevocably remain open to saying ‘no’ to God (as Origen thought?). I’m saying we must deliberatively choose our way into that rest.

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    • brian says:

      Tom,

      I thought the original statement was clear enough.

      I tried to download and print out Hart’s article on Providence. Somehow the left margin on the left-handed page was truncated, so I was unable to truly read the article, but I was able to discern the gist of it. The strongest part for me was the denunciation of the idolatrous god of modernity and the way Hart shows the manner in which bad theology infects diverse traditions that no longer knew how to properly think the transcendence of the Biblical God. So much of the deformation comes down to thinking only along a mechanical model and then thinking of God as efficient causality and the creature as inert object.

      I don’t see how anyone could strongly object to the necessity of the creature willing its own good. I have already tried to make clear that one should not understand apokatastasis as an overriding of the creaturely will. There is still some mystery in the whole thing and perhaps we are simply limited in what we can conceptually take in. It seems to me that the best reading of the Gospel asserts universal redemption (I personally include all of nature in Cosmic regeneration; I am not satisfied with the relegation of the smallest creature to oblivion and insignificance.) When Christ cries, “It is finished,” I think it is a cry of victory, though it may appear as anguish or simply giving out. In my view, we have a complex reality of both “finished eschatology” with regards to Christ and yet an “open eschatology” with regards to the full, flourishing, creaturely participation in Christ’s victory. It is Christ’s assurance of victory that provides the ontological grounding to universalist joy. Otherwise, it seems to me one would be left where Balthasar leaves it, with a hope. One would be looking at probabilities, even if one thinks they are “likely” in the “long run” — the long run constituted by eternity or ages of ages as Origen contemplated.

      Now, it seems to me that the kind of “libertarian” freedom you are defending is simply equivalent to saying that man is genuinely free and not merely given the appearance of freedom. Hart seems to follow a kind of Platonic confidence that once the Good is properly seen and the vitiating forms of blindness accrued in time taken away, simply no one will persist in refusing what will be self-evidently their own good. (At least, that is how I used to understand him.) The quote about the divergence between natural and gnomic will has given me pause. That is not something as smoothly “automatic,” though I am more inclined towards the latter view. Myself, I have several times written about the Last Judgement as the beginning of healing. As I understand it, the completion of the “natural will” would be equivalent to the soul seeing its true identity in the Logos, the unique being it was always called to be. I surmise nearly everyone will see a gap, some a gap as wide as nearly the entirety of their temporal existence. (Hence, I read wheat and tares, sheep and goats as primarily “intrapersonal” — against the standard individualist notions of judgement.) I surmise that once one ascertains with clarity the gift of one’s unique calling, part of healing is the necessary redress for the failures of sin and an eternal progress towards realization of the “name on the white stone.”

      But like Desmond’s concept of personal being as one of “open wholes,” I think that name is not a static completion, but something that dynamically grows forever. So, the name is both complete and yet never statically experiencing a totalizing closure. This is part of what I take from Nyssa. Hence, development towards one’s identity according to natural will is not really ended when the derailments of gnomic will are overcome.

      I really think this sort of thing is part of what Bulgakov is trying to get at in his sophiology. Charles Williams has a sense of it, too, in my opinion. All that said, I’m not quite sure what Hart is getting at with regards to a person with two wills unless he is talking about something similar to Augustine’s divided will. But a fragmented will has not yet attained the unity of true personhood.

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      • brian says:

        Sorry, forgot to add that in all this discussion, I always have the feeling that Christology is being neglected somehow and also the unity of the Mystical Body. Something is added when the Logos becomes Man. Something is metaphysically enacted when Christ undergoes the Passion. It is NOT just a satisfaction for evil. The atonement is complex and Balthasar is probably right that one needs a constellation of concepts to begin to properly approach the mystery of it. Still, I think part of it has to do with our antecedent root in the Logos. Christ literally comes to his own. Here, I’ll give away one of my speculative ideas I have embedded in my novel-thing. We don’t know what “unfallen sexuality” would be, but I suspect — following certain intimations one gets here and there in the patristics and elsewhere — that the propogation of children would not have resulted in “sealed off” individuals. This is not at all to suggest there would not have been a unique, “silent” mystery to each person. This is needed — it is not a sign of fallenness. It is from this “secret place” that is unique to the soul and God that personal revelation is made possible. Nonetheless, I think the addition of new persons would have been felt more as if one could sensibly appreciate the addition to a new house. When one first falls in love, the beloved is experiences as “another self.” The world seems bigger. The beloved becomes a “place” where one’s own spirit can rest. Something analogous would have been part of an unfallen experience of humankind. So, I think Christ always knows the people he encounters as ontologically “part of himself,” not as separate, atomized individuals. This is not to say that it isn’t muted kenotically. How far I don’t know. But some of his “cardiognosis” is the working out of what humans are meant to be.

        If one takes that further and sees the Passion as healing the separations of sin, I think one should posit that Christ joins his will to the will of the person. Somehow, he is there, speaking a yes to the Father precisely where the sinner is trying to enact an irrecoverable no. It seems to me that the Thomists, for instance, neglect this. They only ever think human liberty as the working out a individual freedom that is open to the possibility of Christ, but not already intrinsically tied to the presence of Christ. Something like the latter appears to me necessary to assert confidence in universalist victory.

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      • Tom says:

        “Now, it seems to me that the kind of “libertarian” freedom you are defending is simply equivalent to saying that man is genuinely free and not merely given the appearance of freedom. Hart seems to follow a kind of Platonic confidence that once the Good is properly seen and the vitiating forms of blindness accrued in time taken away, simply no one will persist in refusing what will be self-evidently their own good.”

        Totally agree. Here’s my point (and the relevance of the divergence between ‘natural’ and ‘gnomic’ for me): One “sees” the Good one “chooses.” We choose our way into seeing the good. Yes, the clearer our vision becomes through choosing within a certain perspective, the greater the vision/perspective grows and the more automatic (free!) the choice becomes. But there’s no just “taken away” bad ways of seeing and then leaving us to choose the obvious. We “choose” to concede in the falsity of our lies.

        Tom

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        • brian says:

          Yes, I think that is mainly true. I would add in some complicating factors — the way the time and place and the manifold factors that go into a particular milieu constitute a “givenness” into which a person enters the world. Unavoidably, even the very language we use the conceptual range or level of inarticulacy about important matters (or a tradition of wisdom that provides the opposite) all that shapes our choices so that individual choosing is always already embedded in the lives and choices of countless persons. We are responsible agents, but our responsibility is impacted by choices outside the range of our choice. That is why the Last Judgement properly understood is both personal, but because personal (not that of a modern, atomized, liberal individual) also a judgement of the Whole. And then that will include Christ and what he has done and chosen, including maybe choosing all of us.

          But there’s no doubt that intentionality is always operative — we select and judge and interpret always — or at least from a very early stage where cognitive capacity arises which may be prior to when it manifests.

          Liked by 2 people

        • Tom says:

          Hell for me would be having to live with infinite typos I could not correct.

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  17. brian says:

    Well, as Dostoyevsky’s Father Zosima is wont to say, “Each is responsible for all.” Anyway, it is part of your vocation. So, I like to blame you for my typos. It’s a kind of contagion . . . in Greek tragedy, the wrath of one character transfers to another and sets up an infinite loop. Original Sin may all be a typo . ..

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  18. Tom says:

    Very interesting remarks by Hart regarding free and choice in these 2 and ½ minutes, from 57:47 to 1:00:30: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9o7QY0cuAuk

    Tom

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  19. Chris Green says:

    Tom, thanks for these reflections. Sorry I’m so late to the discussion. First, I want to come back to what I said to you privately, drawing attention to stories like Balaam’s and Jonah’s. They are free, completely and at every turn, but what they discover in that freedom—a discovery that is, of course, by grace—is the *conditionedness* of their reality. They come awake to the futility of denying that reality. This realization, this coming awake, is *not* a loss of freedom, but the beginning of movement toward freedom, the freedom Christ is and has and gives.

    So, when you in an above comment say, “We choose our way into seeing the good,” I want to respond: “Well, of course; how else would it happen for human beings? But the choosing is itself possible only b/c of the good that graciously wants us to be freed to see it.”

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