Open Theism, Eternity, and the Biblical God

Twenty some years ago I read the ground­breaking book The Openness of God—a collection of essays by evangelical theologians and philosophers who argue that the “biblical” God who does not foreknow the future. This understanding has since become known as “open theism.” I did not find their central thesis particularly controversial. I was already immersed in the writings of Robert W. Jenson, Jürgen Moltmann, and Wolfhart Pannenberg. They maintain that the Church’s understanding of the God of the Bible has been corrupted by Hellenistic philosophy; each sees his task as liberating triune divinity from the constraints of classical theism. Hence I was more than a little sympathetic to the assertion of an open future and its reinterpretation of divine omniscience: God knows everything that can be known, but by definition the future does not exist and therefore cannot be known, not even by an omniscient being. Seems simple enough. Sophisticated advocates of open theism, however, would never explain their position in such simplistic fashion. In his essay “Generic Open Theism,” Alan Rhoda suggests that the open theist is committed to two propositions :

(1) “The future is, as of now and in some respects, causally open, i.e. there are future contingents.”

(2) “The future is, as of now and in some respects, epistemically open for God.”

If genuine future contingents exist (the open theist is thinking specifically of events caused by free creaturely agents), then the future is not settled for God and therefore cannot be infallibly known by him.  Just like divine attribute of omnipotence, divine omniscience has its logical limits.

In recent years, however, I have become increasingly skeptical of this innovative construal of Christian doctrine and more appreciative of the traditional understanding of deity as advanced by the Church Fathers and medieval doctors. The critical weakness of open theism, it seems to me, is its failure to properly grasp the divine transcendence, as disclosed by the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. Note: I am assuming that creatio ex nihilo belongs to a catholic understanding of the Christian God and the world. Without it the trinitarian and christological debates of the fourth and fifth centuries make little to no sense. Precisely in the gospel’s confrontation with the Hellenistic apprehension of divinity, the theologians of the Church found it necessary to simultaneously assert the radical transcendence of God and the absolute gratuity of creation. God is not an inhabitant of the universe, nor does he exist in interdependent union with the world. He is the absolute, unconditioned, and ineffable source of all that is. He transcends creaturely categories because he creates these categories. His relation to the world, therefore, cannot be captured in the notation of symbolic logic.  Catholic theologians did not learn the creatio ex nihilo from the Greek philosophers, who would have and did find the Christian doctrine of creation incoherent. They found it hidden, if you will, in the tohu wa-bohu of Gen 1:1-3, as they sought to proclaim the distinctiveness of the God of the gospel within Hellenistic culture (see my series on “The Christian Distinction” and “Creatio ex Nihilo“). The world is not divine and it might not have been; yet God eternally is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Creation of the cosmos from out of nothing is the key to grasping a proper understanding of divine transcendence and the mysteries of the Christian faith. Consider the “metaphysical” God of the Creeds and Fathers, as described by Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart:

To speak of God properly, then … is to speak of the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things. God so understood is not something posed over against the universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a “being,” at least not in the way that a tree, a shoemaker, or a god is a being; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are, or any sort of discrete object at all. Rather, all things that exist receive their being continuously from him, who is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom (to use the language of the Christian scriptures) all things live and move and have their being. In one sense he is “beyond being,” if by “being” one means that totality of discrete, finite things. In another sense he is “being itself,” in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true consummation. (The Experience of God, p. 30)

All this is who the biblical God is and must be if he is the transcendent and infinite Creator who has spoken the cosmos into being ex nihilo.

By way of unpacking the differences between the Deity of open theism and the Deity of the classical Christian tradition, I thought I would direct our attention to an incisive essay by the Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, “The Involvement of God,” included in his book God Matters. McCabe reasserts the traditional understanding of deity, particularly as articulated in the theology of St Thomas Aquinas. He eschews divorce between the God of the Bible and the Deity of classical metaphysics:

One of my first claims, then, is that the God of what I have called the ‘tradition’, the God of Augustine and Aquinas in the west, is precisely the God of the Bible, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who is not a god, not a powerful inhabitant of the universe, but the creator, the answer to the question ‘What does it all mean?’, ‘Why anything anyway?’ This was essentially the question asked by the Jews, at least from Second Isaiah onwards, the question which, once asked, could not be unasked (except with great philosophical ingenuity), and this is the question which for mainstream Christian tradition gives us meaning for the word ‘God’. (God Matters, p. 42)

Not a powerful inhabitant of the universe! In my reading of recent atheistic critiques of theism and Christianity, I have been struck by the assumption that Christians really believe that God is some great sky-person, just larger and more powerful than created persons. Why do atheists think this is what Christianity believes? Because that’s what popular Christianity too often teaches. It’s as if the first 1500 years of theological and metaphysical reflection have been suppressed by Christians themselves, all in the name of recovering so-called “biblical” religion. In its increasingly sectarian versions, “biblical” theism has only made Christianity an easier target. Read through, for example, the various blog articles on God by open theist Greg Boyd. Boyd tells us we must redefine the classical divine attributes of transcendence, omniscience, omnipotence, immutability, impassibility. But why? Given my limited acquaintance with Boyd’s work, I can only tender an educated guess or two.

As a modern Protestant evangelical, Boyd does not feel bound to the dogmatic tradition of the Church catholic, yet at the same time he does feel bound to a literal (and, in my view, naïve) reading of the Holy Scriptures, at least as it pertains to their rendering of deity (see, e.g., “How Classical Theology Gets it Wrong“). One may wonder why anyone who does not stand within the theological, sacramental, liturgical tradition of the Church should acknowledge the Old and New Testaments as inspired and authoritative, given that the same Church that canonized these writings as Scripture (providing us, as well, with the hermeneutical rules by which to read them as Scripture and not just as historical artifacts) also taught us that the trinitarian God possesses the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, immutability, and impassibility (see “Trinity, Eucharist, Tradition“). But this problem is not unique to Boyd but shared by his fellow evangelicals, many of whom do not (yet) embrace open theism. We must look elsewhere.

In his article “The Ultimate Criteria for Theology,” Boyd states that proper Christian theology is grounded in Christ: “All of our speculation and debate about such things as God’s character, power, and glory must be done with our focus on Jesus Christ—more specifically, on the decisive act by which he reveals God and redeems humanity, his death on the cross.” I agree. So would the Church Fathers and medieval Doctors, all of whom decisively interpreted God’s moral and personal character through the Crucified. But what they did not do is limit themselves to the New Testament story when deducing the metaphysical attributes of divinity. They didn’t do that for the simple reason that it cannot be done—at least, it cannot be done if one is going to talk about the the transcendent Maker of heaven and earth and not a being akin to the mythological deities of paganism. At some point the theologian must move beyond the biblical narrative and do philosophical reflection grounded in the ontological distinction between Creator and creature (see David B. Hart, “The Destiny of Christian Metaphysics,” and David Burrell, Knowing the Unknowable God). This is precisely what Boyd does not do. He seems to believe that if we begin our thinking with Jesus, we will end up with doctrines resembling the ecumenical doctrines of the patristic Church (minus, of course, all the Greek stuff). The implausibility of this expectation becomes apparent upon second or third glance. Give the Bible to a scholarly Martian who knows nothing about Christianity and ask him to reconstruct the early faith of the Church. Try as he will, he will never think up the orthodox trinitarian faith as defined by the first four ecumenical councils, nor will he even get close to an understanding of the transcendent Creator who makes the world from out of nothing. He might not even get to the subordinationist unitarianianism that characterized some of the second-century Church Fathers. The clear dogmatic assertion that Jesus of Nazareth is God, of one being with the Father, will always elude our scholarly Martian. The essential doctrines that define historic Christianity are simply not read off the surface of Holy Scripture.

Back to McCabe. McCabe trenchantly criticizes the suffering God as presented in the theology of Jürgen Moltmann. The triune God of classical Christianity, because he exists as pure actuality and the infinite plenitude of Love and Being, exists beyond suffering and passivity. He does not “learn from or experience the world and, in general, cannot be affected by it” (p. 44). When we read something like this, we begin to worry. Does this not make God indifferent to the human plight and distance him from the world? We raise these questions, says McCabe, only because we do not truly understand what it means for God to be God:

Our only way of being present to another’s suffering is by being affected by it, because we are outside the other person. We speak of ‘sympathy’ or ‘compassion’, just because we want to say that it is almost as though we were not outside the other, but living her or his life, experiencing her or his suffering. A component of pity is frustration as having, in the end, to remain outside.

Now, the creator cannot in this way ever be outside his creature; a person’s act of being as well as every action done has to be an act of the creator. If the creator is the reason for everything that is, there can be no actual being which does not have the creator as its centre holding it in being. In our compassion we, in our feeble way, are seeking to be what God is all the time: united with and within the life of our friend. We can say in the psalm ‘The Lord is compassion’ but a sign that this is metaphorical language is that we can also say that the Lord has no need of compassion; he has something more wonderful, he has his creative act in which he is ‘closer to the suffering than she is to herself’. (pp. 44-45)

The conviction that if God truly loves mankind he needs to suffer its sufferings and experience its experiences betrays the anthropomorphism that drives much of popular Christianity. To speak of God as “experiencing” the world immediately posits the world as external to God. Deity becomes a being who stands alongside the created order as an other. But the infinite and transcendent God knows the sufferings of every creature, not as a being external to creatures, but precisely as the eternal act that sustains every creature in existence. “The God of Augustine and Aquinas,” McCabe writes, “precisely by being wholly transcendent, extra ordinem omnium entium existens, is more intimately involved with each creature than any other creature could be. God could not be other to creatures in the way that they must be to each other. At the heart of every creature is the source of esse, making it to be and to act (ST 1a, 8, 1, c). … So I think it makes perfect sense to say both that it is not in the nature of God to suffer and also that it is not in the nature of God to lack the most intimate possible involvement with the sufferings of his creatures. To safeguard the compassion of God there is no need to resort to the idea that God as he surveys the history of mankind suffers with us in a literal sense—though in some spiritual way” (pp. 45-46).

I have to admit that when I first encountered the above argument it really shook me. Had I so misunderstood the classical understanding of God? The answer was … yes … and now I am playing catch-up.

But if God cannot suffer in his divine nature, what about the cross? Doesn’t God suffer as the man Jesus? Yes! McCabe answers. If God has truly united divine nature and human nature in the one hypostasis of Jesus Christ, then, following the Council of Chalcedon, “we can say quite literally that God suffered hunger and thirst and torture and death. We can say these things because the Son of God assumed a human nature in which it makes sense to predicate these things of him. In other words, the traditional doctrine, while rejecting the idea that it is in the nature of God to be capable of suffering, does affirm literally that God suffered in a perfectly ordinary sense, the sense in which you or I suffer” (p. 46; also see Hart’s essay “No Shadow of Turning“).

And this brings us to the last part of McCabe’s essay. If Jesus Christ is the inhomination of the divine Son in human history, then we may properly speak of his life in Judea and Galilee as the story of God: “The story of Jesus is nothing other than the triune life of God projected onto our history or enacted sacramentally in our history, so that it becomes story” (p. 48). And it is this story that reveals the immanent life and eternal relations of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

This is all fairly traditional, though articulated in a modern idiom. But then McCabe makes a surprising claim: “there is no such thing as the pre-existent Christ” (p. 49). What the heck But we need to be patient and hear out the theologian. McCabe acknowledges the orthodox intent of pre-existent Christ-language, but believes that the language betrays a confusion of divine eternity and created temporality:

To speak of the pre-existent Christ is to imply that God has a life-story, a divine story, other than the story of the incarnation. It is to suppose that in some sense there was a Son of God existing from the eternal ages who at some point in his eternal career assumed a human nature and was made. First the son of God pre-existed as just the Son of God and then later he was the Son of God made man. (p. 49)

Oops. I do not know how often I have preached and taught about the Incarnation in this way. I think it’s fairly normal, though. “God became Man,” we confess. This is the diction of Scripture and the creeds. And yet underlying this way of talking is the assumption that we can speak of the eternal life of God in temporal terms, without acknowledging the inappropriateness of our language. We sound like we are referring to a “before” and “after” in the Godhead; we probably even think we are referring to a “before” and “after.” Once upon a time, the fairy tale begins, there was a time when God existed in a discarnate state, and then he stepped into the realm of time and space, took upon himself human flesh, and began a new and different way of being. McCabe continues:

I think this only needs to be stated to be seen as incompatible at least with the traditional doctrine of God coming to us through Augustine and Aquinas. There can be no succession in the eternal God, no change. Eternity is not, of course, a very long time; it is not time at all. Eternity is not timeless in the sense that an instant is timeless–for an instant is timeless simply in being the limit of a stretch of time, just as a point has no length not because it is very very short but because it is the limit of a length. No: eternity is timeless because it totally transcends time. To be eternal is just to be God. God’s life is neither past nor present, nor even simultaneous with any event, any clock, any history. The picture of the Son of God ‘becoming’ at a certain point in the divine duration the incarnate Son of God, ‘coming down from heaven’, makes a perfectly good metaphor but could not be literally true. There was, from the point of view of God’s life, no such thing as a moment at which the eternal Son of God was not Jesus of Nazareth. There could not be any moments in God’s life. The eternal life of Jesus as such could not precede, follow or be simultaneous with his human life. There is no story of God ‘before’ the story of Jesus. This point would not, of course, be grasped by those for whom God is an inhabitant of the universe, subject to experience and to history. I am not, need I say, suggesting that it can be grasped intelligibly by anyone, but in the traditional view it is the mystery that we affirm when we speak of God. From the point of view of God, then sub specie eternitatis, no sense can be given to the idea that at some point in God’s life-story the Son became incarnate. (pp. 49-50; emphasis mine)

Time belongs to the created order. As the aphorism goes: “Time is God’s way of stopping everything from happening at once.” God, as God, does not live in time; hence his eternity cannot be literally stated in temporal, or even atemporal, terms. To speak of eternity is not to assert anything positive about God but simply to deny the importation of temporal movement into the Godhead. Even when we speak of the Deity as apprehending all of history in an eternal “now,” we have to be careful. Is not “now” qualified by “before” and “after”? Our language for the divine life is inherently tensed, but God surpasses all tenses. This is why we find ourselves speaking nonsense when we try to talk about God foreknowing the future (see “Does God Know What Hasn’t Happened Yet?“). We have all heard God’s relation to time characterized this way:

But it’s only an image. When we speak of divine eternity, we do not know what we are talking about! Speculate as we may, we cannot conceive the relationship between God in his timelessness and the world in its timefulness. It’s infinitely more difficult than trying to imagine the encounter between two- and three-dimensional beings. “Eternity” is an apophatic term that introduces us to the ineffable mystery of the uncreated Creator. When open theists speak of God not knowing the future, they reduce divinity to the status of a being and subject him to the flow of created time.

And this brings us to McCabe’s second criticism of the “pre-existent Christ.” Let’s place ourselves back in history when Moses was alive. From Moses’ point of view, it makes perfect sense to say “Jesus does not exist” or “Jesus of Nazareth is not yet.” It makes perfect sense, because the conception and birth of Jesus have not yet happened. The future does not exist, which, as McCabe notes, “is what makes it future” (p. 50). Just so, it makes no logical sense to say that “the future already exists for God.” That would to attribute to God a philosophical mistake. Just as Moses can literally declare, “Jesus does not exist,” so Moses can also simultaneously declare, with equal literal truth, “The Son of God does exist.” Given Moses’ specific location in time, both propositions are true.

But now consider the difference between saying “The Son of God exists” and “The Son of God exists now.” As we have seen, Moses could have spoken truly the first statement; but he could not have spoken truly the second. That little “now” makes all the difference. This second proposition, “which attributes temporal existence (‘now’) to the Son of God,” could only become true when Jesus was conceived in the womb of Mary. When Moses lived, it was not yet true that the Son of God now existed. He had not yet enfleshed himself in time as a created being. McCabe concludes: “The simple truth is that apart from incarnation the Son of God exists at no time at all, at no ‘now’, but in eternity, in which he acts upon all time but is not himself ‘measured by it’, as Aquinas would say. ‘Before Abraham was, I am'” (p. 50).

I do not have the philosophical smarts to unpack McCabe’s reasoning as it pertains to the questions of divine omniscience, foreknowledge, and predestination, though I think he would immediately jump on the “fore-” and “pre-.” In fact I know he would. Consider what he says about predestination in his book God Still Matters:

Certainly, a race or a fight that is fixed beforehand is a bogus race or fight; and a human life that has been fixed beforehand is a bogus human life. What has happened here is that we are taking the ‘beforehand’ too literally. Predestination is not something we have from birth, from way back, ‘beforehand’. We do not have predestination at all; it is the plan in the mind of God, it is nothing whatever in us. Predestination exists in eternity and only in eternity, in the eternal timeless mind of God. It is not before or after or even simultaneous with anything. When we plan something and then carry out the plan, there is first the plan and then later the execution. But this cannot be so with God. God has no lifetime, no before and after. There are not times or dates to the thoughts and acts of God. His predestining Jesus to ascend into heaven does not come before his bringing Jesus to heaven. Nothing in God comes before anything else, they are all the one thing which is simply the eternal timeless life of God himself. So we must not take the ‘pre’ in ‘predestination’ literally. What is predestined happens but it doesn’t happen later than its predestination because predestination is only in the timeless mind of God. It is always wrong and a muddle to say ‘What I just did must have been predestined thirty years ago’ because predestination, like the thought of God, has no date at all. It does not mean that we move in predestinate grooves that are there beforehand, like tram lines. (pp. 184-185)

I hope others will read Herbert McCabe and perhaps begin to think these matters through. Of course, I suppose we could all spend the next decade or two reading the Summa Theologiae

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62 Responses to Open Theism, Eternity, and the Biblical God

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    Fine post!

    Another thought comes to mind. The creator/creature modal disjunction exposes a problematic with the Essence Energy distinction. If the distinction is posited such that a univocal conception of the divine energies is juxtaposed to the equivocal divine essence it appears to fail in a very fundamental sense. God’s economic activities are no less subject to the modal disjunction than is the essence. So when it is said the energies are known but the essence is not, the nature of such (a)gnosis must be defined and qualified. Knowledge of the energies is subject to the identical cognitive disruption caused by the ontological and the modal similar-but-infinitely-dissimilar creator/creature divide no less that our knowledge of the essence. Our cataphatic affirmations are no less subject to analogous predication than is apophatic denials in regards to God’s essence. Failure to make this clarification of cognition is, it seems to me, to commit a mistake akin to that of the open theists.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thanks, Robert.

      What’s a “modal disjunction”? I suspect I’m not the only one who’s wondering.🙂

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        What I meant is the infinite gap of difference between the mode of existence of the creator and the mode of existence of his handiwork; that is, the disjunction between the infinite and the finite. One may also bring to bear the ontological disproportion between the absolute and the contingent on this just as well. The point being that God’s work ‘within’ creation (the divine energy) requires no less a deliberate application of ‘likeness within difference’ to account for the infinite disproportion as is required of God’s essence. His energy and essence equally differ differently. This is why in my estimation the essence/energy distinction, unless highly qualified, is less than helpful. An unqualified notion of cognition (and we must include both the cataphatic and the apophatic in need of qualification) does not properly account for the disjunction in its simplistic contrast between the knowable energies and unknowable essence.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          The essence/energies distinction remains at the back of my mind while I’m reading Aquinas. I keep wondering what he would have made of it. I imagine that he would first seek to clarify terminology, as it appears, at least to me, that he and Palamas do not mean the same thing by the word “essence”; but am not able at this point to specify the difference.

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  2. as far as short arguments (so to speak) for divine impassibilty you may be interested in my little note here

    https://notesonthefoothills.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/on-divine-impassibility-aseity-and-the-incarnation/

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  3. Tom says:

    Thanks Fr Al for this post. It’s great to see you address open theism again. You say a lot I agree with. Obviously we disagree on other things. We’ve chatted for a few years now about all this. Let me say first how thankful I am for our friendship, for the openness to dialogue your well-known for, and for the friendly and respectful nature of conversation here at your place. You’re a model to follow. And let me apologize ahead of time to sharing links to comments of my own over at my place. But they are germane to the topic.

    Some quick comments (and typos!):

    1) Folks who know me here know I’m an open theist in the sense that I agree with the narrow claim re: divine epistemic openness (DEO) regarding future contingents. I happen to reject other aspects commonly associated with ‘open theism’ (divine passibilism and kenoticism being the fundamental disagreements) as it took shape under that name with the publication of The Openness of God (1994). I think it’s important to dissociate the simpler claim of DEO from other additional beliefs (passibilism and kenoticism) advocated generally by open theists. There’s no necessary link between the two. Some have advocated for DEO while arguing for divine impassibilism and against kenoticism (Christian philosopher Richard Creel, b. 1940, even Lutheran Isaak Dorner, b. 1809).

    2) I’ve brought Bulgakov up before, and Gavrilyuk has discussed him (SJT( 58|2005), but there’s little doubt that Bulgakov held to DEO. I’ve posted the relevant portions here: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2015/04/02/bulgakov-open-orthodox-father/. What’s to be made of this fact is a separate conversation.

    3) As much as opponents of open theism seek to make very much of its being a very recent invention (and I would never pretend it’s ancient or orthodox), there is a bit more history here than most are aware of, and the wider perspective might help. This is true of Protestants of course, but DEO was held to, promoted, and discussed without charges of heresy among Methodists for many decades – a steady stream throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. One interesting mention of it shows up in John Owen (1642) who discusses certain Arminians who advocated for DEO. I won’t bore you with the details. An interesting timeline of the material (put together by a friend, Tom Lukashow) can be viewed here: https://www.scribd.com/document/132763616/Open-Theism-Timeline-by-Tom-Lukashow. I realize these are all Protestants who on account of being Protestant already are easily dismissed by non-Protestants, but from a historical perspective it’s helpful and interesting.

    4) Open theists appeal to 4th century philosopher (Christian?) Calcidius (translated Plato’s Timaeus into Latin c. 321, perhaps for Bishop Hosius of Cordoba, with commentary in which he advocated DEO. Little else is known of him. (cf. J. Den Boeft, Calcidius on Fate: His Doctrine and Sources, 1997). Even Origen in his work On Prayer notes the apparently widespread appreciation among Christians for the philosophical problem ‘foreknowledge’ poses to ‘freedom’ and brings that problem into conversation with his understanding of prayer. Origen adopts the Orthodox position of course. It’s just interesting to note that the problem isn’t new, i.e., it doesn’t become a ‘problem’ after the Enlightenment or the Reformation. Gregory of Nyssa (as you know) has a short work dedicated the existential problems faced by parents who struggle to understand the deaths of their infant children in light of divine foreknowledge. Gregory’s approach to the problem suggests he knows this is a common question that people struggle with. Portions of the relevant sections on his work are here: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2013/06/25/on-infants-early-deaths/#comment-343). I just find it all very interesting to see how old the issues and solutions are. It doesn’t follow that people who see the problem only see a problem because they’re post-Enlightenment moderns or Protestants. I’m not suggesting you’re saying that’s all there is to the ‘problem’ here. I guess I just don’t often see much recognition of this on the opposition’s side.

    5) I agree that open theism with the full slate of re-envisioned divine attributes it promoted in 1994 essentially has little to no real doctrine of divine transcendence to speak of. I’m not as convinced this criticism is successful, or as successful, against the much narrower claim of divine epistemic openness (DEO) considered apart from support for divine passibility and kenoticism.

    6) At the popular level, open theism at least got Evangelicals ‘thinking’ a bit more theologically than they’re accustomed to. That’s better than nothing. But as a movement open theism is defunct. It’ll remain of academic interest, but at the popular level it’s both too fragmented and increasingly indistinguishable from Process theology to represent anything like a unified theological vision.

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  4. Note X Note says:

    It is quite interesting to know God has no beginning or end. Yet, the Name of Jesus was given in time, the body was formed in 9 months and the Name was proclaimed then and will be proclaimed infinitely. So there is a distinct difference between one with no beginning or end and one with beginning and choice of ends based not on the belief of infinity, but on the Word.

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  5. Iain Lovejoy says:

    The Bible is full of descriptions of God’s suffering because of the suffering and sin of mankind. I would have thought to call them “metaphorical” in the way the article does is in reality just saying they are, basically, polite lies, and God does not really suffer at all.

    There is an oddity in simultaneously saying that God suffers in Jesus but does not suffer generally and also saying we cannot soeak of God becoming man in the sense of changing his eternal nature to become so: either he suffers in his eternal nature ir he doesn’t.

    I see a weakness in the argument above (if I understand correctly). It denies (I would say correctly) that God needs to suffer himself in order to understand and experience our sufferings, on the grounds that instead he does so directly because he is the ground of our very being, but I can’t help thinking this muddles cause and effect. Rather I would say it works the other way around: if God experiences our sufferings directly in this way, and loves and is compassionate towards us, how could he not then himself suffer as a result? To say God loves us, but experiences our sufferings this intimately and is yet unmoved by them is, I would say, to use “love” in a way that loses all connection with the meaning of the word.

    (On a side note, regarding open theism, it seems to me an attempt to get round a problem that doesn’t really exist. It assumes that cause and effect necessarily operate temporally, that cause must precede effect in time. This apparently in odd situations to do with relativity – I am not a physicist – is not true even within the universe, so why it should be true for God is unclear. God knows the future not because it is determined beforehand but because the future contingency that in fact does occur is the one God in his eternal present experiences. An example – Genesis can say God brought Adam each of the animals to see what Adam would call them not because God didn’t know what he would say, but because God could only know what Adam would say because God was going to, and knew he was going to, ask. (If anyone has read any Douglas Adams they will appreciate the difficulties with grammar that sentence caused.)

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      A quick reply:

      “The Bible is full of descriptions of God’s suffering because of the suffering and sin of mankind. I would have thought to call them “metaphorical” in the way the article does is in reality just saying they are, basically, polite lies, and God does not really suffer at all.”

      I would never describe the biblical language that speaks of God’s suffering and grieving with humanity because of evil as “polite lies.” Rather I would preach these texts (1) as figuratively expressing the depth and intensity of God’s love for us (a love that is perfect love precisely because it does not need or operate out of deficiency and hurt) and (2) as anticipating and prefiguring the incarnate God’s very real suffering and death on Calvary.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        I am fully on board with the notion that it is not necessary for God to suffer to induce him to love, I just have difficulty getting my head round the concept of a love that can itself remain unmoved and unsorrowed by seeing the loved one suffer. (I.e. I would maintain the love causes the suffering, not that the suffering causes the love.)
        Looking at it the other way round, is there any theological, doctrinal or biblical reason making it necessary or likely that God doesn’t suffer and the Bible doesn’t simply mean what it says?

        Like

  6. Thanks Aidan,
    Forgive me for my low brow thoughts but I wonder to what extent you think they capture the important issues around the subject you were addressing.

    The future (for us) is not set by God. That would make God responsible for each person’s actions. This is not the case because it violates free will- the only basis for relationship to exist. The future (as we refer to it) is “known” by God–one justification for this belief is that various prophecies have been fulfilled. However debating whether God knows or doesn’t know what we understand as the future sems to me to be of little real importance to us. Understanding how we can and should relate to God and others is.

    Jesus reveals God’s qualities in the only terms we CAN apprehend and in the only ways we NEED to know them.

    Thinking of God as a superhuman us is a big mistake; God’s oneness and inness in everything helps us understand that God is deeply involved in and concerned about everything and also really helps us to embrace the unity Jesus desires for us all to enjoy.

    Thanks for writing this and for the MCabe tip- sounds good.
    Blessings.

    Like

  7. Andy says:

    Fr. Kimel,

    It has been a while since I have commented, but I do enjoy your blog very much. This post brings to mind a question I have been wrestling with, namely the omnipresence of Christ. Following Chalcedon, we must not confuse the natures, but neither do we want to separate the person.
    The Lutheran doctrine is that, because of the communication of attributes, Christ’s human nature is omnipresent, and not just his divine nature. I believe (without comprehending) that when I partake of the Lord’s Supper, it is his true body and blood.

    If our Lord Jesus Christ is not omnipresent, even though he is incarnate, then how will any of us walk and talk with him in heaven? I certainly look forward to that, as I know every believer does.

    I realize I should take off my shoes as I think about these things. I would much appreciate your feedback.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Ooh, I like your question, Andy. I haven’t thought much about the omnipresence of the risen Christ since my Lutheran phase. I’m afraid I don’t have even a speculative answer for you, though I can’t imagine that this will be a problem for God Incarnate. After all, the Lord Jesus is able to be present on a million altars all at once without blinking an eye. We can’t even imagine what life will be like when God is all in all.

      Sorry I can’t help more. Perhaps someone else out there has some interesting speculations on life in the kingdom.

      Like

      • Andrew Evans says:

        Fr. Kimel,

        Thank you. As I think I told you before, my orthodoxy is a little eclectic also. I know the reformed make much of the fact that Jesus is now seated at the right hand of God—a particular place. But then, that raises the question, Is God the Father in a particular place? Luther believed that the “right hand of God” symbolizes the place of authority and power, and not a particular place.

        How easy to speculate about these things. Your blog has helped me over the years to more fully appreciate the fact that, however big I think my God is, my God (i.e., my conception of Him) is too small!

        Like

  8. Tom says:

    Just a few of Bulgakov’s statements (from his chapter “God and Creaturely Freedom” in The Bride of the Lamb).

    “All this brings us to the central question of God’s omniscience in relation to creaturely freedom and its works. Does God know the works of our freedom “before” they are accomplished on the basis of His omniscience? The question is answered in the affirmative by predestinationism in its various forms…But to say that God knows in advance the works of freedom is a de facto annulment of freedom, its transformation into a subjective illusion. The acceptance of this supposition therefore places all the difficulties of predestination before us….”

    Now, just that wouldn’t be problematic for the traditional view, I don’t suppose, since for the classical theist God’s knowledge of our free acts doesn’t “precede” those acts. Thus any objection to the traditional view would fail since the objection holds that a problem is created IF God’s knowledge “precedes” what is known. But God’s knowledge of the temporal world is eternal and essential, not temporal. So there’s no problem. But it turns out this is not Bulgakov’s line of reasoning. It’s more nuanced than that. A few more quotes fill it in.

    “…all the possibilities of creaturely being, having their roots in the Creator’s knowledge, are open to this knowledge, since they belong to the world created by Him and are included in this world’s composition, not only in the form of ‘integral wisdom’ but also in the form of a distributed multiplicity…”

    God’s knowledge of all creation’s possibilities is eternal and immutable. That much has to be true. Bulgakov says:

    “…creation – in both the spiritual and the human world – cannot bring anything ontologically new into this world; it cannot surprise or enrich the Creator Himself…”

    Perfectly so. An analogy might be the sort of knowledge of Kasparov’s chess moves that Big Blue possessed. All the possible moves are known. All the possible lines of attack and defense are known. Every possible game known in an immutable act of anticipation. Kasparov can contribute nothing “new” in this sense. But which particular moves Kasparov ends up making are not so known. Those are unique creations of a free and hypostatic sort. As possible lines of play, all our existences and choices (even the choices we might but never make) are known. But the world’s ‘actualities’ – as they actually unfold “a” particular pathway among a multiplicity of possible way? I don’t see how providence is undermined. Providence is already the source and ground OF all possible trajectories. There are no possibilities that escape providence. Once all is grounded in that – what more is gained by insisting that in addition to knowing all the possible moves Kasparov might/might not make, God eternally and immutably knows all the moves he in fact freely makes?

    Bulgakov adds:

    “But the very choice and creative actualization of these possibilities, that is, the domain of modal freedom, remain entrusted to creation and to this extent are its creative contribution. Although creation cannot be absolutely unexpected and new for God in the ontological sense, nevertheless in empirical (“contingent”) being, it represents a new manifestation for God Himself, who is waiting to see whether man will open or not open the doors of his heart. God Himself will know this only when it happens.”

    And:

    “To creaturely freedom it is given to participate in the destinies of all of creation and, first of all, in the proper ways of man. If, in God’s eternity, the world’s being is uniquely and totally determined, on the contrary, we have the incompleteness, the under-determinedness, the still-continuing self-determination of the world. Veiling His face, God remains ignorant of the actions of human freedom. Otherwise, these actions would not have their own reality, but would only be a function of a certain divine mechanism of things.”

    I have a theory but don’t have time to verify it: Bulgakov got this view, or was at least quite encouraged in it, by none other than Isaak Dorner (whose work Bulgakov knows and cites). Dorner, a Lutheran, was a staunch Chalcedonian critic of emerging kenoticism and a passionate defender of divine impassibility. But he also advocated for divine epistemic openness (DEO), or ‘open theism’ in its simplest conviction.

    There are other passages in Bulgakov, but that gives the gist of it.

    I thought I might just be misunderstanding him, that whatever Bulgakov is saying he really does hold that God’s knowledge of the world’s entire temporal tapestry, freely and contingently woven, is eternally and immutably known by God. But other Orthodox objected to Bulgakov’s position regarding divine foreknowledge as well, which suggests at least that they read him as I’m reading him.

    I’d never pretend this is Orthodoxy in its ancient, Patristic form. At the very most it is (in Bulgkalov) compatible with the defining theological values at the heart of Orthodoxy (to the extend Bulgakov is compatible with those values). It does, I admit, introduce some manner of temporal passage into our understanding of God’s knowledge of the temporal world. For some, perhaps nearly all, Orthodox, that is already to abandon Orthodoxy essentially. I don’t know. But I don’t think it asks us to understand God as temporal in any of the objectionable senses defended by your average divine temporalist, certainly nothing alone the lines of Process theism. It seems to me (and I’m a hack, I admit) that we should be able to articulate a notion of God’s self-sustaining triune fullness that does not involve temporal becoming in anything like a creaturely sense of becoming (i.e., where all coincidence of ‘essence’ and ‘existence’ in God is denied) but from which fullness created time flows and that this flow is not alien (unexperienced) by God (the way an infinite specious present would accommodate temporal, finite presents within it, as I poorly try to describe here: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/gods-infinite-specious-present/; more plugs – forgive me!)

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tom,

      I don’t see how what you suggest is not classical theism. Please advise.

      Like

      • Tom says:

        I don’t hold God’s knowledge of the world’s temporal actualities to be immutable (and thus, don’t hold to ‘actus purus’).

        Like

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Two questions, Tom. How do you understand the traditional claim that God is pure Being? What is your alternative?

          Like

          • Tom says:

            I understand the traditional view of God as ‘pure being’ to state essentially that God is ‘pure act’ (actus purus), and I understand that to mean there is no conceivable unrealized potential in God whatsoever. But not only does that preclude ‘divine epistemic openness’ (even along Bulgakov’s line of reasoning, never mind your average open theist), it precludes any change in God’s knowledge of the changing actualities of the temporal world.

            I would not exchange this classical view for the Process claim that God is processu operis (a ‘work in progress’), but neither am I convinced these two exhaust our options.

            I try to describe the classical view here: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2016/07/19/classical-theism/

            I take a stab at avoiding both classical and process views here: https://anopenorthodoxy.wordpress.com/2016/03/30/gods-infinite-specious-present/

            (Don’t mean to plug another blog; there’s just too much to cut-and-paste.)

            Tom

            Like

  9. I tend not to read open theists. I have read a couple of Gregory Boyd’s articles but the things he said about classical theists made me scratch my head and say “huh?”.

    I think they realise deep down God is infinitely simple and they are trying their best to describe him in human terms. Which is a fundamental theological mistake, of course.

    Like

    • Tom says:

      I know exactly what you mean regarding Boyd’s comments about classical theism and theists. I’ve chatted with Greg about it actually. There are times such comments go from academic engagement with positions you disagree with to what seems to some to be ridiculing those who hold the classical position. I could give examples, but never mind. Suffice it to say that there’s a – not sure how to describe it – kind of deep, existential angst at the heart of open theism’s project. I know. I’m an evangelical who came to agree with the whole package for similar reasons – i.e., out of a desire for more philosophical/theological consistency in my worldview and a better “fit” between what I believed and the existential givens of life.

      For the most part open theists reduce “classical” theism to late Augustinian double-predestination and its Reformed expression in Calvin. I read everything published by open theists and was pretty engaged in conversation with them all personally before ever realizing the diversity on the classical side. I was actually surprised to discover certain beliefs of Eastern Orthodox. I remember stumbling across some criticisms of Calvin made by DBH and I thought, “Wait a second. He’s a classical theist?”

      A lot of water (and reading, and friendship) has flowed under the bridge since then, and I still, it seems, disagree in important ways with certain classical claims, but I’m nowhere in the position I was in.

      I can tell you exactly why open theists (at the popular, less informed level, and even at the top, published level) make some of the statements they make. The reason is on p. 551 of the DBH piece “The Mirror of the Infinite” that Fr Aidan posted which appears immediately after this post – the paragraph starting “Here, however, we seem not to have advanced beyond paradox….” Hart grants that at this point in his exposition of Gregory’s thought he could bring things to a close…

      “…but in doing so one would fail to take account of the deeper truth that allows such a relation—such a proportion between incommensurables—to be a real event both of divine self-disclosure and of creaturely participation in God’s goodness. After all, were the relation between God and humanity simply that between the infinitely hidden and the finitely manifest, it would be no relation at all, but only an impossible interval, posed between the ontological and the ontic, the actual and the possible, the absolute and the contingent; its only true proportion would be an infinite otherness, and its only true expression the creature’s eternal frustration.” (emphasis mine)

      Open theists, for whatever reason, feel about “classical” theism what Hart here describes – that frustration, that sense of stale, vapid, postulations about an infinite other. That irresistible longing for the vitality that must be the divine life that grounds such longing in us to being with? That desire for the relatedness and passion of the divine dynamism we all say God must be? Open theists don’t see that in the classical position. They see the frustration Hart describes. They see a “cosmic stuffed shirt,” an “unblinking cosmic stare.”

      For all their research (which seems limited to Calvinistic sources and Aquinas) and reflection, they can’t get beyond that frustration – and nobody embraces a form of faith that frustrates as primal and irresistible a spiritual longing as we all admit is fundamental to human being. To be frank, I’m an outcast among a few (ignorant) open theists for my openness (or the irony of the term!) to Orthodoxy, for even my friendship to Orthodox people, but especially for my belief in divine apatheia (which needn’t be denied to affirm ‘divine epistemic openness’ regarding future contingents), but I’ll admit, I often feel there is something of the “cosmic stuffed shirt” in even the most exited descriptions of God offered by Orthodox writers – DBH included. I read reflections on God as the most vibrant, passionate, living dynamism imaginable (that nearly bring me to tears) followed in the end with a qualifying “now remember, all this is mere analogy – don’t ever suppose God really knows what time it is in NY City, because then you’ll fall into mythology” sweeps it all away. In Hart’s piece on Universalism at Notre Dame, it seemed to me he castigated making these kinds of qualifications when it came to ‘moral’ categories, and that left me wondering what really is meant by the “analogical interval.” I’m still looking to understand it from the inside. Not quite there yet, but I’m “open” (pun intended).

      But I can tell you, those troublesome statements you hear open theists make, they’re motivated by that irresistible desire for a “fit” that turns the lights on inside one’s spiritual life. For whatever reason – some but not all of it is, I admit, the fault of open theists themselves (their general tendency to be short-sighted, to suspect anything ancient, to mistrust ecclesial authorities, their lack of self-awareness and appreciation for how indebted they are to Enlightenment values and categories, and more) – they continue to see certain classical convictions (actus purus as the absolute rejection of all conceivable unrealized potential in God is pretty much it) as undermining that “fit.” And that existential fit is impossible to deny. You either reject claims you believe undermine that fit, or you find a way to understand those claims that ground and fulfill it. If I may be so bold, Orthodoxy doesn’t have a great PR department in this respect. There’s a lot I haven’t read, but it would be nice to hear Orthodox folk share exactly HOW they DO faith/life given actus purus. How does one integrate that into life? That would be interesting and helpful.

      Tom

      Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        The italics in the DHB quote should be opposite. The emphasized portion is what is NOT italicized.

        Like

      • Tom–see my comment on the mirror of the infinite post.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        ‘It would be nice to hear Orthodox folk share exactly HOW they DO faith/life given actus purus’

        See you at Orthros. 😉

        Liked by 1 person

        • Tom says:

          Thanks Robert! Nice.😀

          I was thinking more along the lines of having conversations about how they process life/faith, but I appreciate your point. I’m not entirely unfamiliar with the liturgy, though. Attended occasionally at Orthodox churches in the Middle East while living there.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            ‘There’s a lot I haven’t read’

            Unless grounded in actualized practice, a living faith, a lived spirituality, all the theology at the end of the day amounts mere conceptualization, leaving us untouched at the end of day. I am of the opinion that theology primarily comes from encounter, not the other way around. It is difficult to deny a theology of world-as-sacrament, for instance, if one is steeped in Orthodox practice, tradition lived, practiced, actualized, experienced. This does not come overnight, nor is it easy. There’s plenty of PR…but it just doesn’t fit our modern sensibilities, so we pass it up.

            We have stripped or radically altered the tradition, its feast days, the fasts, services, the remembrance of the saints, the intercessions, the sacraments, the services, the prayers, its art. Then we wonder, what does it all mean anymore? You speak of the spiritual life and ‘the light going on inside’ – is not going to happen by reading about Actus Purus, that is my point.

            Like

          • Tom says:

            I completely agree Robert. I wasn’t primarily talking about reading more about ‘actus purus’. Done a lot of that. I meant dialogue of a more personal, intimate nature – e.g. (if I may mention it), conversations I’ve had with Fr Aidan about Aaron. Theological debate has its place, but truth be told, certain of our conversations have told me more to be about how Fr Aidan ‘does’ his Orthodox faith than any of his blog posts. In the end, what ‘actus purus’ means is the ‘difference’ it makes to how one intentionally does life (i.e., one’s joys, sufferings, pain, etc.). Hope that’s clearer.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Tom says:

        Correction: *oh* the irony…

        Like

      • brian says:

        Tom,

        Doubtful most religious people in any tradition have worked through the metaphysical implications of Christian revelation. As you know, most Open Theists make fundamental philosophical mistakes. They characterize classical theism badly because they presume certain modern presuppositions that place classical theism in a false context. The irony is that those existential aspects that Open theism rightly prizes can only be properly enacted by the Living God elucidated by classical theism. The “stuffed shirt” God is more like an inert Absolute of Parmenides, the passive perfection of Aristotle’s isolated deity.

        Generally, it seems to me that the sensitive modern is often right in what he objects to, but wrong in his target (and then there is the difficulty that a weak understanding of reason and tradition creates insuperable limitations to one’s inquiry.) I found it interesting that in the long introduction to Erich Przywara’s Analogia Entis, John Betz indicated that William Desmond is the modern thinker most akin to Przywara’s way of approaching reality. One requires “finesse” and an appreciation for paradox, and an almost mystical sense of analogy that “cataphatically” points to an uncomprehended (but not utterly unknown) infinite Good.

        Pure Act is like Eternity, beyond our conceptual capture. But as Balthasar has opined, nothing of the good known in time can be lacking in eternity. Precisely because God is fullness and precisely because God has revealed his inmost secret of TriUne being in the gospel, one knows that gift, receptivity, surprise, delight, and joy is part of the perfect flourishing of Being. It is a grasping weakness to think one is presented with impossible contradictions when one is only lost in error because one has tried to master God with logic and univocal definitions. The latter are falsely proclaimed as necessary to ward off a theological nihilism whereby predications of God would be at odds with human language and meaning. Theological inquiry must proceed without reduction to the univocal or wandering in a terminally equivocal nihilism or to an overmastering dialectic whereby the self titanically attempts to swallow the Whole into an epic stillness devoid of further drama. The “I” forgets its giftedness and its dependence upon an infinite generosity that is free in its love because of apatheia and Pure Act.

        Liked by 2 people

  10. Tom says:

    I’ll be the first to share all your replies with Bulgakov as well when I see him.😀

    Like

  11. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Philosopher Alan Rhoda responded to the article over on the FaceBook Open Theism forum (http://bit.ly/2fxRwiZ):

    Hi Al, I appreciate your blog post. You are right that open theism requires a break with a Thomistic understanding of God, but it’s not right to associate the break with creation ex nihilo, a doctrine that all open theists (as distinguished from process theists) affirm. Nor does open theism deny the transcendence of God, but it doesn’t read as much into that transcendence as you, McCabe, DBH, or Aquinas do. In particular, open theists would not agree that God, to be the transcendent God, must be pure actuality, ipsum esse subsistens, or absolutely immutable, impassible, timeless, and simple. Those doctrine ultimately arise from metaphysical assumptions that reflective open theists will eschew–some mainly for biblical reasons (e.g., Boyd), and some like myself, who believe that the resulting picture of God leads to metaphysical incoherence.

    As one who was schooled on Aquinas and folks like McCabe in grad school, there is much more that I could say about where I think classical theism goes off the rails, but for the time being I’ll simply mention what I believe are two faulty assumptions that Aquinas makes: (1) in the First Way he assumes that anything that moves or changes must be moved/changed by *something else*. (2) In various places, though less explicitly, he assumes that existence *as such* needs an explanation. Assumptions like these are needed to derive doctrines like divine pure actuality, absolute immutability, simplicity, etc. If those assumptions are false, however, then such doctrines are not metaphysically well-motivated and shouldn’t be thought of as required by divine transcendence.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Over at the FB Open Theism forum, a question was asked whether the identification of God as Being makes God’s creation of the world a necessary act. Here is Alan Rhoda’s response. I suspect it may generate one or two responses:

    “It’s hard to see how God as pure act doesn’t render the god-world relation necessary rather than truly contingent.”

    Kurt, this is one of several problems with classical theism. If God is “simple” as Aquinas understood that term and if God’s essence and existence are, as he insisted, identical, then everything about God must be essential to God and therefore absolutely necessary just as God’s existence is absolutely necessary. It is therefore metaphysically impossible that God be otherwise than God in fact is. So if God is creator of world X, then it is metaphysically impossible that God create any world other than X, or that God refrain from creating altogether. And if God’s knowledge and will are identical to God (as divine simplicity asserts), then everything God knows and wills is essential to God and therefore absolutely necessary. And if God’s creative will is necessarily efficacious and his knowledge necessarily exhaustive, then everything in creation is absolutely necessary as well.

    The only way to avoid this consequence is to do what Aristotle, deists, and contemporary Thomists like W. Matthews Grant do, which is to make God *wholly indifferent* to creaturely contingencies. Aristotle’s God of “Pure Act” is also “thought thinking itself”–it neither knows nor cares about creation. Grant, of course, has a complex story to tell about why this doesn’t undermine divine omniscience and providence, but I don’t see how his view winds up being any different than Aristotle’s.

    Like

    • brian says:

      Father,

      One might respond by saying that if God is not Pure Act, then there remains in God some element of potency. If there is potency in God, then He realizes his Being, flourishes more, by actualizing that potency. Again, it seems to me that moderns do not understand or reject without sufficient argument (to my satisfaction, at least) a participation metaphysics. The point of Thomas’ equation of God’s Essence with His existence is to clarify that creaturely essence is always a limited participation in existence. If one rejects a Thomist metaphysics here, one is back to an essentialist metaphysics whereby existence is added extrinsically to essence. One then thinks of creation as one possibility among others (as Duns Scotus does). Hence, one thinks of God truly being free to create as being free to choose Universe X as opposed to Y. This is a kind of libertarian choice.

      But classical theism does not imply that kind of freedom. I have referred more than once to David Burrell’s discussion on these matters. God’s freedom is more like that of the artist. He does not line up an infinite number of possibilities and then choose one. Rather, God discovers in himself the winsome call, the inspiration for the made thing. Can God be inspired by God? What do you think is meant by 1 Cor. 2:10? Creation is not chosen in a libertarian sense. It is chosen in the way one falls in love. One assents to the call. God discovers the beauty of Sophia and in His love, creates. And as I have often said, there IS a kind of Necessity to Love, but it is that paradox whereby freedom and necessity are one. The Good is not compelled in a deterministic fashion, but neither is it optional. As Christ taught, freedom is mysteriously one with obedience.

      To return to my original reflections, it seems to me that Pure Act assures the freedom of Creation. God does not lack in a Hegelian manner. He does not need creation in order to realize His Potential. On the contrary, Triune God is Love, needs no created Other for love to be possible. It is odd that some should therefore see classical theism as akin to Aristotle. Precisely the opposite! It is the metaphysical equation of Pure Act with Trinity that sustains creatio ex nihilo, that underlies the agapeic giving of existence as an utterly gratuitous gift. Is it not easier to argue that the rejection of Pure Act is what implies that somehow the creation is an actualization of potency otherwise unrealized in God?

      But I would never deny that there is something paradoxical in creation, as Bulkgakov’s sophiology attempts to elucidate.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Alan Rhoda says:

        Hi Brian,

        I appreciate your comments, but I think they miss the point of my critique of Actus Purus. If all Actus Purus means is that God is essentially the fullness of Being, the fullness of all perfection, then I wholeheartedly affirm that God is Actus Purus, and I agree with your comments about creation being a free (=unconstrained) outpouring of divine love. But that’s not all that Actus Purus is standardly taken to mean. It is standardly taken to entail God’s absolute immutability, impassibility, timelessness, and simplicity. These entailments I deny.

        The central problem I am concerned with is to understand how God relates to the *specificity* of creation, to the particulars and contingencies of creation. This is where I think classical theism fails. God’s being the triune fullness of Being accounts for there being *a* creation, but not for there being *this* specific creation with all of the particular individuals and events that comprise it. How does God specifically know, will, and relate to these particulars? If that specificity is packed into the fullness of God’s being from the get-go, then *this* creation is a *necessary* expression of God’s nature, and God is not free not to create or to create anything other that what God has created. On the other hand, if that specificity is not all packed in from the get-go, then God’s nature, will, and knowledge must be *open* to further specification, meaning that immutability, impassibility, timelessness, and simplicity have to go — or at least that they can’t be as absolute as classical theism standardly takes them to be.

        Liked by 1 person

        • brian says:

          Thank you, Alan. I see what you mean. I remain persuaded of the cogency of these elements of Pure Act that you find at odds with particularity and contingency. I don’t think impassibility, btw, implies indifference. A rejection of simplicity appears to me to endanger a proper understanding of divine Transcendence. I do, however, find some aspects of individuation as Thomas understands it not fully convincing. In this respect, I am drawn to views articulated by Edith Stein in Finite and Eternal Being. Hence, I have some sympathy for your assertions. As this is something I am still working through myself, I am not prepared to offer an argument; indeed, there may be tensions that rise to the level of aporias.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Alan, I’m delighted you have stopped by Eclectic Orthodoxy and entered into this conversation. One thought (one or two more to come later):

          The more I read analytic philosophers (do I presume rightly you fall into this class?) on classical theism the more I wonder whether the patristic understanding of God actually falls into the category. I’m no patristic scholar, but I have read a fair share of the Church Fathers. At no point have I ever suspected that the God of whom they speak is somehow held captive metaphysical necessity, with the implication that God had to create the world–quite the contrary. Yet most if not all of the Fathers identified God as either Being (St Gregory of Nazianzen, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Augustine) or Beyond Being (Pseudo-Dionysius, St Maximus the Confessor, St John of Damascus). I have therefore begun to wonder whether classical theism is not in fact a construction of post-Enlightenment theology. I cannot prove this, but I do wonder.

          I even wonder whether St Thomas Aquinas should be classified as a classical theist. This might seem to be a strange thing to say, I know. Everyone refers to him as the classical theist par excellence; but given the apophaticism that underlies his theology, which comes to powerful conception in the identification of the divine esse and divine essence, the God whom Thomas advances does not seem to fit easily into the classical theistic model. Thus Rude Te Velde:

          There is something in Thomas’s conception of God as ipsum esse per se subsistens that does not fit very well into the picture of ‘classical theism’. Classical theism, as it is usually understood, tends to view God as an absolute entity existing independently of the world. The theistic God looks more like a being, a ‘self-contained substance’ above and apart from the world, than the pure actuality of subsistent being itself. From Thomas’ perspective, this would mean that the independence of God, as over against the world of finite beings, is conceived wrongly. It is as if the character of subsistence, attributed to a theistically conceived God, is a logical expresison by means of which we think of God as separated from the world, as a distinct reality, while Thomas intends to express by subsistence that the being of God is separated through itself from all other beings. The difference is crucial. For Thomas, God is not ‘separated’ from the world as a subsistent entity conceivanble apart from his causal relationship to created beings; it is as cause of all beings that God ‘separates’ himself from his effects by distinguishing those effects from hiimself In this sense the ‘concept of God is, in truth, the concept of the relationship of God and world, conceived as an ordered plurality of diverse beings, each of which receives its being from the divine source of being. For Thomas there is no way of thinking of Gkod concretely outside this relationship. (Aquinas on God, p. 85)

          You, of course, know all of this Alan; but I thought it important to make the point, as it is not at all clear to me that your objections to classical theism actually touch the position of Aquinas and those who preceded him.

          Like

          • Alan Rhoda says:

            Hi Fr. Aidan,

            Thanks for the comment. Yes, I am an ‘analytic’ philosopher. I don’t see, though, that that has any bearing on my critique of ‘classical theism’, of which I take Aquinas’s thought to be the fullest classical expression.

            I grant you that the Fathers didn’t generally draw the necessitarian implications from classical theism that I claim follow from it, but I think that was partially because (a) they generally took classical theism for granted and didn’t explore its implications very carefully, and (b) they were dogmatically prevented from “connecting the dots” in that manner, so to speak. Thus, almost every theologian from late antiquity through the high middle ages took divine simplicity, immutability, impassibility, and timelessness more or less for granted, offering very little in the way of careful systematic argument in support. (Aquinas is a major exception. He argues for classical theism at length, though I think his arguments ultimately depend on some false assumptions.) With the general contours of classical theism mostly assumed as dogma, they went about the business of working out other aspects of Christian doctrine (Christology, soteriology, etc.) without worrying that much about how or whether classical theism fit with those doctrines. This is documented to some extent in Ryan Mullins’ recent book “The End of the Timeless God” (Oxford, 2016).

            So, no, I don’t think ‘classical theism’ is a modern construction that distorts what Aquinas and most of his predecessors believed. Apophaticism or not, the distinctive tenets of classical theism (*im*-mutability, time-*less*ness, *im*-passiblity, simplicity = *non*-distinctness of essence and existence, essence and attributes, etc.) can all be glossed in negative terms.

            Regardless, though, if you don’t think my case against classical theism works, I’d like to know which premise or inference you deny and why. For purposes of discussion, here’s a more careful formulation:

            (1) God’s essence = God’s existence. (assumption)
            (2) Therefore, any property that qualifies God’s existence is essential to God. (from 1)
            (3) God’s knowing and willing the actuality of *this* creation is a property that qualifies God’s existence. (assumption)
            (4) Therefore, God’s knowing and willing the actuality of *this* creation is essential to God. (from 2, 3)
            (5) God’s essence/existence is absolutely necessary (i.e., it is absolutely impossible that God not exist or that God’s essence not be exemplified). (assumption)
            (6) Therefore, God’s knowing and willing the actuality of *this* creation is absolutely necessary. (from 4, 5)

            Now, you might be prepared to simply “bite the bullet” and accept the conclusion, but as I’m sure you know, the traditional view has been that God was free *not* to create and also free to create a different sort of world in at least some respects than He has in fact created. My contention is that classical theism doesn’t allow God this freedom. It either renders everything about God *and creation* absolutely necessary, or must insulate God from all contingency by rendering God ignorant of and indifferent to creation. Since neither consequence is acceptable for Christians, classical theism is untenable. Perhaps some aspects of the classical theist conception can be salvaged (impassibility, perhaps), but not the identification of God’s essence and God’s existence. It must be the case that some properties that qualify God’s existence (e.g., being the creator of *this* world) *not* be essential to God. In other words, it must be possible for God to have accidental or contingent properties.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Hi Alan,

            Here’s how I see it. If 3 were to follow from 1 it would allow composition of God which is denied by 1. Put another way, and to clarify, the validity of 1 stems from divine simpleness, based on which creation is gratuitous, free, without change and without necessity in God. Which is not to say God is passive, far from it: he is pure actuality, from whose hyper-activity creation derives its being. The creative act required no change – no ‘additional’, no unrealized activity was required. Moreover, in the ever present there is no time when God stops creating this world. The world that was created is the world which God created. Talk of possible worlds has no purchase with God who knows no unreliazed activity. None of the above denotes divine ignorance of and indifference to secondary causality; the opposite holds: only a God who does not come into being can give true being to being.

            This is all quite illogical to our finite minds, I must admit. But I know the “I Am” of Scripture no other way; none besides is worthy of worship.

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          • (3) God’s knowing and willing the actuality of *this* creation is a property that qualifies God’s existence. (assumption)

            One can derive the conclusion simply from adding this assumption to (5); if God’s knowing and willing the actuality of this creation is a property that qualifies God’s existence, properly speaking, then it follows directly from God’s existence. If it doesn’t qualify God’s existence in the strict and proper sense, then it doesn’t give us a sense that allows it to share a middle term with (2), since this can only be about properties qualify the very existence of God. (3) is also pretty clearly false on most classical theist accounts, unless we are using ‘property’ so broadly as to include extrinsic denominations and ersatz properties (e.g., mereological fusions of properties of different things), in which case it is not the right sense of ‘property’ to make (2) true.

            Liked by 1 person

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Alan,

          To me – divine simplicity, immutability, impassibility, and timelessness do not constitute a positive doctrine of the nature of God. These describe merely what God is not. The reason why this is important is that these descriptors don’t signify what they normally do. For instance, timelessness does not mean to God what it means to the creature, as for the creature timelessness would mean absolute inactivity, i.e. death. So when ‘timelessness’ is used to describe God it is not used in an univocal way – we certainly don’t mean to say God is dead, otherwise utterly static, nor ‘frozen’ in time, neither unable to know the future in ignorance (as we would be in timelessness). Likewise with simplicity, immutability, and so forth. Our grammar breaks down as we cannot contain the uncontainable: the timeless God experiences time more so then the creature does; the One is present at all times and everywhere in all places; and so on. As one classical theist put it a long time ago (not to be contrarian, but he seems to have thought the implications through), God is interior intimo meo et superior summo meo.

          So divine simplicity, immutability, impassibility, and timelessness don’t have to go; on the contrary, they are quite necessary to keep us from univocating. To let us know what God is not. He is not like creation, He neither comes into being, nor experiences and knows things like creation in time does. He always is and He freely knows the particularity of the creature without being bound by it, as the creature would have to be to know that particularity of a future contingent.

          With this I have said what God is not. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • alanyzer says:

            Hi Robert,

            Thanks for your extended reply. I don’t, however, understand how you propose to circumvent my argument against classical theism as you neither identified a premise to deny nor challenged any of the inferences.

            You say “If 3 were to follow from 1 it would allow composition of God which is denied by 1”. Well, okay, but I never claimed that (3) followed from (1). Rather, I took (1) to imply (2):

            (2) Therefore, any property that qualifies God’s existence is essential to God. (from 1)

            I take (3) to be an independent assumption, i.e..:

            (3) God’s knowing and willing the actuality of *this* creation is a property that qualifies God’s existence. (assumption)

            Now, perhaps you reject one of these two claims, viz., either (2) or (3). And if you deny (2), then presumably you deny that (2) follows from (1). But if so, then I’d appreciate an explanation of why you think the falsity of either (2) of (3) makes good sense.

            If (1) is true (as you seem to grant), then shouldn’t (2) be true as well? Shouldn’t it be the case that whatever is true of God’s existence is also true of God’s essence. Otherwise, by Leibniz’s Law of the indiscernibility of identicals, (1) is false.

            Likewise, if (3) is false, and God’s knowing and willing the actuality of *this* creation is NOT a property that qualifies God’s existence, then how can God be the Creator of *this* creation? If God’s knowledge doesn’t reflect the particularities of creation, then how can God be omniscient? If God’s will doesn’t reflect the particularities of creation, then how can God be provident?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Alan,

            I have a post coming up (should be published in the next few days) in which I directly address your concerns so my response for now will be impossibly brief.

            As to the falsity of statements. Setting aside for a moment what is meant by key terms utilized (of course not unimportant!), I suggest that the question is not whether 1, 2 or 3 is true or not, but rather in what sense they may be true or not. In what sense may it be affirmed (or not) that God’s nature is identifiable with his existence? In what sense can it be said that a property which qualifies God’s existence is essential to God? In what sense is God’s knowing and willing the actuality of *this* creation a property that qualifies God’s existence? Which is to say that I am drawing attention to the grammar proper to theological discourse. Our discourse, the words we use and what is signified, needs to be qualified because the subject is not an ordinary subject. One could say discourse of God is not a discourse of a subject at all. We must then ask how can we speak about God without mistaking the subject for a creature. This is not an easy task, it is quite contrary to the normal use of language. The only proper way to account for transcendence, the mystery that is God, is ‘maximize’ our language by way analogy reflecting likeness within an ever greater dissimilarity. This is an acknowledgement, in our discourse, that the ‘how’ of God self-caused existence is ever beyond our reach and consequently our words will always fall short.
            Which is to say, God exhaustively knows the future and it is open.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Brian, as I think I may have mentioned to you, I have been reading Pseudo-Dionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas by Fran O’Rourke. I just finished it last week. It was slow going for me, and as with all things Aquinas, I only comprehended maybe 25%. I thought you might like this passage. It occurs in in the context of O’Rourke’s discussion of Aquinas’s defense of Dionysius against the accusation of necessary emanationism:

      “God is the fontal cause of all life and being, not by any process of necessary emanation–non quidem propter suam necessitatem, sed propter bonitatem Ipsius. As Aquinas clearly points out, divine will transcends the categories of necessity and contingency,’natural’ and ‘unnatural’. As a cause it lies outside the order of beings and pours forth all of being and all its differences, including those of possibility and necessity. The very origin of necessity and contingency is the divine will itself, which as primary cause transcends the order of necessity and contingency (transcendit ordinem necessitatis et contingentiae). What we are here considering is not the contrast between contingency and necessity but that between freedom and necessity. Aquinas’ point is nevertheless high significant within the the present context. God is beyond all distinctions within being, and surpasses every category whereby we comprehend creaturely being. As subsistent Being, there is nothing to contrain him; since he is perfectly simple there is in him no distinction which could occasion inherent or internal opposition. Even the distinction ‘natural: unnatural’ is inappropriate: ‘God’s willing of any of the things he is not bound to will is not natural, nor is it unnatural or against nature; it is voluntary'” (p. 254).

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Camassia says:

    Hi Fr. Kimel, I don’t think that I’ve commenting before but I’m de-lurking to say that this subject seems to address an issue that I’ve wondered about for a long time, which is how Christ could have pre-existed his own body. It has been insisted to me, especially by those of an anti-Greek bent, that the whole idea of the body as a meat suit for the soul is an error and our bodies are intrinsic to ourselves, which is why they will be resurrected. Putting God inside of time would mean that, at a certain point in history, the Son underwent an enormous change — not just some emotional “passibility” but a permanent transformation from one kind of being into another. And it would virtually render his pre-existence irrelevant, for all the good that it did anybody.

    Placing God outside of time goes a ways toward resolving that problem, but it does raise a question about the nature of the resurrected body. Presumably that body is Christ’s eternal body, so if we’re asking if Christ existed at the time of Moses, could we say that his risen body already existed, even if his mortal body didn’t yet? And therefore, that our own risen bodies already exist in some sense?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thanks for unlurking, Camassia, and thanks for your interesting question. As soon as we begin thinking about the relation between eternity and time, we immediately find ourselves in a thicket of confusion, don’t we? Take another look at what McCabe states: while Moses certainly could truly have said, “The incarnate Son exists” (we know that he could have said this truly, because Jesus is risen”), he cannot truly have said, “He exists now,” because the Incarnation had not yet happened as historical event. Hence we find ourselves in a curious position. This, I think, is the reason why Christians notionally distinguish between the Logos asarkos (Word unfleshed) and the Logos ensarkos (Word enfleshed). If the Word had never assumed human nature in Jesus at a specific time and place, we wouldn’t be dogmatically asserting that the Word is a distinct hypostasis within the Godhead or that God is eternally Father, Son, and Spirit. And so the Apostle Paul can speak of Jesus as actually present in the time of Moses: “all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same supernatural food and all drank the same supernatural drink. For they drank from the supernatural Rock which followed them, and the Rock was Christ” (1 Cor 10:2-4). He can even assert that the Father created the world through and for Jesus and that in him “all things hold together” (Col 1:16-17).

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  14. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Alan, I’m delighted you have visited Eclectic Orthodoxy and entered into our conversation. I revisited the FB Open Theism group this morning and saw that you left a succinct summary of your argument, which others here might find helpful:

    (1) All the specificity of creation is built into the divine nature, in which case everything in creation is as metaphysically necessary as God’s nature is, or

    (2) At least some of the specificity of creation is not built into the divine nature, in which case either

    (2.a) God (with respect to his will, knowledge, etc.) is open to further specification, and so God isn’t absolutely immutable etc., or

    (2.b) God is not open to further specification, in which case God is essentially ignorant of and indifferent to the specifics of creation.

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    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      I may be misunderstanding but doesn’t 2a assume God as a being within and subject to time and therefore increasing in specification as more events occur. If God is however outside time, the whole of time is simultaneously present to him in his own eternal present. God (from God’s point of view) interacts with the whole of creation over time simultaneously so that everything God has done in the past for him he is still doing, and everything he will do in the future he has already done, so that whilst from our point of view within time he may appear to interact with creation in a linear fashion over time, from his point of view all his action is the same and immutable seamless and unchanging action it has always been and ever will be. (I think this makes sense?)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Yes you make sense. Let’s get apophatic!

        God is not immutable as a creature would be immutable. God knows, but not as a creature knows. God wills, but not like creatures will. God makes, but not like creatures make things. God exists, but not like we exist. Ad infinitum.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          I have to confess I had to look up “apophatic”.
          Knowledge of anything seems to me to constitute a series of ever-improving approximations, in the case of trying to understand God running “God is such-and-such”; “well not quite”. I can’t see that this stops us making positive statements about God, unless we forget they are approximations, and fall into the “if it is not X it must therefore by Y” trap I thought the above argument fell into. I would say mostly these things resolve into “in some respects X but in other respects Y” and on into the merry task of arguing how much X and how much Y.
          In the specific case open theism tries to deal with, the I think false assumption is that “does not change over time” is necessarily synonymous with “immutable” when discussing a being by which time itself is produced. This allows for a God simultaneously (I seem to be using this word a lot) unchanging through the ages and also interacting with his creation.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Iain,

            The problem in my estimation is the conception of immutability as immutability would mean to the creature. This univocal understanding then is projected onto God, and the open theist concludes this is not how God is and reject immutability. What they have rejected however is not immutability as classically conceived but a straw man.

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      • Alan Rhoda says:

        Hi Iain,

        You’re right that the way I expressed (2.a) suggests divine temporality. But I don’t think your appeal to divine timelessness actually helps with the difficulty I’m pressing.

        The issue has to do with the relation of God’s nature or essence to the specificity of creation. Let God be timeless if you will. Still, either God’s nature (1) includes the specifics of creation or (2) it doesn’t. If it does, then creation is as metaphysically necessary as God’s nature. If it doesn’t, then either—I’m rephrasing (2.a) here to avoid any suggestion of divine temporality—(2.a) God is not identical to God’s nature; rather, God’s existence contains metaphysically contingent specifications *in addition to* God’s metaphysically necessary nature, or (2.b) God is identical to God’s nature, but God is wholly indifferent to the metaphysically contingent details of creation.

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        • Iain Lovejoy says:

          I would (probably) actually agree with your re-phrased 2(a), since the “metaphysically contingent specifications” are us. My difficulty with “open theism” would be if it subjected God to time (which would make God not God at all) or denied divine foreknowledge (which would imply to possibility of divine error or failure and remove the certainty of salvation). I am open to the notion that God (at least in relation to his creation) can be more than that which is absolutely metaphysically necessary.

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  15. Rob Gramling says:

    This is a great thread with some wonderfully civil dialogue. Of course, all my sympathies lie with classical conception. In part b/c all the mystical traditions in the world agree upon that basic metaphysical framework (and that’s a wisdom for which I have great respect) but also because on a philosophical level, it just has a great deal to recommend it. I’ll only say that while I appreciate Alan’s gracious comments here, his claims that the Fathers “never really thought out the implications classical” or “systematically argued for it” are almost dizzingly ridiculous. Again, I don’t mean to be provocative or insulting by I don’t see how any serious acquaintance w/ the fathers could leave one w/ that impression. And treating Aquinas as somehow entirely unique in the tradition in this reguard is equally as questionable. I mean the substance of the 5 ways can be found pretty explicitly in the 5 ways im John of Damascus. The reason why “classical” theism is rarely ever defended against any other “type” is because they never had to confront an explicitly “theistic personalist” heresy.

    As for the actual question: the relation b/w the changing/contingent and the eternal unchanging Truth that underlies it, I scarcely see how one could argue that the universe is an essential feature of God. No doubt creation is rooted in the wisdom and Being of God, from what else could it spring but how does it follow that is essential? Creation is not a property of God. He would not be amiss w/o it. As Augustine noted long ago, we cannot fathom how creation works b/c of God’s timelessness. He is not sitting about waiting to do something before creation or deliberating over it as all this langauage slips in anthropomorphism that cannot apply to God. (And all these matters become more mysterious w/ the introduction of the trinity) As Brian said the best we can do is think of an artisan. What is consistent in all critiques of creation w/ respect to classical theism is to view God’s act of creation as a type of a decision b/w alternative possibilities all lying aside of God and then complain that freedom by his “inability” to choose differently. But all this assumes possibilities that lie “outside” God. It is too a imagine a larger “space” or reality (a sort of shadowy background) that God inhabits and in some sense this precedes Him. This just won’t do because at such a point God has stopped being God, but merely a sort of supreme power that emerges from a more embracing realm. When we talk about God being pure act, or perhaps better, beyond being we are saying something about the sheer boundlessness of God’s Being. He is that all embracing reality that we covertly are always thinking of when we make God to into a being among beings. And that’s when discover that in the spaciousness of His Being there is room for us. In his limitless act there is great possibility. Actuality must always precede possibility but it does so not as some limiting restriction upon some greater imaginary “pure possibility” but as the “possibility of possibility”. The pure act that is God is the gracious gateway that opens up to possibility that. I might be gesturing toward the mystical here but I think it’s fair to say that any good metaphysics is an invitation towards the mystical. And I also want to stop myself from spending another few hundred words talking about actuality and possibility when the gesture is better anyways.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alan Rhoda says:

      Hi Rob,

      Thanks for your engaging reply. In partial defense of my speculative comments about the Church Fathers, while I don’t pretend to be an expert in patristics, I’ve read a fair amount of Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, and Aquinas, and I’ve talked about these issues with people who are well-versed in patristics. One of the things that’s always struck me is that while the strictly Biblical support for doctrines like simplicity, timelessness, impassibility, and immutability is weak and equivocal at best, the luminaries of the Church very quickly and (as you admit) rather uncritically settled on the “classical” conception of God as opposed to any “personalist” alternatives. Prevailing philosophical assumptions stemming largely from Middle Platonism seem to have played a major role in driving that consensus. By the time of Augustine if not before classical theism was already so entrenched that it had effectively reached the level of dogma. But classical theism has always had an uneasy fit with the Incarnation, the particularity of creation and creaturely contingencies, and Biblical depictions of God’s interactive dealings with creation. So even if the Church Fathers weren’t confronted with a developed “personalist” alternative, they really should have considered alternatives much more carefully than they did.

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      • Rob Gramling says:

        Thanks for the dialogue Alan, always good to discuss these matters. I guess we can just switch gears to history of philosophy. However, I can’t grant a great deal of validity to that historical sketch. For one thing it would so much be middle Platonism that greatly influenced the Fathers as Neo-Platonism. (Though middle Platonism had a great deal of influence on many Jews most notably Philo) Plotinus looms largest on that score. Secondly, I may have been a bit too sweeping in my comments regarding what the Fathers did and didn’t encounter. Neo-Platonism wasn’t monolithic– other schools most notably the stoics competed for (elite) followers in the ancient world. But more importantly than all that I just don’t think you’re being fair to Fathers. I mean look Augustine wasnt one to unreflectively adopt anything– almost to a fault. The greatest of the Fathers weren’t the kind to unconsciously adopted metaphysical framework w/o thinking. They often innovated and challenged various Platonist and stoic concepts. But really our conclusions about their ability to think out the implications of the metaphysics is going to be dependent our evaluations of their actual metaphysics and that discussion needs to be had on different grounds. Regardig Biblical support it largely depends. The Old Testament is collection of literature that doesn’t give us any consistent picture of God from beginning to end. That’s why Catholics and orthodox lean so heavily and seriously on the church, tradition and apostolic succession for guidance in the interpretation of those scriptures. Even so one of the pervading themes of the Old Testament is God’s otherness and transcendence (while maintaining involvement) w/ respect to humanity. As for the New Testament I’m of the opinion that is decisively in favor of classical theism and Platonic metaphysics in particular. Paul commends the philosophers for a reason and quotes approvingly that God is in whom we live and move and have our being. The logos metaphysics on display in John is undeniable, and the model of truth on display in that gospel is what might be called Platonic illumination. And let us not forget “that every good thing cometh down from the Father of lights in whom there is no shadow of turning (or similitude of changing)” (I think I got the last quote right). But I’m off to get ready for thanksgiving dinner. Have a happy thanksgiving!

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      • Tom says:

        Great to see Alan kickin’ it over here!

        My own sense is that Christian conversation with Hellenistic theism (a conversation that was entirely mutual but not uncriticial) was concurrent with the rise of the Christian faith itself. In fact, I think Christianity just is this conversation. There never was such a thing as a pure, “Hellenistic-free” form of Christian faith. The conversation between Hellenism and Judaism was well on its way before Paul shows up on the scene. Paul was well aware of the conversation, educated in its terms, and his letters are a first generation reflection on the issues from a Christ-centered point of view. But there are plenty of Hellenistic philosophical concepts at work from the get-go. Even if we can identity objectionable features of Hellenistic philosophies (as well as objectionable features of older Canaanite and Babylonian philosophical-religious views relative to Judaism—just look at the LXX), Christianity is as Neo-Platonic as it is Jewish. Even Second Temple Judaism (Jesus’ Judaism) was not exactly the faith of Abraham or Moses. “In the fullness of time.”

        Some essentially classical intuitions (a handful come to mind as I type) don’t get inserted into Christianity later as an originally pure Christian faith encounters a Greek world. Those intuitions are in Paul. If we removed its indebtedness to Hellenism and, arguably, to a Judaism shaped by Babylonian Exile and Hellenism’s cultural influences, Christianity would cease to exist. That’s not to say I think classical (Christian) theism is spot on across the board. I just mean there’s no time when the Christian faith was ever not already mutually defining and defined by Hellenism (in a form we’d ever be able to recover); i.e., there’s no pure “Christian” philosophy by which we allow or disallow Greek philosophical views.

        Tom

        Liked by 3 people

  16. Robertson Gramling says:

    I wrote the longest comment I have ever written on here only for it to disappear when I attempted to post it. Ah the sysiphean sorrow. But great thread guys. Truly excellent.

    Like

  17. Patrick Halferty says:

    Father Aidan,
    Your statement below to Iain Lovejoy made my day. I’ve committed it to memory. Thank you. Pat
    (1) as figuratively expressing the depth and intensity of God’s love for us “a love that is perfect love precisely because it does not need or operate out of deficiency and hurt…”

    Liked by 1 person

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