Reflecting the Mystery: Analogy Beyond Negation and Affirmation

By Robert F. Fortuin

‘… the Holy Spirit, in delivering to us the Divine mysteries, conveys its instruction on those matters which transcend language by means of what is within our capacity.’1

The focus of this essay is to draw attention to an important aspect of theology which in my opinion does not get near the attention that it should. This area of study concerns the rules for the discourse about God, the grammar of ‘theo-logic.’ These are the rules which govern predication of God, and this discipline has as its aims to inquire how such rules differ from those which concern predication of ordinary, non-divine subjects. For example, in what sense can existence be said of God (i.e. ‘God exists’)? How does divine existence differ, if it differs at all, from non-divine existence? More specifically, how can divine difference (and likeness) be accounted for in our theological grammar, and what bearing does this difference have on the signification of words? It seems to me that language appropriate to God should be of particular concern to Eastern Orthodoxy and to all Christians for whom God’s radical otherness constitutes the sine qua non of the mystical dimension of theology. Attention to the demands which theology exerts on language would seem to be more than an idle pre-occupation—words are the only tools available to the theologian. She stands or falls by the words she chooses and how they are utilized. This field of study moves beyond epistemology into an area where dogmatics, metaphysics and linguistics intersect. Setting aside for a moment the question as to the ground for theological knowledge (epistemology shall be noted later), the question I wish to raise is as follows: how can we adequately formulate a ‘theo-logos,’ words or discourse about God, given the mysterious and transcendent nature of the theological subject? This question should make the alarm bells go off, red flags should immediately be raised. The fathers of the undivided church unanimously warn that God is not an ordinary subject: God is not to be reckoned as a being within the hierarchy of beings. He is, in other words, not a proper subject at all. In the words of Pseudo-Dionysius, ‘if in seeing God one can know what one sees, then one has not seen God in himself but something intelligible, something which is inferior to him.’2 Dionysius warns us that if in naming God we think we thereby have come to a comprehension of the nature of God, i.e. what God is, we will have deluded ourselves in describing an idol. John of Damascus is no less direct, ‘God does not belong to the class of existing things: not that he has no existence but that he is above all existing things, nay even above existence itself.’3 The difficulty these theologians point to is that in offering a description of a transcendent object its very transcendence has been betrayed. Gregory of Nyssa sums up this limitation of words when used to describe divinity: ‘the infinity of God exceeds all the significance and comprehension that names can furnish.’4 Descriptions then are unable to exhaust divine transcendence; God ever exceeds what words can signify. The Cappadocian father exposes a complication for God-talk: how can discourse about God who ‘is above existence itself’ proceed when our language can only signify concepts of inferior things? The task demanded of language is to bear the ineffable mystery of the transcendent God—but this does not seem to possible. How can words signify the ‘ever-exceeding-beyond’ when the only reference available to language is the comprehension of the ‘here and now’? In this essay I intend to show how Gregory of Nyssa frames a theory of theological language grounded in God’s likeness in creation and in which he incorporates analogical predication to account for divine dissimilarity from creation. My threefold aim is to demonstrate: 1.) special grammatical rules should govern theological discourse to account for God’s transcendence, the interval of God’s infinite dissimilarity; 2.) apophaticism as a mode of discourse is inadequate for the theological task; and 3.) analogy, the language of mystery, is the only means whereby a mystical theology of God’s transcendence can be expressed.

The need for attention to theological grammar is no more evident than in Gregory of Nyssa’s Contra Eunomium. Gregory charges his Arian interlocutor bishop Eunomius with the error of using words in their normal, univocal sense to signify the divine mode of existence. Arguing against Eunomius’ claim that ‘there was a time when Christ was not,’ Gregory points out that the Son’s generation from the Father is unlike creaturely generation which denotes non-existence and succession in time.5 According to Gregory, Eunomius’ error lies in the univocal use of the term ‘generation’: he uses the creaturely mode of begetting to signify the divine mode of generation. For the Cappadocian father, the requirement for a distinctive theological grammar is due to God’s radical otherness from creation; consequently, a literal or univocal use of ‘generation’ is not be predicated of God. Divine dissimilarity, according to Nyssa, is the reason for the inadequacy of the ordinary sense and univocal signification of language in discourse about God. Failure to account for divine difference in theological grammar leads to, or is a result of, erroneous anthropophatic conceptions of divinity. Words then must be utilized in such a way to move beyond their ordinary signification: for Gregory theological grammar must go beyond mere apophatic negation (i.e. ‘the Son is not generated’) in order to establish in what sense the Son is generated. Based on an atemporal filial generation which precludes non-existence Gregory refutes the Anomoeans’ claim that the Son is unlike the Father. Gregory use of terms acknowledges the difference between the divine and creaturely mode of existence. Dissimilarity from creation is thus of utmost importance to Gregory’s theology and theological language: divine unlikeness must somehow be reflected in the discourse of God.

It should come as no surprise then to find that Nyssa’s defense of Nicene orthodoxy is built on a detailed articulation of God’s radical difference from creation. Gregory ontological Anschauung consists of an absolute division between the uncreated and created order of existence—an interval which he refers to as the ‘ultimate division of being’ or άνωτάτω διαίρεσις. This gulf is a ‘disproportion of dissimilarity’ marked by the infinite, absolute existence of God6 in contradistinction to the finite, contingent being of the created order. God’s infinite mode of existence is utterly unlike the mode of existence of the created order which is constrained by limitation, composition, and change. According to Gregory, God’s existence does not come into being7 but always simply ‘is’; there is no ‘before,’ ‘during’ and ‘after’ in God’s mode of being.8 Furthermore, unlike creation God’s existence is marked neither by a ‘here’ nor a ‘there’ as if composed of parts which extend into space. God’s illimitable mode of being thus knows neither time, place, extension, nor composition.9 According to Gregory, God is ‘the cause of his own existence’ which denotes that the άνωτάτω διαίρεσις constitutes an ontological disproportion between God and his handiwork.10 He self-exists and is therefore unlike derivative existence, for God does not depend on anything or anyone ‘outside’ Himself for His existence. God’s aseity is the possibility for creation, as only He that self-exists can freely give being to being without constraint, diminishment, or necessity. Furthermore, God is perfect, without unrealized potential, for according to Gregory, ‘nothing can be added to God.’11 This is a very quick sketch of how St Gregory construes the infinite interval of difference which distinguishes God from creation.

The pertinent point here is that the ultimate division of being poses a difficulty for theological discourse, a problem of which Gregory was quite cognizant. As Gregory explains it, ‘the created nature and the Divine essence being thus divided, and admitting no intermixture in respect of their distinguishing properties, we must by no means conceive both by means of similar terms.’12 The distinction between God and creation precludes the use of similar designations—words are emptied of signification by reason of their inability to bridge the infinite interval of difference. Because each nature has its own distinct mode of existence, it is not possible to ‘express by the same terms the created and the uncreated essence, seeing that those attributes which are predicated of the latter essence are not discoverable in the former.’13 The interval between God and creation thus forecloses all possibility of theologizing, for according to Gregory the division does not allow for ‘intermixture’ and therefore ‘similar terms’ cannot be used. Equivocation, the complete breakdown of signification, seems to rule the day for absolute unlikeness presents a complete disjunction forestalling all God-talk. However, Gregory shows how he overcomes this difficulty in the course of his argument against Eunomius:

we are taught by the divine Scriptures many names of the Only-begotten—a stone, an axe, a rock, a foundation, bread, a vine, a door, a way, a shepherd, a fountain, a tree, resurrection, a teacher, light, and many such names. But we may not piously use any of these names of the Lord, understanding it according to its immediate sense. For surely it would be a most absurd thing to think that what is incorporeal and immaterial, simple, and without figure, should be fashioned according to the apparent senses of these names… but we transfer the sense of these names to what better becomes the Divine nature, and form some other conception, and if we do designate Him thus, it is not as being any of these things, according to the definition of His nature, but as being called these things while He is conceived by means of the names employed as something else than the things themselves.14

Nyssa affirms the use of normal words, but not with the normal or what he calls the ‘immediate’ and ‘apparent’ sense of their significations. Gregory cautiously approves that discourse about God is possible provided we remain aware of and utilize the signification of words befitting God’s mode of existence. Thus it is proper according to Nyssa to predicate of Christ that ‘he is a rock,’ provided we ‘form some other conception’ and say that Christ is not a rock in the ordinary, apparent sense of a rock. Note that here (in the case of a term which does not describe a divine attribute) apophaticism is appropriate. A simple apophatic denial of the affirmation is adequate: ‘God is not a rock, an axe, a door, and so forth’ because God ‘is not as being any of these things.’ In the case of metaphors then apophaticism is appropriate; however, the inadequacy of apophaticism shall be noted below, for not all predication of God is by way of metaphor. At any rate, Gregory maintains that theological discourse must account for God’s utter dissimilarity from creation; consequently, God-talk must ‘transfer the sense’ of ordinary words to ‘what better becomes’ the uncreated nature.

The disjunction between the divine and created mode of existence raises the further question as to the nature of this ‘transfer of sense’ and the question as to the possibility of such a shift in knowledge. Gregory elsewhere in Contra Eunomium explains how he formulates a transfer of sense in theological discourse:

… the Holy Spirit, in delivering to us the Divine mysteries, conveys its instruction on those matters which transcend language by means of what is within our capacity … it portrays the Divinity in bodily terms … none of which things is apprehended to belong in its primary sense to the Divine Nature … it describes by terms well worn in human use, facts that are beyond every name, while by each of the terms employed concerning God we are led analogically to some more exalted conception. [The Holy Spirit] taking just so much from each [human concept] as may be reverently admitted into our conceptions concerning God … indicates by those conceptions concerning God which correspond to them, not admitting the corporeal senses of the words … yet does not speak in that sense which our customary knowledge enables us to understand.15

In this important pericope Nyssa points to two distinct but related aspects—he establishes the epistemological ground for theological discourse and how such epistemology determines the mode whereby this discourse is to be conducted. As to the latter, the mode of discourse, the Cappadocian father notes that by means of ordinary language ‘well worn in human use’ conceptions proper to theologia can be obtained by way of analogy, transferring from human concepts just that which is befitting the Divine nature. Analogy or αναλογια used by Gregory in this passage denotes ‘a relation by measure of proportionality’—an analogical likeness proportionate to the degree that creaturely existence reflects or participates in the existence and perfections of God. The flipside of the analogy is that insofar the created mode of existence is unlike divinity, dissimilarity precludes the use of terms in their univocal or ordinary sense. It is worth pointing out that analogical theology embeds similarity within an ever greater dissimilarity in order to account for the disjunction which divine transcendence presents. Recall how this functions in Gregory’s argument against Eunomius: the likeness of human generation to divine filial generation is affirmed (Nyssa maintains that the Son is begotten, and He is Son of the Father), whilst yet it is surpassed by infinite dissimilarity (hence divine generation is atemporal and does not denote beginning, becoming, and non-existence). Theological discourse by mode of analogy thus ever acknowledges the need for further explication to formulate the in-what-sense of its predication of God, cognizant of its state of incompletion in light of the infinite otherness of God. The grammar of analogy is thus quite slippery, but it is for that reason precisely fit for mystical theology, a theology of divine transcendence. As to the epistemological ground for theological discourse, Gregory indicates the existence of a correspondence or proportional (analogical) likeness between created and uncreated being. He grounds his epistemology in the ontological correspondence of divine likeness present in the created order; a correspondence which in turn constitutes the possibility for meaningful discourse about God. Even so, theological grammar must account for the likeness while noting the unlikeness. In Gregory’s words, ‘that which is “made in the image” of the Deity necessarily possesses a likeness to its prototype,’ and ‘the reflections of those ineffable qualities of Deity shine forth within the narrow limits of our nature.’ Even so, whilst recognizing similarity Gregory is keen to note dissimilarity for, ‘it would be no longer an “image,” if it were altogether identical with that other.’16 By means of analogy Gregory of Nyssa frames a theological language which is grounded in God’s likeness in creation and which accounts for divine dissimilarity. It is thus that he construes grammatical rules to guide theological discourse in order to ‘transfer the sense’ of names to ‘what better becomes the Divine nature.’

Moving on to the inadequacy of apophaticism as the ground for theological discourse. As noted analogical discourse of God accounts for the interval of dissimilarity whilst being grounded in an epistemology of correspondence. Apophaticism as a theology of denial, however, foregrounds dissimilarity such that it undermines the possibility of theological discourse. This shortcoming of the via negativa as a mode of discourse is evident when applied to divine attributes or perfections (i.e. goodness, being, wisdom, truth, and so forth) when predicated of God. In the case of terms not signifying a divine attribute, denial is proper: so we can state that ‘God is not a rock’ and leave it at that for God is not really a rock. But this is not the case for divine perfections; take for instance ‘goodness.’ We can affirm that ‘God is good’ without qualification (keeping in mind of course that our manner of signifying perfections always falls short, but ‘God is good’ nonetheless can be properly said of God). The statement ‘God is not good’ however cannot be properly predicated of God. The denial must be qualified to signify how, in what sense, divine goodness is dissimilar to goodness as encountered in creatures. Here the analogy of proportionality, Nyssa’s Grundregel for theological grammar, has to be applied: God is not good in the sense goodness is predicated of creatures. Creatures participate in goodness by measure of acquisition, but God does not participate in goodness for He is the good and He is goodness (recall the difference in mode of existence according to Gregory’s ultimate division of being). By this analogical rule then discourse of God acknowledges the likeness and the dislikeness of goodness. The good can be found in creatures but in the sense in them only according to their proportion (that is by analogy). As such creaturely goodness is both similar and infinitely dissimilar to divine goodness. By αναλογια then Nyssa is able to account for dissimilarity (‘God is the good and goodness’) and similarity (a ‘man is good’ based on a measure or proportion of correspondence) in theological discourse. In contrast the apophatic method can only signify a mere denial (‘God is not good’) and is therefore inadequate to construct a theological grammar which is able to reflect the mystery of He Who Is, who is beyond the dialectic of negation and affirmation. The priority given to dissimilarity by strict apophaticism must give way to divine analogical correspondence lest meaning is entirely vacated from theological discourse.

Alas some have overlooked or departed from Nyssa’s epistemology of ‘analogical correspondence’ and instead foreground apophaticism to regulate theological discourse. Perhaps such a departure is detectable in the writings of Pseudo-Dionysius, and it may have been picked up later by John of Damascus. An extreme expression of negative theology can be seen in the writings of Meister Eckhart, for whom God is ‘nonGod, a nonspirit, a nonperson, a nonimage.’17 It seems plausible that Eckhart’s approach to apophatic theology influenced a theologian closer to our time—Vladimir Lossky. Lossky’s apophaticism allowed him to state without qualification that, ‘God is not being, He is not the good.’18 Aristotle Papanikolaou has effectively demonstrated the problematic such a construal of apophatic theology poses for epistemology. Lossky’s prioritization of apophaticism precludes knowledge of theologia (God in Himself, the immanent Trinity) and permits knowledge of God only in the realm of oikonomia. For Lossky theologia remains shrouded in absolute hiddenness, for ‘not even God’s economy can reveal anything positive’ about God ad intra.19 Apophaticism construed and utilized in such a way dangerously forestalls theological discourse by emptying words of their ability to carry meaning, having lost their ontological grounding in divine correspondence. Papanikolaou aptly points to the dire consequences Lossky’s apophatic break between theologia and oikonomia has for theological discourse: ‘the God who is experienced in the economy is not the God who is free to be in communion with the non-divine order … Lossky’s apophaticism results in a break such that there is no experience of God’s immanent life.’20 If there is no revelation of God’s immanent life whatsoever, the meaning of the economic revelation is called into question. It is thus possible to conclude with Lossky that ‘God is not the good.’ Theological language without epistemological grounding in analogical correspondence of God in creation is emptied of its ability to convey meaningful and trustworthy information. Pure equivocation constitutes a nihilism of theological grammar which makes it is impossible to establish a meaningful distinction between ‘God is good’ and ‘God is not good’—all theological predication is vacated. Such radical apophatic theology may be labelled mystical theology, but it raises the question in what sense such mysticism has a justifiable claim to be called biblical and patristic. At any rate, such use of acute apophaticism appears to be in sharp contrast with Nyssa’s analogical discourse of God.

I will conclude with a brief thought about the implications which Gregory’s theory of discourse of God may have for contemporary Eastern Orthodox theologies of the essence/energy distinction. I suggest there is a very close parallel between Lossky’s prioritization of apophaticism and popularized construals of the essence/energy distinction favored by many Orthodox. I surmise that the distinction functions in a similar way to Lossky’s apophatic break between the theologia-oikonomia. The epistemological break between the essence and energy of God is modelled after Lossky’s bifurcation of the revelation of the oikonomia and the unknowable inner triune existence of God. The Orthodox essence/energy distinction risks devolving into, appropriating a phrase from Papanikolaou, a ‘non-ontology of non-being.’ The Trinitarian life is wholly obscured by complete equivocation (i.e. nothing may be predicated of God’s uncreated essence or nature); whereas univocal, ordinary predication is applicable to God as he is revealed (i.e. his uncreated energies). Gregory of Nyssa, however, makes no distinction between the divine essence and energies, for both are God’s mode of existence—the infinite interval of dissimilarity and the analogical similarity apply equally to the divine essence as they do to the divine energies. The implication is that univocal predication of God’s energies is no less unfitting as is equivocal predication of God’s essence. Furthermore, analogous discourse is befitting God’s essence as it is of God’s energies. For Gregory the only distinction that exists is that between uncreated and created existence. Similarity and dissimilarity apply equally to God’s essence as to his energies; similarity makes possible the discourse of the immanent Trinity and the divine economy. Divine dissimilarity—of essence and energy—makes it necessary to conduct discourse of God by way of analogical grammar. It appears thus that a re-thinking of the utility and formulation of the essence/energy distinction is critical for contemporary Eastern Orthodox theology. The two areas of immediate concern are the placement of an epistemological division within God by way of the essence/energy distinction and the priority given to apophaticism without an ontological grounding in creation which threatens the possibility for meaningful theological predication. Gregory of Nyssa’s construal of theological discourse in an ontology of analogical correspondence—which posits no distinction between God’s uncreated essence and uncreated energies—seems to be particularly promising and warrants further exploration to address the problematic encountered in contemporary Eastern Orthodox theology.

If predication of God is to avoid idolization theological grammar cannot proceed by univocation; words describing creatures cannot be utilized in the same sense of God. If predication is to avoid agnosticism it cannot proceed by equivocation. Words need to retain meaning so as to prevent failure to communicate information. In order to reflect the mystery of the revelation of the ineffable and inscrutable Creator to, and in, and for creation, the grammar of theological discourse would do well to follow Gregory of Nyssa in recognizing God’s utter dissimilar mode of existence whilst affirming its epistemological grounding in an ontology of proportional correspondence. Only a theological discourse which proceeds by way of a language of analogy is able—albeit always tentatively and in part—to reflect the mystery of presence and remove, of similarity in dissimilarity. Analogy is a discourse of mystery, a language which befits the transcendent God who is ever beyond negation and affirmation.

Footnotes

[1] Gregory of Nyssa, Contra Eunomium (hereafter CE) VIII (NPNF V, 208). Note: all references to works of Gregory in this essay are from NPNF (Nicene and Post Nicene Fathers, Volume V. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1880ff.)
[2] Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works. Tr. C. Luibheid, (SPCK, London: 1987). p 263.
[3] John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. (Peabody, MA. Hendrickson Publishers: 1994), 1.4.
[4] CE, p 147.
[5] CE, p 206. Gregory denies the validity of univocal predication, or ‘community and identity of meaning’ as he calls it. Generation is only one example of the inadequacy of univocal language, many other instances can be found in Contra Eunomium.
[6] CE, p 98
[7] CE, p 94
[8] See CE, p 67, 69. 94.
[9] Timelessness does not denote incompatibility with time for Gregory, as time issues forth from infinity. CE, p 67-69
[10] CE, p 70 ‘owning the same cause of His being’
[11] CE, p 90
[12] CE, Book VIII, Chapter 5
[13] CE, p 194
[14] CE, p 208.
[15] CE, p 204-205
[16] Gregory of Nyssa, The Soul and The Resurrection, p 437.
[17] Meister Eckhart, Sermon 83, Renovamini Spiritu, p 208.
[18] Lossky, Vladimir, The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church (St Vladimirs Press, Crestwood, New York, 2002) p 40. In later writings Lossky seems to have been aware of the problematic inherent in his theological method.
[19] Papanikolaou, Aristotle. Being with God (University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana: 2008), p 99.
[20] Being with God, p 123-124.

Copyright © 2017 Robert F. Fortuin. All rights reserved.

This essay was presented at Sophia Institute’s 9th Annual International Conference on the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church on December 9, 2016 in New York City, NY.

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Robert F. Fortuin is Adjunct Professor of Orthodox Theology at St Katherine College in San Diego, California. He holds an MLitt Divinity from the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and a BA in Religious Studies from Vanguard University. He is currently hacking away at the theology of Gregory of Nyssa for his PhD in Philosophical Theology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland.

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45 Responses to Reflecting the Mystery: Analogy Beyond Negation and Affirmation

  1. brian says:

    A strong essay, Robert. I think the warning you pose regarding contemporary use of the essence=energy distinction in Orthodoxy is significant. (In the West, the cruder version of this ultimately complacent sloth is a kind of fundamentalist retreat behind God’s mystery that renders an unquestioned literalism beyond theological critique.) While I am wary of Eckhart in many ways, I suggest a perusal of the chapter on divine knowledge in Stratford Caldecott’s The Radiance of Being for an interesting, more positive evaluation of his provocative manner of speaking. I would also add that while equivocity may descend into the nihilist flux of post-modernism, it is not a logical necessity. Equivocity is a genuine ontological phenomenon. Properly engaged, it is a sign of mystery, of complex relations that defeat the rationalism of Enlightenment, of modernity’s attempt to comprehend the world through mathesis. In short, equivocity registers the slippage even in creation that defeats univocal attempts at mastery. It ought to lead beyond itself, transcending even dialectic to mystical ascent, to prayer, to analogy as you have situated the polarity of language ever enriched by “This is Thou; Neither is this Thou.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Thank you Brian. An extreme equivocity leads to break down of meaning, indeed not all equivocity is to be shunned, thank you for pointing that out.

      The essence/energy distinction in Orthodoxy is a very touchy subject as it is considered an unquestionable doctrine by many, if not most Orthodox. I don’t advocate a wholesale rejection – I would rather see more open discussions about the nature of the distinction, how it functions, its origins and contexts, weaknesses, and so forth.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Robert is presently vacationing in Tahiti with his lovely wife. I suspect he won’t be peaking at comments until he returns (at least I hope he won’t be!). So please be patient, friends. He will return. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Is another useful way of talking about God progressive degrees of approximation as well as analogy? I would say the statements “God exists” or “God is good” may not be strictly accurate, or at least to a certain extent misleading, but they are at least less wrong than “there is no God” or “God is evil” and therefore remain useful statements to make about God, provided their limitations are recognised.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi Iain,

      The weakness of ‘progressive degrees of approximation,’ if I understand you correctly, is that the utter ontological dissimilarity between God’s mode of existence and creation’s mode of existence is not adequately accounted for. In other words, it is not a mere matter of degrees which separates the creator from creation. Difference in degree points to a deity which belongs to the ‘hierarchy of being,’ whose existence is connatural within the created realm. As Aquinas would say God is not a species of being. Nyssa points to a division which is absolute and which is not a matter of degrees. So we can affirm that ‘God the Son is generated’; however, having affirmed this, divine generation can be understood by analogy (to human generation) only, acknowledging the utter dissimilarity between the two types of generation.

      The pertinent point is that in much of theology we prioritize similarity and tend to overlook the ramifications of divine dissimilarity. Discourse of God’s thoughts, intentions, will, deeds, feelings, pathos, and so forth, is prejudiced with concepts of divine/human likeness at the cost of unlikeness. What possibly can creatio ex nihilo denote? Without time nothing came from God and it became something that is not God. Divine creation is so radically unlike creaturely creation that ‘creation’ is a radically inappropriate word to use for divine creation. This utter difference must be acknowledged before any further theology can proceed. The challenge is to allow unlikeness to permeate the entire theologic process, to let it be ever front and center of our theological cognizance.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    A question, Robert, regarding the divine energeia in the thought of St Gregory: What are the energies? Are they the triune God’s ad extra activities, or are they something else? Do they preexist the creation?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Just some preliminary thoughts – this question falls somewhat outside my immediate interest in Gregory’s theology.

      Eunomius was chastised by St Gregory for declaring the Son to be an energy (work) or result of an energy of the Father. On other occasions Gregory uses divine energies in the sense of ad extra activities exclusively. Whether this precludes preexistence of divine energies, this is not clear to me. My hunch is that it is likely anachronistic to look for ‘hyper-Palamite’ idiom in Nyssa – meaning that even were we to find use of divine energies as preexisting creation, I would caution drawing hard conclusions in any case.

      Gregory does affirm that God’s essence is ineffable, but again here I believe caution must be heeded not to project a hyper-Palamite distinction into this. God creates without (‘prior to’) time as Gregory states, so divine energies would seem to have to preexist creation – but those energies are no less ineffable and no more revealed (as to ‘what’ they are) than the divine essence.

      Be it as it may, the bottom line for St Gregory is the ‘ultimate division of being’ which is a division – not in God – but between God and what came into being from his divine energy.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Tom says:

    Robert, thanks so much for such a clear and informed summary. Good luck on your GN research at St. Andrews. I hope Tahiti was refreshing!

    I don’t want to get into the pro’s and con’s of analogical predication here. I like to let things simmer in the pot of devotional living, prayer, intercession, and intimacy with God’s presence to see ‘how’ our theological claims translated into (or are consistently derived from) lived faith. I like your emphasis upon the “mystical” theology , because it means theology is a word about our experience of God, our actual participating in God’s life.

    So what I’d like to ask, if I may, is How do you ‘do’ this in your own mind? We all ‘world-construct’ or ‘make-meaning’ within the sanctuaries of our subjective experience, integrating this or that truth or value into a narrative that just is our own life and significance. That’s what I’m interested in. How do you integrate the truth of the God’s absolute, infinite dissimilarity into your ‘world-constructing’?

    I think I asked this before (somewhere, of someone) and the answer was “Go attend the Liturgy.” I have (often enough). Let me ask it this way – from Monday to Saturday, when you’re showering, driving, eating, working, when you’re hurting, angry, desperate, and tempted, can you describe for me how you then integrate the truth of God’s absolute, infinite dissimilarity into your world-constructing? How does God’s being infinitely other than you ‘fit’ into the structure of the meaning-making narrative which is your life?

    If it’s not a fair question, or too personal, or too vague, I apologize. I don’t know how else to ask it, and it’s pretty much the only thing I’m interested in.

    Tom

    Liked by 3 people

    • brian says:

      I think that’s an entirely appropriate and very important question, Tom. I don’t think anyone can offer a comprehensive answer and too much detail is perhaps unhelpful. I think at a minimum, it opens up a mystical dimension to creation, not only a sense of depths that ordinary living is generally blind to, but also of connections that “common sense” does not surmise. (I am thinking of entanglement in quantum physics and also the way poetry can discover strange metaphors and language that hints at reality as vastly transcending our habitual modes of perception and valuation. Does this help in a crisis or with long-standing problems that present an impasse that invites despair? My existential experience is that it often does not, but it remains as a perduring background of hope. Beyond that, it continually challenges one to think more deeply and more creatively about who God is; it fosters an open, even daring imagination, rather than a complacent resting in dogmas grown sleepy or a literalism that too often accommodates itself to a “just so” fundamentalism. One is more likely to allow for the kenotic presence of the Spirit in all of creation and to treat the earth as sacred and bearing its own mysteries that cannot be captured in our methodical science and our frequently ruinous pragmatic technology.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Tom says:

        Thanks Brian. I’ll try to describe where I’m coming from.

        I think there are certain existential “givens” intrinsic to our being (as created) along the lines of which we have no other options for making meaning and world constructing. These givens, as the word suggests, are the very structure of conscious experience in terms of which we perceive, experience, interpret, and live. We might describe these existential givens as aesthetic-rational dispositions that frame our experience (and, well, the very possibility of our experience as such). I don’t think any of this is controversial, certainly not among us here.

        I don’t see any way to meaning-make or world-construct (forgive me for repeating these phrases, but they’re a helpful way for me to express my sense of things) outside this fundamental structure with its aesthetic and rational appetite/desire. The fullness (or, if I may, salvation) of human being just is the eternal expansion of this structure into the infinite goodness and beauty of God.

        So I’m interested in divine transcendence only to the extent that needs to be posited to meaningfully explain and inform these ‘givens’ and this ongoing experience of God. Beyond its place in making that structure and its fulfillment possible, I haven’t the slightest idea of what classical theists are talking about when they talk about transcendence and God being “radically other.” I honestly don’t think they know either. It begins to become meaningful to me when it describes something that’s ‘integrated’ (another helpful word) into our world-constructing and meaning-making narratives that define me.

        Now, for me, that means God just is this goodness and beauty. But also for me this means that however hard we insist upon God’s being “radically other,” existentially speaking we always default to these givens. Existentially speaking everybody affirms univocity; that is, our experience is an experience of God (and nothing else). God really is the love that changes us, the beatitude that slates our appetites, the truth that satisfies reason’s desire. To say God is “radically other” than this – I literally don’t know what the words mean or how to fit the claim into the only thing I have and am.

        I don’t believe that what I’m suggesting (whatever I’m suggesting), reduces God to being “a god” who “like us” participates in some third reality (“Being”) that stretches over both God and creation. It doesn’t follow logically that if “love” means the same thing spoken of God as it does of us that both God and we must be participating in some third thing that defines love for both God and us. On the contrary, it’s consistent with the givens of our (partial and finite) experience that God just is himself the reality we give the names love, goodness, justice and peace to.

        True, this requires God be an ‘infinite’ reality qualified in all the ways Robert rehearses, i.e., God’s “mode of existence” is infinite, not materially extended, not circumscribed by the limitations of temporal passage, not constructed/composed of more fundamental parts, not deriving his being from outside himself, and not drawn by any end other than himself. These pretty much comprise my understanding of transcendence, and I really do think they’re all logically entailed in the transformative experience of salvation we come to experience in terms of the gospel. And I actually do experience myself as transcended benevolently by God in these very terms. What I don’t find meaningful (i.e., what I’m unable to integrate existentially is meaningfully transformative ways) is the additional claim that God is “radically/infinitely other” than us. If it’s true that God is radically other than us, then whatever we experience when we experience God is radically other than God, which is just to say we don’t experience God. That’s why a realist account of experiencing God can’t escape a certain univocity, for it is WE who experience God, and it is we who experience GOD, not an analogy of God..

        Thanks for letting me ramble.

        Tom

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        • Scotus was no dunce, n’est pas? At least, I want to say that I resonate with your semantic observation, epistemologically (and axiologically) and don’t at all take it over against Robert’s caveats, ontologically.

          I realize there’s more at stake than that distinction, though. For example, when Norris Clarke waded into divine contingency, you noted his hesitation in employing the Eternal Now to nontemporally bracket a/temporality, also how he took the very concept of divine foreknowledge to be a category error, precisely due to insufficient analogical predication, all quite apart from but not inconsistent with any open theistic reconception of an open future, metaphysically. So, I’m looking forward to seeing where this conversation goes vis a vis Energies.

          I rambled, myself, below before reading your last comment. I’m test driving this new idiom but it’s difficult for me. I have to keep going back and forth between my scientific intuitions and these theo-conceptions using my analogical imagination. Thanks for your kind assistance.

          Liked by 1 person

        • brian says:

          Tom,

          You are using terms in a manner that differs from the way I think they are intended in the tradition. This is at least partly the cause of confusion. Although, there is no monolithic traditions per se, so I shall offer the following as my own lived interpretation of what I understand as classical theism configured through Clarke’s personalist Neo-Thomism, Gilson’s and Maritain’s Existential neo-Thomism, Balthasar’s Trinitarian theology, Bulgakov’s sophiology, Marcel and Berdyaev’s Christian existentialism, Desmond’s metaxological metaphysics, Przywara’s concept of analogy of being, etc.

          When one talks about God as the completely other, this is a dialectical concept. If one asserts, as I do, that a proper sense of divine Transcendence founds the most profound intimacy between Creator and Creature, one is NOT asserting the dialectical concept of otherness. Such easily becomes a binary either/or. On the contrary, the Christian difference is that God’s Otherness is NOT that kind of otherness. God’s otherness INCLUDES the intimate ground for all created being, so it is paradoxically a kind of otherness that is not other is the way dialectic perceives otherness. Hence, one has neither a Deistic separation that equates to a universe understood as mechanism and causality reduced to efficient and material nor to a pantheism that denies genuine difference.

          Univocity, as I understand it, has numerous fundamental problems. Since you are interested in practical, existential implications, I will start there. The modern world is very much a product of the quest for univocity. The univocal is often the enemy of the equivocal; also the dialectical, the mystical, the eschatological, etc., Univocity in the sense I intend has its proper usage as a recognition of stable natures, essences, that a tree is not a frog is a not a star. The danger for univocity is that it will constrain the range and meaning of an essence to what is comprehended by a methodical science (Galileo’s mathesis, for example, that reduces qualities to purely subjective, ephemeral judgment, whilst focusing on the quantifiable as the “really real” — and thus a thing with all it’s created mystery and inherent symbolism and ungovernable relations which the poet sometimes intuits is relegated to the non-cognitive, whilst “science” tells us the truth in terms of a calculation of competing forces.)

          Univocity can also emerge as a “just so” pragmatism of the “common man” who is so busy with the problems of life that he is consumed by them and has no time for irresponsible play or the probing of mystery that is the way of art. All that trades in “equivocity” that in its authentic value records the slippage of reality that “colors outside the lines” and shows where univocal pretensions are indeed just that. Rather than sober realists, univocalists prefer to live in “safe zones.”

          Now you resist the implication that univocity implies being as a third term that comprehends both God and creatures. While I have some genuine appreciation for Scotus and his interest in “thisness’ (haecceity,) I still conclude that his insistence on univocity logically requires the kind of ontological conflation that forgets the difference between Being and being. If Existence is not the bare “fact” of modernity’s “thin” ontology, but is the pleromatic flourishing of God’s aseity, and creaturely being is called from nothing to participate in limited manner in God’s fullness (then it’s simply a category mistake to think that being can be understood as a neutral concept that could equally apply in the same manner to God and creatures.)

          The “univocity” you prize is in fact something else. What you are recognizing are the transcendentals of Being and this means that for a small group of “elemental” aspects of being (perfection terms) it is appropriate to say that God’s goodness, while infinitely beyond our limited intellectual capacity to perceive and understand, is indeed not merely analogically, but in substance, what we mean by the Good. This does not, however, annul the fundamental reality that makes the analogy of being the manner in which creatures progressively attain knowledge of both the divine and the created.

          And finally, the whole point of Robert’s disagreement with the Essence-energies distinction is that it can be used to reserve apophatically some interior sense of the Divine that is unknowable and separate from revelatory “confession,” so that the latter becomes a penultimate mask that is not seriously a presentation of God’s deepest intimacy. Such a mystical theology remains trapped in dialectic. It thinks mystery can only perdure as an unknown; on the contrary, the true mystery of the gospel is that it is increased precisely in and through revelation. The very “objectivity” of revelation manifests the fecundity of love which is the ever renewed discovery of “eternal springs” of novelty and dynamic drama within the “appearance of the image.” Iconoclasm thinks that the image is “univocally” closed, it does not recognized the openness of the icon and that the appearance is “always already” the “face” of invisible and inexhaustible depths.

          Liked by 3 people

          • brian says:

            Ah, I meant to like paxamoretbonum’s last comment, not my own. Though, actually . . . paxamoretbonum, modern proclivities are towards system building that are meant to “univocally” control an unpredictable reality. The Enlightenment encyclopedic impulse is towards an inventory of the world meant to account for “everything.” It was always an act of hubris only made sustainable by a forgetting of God and the reduction of creation to a nature that can be manipulated and comprehended through mathesis.

            Liked by 2 people

          • The problem comes when we overinvest in our indispensable methodological stipulations, which, while they certainly have ontological implications, do not otherwise warrant infallibilistic metaphysical conclusions. Being a methodological naturalist, myself, via system building and its pragmatic significance, I hesitate at the notion that it necessarily implicates a metaphysical naturalism, while some materialists don’t even bother to look over their shoulders at the leap they’ve made. Of course, others make a similar move with such as the principle of sufficient reason/causation. I have no quarrels in characterizing such leaps as – some more so, some less so – reasonable, only with imagining that they’re otherwise indubitable apodictic proofs (rather than rationalisms).

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          • I was trying to understand your distinction between “modern proclivities” and the Enlghtmnt Impulse in my last comment?

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          • Tom says:

            Thank you Brian. I appreciate the conversation and the clarity you bring so much.

            I wonder if part of the difference between us is not so much the realism we attribute to our experience of God or the qualified manner in which we admit that our language about this experience cannot reduce God without remainder to our cognitive grasp, but rather the conceptual/linguistic beginning place we occupy from which we manage the necessary qualifications and from which we rein in an unbridled modernism. I might prefer to begin within a more univocal assumption/space and make the necessary qualifications from there about all the dangers of modernity which you mention (and regarding which I agree with you). I’d make those qualifications based on the threat they pose to a truly redemptive experience of God (based on the substantial likeness and realism of our experience of the transcendentals as God and not anything else but God). You (and I’m just trying to better understand things here) would want to occupy another space (neither univocal nor equivocal) from which you feel more equipped to address those same threats.

            I say it this way because when I hear you and other classical theists describe the dangers you want to avoid, I find myself completely agreeing. But when I hear described the positions believed to be the only way to avoid those dangers (like actus purus understood as the absolute absence in God of all conceivable unrealized potential), I end up siding with certain elements being condemned.

            Tom

            Liked by 1 person

          • In the sciences, whether via self-criticality or biased ideology, we often patiently abide with alternate interpretations of the same facts. Thus there’s a plurality of quantum interpretations for quantum mechanics, a plurality of cosmogonies, a plurality of accounts for life’s origins, a plurality of approaches to the hard problem of consciouness, a plurality of philosophies of mind, a plurality of hypotheses regarding the origins of symbolic language and so on. One of the chief concerns with the marginalization of minority interpretations is that possibly fruitful research programs could be prematurely foreclosed on, thwarting real and important progress, for example, in the neurosciences. That’s one of the chief complaints about any hegemony of eliminative materialism, where we’d walk away in our hubris with “consciouness solved.”

            So, again, I see some parallels in the distinction between matters de fide versus the legitimate plurality of interpretations in diverse theological opinions.

            When I’ve grappled, best I could, between, for example, aristotelian vs existential vs analytic vs transcendental thomists, on one hand, trinitarian process folks, on the other, once I go deep enough, they all seem to converge — but only to a point of impasse and never one I could resolve with my facile mapping exercises. For example, a dear late friend, a Martain scholar and contemplative theologian, spoke of “deep, dynamic formal fields.” I could work with that as well as with Joe Bracken’s field-theoretic process approach.

            What I like about the nature of these conversations is that one of the chief concerns on most everyone’s minds and in everyone’s hearts always seems to be: What are the pastoral concerns, the liturgical implications, the trans/formative spirituality upshots for talking here this way, there that way? Whether any of us grasp the nuances and craftily reconcile the impasses, speculatively so, what about practically speaking? How does this then translate in both the pew and the public square and are we drawing distinctions, as H. Putnam would ask, that make a difference in our and others’ lives?

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          • Maritain, of course, my friend was Jim Arraj

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          • Tom says:

            John: What I like about the nature of these conversations is that one of the chief concerns on most everyone’s minds and in everyone’s hearts always seems to be: What are the pastoral concerns, the liturgical implications, the trans/formative spirituality upshots for talking here this way, there that way?

            Tom: I love the company over here for that reason.

            Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tom that is a valid question. Just a quick thought. To me this translates into recognizing a mystical dimension to reality, that there is more to the story of life, more than what may appear to be the case. This mystery is interwoven into the very ‘fabric of the cosmos’ and serves as a warning to avoid reductionist and facile schemes of meaning making. Isn’t this the way of the Gospel? Love your enemies. God loves all. A thief enters paradise. Life by way of death. Creator become creature. Creatures become God-bearers. How is it possible – close our eyes and we will miss the mystery of it all.

      The direction to go and partake of Christ disabuses one to treat this as a mental exercise. Likewise, an examination of our discourse about God concerns not mere abstractions but (also) the very practical processes of making meaning in our lives.

      Does that address your question?

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      • Tom says:

        Thanks Robert. On a practical-existential level I’m with ya. When I ask about integrating this on an existential level, I’m interested in knowing what concrete, ongoing experience of God analogy names (if that makes sense). I appreciate the things you describe; that’s the direction I wanted to go in.

        Tom

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Perhaps your concern is that ‘talk about talk’ is too abstract? What is your concern?

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          • Tom says:

            My concern is that our ‘talk’ not get divorced from our concrete experience of God, that the job of our ‘talk’ is to make articulate sense of the given structures and processes by which we make-meaning. Our ‘talk’ ought to name our ‘experience’ of God. That’s pretty much it.

            I don’t see how some ‘talk’ of transcendence names anything recognizable in our experience of God. So I’m trying see what experience of God some of the classical claims about God name. I confess – it’s notoriously difficult to examine our own experience. We need each other, because (a) we are good at imagining ourselves to have experience God when all we’re really doing is clinging to idols and false selves in any attempt to shield ourselves from any real experience of God, and (b) assuming we have a healthy transformation process, it’s just plain hard to think consistently/logically about our experience of God so that those dimensions of our experience that reveal transcendence (and I agree those dimensions are there) can be helpfully articulated.

            Hope that helps.

            Tom

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Yes that is a legitimate issue, which to my understanding analogy precisely addresses – similarity within dissimilarity. So we speak of divine begetting, and hence we can speak of and know God as father, and as son. That translates into something practical, no? It is similarity at work. So with Nyssa we affirm that, yes we can use ‘generation’ predicated of God even though there are wrong ways of doing so. But we do not stop speaking of generation when applied to God’s life; however, when we do so we must do so in a particular way, analogically recognizing similarity within dissimilarity. Recognizing, in other words, the transcendence of God, an understanding that is God radically ‘other’. Divine begetting is without time, without sequence, without non-existence, without potential, without change, and so forth. Of course one can protest (as it seems you do) that, to loosely paraphrase, ‘hey, I don’t really need to believe that to believe the Gospel and have a saving knowledge’. Thinking it through however requires us to take all of the Gospel message about the Creator become creature and all that this implies metaphysically. Thinking through the metaphysical consequences is in my view of things what the church fathera did. In part they did so by accident of time and circumstances, having to clarify what exactly they believed, to answer Christ’s question, ‘who do you say I am?’ We can’t escape answering this question, and an unexamined life is not worth living someone is rumored to have said.

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          • Tom says:

            Robert: Divine begetting is without time, without sequence, without non-existence, without potential, without change, and so forth. Of course one can protest (as it seems you do) that, to loosely paraphrase, ‘hey, I don’t really need to believe that to believe the Gospel and have a saving knowledge’.

            Tom: I agree with you that the begetting of the Son is qualified in precisely the terms you describe. Denying that isn’t part of what I’ve been trying to get at.

            Tom

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Tom,

            I didn’t use ‘begetting’ thinking you would disagree about that – I used it as an example to demonstrate how God’s transcendence has practical, existential implications – divine begetting allows us to name God ‘Father’ and Christ ‘Son’ – there’s something about the divine life that is mirrored in created life (that is, in this example, fatherhood, sonship). God as Father and Son is, in other words, not a random, arbitrary signification and naming. The names have an ontological ground in the divine existence.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            This ontological grounding has practical implications for our experience of God, that is my point. So we go from an abstraction of ‘eternal ad-intra begetting’ (which admittedly we don’t know much about nor can relate to because of the radical otherness) to a translation of divine begetting analogical reflected in creation so that we can relate to the divine in practical, existential ways. This addresses your concern, if I understand you correctly.

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  6. I’ve been musing over the wisdom of this presentation all week, trying to formulate a succinct response that doesn’t sacrifice either clarity or brevity. I have been relishing this blog trying to learn its idiom that I may make more apposite responses as my lifelong interest has been biology and not speculative theology (only formative and contemplative spirituality, practically considered).

    Here’s the source of my delight in this presentation. Due to my own analogogical imagination, I extrapolated Robert’s insights to cosmology, in general, anthropology, in particular. I could take his essay, in other words, and perform a simple syntactical “find and replace” that substituted the words “anthropology” or “cosmology” in place of theology and his conclusions would equally hold in those speculative disciplines.

    More concretely, up and down the great chain of being, in their cosmo-talk and anthropo-talk, certain scientists and philosophers, especially of that cabal whom the late Don Gelpi, SJ would refer to as Enlightenment fundamentalists, have rather univocally employed concepts like entropy, cause, agency, even telos, so to speak, leveling the ontological playing field, giving only a wink to complexity and — not just a nod, but — a full bow to naturalism. That wink, of course, comes in the form of epistemic openness (nonreductively) and the bow reverences ontological closure (reductively). They end up “proving too much” precisely because, in nature, beyond our vague conceptions of entropy, cause, agent and telos, we must recognize that there are entropies, causes, agencies and teloi, each rather rigorously defined, all requiring dutiful disambiguation prior to their employment in facile syllogisms, many which can get sylly to the point of absurdity.

    These reductionistas have properly gathered one take-away, which is that god must not be placed in our metaphysical gaps. At the same time, they have issued epistemic promissory notes denominated in a naturalistic fiat currency, which cashes out no value, metaphysically, only methodologically.

    I am hard pressed to give examples, such as from philosophies of mind and cosmogonies to better illustrate my intuitions without running into those walls of clarity and brevity and my idiomatic barriers. Most succinctly, though, as God will arrive when the half-gods depart, theologically, so too the Cosmos and the Anthropos will arrive when the half-natures and half-humans depart from our cosmological and anthropological conceptions, the therapy for which includes suitable analogical predications.

    Stephen Hawking expressed some liberation from his realization that there were Godel-like implications for any Theory of Everything, that one could choose between the consistency of one’s axioms or the completeness of one’s system. I listened to Hawking’s speech when it was first made public, marveling only at the fact that he was only of late realizing what the Jesuit Stanley Jaki had taught us decades prior, that when wagering between being either inconsistent or incomplete, the good money’s always been on incompleteness. If that’s true regarding the cosmos, then how much more true that must be for the mysterium tremendum et fascinans? Theological skepticism has never been some ad hoc strategem simply to avoid (properly, I say) theodicies, but has only ever been inherent in any worthwhile theological grammar. In the end, this has enormous import for our practical theology, formative spirituality, life of liturgy, prayer life, theopoietics and theotics, whereby our theological antinomies much less so will ever resolve, philosophically, but much more so will dissolve, existentially, via divine encounters, communions, participations, partakings and … well .. about those Energies?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Appreciate your insight and take on this paxamoretbonum.

      If what I am pursuing holds it would seem that analogy is not mere analogy applicable to speech, but in deed translates to other areas of our existence. Perhaps better put, now that I think of it, analogy is appropriate for discourse about God because the difference/similarity is inherent to being, period. I can’t think why it wouldn’t translate into cosmology, anthropology and other disciplines. Now of course I understand this would be dismissed out of hand by those of the materialist persuasion, but this is due to different starting points not due to incontrovertible evidence.

      Liked by 1 person

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  8. brian says:

    Paxamorebonum,

    I have read many of James Arraj’s works and referenced The Mystery of Matter in my most recent article posted here. I never knew him, alas, but I like the cut of his mind very much.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. brian says:

    Tom,

    I refuse to accept that you are more of a square peg than I am.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Tom says:

    Robert will have a lot to read when he’s back from Tahiti!

    Perhaps behind my question about the existential relevance of one’s doctrine of the transcendence of divine being is the suggestion that we try addressing this knotty philosophical-metaphysical problems from a more (purely?) phenomenological perspective without making claims that aren’t logically required by the experience of the gospel’s transforming effects. I wonder whether “radically other” speculates beyond the reach of any experience of God and what that experience implies. I agree that the saving/redeeming experience of God in terms of the gospel does indeed imply that God is “other” than us in many respects.

    If God were any of all these things it would be impossible (in my view) consistently to integrate the truth of God’s identity and being into life as the fullest redemption of our selves, our bodies, our relations, our physical environment and finally the cosmos without remainder. It does seem to me to follow that if God creates and redeems the cosmos in the sense the gospel requires, then God cannot be created or derive from outside himself any of the perfections that save us (his being absolutely benevolent, all-knowing, fully realized beauty, etc.), nor can he achieve this fullness dialectically within any historical-temporal processes (as we do). I don’t know how to explain the gospel’s power to create, sustain and perfect me if at least this much is not true about God. So were God to fail to be any of these, he would stand in need of some creative-perfecting power as I do, and we don’t want to say that. I think these are differences, yes, even unspeakably so. We have no direct experience of what it is to be any of these things, and yet we truly experience this One and have to say he is such things given our experience of him.

    What I don’t see is that any experience of God in terms of the gospel requires us to suppose him to be absolutely-radically other in the way I hear classical theists propose, i.e., as actus purus in the sense of having absolutely no conceivable unrealized potential. On the contrary, I think all the divine perfections the gospel implies in our transforming experience of Christ remain fully realized in God were we to suppose him to have unrealized self-expressive (not self-constituting) potential.

    Tom

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      What in your view, Tom, is particularly ‘absolutely-radical’ about actus purus that is unacceptable to you?

      I am not convinced there’s an understanding as to what it is that actus purus denotes and implies.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Some follow up questions – which perfections are you referring to: ‘divine perfections the gospel implies in our transforming experience of Christ’? How do these ‘remain fully realized in God’?
      I am not following you on this.

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    • Tom says:

      Looks like I missed a paragraph between the first and second paragraphs above – the stuff that describes “any of these things.” Oh well.

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  12. Tom says:

    I’m not sure how to make myself any clearer. It’s me. I apologize. I give it another shot here and hope for some clarity —

    Robert: What in your view, Tom, is particularly ‘absolutely-radical’ about actus purus that is unacceptable to you?

    Tom: It’s not so much that I find something meaningful but unacceptable. My difficult is finding a way to make meaningful the claim that there is no conceivable unrealized potential in God. I understand the concept of “unrealized potential.” The words have non-contradictory semantic content. I get that. It’s integrating the claim in an existentially meaningful way that explains, defines and/or shapes my experience of God. As I contemplate my experience of God, I’m looking for something in that experience to give the name “God has no conceivable unrealized potential” to, something that either directly expresses my concrete experience of God or which is logically entailed in that experience by making that experience possible.

    What sort of experiences am I talking about? Prayer, worship, the Spirit’s cry “Abba, Father” in my heart testifying that I’m his, daily communications of God’s love, assurance, direction, instruction, conviction and warning – I could go on. You get the idea. I can integrate claims about God’s knowledge, goodness, grace, forgiveness, power and guidance into my experience in ways that explain that experience, shape it, expand it, empower it, etc. What I’m not able to do is bring the claim that God has “no conceivable unrealized potential” into relationship with any experience, or any aspect of experience. So it’s not that I find that belief unacceptable in itself. It’s that I haven’t the foggiest notion of what to ‘do’ with it, how to live it.

    I said, earlier, I do think there is a divine ‘excess’ that’s irreducible to the constraints of my experience. God would not explain or be the source of the healing/transforming power of the gospel if he were just another temporal subject of becoming who is just a perfected version of everything I am. Given my experience of God, I have to posit a God who creates ex nihilo, who doesn’t deliberate his choices, who doesn’t “take time” to achieve the fullness of his life, who doesn’t even get that fullness from outside himself, whose beatitude isn’t diminished by the world’s suffering, who is perfect, disinterested love, who isn’t spatially extended, etc. I do think all this is logically entailed in my experience of God, and it’s quite humbling and convicting to confess that God exceeds in these ways and that the mystery of how he is such things will never be my intellectual property. This forbids the reductionistic and facile schemes of meaning-making that you mention. I can (I think) draw a line of reasoning that gets me from my experience of Christ and the gospel’s power to transform me in community with others to all these transcendent, irreducible truths about God. Those truths explicate and make articulate the concrete encounter with the living God. But when I’m asked to integrate “God has no conceivable unrealized potential” into this existential matrix the same way – nothing. I can’t begin to draw the line of reason.

    Thanks guys. Appreciate the convo, and your kindness.

    Tom

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    • Tom says:

      Fr Al shared this link from Syndicate (re: Pryzwara). I really like the conversation and I can get with Lexi Eikelboom’s train of thought (I think): https://syndicate.network/symposia/theology/analogia-entis/

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Yes, a nice exchange there on analogy.

        Like

      • brian says:

        Tom,

        Her characterization of Radical Orthodoxy seems to me almost entirely wrong.
        It is also typical of the way the modern academy interprets RO, which may have its flaws, but it is not pushing for static hierarchies or dull eternities.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      I get that Tom. However, I am not so sure actus purus is more or less abstract (or more or less logically entailed) than any other conception of God’s perfections and illimitable mode of existence. It is after all one approximation among many, and understood only in part. Perhaps too much value and priority is given to the perfections we are comfortable with or we imagine we understand. Analogical discourse disabuses such retreats into comfort by foregrounding difference, transcendence, otherness. In my view a deity who possesses attributes is a human writ large, whose mode of existence is essentially like ours.

      One must keep in mind that the way creatures experience God is different from God’s self existence, ad intra. There’s a interval of inifinite proportion here. We experience God changing and responding to us in time, reaching out to us. Yes that is the Gospel, but we refrain from projecting this into theology proper, God’s mode of existence. God does not change, he exists without time, and there’s no ‘reaching’ and no ‘out’ for God. God as pure act is the alpha and the omega, who is (at) the beginning and the end. None of this we can fully comprehend but we affirm in faith none the less.

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