The Being of God

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61 Responses to The Being of God

  1. brian says:

    Conditions of possibility are themselves contingent and dependent. Moderns tend to assume that discovering the former is sufficient as explanation and thus they are blind to the perduring contingency that cries out that being is a creation and a gift of God. Hart subtly tries to draw his interlocutor beyond a logic chopping univocalism. The aseity of a flourishing plenitude that is divine simplicity is one with the insight of existential Thomism that all creaturely essence is a partial participation in the infinite richness of Existence. To glimpse the wonder of creation is to know that language cannot be reduced to univocal concepts and easy logic. Apophatic restraint unbinds from the strictures of narrow reductionism, whilst the analogy of being elucidates how a thing is also a word and sacramental symbol whose temporal flower announces an eternal root. Goethe saw farther than Newton, the Christian mystics farther still. Penetration of vision is aligned with spiritual levels of consciousness. What is non-sense to the literalist mind that can only see obfuscation and contradiction is shown at a higher level of awareness to be dance and light and TriUne harmonies.

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  2. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    The last part of this segment resonated with me where Hart speaks of our experience at least pointing towards a convergence of the various attributes of divinity. Then this got me to thinking about how often I’ve heard God’s attributes get pitted against one another. The most common of which seems to be “Yes, God is love and he is merciful, but he is also just and holy.” The implication seems to be that there is a certain tension that exists not merely within our apprehension of God’s essential unity, but within the Godhead itself. If the classical understanding of God is true (which I lean strongly towards affirming), then this must be false. I tend to see justice as restoration, and the demands of holiness as cleansing, so for me, God’s unity is most clearly seen through the lense of apokatastasis. That being said, unity does not imply universalism, though it does seem to rule out theological systems which drive a wedge between any of God’s attributes.

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  3. Ari says:

    I’m a little confused. When I first heard this I thought it was a catholic interpretation of God’s being. God as absolute being seems to be ascribed to catholic doctrine. According to patristic thought in the east, God’s being does not have any ontological necessity. Ontological necessity is a passion according to Zizioulas. The speaker seems to suggest that God’s being is arrived at through the logical necessity of deductive reasoning by a process of reduction. This is a scholastic method of analysis from the West. The hypostasis of the Father is the causal principle of God’s being therefore personal freedom hypostasizes God. The non-contingency of being does not make it absolute but rather personal.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Hi Ari,

      In this context God’s necessity refers to the logical necessity as it relates to the contingent nature of the cosmos. The composite, spatial and temporal contingency of the natural order points to the necessity of the existence a non-contingent (non-necessary!) creator. In other words, creation cannot create itself, it necessitates a creator not bound by the limitations of contingency.

      This does not refer to, nor conflict with, God’s absolute ontological freedom as explicated by the patristic theology of the East and West according to which God’s very nature is to exist. God’s being is not arrived at through any one’s reasoning, be it scholastic, contemplative, ascetic, Western, Eastern, or otherwise. God’s being is the “I AM” the “always existing one,” He who is without compulsion or need.

      So we have contingent creation which points to the logical necessity of God, whose being is without necessity, determined by none.

      I hope that clarifies.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        As a follow-up thought:

        Logical necessity of God is a cosmological consideration, whereas the nature of God’s being a se belongs to theology proper. The latter is a contemplation of God without regard to who God is to all that is non-God.The Father as causal principle God’s being is not a cosmological consideration. The confusion is due to conflating the two disciplines.

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      • Ari says:

        Thanks for response. As long as absolute being is not pure actuality especially in an essential manner I could somehow get the point. God’s being should not be the most true and intelligible reality nor a reality that is outside of any other reality hence not intelligible. God’s being is not even a superior otherwise a dualism emerges and we start speculating if God’s being is superior to the world’s being. Like you said “I am that I am” in Greek “ego eimi ho on”, he who is being, not a being. God’s being should be non-contingent vis à vis God’s essence not the world’s being. God’s being (uncreated) is not absolutely simple. By simple, I mean unknown, undivided, ineffable, not qualitative, beyond affirmation and negation. As a result, I agree with your point that in reference to the world’s being (created) we could begin to ascertain things about God’s being. Absolute cannot be a product of explanation and deductive reasoning. Cognition cannot reach the state of necessity. Necessity is always applicable between essence (God or world) and accident (God’s being or world being). Not applicable between God and the world even if it is logical necessity. Otherwise God’s being and the world’s being become necessary to, and logically dependent to one another. God’s being (uncreated) would be non-contingent even if the world’s being (created) didn’t exist.
        In conclusion, I wasn’t convinced by the logic of David Bentley Hart, I just don’t see it. And I think using terminology like contingency and absolute for comparisons between God’s being and the world’s being only confuses viewers especial orthodox Christians. This is usually the case with converts to the faith because they bring their own baggage. Not sure if he is a convert or not.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Ari, may I ask why you believe that the traditional assertion of God as pure actuality and infinite plenitude is a Latin scholastic notion as opposed to an Orthodox notion. To deny the actus purus would seem to import passibility, mutability, and composition into the Godhead. Indeed, it is because God is the perfect actuality of being that he enjoys perfect freedom: he does not need the world to bring him into the fullness of beatitude. Hence I am struggling to understand your concern. Are you simply objecting to Hart’s terminology or is something else worrying you?

          Yes, Hart is a convert to Orthodoxy, but he knows the Eastern Fathers intimately and better than most. St Gregory of Nyssa has been particularly influential on his theological reflections.

          You may find of interest Hart’s book The Experience of God, where he elaborates upon the classical understanding of divinity, particularly in response to the new atheism and modern trends in philosophy.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Ari, if I understand you right, we are in agreement. To reiterate, necessity is the necessity God is to the cosmos, which is not a reference to God’s absolute freedom (which is to affirm with you that God’s being is not changed by nor is contingent upon creation). To wit, logical necessity speaks to the condition and nature of the being of creation, not to nature of God’s being. To us, for our existence, God is absolutely necessary; to God, for His existence, we are absolutely unnecessary.

          I would point out once again that the topic of the interview is cosmology not theology proper. The question of logical necessity is framed in the context of cosmological concerns, ie why the need for a Creator as opposed to uncaused/noncontingent matter. Dr Hart is merely affirming the traditional o/Orthodox Christian doctrine of the creatio ex nihilo.

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  4. brian says:

    Ari’s argument appears to depend on some idiosyncratic definitions so far as I can tell, In any event, to say that God’s essence is existence is not to reduce existence to creaturely being, even the ens commune of the entire universe. One can affirm that God’s essence is existence and also agree with the mystics that it would be better to say God does not exist than to conflate God’s being with creaturely being. The point of the analogy of being and a participation metaphysics is to avoid the kind of errors Ari is anxious about; and surely much of the import of creatio ex nihilo is that Creation is utterly gratuitous and not compelled. I sense a bit of the Eastern prejudice that ascribes a fundamentally abstract metaphysics to Western theology. Hart (among others) has persuasively shown that assertion to be a canard. Doubtless, scholasticism could devolve into a logic chopping form of ratiocination, but to ascribe such to Western theology as a whole or even in the main is unfounded.

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    • Ari says:

      God’s essence is not existence. God’s essence is beyond being/non being and beyond affirmation/negation. God’s essence is a Pre-ontological and a Pre-conscious reality. Hence God’s essence is pure potentiality (divine darkness). The actualisation of the innnermost depths of his essence (divine essence) is through the Father in an act of pure actuality. Without this distinction of pure potentiality (essence) and pure actuality (person), the being of God (Person) and the being of the world would appear to be identical acts of his divine essence and perhaps be misconstrued as pantheism. Let me be clear I am in no way saying that the West believes in pantheism. But at the end we need to make distinctions between the West and East for arguments sake. And there is no Eastern prejudice but only facts. And there could Western and Eastern facts. Better to be forward about this distinction then be misleading like David Bentley Hart by using a western concept and changing words around to make it seem like it is not.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Ari, you are presenting your metaphysical views about God as if (a) they represent a dogmatically-defined position of the Orthodox Church and (b) that they represent the only viable model by which to speak of the mystery of the Triadic God; but I know that neither is the case. I’ve read enough of both the Fathers and contemporary Orthodox theologians to know otherwise. The Dionysian-Byzantine model which you advance is not the only way for the Orthodox to articulate Divinity.

        Far better, it seems to me, is to try to understand the meaning and most especially the limits of human language in speaking of the divine mystery; otherwise, we are simply speaking gobbledeygook. Hence I find your rigid distinction between the divine essence and the divine being as verging, if not crossing, into nonsense. Perhaps the distinction has heuristic value, but at the end of the day we really do not know what we are talking about precisely because God infinitely transcends all of our categories.

        David Hart: “God … is neither some particular thing posed over against the created 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 clock, or a god is; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are. He is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom all things live and move and have their being. He may be said to be ‘beyond being,’ if by ‘being’ one means the totality of finite things, but also may be called ‘being itself,’ in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity underlying all things.”

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        • Ari says:

          The essence-energy distinction of St Gregory Palamas is part and parcel of Eastern Orthodoxy and well accepted by many like Christos Yiannaras, Philip Sherard, Zizioulas, and the list goes on and on … your arrogant statement of it being nonsense is on the verge of ridiculous and foolish since it has been established that it is a real distinction. In all that I said nothing is ever fully exhausted. In no way are any of my statements absolute.

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          • brian says:

            Ari,
            I have read nearly all of Yiannaras and a great deal of Sherard and Zizioulas. I like them all, particularly Sherard. In my view, Yiannaras tends to read nature/being in univocal terms. He follows out certain lines of thought from Heidegger, actually, so his Orthodoxy which is frequently polemical against the West is refracted through an odd prism given that stance. Yiannaras’ eschatology can be reconfigured in terms of a different understanding of nature and being; as is, your understanding of Freedom and Person appears to follow out a paradigm that subtly draws on presuppositions that smuggle in elements of an alienated Western onto-theology. Furthermore, the essence-energy distinction can lead to what Hart calls “theological nihilism.” One runs up against a hermeneutic where the revealed God can be conceived as penultimate to an entirely unknown Essence. (There are odd resonances between one reading of Palamas and voluntarism in the West.) If this is what one means by potential, it is not the darkness of excess Light. At minimum, I think one is allowed to question Palamas without being dismissed as arrogant for doing so.

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          • Ari says:

            I am in no way smuggling in elements of onto-theology. Onto-theology is a theology that comes from reason and not revelation. Both the essence-energies and Trinity are revelations. As a result, they are intrusions into man’s thoughts and not a product of man’s thought. It is a historical fact that monotheism did not make its first appearance in this world as a metaphysical proposition. It was an auto-identification announced, rather, by a personal voice on Mount Sinai. Freedom and person (Trinity) is hence a revelation. I don’t agree with David Hart that the Trinity was a “heurmeneutic discovery”. It is well established that essence is not in a naked state without person and vice versa, so I don’t see the nihilism argument. The divine darkness is the nothingness (unlimited potentiality) which contains (for lack of better words) infinite plenitude.

            I am the first to criticize Yiannaras in that he goes too far with Heidegger. Nevertheless, Yiannaras is brilliant and unique. No one is perfect including Hart and all of us.

            One should always question everything and everyone, so questioning Palamas’ assertions is not arrogant but calling it “non sense” is arrogant and shameful. Having said this, I will accept “non sense” with pride because the essence-energies distinction is a revelation and revelation is Sacred.

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  5. brian says:

    Ari,
    Much of the “beyond” you appear to articulate I would agree with. It doesn’t contradict terms as I understand them, but I surmise we understand them differently. I would say, for instance, that apophatic restrain recognizes the infinite fecundity of divine Being. However, classical theism would not express this as potentiality. Divine aseity does not admit to unrealized potential. If you mean something other than that, you’ll have to clarify your terms.

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    • Ari says:

      Like I said pure potentiality is in reference to God’s essence not God’s being. Classical theism and Divine aseity are in the realm of being. You seem to have the same problem that the West has in that they conflate the essence of God with the Being of God.

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  6. Thomas says:

    Saying that God is beyond being can only be coherent if one is using some restricted notion of being, (e.g., proportionate being or common being or finite being).

    But being, without these restrictions, simply refers to what makes statements of the form ‘x is’ or ‘x is y’ true. To propose that God’s essence is pure potentiality is to make a statement of the form ‘x is y’. But the divine essence is pure potentiality or it isn’t. If the former, it is within the ambit of being; if the latter, it is not. It follows that if God is pure potentiality, he is not beyond being taken generally.

    One critique levelled at certain streams of Orthodox thought is that they mistake a certain mode of being for being in general. Thus, to say that God is beyond being can be coherent so long as being is used in a restricted sense. But if one doesn’t realize this is a restricted sense, then one has mistaken a way of being for being simpliciter. To do that is simply to have an inadequate ontology, one that mistakes a part for the whole; and an inadequate epistemology, which misses the nature of judgment.

    (I don’t think this critique applies to Orthodox thought generally, but it seems on target with respect to the neo-Palamite position.)

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thomas, my apologies for the “late” approval of your comment. For some unknown reason it got shuttled into the spam queue, which I check infrequently, and my infrequent checking was compounded by being on holiday.

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    • Ari says:

      You have to be consistent with your logic. Inconsistency is evidence of a failed argument. We could just as much apply the same logic on pure actuality. At the end, the Orthodox spirit is a balanced approach so that nothing will ever be fully exhausted. The dialectic between affirmation and negation is necessary. Essence as pure potentiality and Being as pure actuality is in the spirit of this dialectic but will never exhaust the mystery of God. We have the Muslim doctrine of absolute non-being of God at one extreme and the Western Latin scholastic doctrine of absolute being of God. The Orthodox doctrine is the true doctrine that reconciles quite eloquently these two notions. Essence as pure actuality creates all sorts of problems like the filioque controversy, the essence as the causal principle of being and not the Father, the oneness of God as the essence and not the Father, and the list goes on and on. The essence is absolutely simple, is beyond relationship with an other and within itself. The synod of Constantinople in 1341 condemned Barlaam accusations of heresy and subsequent synods were all part of accepting as doctrine the Palamas propositions. The teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas cannot be regarded as “Palamite” theology per se, but as the theology of the Orthodox Church as expressed by him through the Holy Spirit. Not even the term “Neo-Palamite” should be used. The terms “Palamite” and “Neo-Palamite” are outside of Orthodox tradition and it is an arrogant western attempt to label the doctrine with a name in order to promulgate it as formal heresy. I could easily turn around and label pure actuality as “Thomism” to box it in as heresy but I will not out of respect of St Thomas Aquinas. Again consistency is important. The Holy Spirit spoke through Thomas as well there is no denying this. Shame on you and Fr Aidan Kimel.

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      • Ari says:

        Also if you read my comments carefully, you would notice that I said that God is beyond being and non-being. Not only beyond being. Consistent with the dialectical method. But you have conveniently taken part of my statement.

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      • Thomas says:

        My comment doesn’t endorse any particular view of being: whether analogical, univocal, metaxological, act, form, etc. I’m simply pointing out the generic notion of being one must have in order to affirm or deny claims about God (or anything else for that matter). With a proposition of the form “x is” or “x is y”, being is whatever makes the claim true; non-being is what makes the claim false.

        Different metaphysics have different doctrines of being–some as form, others as the ideas, others as materiality, still others as act. Thomists think the notion of being does not apply univocally to God and the world, Spinoza does. But whatever one’s metaphysics, the claim that anything is beyond being and non-being must either restrict that notion of being so some kind, or else deny the truth (and falsity) of their own claim. If God (or his essence) is beyond being and non-being in the most general sense, no true or false statements can be made about him–including your claim about his essence.

        With regard to the “neo-Palamite” label, it wasn’t meant as a pejorative. If you have a preferred term for the current of thought that emerged in the early 20th century from theologians from the eastern bloc (e.g., Vladimir Lossky and Dumitru Staniloae), I’d be happy to use your preferred terminology. I can’t imagine anyone would be offended by the Thomist label.

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        • Ari says:

          The Orthodox Church has always avoided restricting God’s revelation to a single explication. As a result, it has avoided as much as it can any systematic or extensive definitions. Claiming that God is beyond being and non-being in no way restricts the notion of being. It is an attempt to avoid relegating truth claims about Essence to reason. Jesus said I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. He never rationalized his Truth statement. Even when Pontius Pilate asked him “What is truth”, he never replied. Truth in Greek is “Aletheia”. In Greek the prefix “A” negates and “letheia” means “oblivion”, hence “Non-oblivion”. The oblivion is the divine darkness (pure potentiality) out of which Being (pure actuality) eternally is = True (non-oblivion) Being.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Ari,

            Which Eastern Orthodox theologians, or better yet, which of the Greek Fathers hold God to be pure potentiality? I would like to read more about this.

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          • Ari says:

            You can read up on divine darkness in the book “THE MYSTICAL THEOLOGY
            OF DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE:”. Other church fathers like St Maximus have written about divine darkness but it was fully articulated (divine darkness = pure potentiality”) by Philip Sherrard in the book “Christianity and Eros” which is a short excellent book.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Ari,

            I have read both and I don’t recall God’s being as pure potentiality, but perhaps it was an oversight and admittedly it was a while ago. What does pure potentiality denote, in what way are you using this?

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          • Ari says:

            I will answer with using the book Christianity and Eros :

            Chapter 3 (Page 71-72-73) Towards a theology of sexual love”

            “One of the cornerstones of Christian doctrine is the idea that God creates the world – and man – out of nothing : ex nihilo. But this nothing – the nihil – out of which God creates the world is not and cannot be a nothing that exists, so to speak, Outside of God, independently of God, because this would mean that something exists outside God from all eternity. There would be a duality at the basis of all things. On the contrary, unless one is to admit such a basic duality, it must be recognized that this nothing describes what is within God, some aspect of his nature. It must in some way represent the inchoate depths of his nature : a ground of pure potentiality or receptivity at the heart of the Divine, its innermost principle or pole, and so a kind of Pre-ontological or Pre-conscious reality. To adopt Christian terminology, it is what might be described as the divine darkness. Creation therefore is not the result of God implanting the seeds of things in a nothingness that is external to him. Rather it is an exteriorization of the innermost depths of his nature. It is the activization of the pure potentiality or ore-ontological ground of the divine darkness. This is the nihil or non-being out of which all things are brought into existence. Such an interpretation is not inconsistent with Christian theory. It is true that in the Augustinian-Scholastic tradition the nihil out of which the world is made tends to be regarded as a privation of God – as mere nothingness – and so implies that basic duality at the origin of things of which mention has been made.”

            “But the idea of a pre-ontological reality – of the pure potentiality of God’s unknowable essence – is to be found in the eastern Christian tradition. “

            “It is precisely this principle which may be recognized as constituting the feminine principle or pole of the divine nature. It is the aspect of God which does not oppose but complements the active, ontological, and masculine principle or pole of the divine nature: God as Creator and Being and Will.”

            “Woman, on the other hand, is more the image of the feminine pole of the divinity, of that Pre-ontological and ore-conscious abyss of infinite possibilities. She mirrors the divine darkness of God’s innermost ground. This indeed may be said to be expressed in Genesis, where the statement that she is taken out of man may be read to indicate not her inferiority or subordination (as is usually the case), but on the contrary that she embodies it images precisely the innermost aspect of the divinity and so therefore the innermost aspect of that totality if human nature of which Adam, or man, represents the more active, outgoing, and external aspects.”

            “Orthodox tradition, particularly in its Hesychastic form, one will have an ability not only to these two aspects of the divinity under discussion but also to how these two aspects of the divinity are reflected in man and woman. Hence, the prototype of the woman is not only it so much Eve; it is also and more fully the figure of Mary, the Mother of God, the second Eve and prefect woman.”

            Chapter 3 (Page 62) Towards a theology of sexual love”

            “In the beginning, it is only the androgyne, – the integrally bisexual being – who bears it (divine similitude). The differentiation of the sexes is a consequence of the fall of Adam.”

            Chapter 3 (Page 60) Towards a theology of sexual love”

            “Every atom includes in itself the two poles of the original single force – attraction and repulsion, the feminine passive and the masculine active pole. The whole of nature is the product of the twin-sexed Eros-Logos.”

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Ari,

            I don’t think the concept of the “being of God as pure potentiality” is a particular strong case for trumping Eastern theology over against its supposedly weaker, inferior Western counterpart. Here’s a few reasons why I think this is so. For one, God’s ‘being as pure potentiality’ on all accounts is a highly speculative abstraction, and I needn’t remind such speculations are frequently used to reprimand the cerebrals of the West (the erring logic of the scholastics; the western focus on conceptualization; Aquinas’ use of philosophy and -gasp- metaphysics; and so forth). One strays into enemy territory with a limp noodle for a weapon with talk of God as pure potentiality, das ist verboten und gefarhlich. Additionally, Sherrard can hardly be considered a source for Eastern Orthodox dogmatics; and he, or at least your gloss of his work, hardly seems to be in the main-stream of Orthodox theology. I would want to see a host of Fathers speaking in accord and with clarity about this issue before accepting it as Gospel. Thirdly, I question your interpretation of Sherrard’s passages. As Actus Purus I have no difficulty with God as ‘ground of pure potentiality’ and as ‘activization of pure potentiality’; only Actus Purus can be cause for potentiality. But to read this to mean that God is pure potentiality, however, seems to me quite a stretch of Sherrard’s meaning. How you read these passages and conclude that the being of God is pure potentiality will at any rate require not a little explication if it weren’t a moot point for the reasons listed above. Another consideration is what is actually meant by ‘pure potentiality’ – if by this you mean God’s absolute freedom, then I don’t see a problem. However, it doesn’t appear that you are using it that way. So then, lastly, it is logically contradictory for that which is fully actualized to exist in a state of or ‘possess’ potentiality; this is particularly so when speaking of the being and existence of God (unless the meaning of words have lost complete purchase, in which case no one has grounds for theologizing, regardless of one’s longitude).

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          • Ari says:

            In none of my many responses did I ever proclaim that God’s being is pure potentiality. This is a contrived conclusion. On the contrary I said that’s God’s Being is pure actuality while God’s essence (ousia) is pure potentiality. There is “Dissimilarity” in Being (between the uncreated Persons and, between the uncreated and created). On the other hand, there is “Disparity” between Essence and Being. As a result, there is a disparity between pure actuality and pure potentiality, and God’s being is never in a state of potentiality.

            Dissimilar = absence of similarity
            Disparate = absence of any relationship
            Pure potentiality ≠ imperfect or mutable

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Any talk of potentiality, pure or otherwise, of God’s being and/or essence falls outside of orthodoxy, east and west. I have yet to encounter patristic writing, east or west, which makes distinction between God’s being and essence and purporting God to be a fully actualized being whose ousia is not yet actualized. This is absurd. None of the Nicene fathers taught this. Not one of the Ecumenical Councils made such exposition.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Ari, like Robert I am struggling with the distinction you are advancing between the divine essence and the divine being. It would be helpful if you would identify the Greek word that underlies each. Thanks.

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          • Ari says:

            Essence = in Greek = Ousia;
            Presence = in Greek = Par-Ousia,
            Absence = in Greek = Ap-Ousia;
            Being = in Greek = Einai = Energia = constant rising up from absence to presence

            Scholastics :
            Being with scholastics is based on the method of analogy. So an analogical cognition of Being by way of negation, eminence and causality. Essentially using axiological metaphysics with an “a priori” etiological presupposition of Being as the cause of beings. Axiologically superior to that which is caused. Differentiation between Being and reality of beings in terms of a scale of magnitude, an antithesis between absolute and relative, or infinite and finite. So Being is an ascent to the absolute of ontic individuality. Identification of existence with thinking. Being as either analogically absolute and ontic or else mystical. Absolutizing of the existential fact with regards to God (actus purus) leads to a Cataphatic-analogical determination of Being and a apophaticism of the essence. There’s a priority of essence over person. God is defined only by his essence. What is not essence is not God but rather a creation of God.

            Greeks :
            Starting point is the apophaticism of the person. No mysticism of the essence. Priority of person over essence. The Person or hypostasis (subsistent mode of existence) is absolute otherness.
            Essence is always hidden.

            My reasoning is inline with the Greeks rather than the scholastics.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            You state that God’s being is pure actuality which is energy and which constantly rises up from absence to presence. Change, however, according to any one’s definition denotes potentiality not actuality. This makes no sense, even using your own definition of terms as you state that essence is pure potentiality which is different from being, which is pure actuality. You can’t have it both ways.

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          • Ari says:

            Let me first address your comment of absurdity. Contrived conclusions don’t seem to be your only problem. You don’t actually read any of the comments carefully. Like I said there is disparity (absence of relationship) between pure potentiality and pure actuality. The reason I phrase it this way is to emphasize that this should not be interpreted in temporal terms. One is not before the other. Second, there is no Ecumenical Council that mentions pure actuality but yet it is part of our discussions. Why should pure potentiality be excluded ? You need to be consistent in your argumentation with no double standard. Inconsistency is evidence of a failed argument and taking an obfuscation approach is on the verge of absurdity. God “is – Einai” so presence and absence “are”. One is not before the other. “Constant” is the key word but your obscurantist approach is at work once again. Statements like “absurdity” and “This makes no sense” doesn’t make your point more valid.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I will await your citation of primary sources, then 😉

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          • Ari says:

            My source is the Holy Spirit and as a Son of God in the image of the Almighty, I and all bear witness to truths. If God is with me who can be against me. Education, titles and writing articles doesn’t add anything to your credibility on truths in the eyes of God 😉

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Thank you, Ari, for the clarification of your categories. I had suspected that you intended “being” as a synonym for energeia, but I didn’t want to jump to conclusions. A few months back I wrote an article on the Palamite distinction that you may find of interest. I know you will strongly disagree with it, but that’s okay: Theosis and the Palamite Distinction.

            As far as the contrast you outline between the Byzantine and scholastic approaches, I am confident that no single “Byzantine” metaphysic is normative within Orthodoxy. Over the past two millennia, multiple metaphysics have been historically appropriated by which to articulate the Orthodox faith. This is as true for the East as for the Latin West. The metaphysics of St Paul is not identical to the metaphysics of St Athanasius which is not identical to St Gregory of Nazianzus which is not identical to the metaphysics of St Gregory of Nyssa which is not identical to the metaphysics of St Augustine which is not identical to the metaphysics of St Dionysius which is not identical to St Maximus which is not identical to St Gregory Palamas which is not identical to the metaphysics of St Georges Scholarios, etc., etc. I suggest you do a search of this blog for the articles written by Fr Christiaan Kappes: see especially his article “Byzantine Illogic.” It’s not as if God handed down to us a manual of philosophical theology.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Ari, regarding the alleged priority of person over essence: while this is true for many modern Orthodox theologians (e.g., Staniloae, Zizioulas, Yannaras), this is most certainly not true for the Fathers, as has been argued by many patristic scholars, including Fr John Behr. That fact alone argues against a single normative Orthodox metaphysic. This is also another good reason for you to read the theological writings of David B. Hart, particularly those essays contained in book The Hidden and the Manifest. My review of that book will be going up tomorrow, by the way.

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          • Ari says:

            This is a fair comment. Thank you.

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          • C W Kappes says:

            Again Al, thanks for the invitation,

            I certainly don’t recognize a lot of the language and cited positions of Contemporary Orthodox that describe themselves defending their tradition against the West (I simply find their language not what I’m used to reading in Palamites -as to its substance, I have too little experience to know how the terms are being used).

            I might mention, however, that the Fortuin-Ari dialogue reminds me of what to me become to positions of reading Aristotle in Byzantium. the Michael of Ephesus-Mark of Ephesus-Scholarios way of reading the prime mover language is “being in act.” The competing critical editions of Aristotle’s Metaphysics now note that a minor tradition was taken up by the Palamites just mentioned. Ens in actu is used by Aquinas only as an analogy to how God might be conceptualized as a whole, but that it falls short. In the competing Greek ms tradition, Palamites were happy to take up “to energeiai einai” as the prime mover’s reality. This does have a prevenient structure “esse” and a posterior “energeia” so that the “what” seems not to be entirely concentric with “what-it-is’s activity.” So, there is some sense in which “divine essence” is not the same as “divine operation.” Scholarios, in his re-translation of Demetrius Cydones first edition of the Greek Summa Theologiae, retranslated and also reformed Thomas’s “esse = actus purus” as a summation/citation of Aristotle into “esee = ens in actu”. While “potentiality” would be the technical word for the Palamites, it is an espect of the divine esse/to einai to possess “dynamis/potentia”. The Franciscans too thought of these often as formally (and really) distinct. The point here is that “energeia/actus/operatio” is for Palamas (and Francsicans) some excrescence or nature production (meaning that which is produced in the divine nature). In this sense, the divine nature is a store house for all kinds of structurally posterior activities. There is a sense in which this feels and would be tempting to describe as the “potency out of which God does x.” Again, we certainly in both Latin and Greek have a hard time using the same term (dynamis/potentia) in order to talk about creature. the Fortuin-Ari answer, if put in Palamite-Thomist terms, traditionally comes from a tension on each side. If Thomas is correct…a lot of people -and good logicians- are not convinced that you can save God’s free election to create contingents. On the opposite, a lot of Thomists are worried about “ens in actu” as worked out with respect to the divinity since a lot of threats feel very palpable that God has to go from point a to point b to get anything done suggesting that he wasn’t formerly at point b before a to get it done. I think explanations of what it means for the pre-creation God to be called “creator” as an eternal attribute make Ari’s term God-essence is “potentiality” have more than one sense. Still, I’m not convinced that Medieval Schoolmen were divided from the East on this Issue as a whole, but it is safe to say that the Franciscans practically lost, the only theologians of any worth nowadays in the West tend to be almost exclusively Thomists, so Ari’s styling of “Latin theology” or “Scholastics” for me would work since the laste 1800s, but again both “Greek” and “Latin” solutions were being played with in the Medieval and Latin university. In fact, I’ve recently prepared a study on Thomas’s Sent. commentary where about 3 citation endorse the distinctions in God “ex parte rei” including the notions of “humanity” and “asinity” in God as he knows it. This is likely the dregs of Neo-Platonism in the University before Thomas purifies it in book I of his later Summa contra Gentiles. However, there was a common approach to God as being an x but really doing a y such that y is not in every notional sense (as too reflected intrinsically) concentric with x, making it non-tautological to call God’s y-ing not x-ing. It is actually the Palamite tradition (Ioseph Bryennius, Philotheus Kokkinos, John Katecuzenos, Theophanes of Nicaea) that breaks into a clearly dual approach. The just mentioned go head over heals Thomist, while the others remain fairly faithful to Palamas (viz., Mark of Ephesus and Scholarios). So, I see -thus far- Fortuin sounding more like Bryennius and Ari approximating Mark’s approach.

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  7. brian says:

    Ari,

    I had surmised that given your appreciation for Yiannaris, you might have absorbed some of his metaphysical bias. Like Heidegger, he tends to read Western being in a manner that opposes, but remains reactive towards ontotheology. Hence, he misses, in my opinion, the Christian metaphysics in the West that is not ontotheology. The sense that the East remains steadfast to insights of faith while the West innovates and deduces on the basis of (rational, metaphysical) principles can easily become a fideist sleight-of-hand. Hart does not articulate that kind of hermeneutic. Rather, Christian metaphysics is the working out of the implications of revelatory truth that are themselves the fruit of contemplative thought and prayer. Framing an antithesis between Eastern piety and Western rationalism is certainly a caricature.

    In any event, I share your admiration for Yiannaris. I have learned much from him, even if I disagree on some large aspects of his project (and I disagree less than you may suspect.) If one equates the essence-energies distinction as an inviolable datum of faith rooted in revelation, there is no room for dissent. I do not, so I respectfully disagree. If you listen carefully to the series of dialogues that provoked all these exchanges in the first place, you will discern that Hart agrees that Person and Freedom are only fully real in Divinity. Hence, our limited, finite notions are imperfect and subject to revision: reason is ecstatically open to revelation. Possibly we could end on a note of irenic agreement there. Have a blessed, New year.

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    • Ari says:

      We all have biases. A salient part of our salvation is to overcome our biases which are strongly dictated by the presuppositions and limitations of our created nature. At the end, personhood overcomes creaturehood. Happy new year to all. Thanks for the exchanges.

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  8. Robert Fortuin says:

    Ari

    I believe we are by and large in agreement. To reiterate, necessity is the necessity God is to the cosmos, but this is not a reference to God’s absolute freedom (it is to affirm with you that God’s being is not changed by nor is contingent upon creation). To wit, and in this sense (which I take Dr. Hart is using) the logical necessity of God speaks to the condition and nature of the being of creation, not to the nature of God’s being. To us, for our existence, God is absolutely necessary; to God, for His existence, we are absolutely unnecessary.

    I would point out once again that the topic of the interview is cosmology not theology proper. The question of logical necessity is framed in the context of cosmological concerns, i.e. the need for a Creator as opposed to uncaused/noncontingent matter. Dr Hart is merely affirming the traditional o/Orthodox Christian doctrine of creatio ex nihilo.

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  9. brian says:

    Ari,

    The importance of the analogy of being is to recognize the ever greater distance between God and creatures amidst likeness, but it is a distance in which terms like good and beautiful are always more than what is conceptually available to finite, created being, not less or equivocal or opposite. I think you are right to emphasize that God transcends our dialectical polarities, but God’s “ever greater” either leaves us with the capacity to genuinely speak of revelation or not. Revelation must have some purchase on created being or we would simply be unable to comprehend it. Christ is ultimately the exemplar of the analogy of being, crossing the infinite distance of God and man, but also showing that man is the frontier being that flourishes in divine life. God’s simplicity is not contrary to relation. Even creaturely being naturally communicates essence. The idea of an inert, static, bounded being is a vestige of modern, atomized conceptions. It is a function of onto-theology. Beings participate in Being. Being is inherently relational. The Generative fecundity of the Father is not an action of Personal freedom performed upon a serene, undramatic plenitude of Being. The aseity of God is not the fullness of Parmenides’ Whole. Being is TriUne. The West does not separate Trinity from Being. This is a myth perpetuated by Zizioulas and others.

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  10. Ari says:

    I will attempt to paraphrase you, “terms like Essence and Energy (being) are always more than what is conceptually available to finite”. I like your example of Christ as exemplar. Yes, I agree that Being is Triune hence relational. The Father’s hypostatic power as person is that he is unbegotten, that is, his being is not derived by another, this means that the Father as a person is an eternal ecstatic Being. The Father is manifesting the Essence in an eternal act of self-transcendence without fully exhausting the Essence. As a result, Personal freedom is never to be interpreted as acting upon an Essence that is isolated. Essence is never in a naked state. The Essence is absolutely simple so using terms like serene, inert, static and undramatic in reference to the Essence is innapropriate.

    To my knowledge, Zizioulas does not accuse the West of separating Trinity from Being. I could be wrong. You will have to give me an example.

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  11. brian says:

    Ari,

    Sorry, I am under the weather and unable to answer as well as I would like. I am thinking of the first chapter of Being as Communion — well, I can’t find my book, so this is where I recollect Zizioulas drawing a strong distinction between patristics and the East, particularly the Cappadocians who supposedly began with the Trinity and with Aquinas and the bulk of the West who supposedly stress God’s unicity as somehow more fundamental to Trinity which is a kind of theological add-on. Now, I infer perhaps wrongly, but it seemed to me that Zizioulas concludes that Western theological proclivities were dependent upon a notion of Being where relation was not fundamental.

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  12. Ari says:

    I will verify my book tonight but I do remember that he does indeed say that. From memory, I don’t think he meant to say that Trinity and Being are separate in the West. I think he meant to say that the causal principle of Being in the West is the essence in the Trinity but in the East it is the Person in the Trinity, but both Essence and Person are not separate from the Trinity. I also remember Kalistos Ware making the same statement. Since the West was dealing with the heresy of dyophysitism (in particular Nestorianism), they tended to emphasize on the unicity of God by focusing on the Essence in the Trinity as causal principle of Being. On the other hand, since the East was dealing with the heresy of monophysitism, they tended to emphasize on the relationality of God by focusing on the Persons in the Trinity and specifically the Father as causal principle of being.

    Get well soon.

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  13. Jack says:

    I hope I’m not straying too far off topic here, but there is one word that seems to escape the censure of the analogia entis, and that is consciousness. I remember Hart once pointed out that even “being”, the barest of the attributes, is inside an infinite analogical interval. Yet at other places he and even the most apophatic theologians treat human consciousness and divine consciousness as if they were on the same continuum. It seems with consciousness, it’s lights on of lights off, it’s either present or absent. There maybe different degrees, but there cannot be different dimensions of it. Or so it would seem. But to me that seems like the true mystery. Consciousness seems an inadequate word to describe even animals in their mysterious otherness, let alone God.

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    • Ari says:

      This has been on my mind for a while. Thanks for pointing it out. I agree “consciousness” is a term that was never used by the Patristic Fathers, in fact they avoided it so that the three Persons of the Trinity would not be interpreted as three centers of consciousness. I dislike this word when it is applied to God.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        It seems to me consciousness most perfectly describes God as eternally knowing all and as eternally fully known. The perfect coincidence of desire and possession.

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        • Ari says:

          There’s an existential presupposition in using Consciousness to describe God that makes God mutable and that is in defiance of God’s Being as pure actuality. This would lead to a necessity between Being and Essence that is not necessary.

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    • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

      This is a really interesting observation. I imagine that, if pressed, Hart and others would say that whatever divine ‘consciousness’ is, it is not on the same continuum as our consciousness. I wonder if their apparent univocal use of the term stems from an intuition that our experience of consciousness gives us a nearer approximation of God than our understanding of ideas like being, goodness, or infinity; that “being made in His image” implies that “what it is like to be human” (of which consciousness seems paramount) is our clearest analogue to “what it is like to be God.”

      I’m no expert on any of this and I’m kind of shooting from the hip here, but I tend to think that the word consciousness is illuminating when trying to understand God. I think it is properly used analogically, but it seems closer to the truth to say that God is conscious (or an “infinite act of consciousness”) than to say that God is not conscious.

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      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        I think this video relates well to what was just mentioned about consciousness.

        David Bentley Hart – The nature of consciousness

        I’m thinking particularly of the section from 2:17 – 2:50. Hart says that according to a number of thinkers, “The act of consciousness is nothing less than a finite participation in the infinite act of divine consciousness which is the constitution of reality.” This sounds quite similar to how he tends to speak of our being, goodness, etc.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Jack, I would suggest that consciousness is a perfect example of the analogia entis, similarity within a greater dissimilarity. Think about consciousness as we know and experience it, how it is tied into our senses and our perception of the world, conceptualization, discursive reasoning. It is intrinsically united to our finite existence as temporal and embodied beings. Clearly this has little to do with divine consciousness. And yet we would find it misleading, if not wrong, to declare that God is not conscious, just as we find it misleading to deny personhood of God–similarity within a greater dissimilarity.

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  14. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    St Gregory the Theologian:

    “God always was, and always is, and always will be. Or rather, God always Is. For Was and Will be are fragments of our time, and of changeable nature, but He is Eternal Being. And this is the Name that He gives to Himself when giving the Oracle to Moses in the Mount. For in Himself He sums up and contains all Being, having neither beginning in the past nor end in the future; like some great Sea of Being, limitless and unbounded, transcending all conception of time and nature, only adumbrated by the mind, and that very dimly and scantily … not by His Essentials, but by His Environment; one image being got from one source and another from another, and combined into some sort of presentation of the truth, which escapes us before we have caught it, and takes to flight before we have conceived it, blazing forth upon our Master-part, even when that is cleansed, as the lightning flash which will not stay its course, does upon our sight … in order as I conceive by that part of it which we can comprehend to draw us to itself (for that which is altogether incomprehensible is outside the bounds of hope, and not within the compass of endeavour), and by that part of It which we cannot comprehend to move our wonder, and as an object of wonder to become more an object of desire, and being desired to purify, and by purifying to make us like God; so that when we have thus become like Himself, God may, to use a bold expression, hold converse with us as Gods, being united to us, and that perhaps to the same extent as He already knows those who are known to Him. The Divine Nature then is boundless and hard to understand; and all that we can comprehend of Him is His boundlessness; even though one may conceive that because He is of a simple nature He is therefore either wholly incomprehensible, or perfectly comprehensible. For let us further enquire what is implied by ‘is of a simple nature.’ For it is quite certain that this simplicity is not itself its nature, just as composition is not by itself the essence of compound beings.” (Or. 38)

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  15. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Ari and others,

    I commend to you the various articles written by Robert Fortuin for this blog–particularly, “Division of Being” and “Analogous Predication.” Also: “Reflecting the Mystery.”

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  16. C W Kappes says:

    Dear Al,
    Thanks for inviting me to stop by and contribute. I am guessing that I got invited due to the Ari-Fortuin dialogue? I didn’t read every single exchange, but about the first 15 or so were stuck on “potentiality.” My first thought was the Ari was onto an important term -which Ari’s quote seemed to confirm- “potentia” and “dynamis” are, as Ari points out, said of God. God is “potens” as Creator or “pantodynamos.” The difficult for Schoolmen and Greek writers is to use the word just as Ari points to but not necessarily in contrast to the extremes act-potency. Still, we imagine a create “capable” of doing something, and this doesn’t feel very actually until he is in the process of doing something. Since both Latins and Greeks are not able to concede that God is always doing everything that he is doing (viz., creating), there needs to be a way for God to not always have been creating but not in such way that God is material or “potential” in the sense that he lacks in himself some perfection that needs to be realized but that somehow he is always “creator such that he has something in him that makes him accurately called such,” but also such that he isn’t “always creating” or else we waive the white flag to Neo-Platonism and necessary creation or creation from eternity (among the various interpretations of Aristotle).

    Instead, if I Ari would agree that I have at least partially pegged the point at issue, Palamism does kind of solve this by having God always, from eternity, being “creative” by exemplary causality (which is non-Scholastic insofar as we still popularly think of Scholasticism as a whole as “Neo-Thomism”). In the eternal production of creative possible or makable thingies that are always being projected in the divine essence, God is always watching his equally favorite and infinite possible movies that he can create. Still, the act of divine volition for Palamas feels very much like another “moment’ that is in some sense (even if only structurally or physei or naturaliter) posterior. Once again we have to do some major work not to fall into the kind of act of will that goes from not-willing to willing like in material and act-potency beings, but on the face of it there is something that feels very “potentiality” about it. Fortunately, Palamas was slavishly wed to John Damascene, and denies in the act-potency sense “potentia/dynamis,” but does use “dynamis” in other ways of God.

    Lastly, without claiming anything more that Ari’s reasonable demand to talk legitimately about “potentia/dynamis” in both Latin and Greek tradition, we should realize that the revered Stoics (at least by Christians generally from 1st-4th centuries…but then not so much) did mean God was a form of something not-formy, or was act on something receptive. This was about as close to God being literally or univocally actus-potentia energeia-dynamis as it gets and being is univocal or rather God is the universe and we are like guppies swimming in the ocean of his being. I would not think that these sorts of directions represent Ari’s insistence on “potency” in God.

    If I’m incorrect on my interpretation of Ari’s intent, then I am happy to hear what was really meant and correct myself accordingly.

    Thanks,
    Chris Kappes

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  17. Ari says:

    Very well said and appreciated. Thanks for your valuable input.

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  18. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    This thread has clearly run its course. Thanks to all who have contributed to it.

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