A First Lesson in Metaphysics

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9 Responses to A First Lesson in Metaphysics

  1. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    I was recently engaged in a brief conversation on another blog trying to figure out how to understand the nature of simplicity and why there cannot be multiple simple ‘beings’. A main part of the explanation was that in order for two simple beings to be differentiated, they needed to differ in some respect, and that the difference would necessarily entail the existence of some additional part to one of them. I was a little confused by some of this because it can easily sound as if we can create something composite by adding to what is simple (aka to God), but clearly that is not the case. I think this video will be very helpful for me to work on some of my conceptualizations because it seems to make a case for composition being a reduction of simplicity. That the ‘addition’ of metaphysical parts is really a diminution of, or a measure of dissimilarity to, the infinite plenitude of simple existence that is God.

    I’d be really interested to hear some thoughts on this by the more educated readers of this blog as my thoughts, as usual, are quite inchoate.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Your thoughts here tie into Dionysius’s undertanding of God: finite being is God’s self-differentiation.

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    • brian says:

      Matthew,

      Not sure I can do anything more than recapitulate Clarke. If one recognizes that the fundamental complexity of finite being is that it possesses existence through participation so that there is no identity between its essence and its existence, the main line of argument becomes fairly lucid. Existential Thomism helps elucidate God as Being beyond being in which existence and essence coincide. Infinite, flourishing asiety is the signature of simplicity. Thus, finite being (as I surmise you understand from the video) is a limited participation or if you like (subtraction) from the fullness of simplicity. Contrary to ordinary connotations, Divine Simplicity exceeds creaturely complexity. The complex is less than the simple. Further, finite being implies multiplicity, but since there is no potency in God, the infinitude of simplicity rules out the kind of multiplicity one discovers in creation. Nonetheless, the possibility for created difference is indeed ultimately derived from Relation within Simplicity (a static, apersonal plenitude would never create.) So, TriUne God allows for number, but not multiplicity.

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      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Brian, may I ask you a related question, one with which I am struggling right now with Dionysius: How do you understand the divine freedom? Specifically, could God have not created the universe?

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      • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

        Can you explain a little more about what it means to possess something through participation, especially what participation implies in terms of creaturely (dis)similarity with God? I’m used to hearing it said that God is wholly other than anything in the created order and that analogy is the only way to conceptualize our relationship, but to say that our very existence is a participation in the divine life seems to imply a kind of closeness and similarity that apophaticism & analogy could be construed as denying. If what we are is a reduced or fragmented version of what God is, and we are permeated with and sustained by the divine life, then is there not a genuine area of overlap between creature and creator?

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        • brian says:

          Matthew,

          The way the West has normally approached these matters, especially in the modern era, is to dualistically oppose transcendence and immanence. God, however, transcends such binary oppositions. God’s transcendence is what founds a radical immanence. So, the language of Wholly Other is not the most helpful. The living of creation is always dependent upon a relation to Life. If God is the “Really Real” or “Being” or “beyond Being” if one confines Being to the totality of creation, there is no way for contingent being to exist at all if not for a gifted sharing or participation in non-contingent Being. I have a sense that Hart has written about this with compact lucidity, but I cannot recapture how he elegantly explained it, so I shall have to be prolix. Analogy is a way of describing participation. It is not really correct to think of it as reduced or fragmented. The participation is in the act, not the essence. This may have gnoseological implications as well. Jean Borella opines, for instance, that every act of love, every act of knowledge is a participation in Triune life.

          Following Przywara, I would explain analogy of being as a rhythm that mediates the distance between God and Creature. Gregory of Nyssa’s eschatology may help elucidate. For Nyssa, the eternal life is an ever richer advance into the Reality of Divine Life. Creatures, finite being, experiences lack and plenitude as cancelling opposites. Yet for God, plenitude is not surfeit, fulfillment is not the slackening of desire. So, analogy is the manner in which one can truly participate in God, yet still have room for discovery within plenitude. In a similar manner, apophaticism does not rule out “nearness,” it rules out a plenitude that would “comprehend” or “get to the end of God.”

          But I think the key, to reiterate, is that God uniquely is Other by not being Wholly Other. Where finite differences indicate a kind of metaphysical alienation, at least potentially, for Divinity, difference is always peaceful, loving relation in which each is “interior” to the other. The externality of created difference does not exist for God.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Brian, don’t sell yourself short. What you wrote above is as eloquently stated as anything David Hart has written. I could read your stuff all day.

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  2. brian says:

    Father, I don’t think I can answer this in a pithy manner. There’s no doubt, especially in something like chapter 4 of the Divine Names, that Dionysius expounds a Divine Erotics. Thomas Traherne later picked up on this in a particularly winsome way. And yet, I think one cannot compromise God’s aseity and perfect flourishing. So, we are confronted with an Agapeic Erotics which must differ from the erotics of a finite being driven by lack. Further, one is also faced with the kind of coincidence of opposites that Nicholas of Cusa made central to his theology. Just as Agape and Eros coincide in God, so do Freedom and Necessity, but each term is “greater” than what we can understand analogically. If I were to write out a lengthy meditation on this, my answer would be a rather irritating “yes” and “no” depending on from what respect one looked at it. From the perspective of creatio ex nihilo, Creation is utterly gratuitous. But following Dionysius, Sherrard, Bulgakov and others, I am inclined to accentuate the “yes.” The objection that this makes the Creation a necessary addition in order for God to be Creator (and thus a change from potential to act) is usually dealt with by explaining that the world is dependent upon God, but God does not have a real relation to the world. I don’t quibble with Aquinas on this. His metaphysics seems sound to me, but I still believe there is an aspect of the Mystery that may require an “esoteric” recognition that 1) Creation is ultimately in both Origin and Eschatological conclusion rooted in God (this entails a theophanic intimacy missing in some of the more sterile versions of Thomism) and 2) Temporal perspectives skew our understanding. From eternity, the “necessary creation” is “always already” the flourishing of the Kingdom, so Creation is something God always possesses as “Good.” In short, it is not an erotics of lack because Creation is not, like the lost coin, “missing.” And thus, God is never not a Creator even though Creation has an “eternal” beginning.

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  3. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    Thanks for the engagement here. I haven’t been at my computer much lately, so I’m just getting around to seeing this. I’ll probably ask a few more questions soon.

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