“Wording the between: a sung world—a song not only sung, but a song giving rise to new singers”

If the world is not God’s self-doubling, God is not touched by the nothingness ontologically constitutive of the finite being. The origin is in excess of, over and above the most extreme negation, huper the absolute nothing. The creative act issues from the nec plus ultra of generously affirmative power. One might say: This power to give being from nothing is that greater than which none can be thought. Creation is not from something, hence it is not demiurgic making, limited by being as already given to be. Creating is sheer giving to be. It is heterogeneous to any human making which produces from something already existing. The power to create in this unique instance is absolute.

Why create at all? Because it is good. Creation is not arbitrary fiat, modeled on the capricious finger snap of some oriental despot. The metaphor of originative speaking is suggestive. God says “Let there be … and there was …” Creation is an original speaking letting be. Speaking brings the word to existence. The word, speaking, lets being be. A word is not a roar. The roar would be more like the diktat of the despotic divinity. The word, spoken origina­tively, is the expression of communi­cative being. The originating word issues from the goodness of generosity. The word is the creative expression of being as agapeic and as commu­nicative transcending. Word brings a world to be, word communicates a world, lets it issue into a space of sharing with others. Word­ing the between (logos of the metaxu): not thought thinking itself, not even thought thinking its other, but thought singing the other. Wording the between: a sung world—a song not only sung, but a song giving rise to new singers. The originative word would be the primordial “yes” that gives coming to be, a word that is also a blessing with being. We know this elementally in our own being given to be, lived as an affirmation of being that first lives us before we live it. The agapeic “yes” not only blesses with being, it blesses being: It is good to be.

If we say God’s creating is not constrained-by any principle of external limitation—be it matter, Moira, chaos, an evil god, Ananke—we aim to preserve God’s absoluteness. If we say that this creation is continuing, we want to insist on God’s ongoing relativity to the world. Creation names a tense doubleness in affirming both absoluteness and relatedness. How is this possible? It turns on the absolved relativity communicated by the origin as agapeic. This turns on the connection of absoluteness and the good, and this latter not simply at the end, but in the origin and the between. Agapeic origination is the communication of the good of being in the coming to be of beings. The origin as unconstrained creator is absolute in itself; as absolute good, it is communicative transcendence; as agapeic, it brings the world to being as other, and other as good for itself. Continuing creation points both to absoluteness and providential relatedness: the God of the origin is the God of the becoming of the between. The becoming of the between – reconfigured by some as “history,” though it is more than that—is the interim between nothing and eternity, the interim we call time.

The metaxological double of absoluteness and relatedness suggests God as both radically intimate to beings and as hyper-transcendent. Intimate as radical immanent origin of being’s coming to be; hyper-transcendent as beyond all finitized becoming. This hyper-transcendence suggests an asymmetrical relation of God and world: world is God depen­dent; God is not world dependent. Is this asymmetry a depen­dence which diminishes the world? Not necessarily. In one light, one might say the holistic view diminishes the world more as a part of the divine. Here, given creation is not a part, but as apart, it is its own whole. It is not the absolute; it is a finite whole.

This hyper-transcendence is connected with divine freedom. Nothing constrains the communication of true goodness—its free release is its free giving. It is also connected with divine power, but we have to be careful of the notion of external compulsion that often strikes us first when we reflect on power. Agapeic reserve will not quickly cross our minds as power. External compulsion is related to univocal determination of one thing by another: I order, you obey, and there is an incontrovertible line of command and effect from source to action. Some defenders of a transcendent creator love such power—unequivocal dominion of being. But there is no univocal line with agapeic origination: freedom is given in the between as a space of porosity, between origin and all creation. There is no ultimate univocalization of that porosity. Unequivocal dominion of a unilateral sort is not the point, in that the gift of free being is richer in promise, though more dangerous, than univocal determination.

If we are fixed on the magisterial God of despotic power, or the erotic sovereign who masters all he surveys, the agapeic God can look impotent, just because it lets be, lets freedom be. Hyper-transcendence is releasing power, hence some will see no power here at all. That is not the fault or default of agapeic reserve. This reserve makes way, makes a way to allow the power of freedom of what is other to come into its own. Agapeic power is absolving power, releasing others beyond itself, without insistence on the return of the power of the others to itself. It does not bind but unbinds. And it binds by unbinding, in that the deeper bond of agapeic togetherness and service is only thus allowed. Absolute absolving power is agapeic as power that gives the power to give. Only if absolute power is an absolving agape, is the absoluteness of the divine together with the relativity of the finite.

William Desmond

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7 Responses to “Wording the between: a sung world—a song not only sung, but a song giving rise to new singers”

  1. Tom says:

    As soon as I saw the word “between” in the caption for this on your Twitter feed, I knew it’d be a Desmond quote.


  2. brian says:

    Desmond asks us to think at a level that requires finesse and some comfort with ambiguity. Agapeic freedom does not work out the destiny of creation by coercive force, this is not the bare efficient causality and machining that comprehends the scope from which modernity has largely contented itself to contemplate the matter when it can be bothered to think about it at all. (Generally, like Bertrand Russell, it retreats to a safe, secure positivism and pretends one is broaching pure non-sense.) Those who both espouse a “transcendent God” and “love this power” are still following a paradigm of power that tends towards a univocal naming. The rhytym of Przywara’s analogia entis is missing, the generosity of the gift, the capacity to nurture and bring to fruition through an encounter of genuine drama, where the authentic liberty of the creature is reached through struggle and resistance, all that is properly intuited by the “whole man”, the Hebrew “heart,” reason not diminished by Enlightenment prejudices, but opening ecstatically towards the deepest source of reality. This will comprise engagement beyond concepts, to what is better limned by poetry, art, music, often lived out in bewilderment, sometimes broken and fractured, for silence and grief are also part of what unbinds from finite limites, tests the goodness of being, horrifies us, awakens us to unimaginable joy. Theology cannot contemplate the eschaton with deftness until it has begun to live the questioning of creatures who strive amidst dangers and sorrows, yet also creatures who emerge from nothingness, gifted in a manner that is easily forgotten, bearing symbolic depths and wild, unguessable connections sometimes manifest in seemingly fortuitous relations. The Providence of the agapeic God is often hidden — it is certainly not what Rowan Williams rather derisively dismissed as “bland universalism.” If the gospel is the rescue and liberation of the cosmos, if it is the end of the world (in Christ on the Cross) and proleptically the unimaginable nuptial celebration of eternity, it is nothing blithely captured, but comes from a beyond that never bows to our attempts to end tension by resolving it into final words and univocal clarity.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      See, I was just going to say that Brian! But seriously, that is beautifully put. The forestalling of the easy answer, the tension of the “not there” and the “not yet” calling for patient endurance in faith, the moving from the fragile to being in full, the actual realized through the not-so-direct paths of potential, the seeing through the glass darkly – all these and more are the “in between” the diastema of time, space, distance, remove. And as you say, this calls for finesse and comfort with ambiguity. We are a world away from sterile analytics and the cold precision of the calculated.

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  3. John Sobert Sylvest says:

    I’m grateful that all of you are here saying everything you say in the manner that you do. Just yes, yes, yes & yes. Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. John Sobert Sylvest says:

    Analytic philosophers & theologians should be required to read Walker Percy’s “Message in a Bottle,” inspired by his Peircean semiotic approach. Percy distinguishes information and news, the Gospel being the latter & with great performative significance. As news, it engages our participatory imaginations as we inhabit symbol systems & immerse ourselves in a community, where we all respond together with a great existential urgency due to our shared ultimate concerns. It’s a drama that unfolds & story to be told, not some sylly syllogism.

    Liked by 2 people

    • brian says:

      I like Percy. His essay collection Signposts in a Strange Land is also good. There’s a short-hand primer on Peirce in his menippean satire, Lost in the Cosmos.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jedi Scribe says:

    Reblogged this on Symmetria and commented:
    Related to my post on “I want to live in the music”


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