“God is absolute in the intimacy of its own being for self, and absolving in the releasing of creation that is the love of finitude of agapeic origination”

Is this the place to start: God as being, perhaps as over-being? I would visit the philoso­pher Paul Weiss in his old age, and coming in the door he would ask me, almost shouting: “How do you get from being to God?” A very good question, not an easy question, not one to be directly answered, as if there were a univocal path from one to the other.

Is God, or is God not? If God is, what is this “is”? What is it to say: God is? Nothing, it seems, more than an indeterminacy. We seem to be told (almost) nothing. What (or who) is God who is? Immediately we run into the difficulty that our sense of “what” is determi­nate. The origin is not a determinate being but rather gives them to be as being at all. If there is something idiotic about being there at all, does this mean a kind of hyperidiocy to the “being” of God? It seems we cannot say what God is, if “what” is a determinate charac­ter­ization or essence. Can we even ask then what God is?

The question generates different responses, but two are noteworthy. On the one hand, God is said to be Being Itself. Thus Aquinas: verum ipsum esse. The name God is said to give in Exodus is seen as religiously converging with what metaphysics reasons out of God as Being. On the other hand, it will be said God is no being, we must rethink God without being. For instance, the Heideggerian ontological difference is appropriated and radical­ized such that not only is Being different to beings, but God is neither Being itself nor a being (Marion?). This venerable response especially wants to take into account reverence for the excess of the origin: God will always be other, epekeina tes ousias, like Plato’s Good, and perhaps even further beyond, like Plotinus’s One epekeina nous kai episteme. Hyperessential: beyond essence, and the “to be.”

The rationale is clear with both these options. God’s difference is acknowledged, but as we must avoid univocity with the first, we risk equivocation with the second. In the first case, some community of God with the beings that are is at least implied in calling God Being itself, tempting one to enclose God and beings in one ontological totality, which then might seem to be the truer name for the ultimate. The difference of God would be compro­mised, and God as Being domesticated in terms of God’s necessary place in the one totality which is the whole of beings. Of course, this univocity of being is not the only possibility; the analogical conception is obviously relevant, for this clearly wants to keep open the space of transcendence, even while not blocking some relativity to the immanence of creation. The doctrine of analogy complexly qualifies the “is” of being with the “as” of similitude, such that the temptations to univocal reduction or assimilation are noted, guarded against, and transcended. It calls attention to the participation of finite beings in being, a participation first made possible as a gift of the origin, a participation pointing to both the intimacy of the origin and also to an asymmetry, since the gift is exceeded by the giver. There is something abso­lute in the asymmetry: if God is as unconditional in self, God also is as absolving, in letting the finite creation be as irreducibly other. God is abso­lute in the intimacy of its own being for self, and absolving in the releasing of creation that is the love of finitude of agapeic origination. God’s agapeic giving releases the creation into being its own open whole, and hence not just a part of a more inclusive totality. In this respect, the analogical “as” points us towards a metaxological understanding.

Relative to the second option, God’s very otherness tempts us to see the Being of the divine as not Being, but other than Being. The reasoning has its points of persuasiveness. The origin cannot be reduced to what it originates, and hence is always over and above. It is no thing, and hence a name for God might be Nothing, and perhaps God has no proper name. The point is not a merely empty nothing, but an originative nothing that is creative of the finite beings. Since we cannot think this in terms proportionate to finite beings, it is better to exceed or transcend the language of beings.

William Desmond

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11 Responses to “God is absolute in the intimacy of its own being for self, and absolving in the releasing of creation that is the love of finitude of agapeic origination”

  1. Bill Clinton addressed this with his question … “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Who knew the man had such a talent for addressing the difficult theological issues of the day?
    But seriously … good essay. Normally Dr. Desmond gives me a screaming pain between the ears, but I actually could process this one. Somewhat.


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Dinky, I have to admit that I really have no idea that the sentence I quoted in the title means. 😎


      • brian says:

        I’ll risk stepping on a joke to elucidate the title. There are two (well more, but for our purposes just the two) competing paradigms that recur in Desmond. One is the opposition between an impoverished sense of Origin and an aseity of plenitude. Hegel is usually Desmond’s hidden interlocutor, but there are many others. The Absolute begins as nebulous, in need of definition and realized knowledge. Through a dialectic of historical becoming, flourishing completion is attained “at the end.” This God is “erotic,” requiring the contingent, creaturely other in order to be “god.” Modernity cannot think Origin as an aseity of plenitude. Desmond obliquely draws from an awareness that points to the Immanent Trinity. God without lack, infinitely rich, yet in a manner that seems to involve antinomies, if not contradictions to finite being. There is a “kenotic” letting be in divine perichoresis in which, with courtesy, delight, wonder, and surprise, each of the unique relations of TriUne bliss “grants” to each its irreplaceable “place” in the dance of love. This difference leads to the second paradigm contrast that largely indicates insufficiencies in antique understanding. Divine eternity as Event that can be both infinite perfection, yet open to further “discovery” invokes a notion of dynamic eternity removed from the static eternity of Parmenides’ surfeit or strawman Platonism.

        So, “God is absolute in the intimacy of its own being for self” implicitly adverts to the pluperfection of divinity. “Absolving in the releasing of creation that is the love of finitude of agapeic origination” is consequent upon the implications of Origin as flourishing perfection and eternity as dynamic. “Absolving” and “releasing” are in the active voice, because the ever present and always happening, metaphysically prior aspect of the “passio essendi” that makes all striving in our becoming possible. But that word “absolving” is equivocally interesting. It can mean to give absolution, to remove guilt, as well as to make congenial, easy, to “pave the way.” Both elements come into play. For the ancients, for whom perfection was conceived as “static eternity,” time could be a moving image, but temporal becoming was intrinsically tragic. In antiquity, insofar as creation was dimly perceived (under the guise of a demiurge,) it is a defatigation from eternal perfection. For moderns like Hegel, it is necessary for the process by which divinity attains its own Absolute. For Agapeic freedom, it is utterly gift. In this regards, absolving is to both remove the “guilt” of defatigation as well as the “obligation” of a finite being necessary for an impoverished Origin. Only agapeic gifting is truly “for the sake of the creaturely other.”

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  2. If Aquinas could be read toward univocity and Heidegger, equivocity, who might be the most purely analogical philosopher/theologian?


  3. brian says:


    There are all sorts of Thomists; in general, however, I would not say Aquinas tends at all towards univocity. On the contrary, he offers a strong metaphysical grounding for analogy. Norris Clarke has a helpful article: http://www.anthonyflood.com/clarkenielsenanalogy.htm that you may want to peruse. Erich Przywara probably gives the most nuanced understanding of the lived rhythm of analogy — an awareness that is properly located at the level of being and aesthetic intuition, not mere concepts. My own sensibility has been shaped by Balthasar and Bulgakov a great deal — I encountered them before I read Desmond. All of them nurture a robust metaphysical vision open to mystery and opposed to univocal closures.

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    • Thanks Brian, I don’t think Thomas is univocal, I was just picking up on the thread of Desmond’s quote here as a hypothetical. I do think that it is possible for Thomists to lapse into a language that can speak of God as he is (though I am not aware of any place where Thomas does this). Pryzwara is on my reading list right now… tough sledding so far but he’s brilliant.

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  4. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    “One of the difficulties with ‘ analogy’ is that it is such an analogous term.” ~ Robert Masson


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      This is true, although it sounds ridiculous. It is true because, when all is said and done, our terms do not have an absolute-exhaustive purchase on God. The analogy itself, then, is always stretched beyond what the terms, the terms in analogical relation, can bear. As much as it is a caution, it holds also a promise: epektasis, the quest for infinite progress towards perfection.


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