The Problem of Divine Hiddenness: It Even Gets Worse After Pascha

by Alexander Earl

Most people are familiar with the problem of evil: how could an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God be consistent with the existence of evil? After all, if God is all-good he abhors evil, if he is all-knowing he is aware there is evil, and if he is all-powerful he is capable of putting a stop to evil. In short, he doesn’t want it, he knows it’s there, and he can do something about it. Nonetheless, evil abounds aplenty. Q.E.D. there is no God. Of course, we could also rehearse all the ways that the history of theology (and contemporary anglo­phone philosophy) has attempted to tackle this problem: Gnostic dualism, Platonic priva­tion, the overriding goodness of free will, the argument from cosmic plenitude, the benefits of a world oriented toward soul-making, speculation about possible worlds, the eschatolog­ical balancing of goods, universalism, or even pastoral redirections to the Cross; each can co-exist in endless mixture, and each in turn can occur within the nuanced distinction between theodicies and defenses.[i]

However, there is perhaps a less well-known dilemma, which is a sub-set of the problem of evil, known as the problem of Divine Hiddenness. It has received a vibrant buzz of scholarship for almost 30 years, which unsurprisingly has followed a similar course as its predecessor, which goes something like this: an atheist comes out swinging that belief in God is logically unsound and simply irrational, theists come to defend the logical possibility of faith, said atheist backtracks and reframes with a lighter touch by focusing on evidential problems, then the issue moves to ‘defense’ theories, and finally other ‘classical theists’ come to the table and try to muster the weight of traditional wisdom for guidance, and finally the debate dies down, or moves into some other direction, or what have you. That the debates take a similar course of argument is positively instructive; that we inevitably need to turn to the Holy Fathers for guidance, the Church’s rich tradition of reflection, and what dogmas she has on the matter, is not altogether surprising; that we need to be reminded to do so, I must admit, will never cease to be frustrating.

For some background, the contemporary debate over Divine Hiddenness takes off in 1993, when J.L. Schellenberg published Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason. Almost all of the literature has focused on a rejection of one of the premises of Schellenberg’s original argument, which is expressed in the following:

S1. If there is a God, God is perfectly loving.

S2. If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable nonbelief does not occur.

S3. Reasonable nonbelief occurs.

S4. Therefore: No perfectly loving God exists.

S5. Therefore: there is no God.[ii]

Schellenberg’s reasoning seems to rely on two underlying commitments. The first, if God is perfectly loving, then God would seek explicit reciprocal relationships with all of his creatures and, given that fact, we might expect God’s existence to be a little more obvious than it is. In other words, Schellenberg claims that there is a direct connection between love and the willing of personal relationships and so, he insists, how much more so for perfect love. The second commitment is related to the first: one way in which we might expect God to produce said relationships—or at any rate one way in which God could produce them—is by providing a kind of religious experience. I consider this claim about the necessary connection between (a) perfect love and (b) religious experience to be foundational to the Schellenbergian argument. I will return to these commitments later.

To get a grasp of what this argument entails, start by just looking around. You will find unbelief in God a rather typical state of affairs. Should we infer that every single instance of that unbelief is unreasonable? Let’s presume that most people do not have good reasons for their unbelief; nonetheless, there have been some prominent intellectuals who have desperately desired to believe, but simply could not bring themselves to do so in light of the evidence. And surely we can imagine many who have suffered horrendous evils, with no presence of God to be found, having some good reasons for losing faith, right? Ivan’s tirade in The Brothers Karamazov always comes to mind as he recounts the Turks butchering infants out of mere whim; another example comes from Schellenberg himself, who tries to draw an analogy of God’s hiddenness to us: picture a child lost in the wilderness, surrounded by beasts of prey, sobbing for its mother to no avail. Maybe this child even has amnesia, isn’t quite sure it has a mother, but in its most desperate moments calls out anyway. Would a perfectly loving God let these events occur, leaving infants to bayonets and his children to sulk alone in a dangerous and darkened wood? It certainly raises some concern. But before getting too ahead of ourselves, let’s take stock of the debate up to this point.

Justin McBrayer and Philip Swenson provide a helpful summary of the debate and its various positions. To summarize, they split the positions into those that reject S2 and those that reject S3, demonstrate how they are inadequate responses, and then offer their own response known as skeptical theism. For our purposes, I only want to summarize what they consider as the ‘major contemporary defenses’ and what they propose as a solution.[iii]

Those positions that reject S2 are labeled as follows: The Coercion defense, the argument that God’s revealing himself would prove coercive and thus remove the possibility of free will, which is a morally significant good.[iv] The Goods defense, the argument that God’s hiddenness, for all we know, is necessary for bringing about certain goods, such as a respect for the will and desires of human beings, personal relationship, love and trust, humility, love of truth, and so on.[v] The Improper response defense, the argument that God’s revealing himself would prove explicitly harmful to some, i.e. they may respond negatively to such a revelation.[vi] As for those that reject S3, McBrayer and Swenson provide the following: Sin, the argument that human sin is to blame for our cognitive and moral failings, and if not for sin God’s existence would be obvious to us.[vii] And lastly, the G.E. Moore Shift, the argument that belief in S2 entails that S3 is false, for if a perfectly loving God exists, then supposed instances of reasonable nonbelief are in fact illusory, e.g. the mark of self-deception.[viii]

As for their own view, McBrayer and Swenson argue that, “we don’t think that atheists or theists can say with any serious degree of confidence why God does what he does or why he would or wouldn’t do a certain thing.”[ix] Moreover, their critique of the positions, as a totality, amounts to insisting that “they each assume that we can know too much.”[x] Given those assumptions, McBrayer and Swenson consider their position free from common objections, as well as embodying a kind of intellectual humility that is missing from the literature.

That’s wonderful as things go, intellectual humility is a must, and epistemic realism is admirable; but I’m not sure how this view doesn’t amount to a mere scholarly parry. It is what I frequently call a punt to mystery. Mysteries are conclusions to rigorous metaphysical reflection, not a comfortable premise that allows one to escape through the back door when things get messy.

So what’s gone wrong here, then? As alluded to above, where are the Fathers? Where are the Councils or the canons? Where is the liturgy with its fasts and feasts, its hymns and rhythms? More pertinently, what God is even under discussion here? Is it the God revealed in Christ who through the Spirit is present in the Church until the end of the age? Is it the God revealed in the singing of the psalms and the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the one cup? The real difficulty here is that the entire debate has lost sight of not only what the classical tradition means by God, but it has lost sight of God’s transcendence as it is revealed in Christ and encountered in the Eucharist, which is not a revelation opposed to hiddenness, but is rather the revelation of hiddenness. This neglect is purposeful. Schellen­berg explicitly denies that Christians have recourse to an argument from Divine transcen­dence, saying quite boldly that “theists […] are not in a position to think of God as absolutely transcendent”—a more bizarre claim could not be made.

Any cursory engagement with the Christian tradition demonstrates that it is absolutely and unequivocally a tradition of apophaticism, which means it is a tradition that engages God as the Absolute, the Transcendent, and the Simple cause of all; God’s ineffability logically follows from that reality. Schellenberg’s rationale for rejecting transcendence and apophaticism stems from the seeming performative contradiction of saying, “God is ineffable.” If God were ineffable, then I shouldn’t be able to say anything about him, either the putative title ‘God’ or an attribute like ‘ineffability’. However, Schellenberg argues, Christians are committed to saying quite a bit about God; thus, God must not be ineffable; therefore, God must not be absolutely transcendent.[xi] However, this train of thought fails to understand the dynamics of the apophatic tradition. We have to understand first principles, per Origen:

God therefore must not be thought to be any kind of body, nor exist in a body, but to be a simple intellectual existence, admitting in himself of no addition whatever, so that he cannot be believed to have in himself a more or a less, but is Unity, or if I may so say, Oneness throughout, and the mind and fount from which originates all intellectual existence or mind.

– Origen of Alexandria, On First Principles I.1

God must be absolutely simple, consisting of no parts whatsoever, even metaphysical parts. To be a composite entity is to have parts that are prior to the unity, and God can have no reality that is prior to himself. Moreover, to have parts is to raise the causal question of how those parts have come to exist as a unity, or how they can be meaningfully distinguished as parts of said unity. Since God is not caused, but is the source of all things, then no such causal question can emerge. Further, if God is absolutely simple, then there can be no intellection of him:

To tell of God is not possible, so my argument runs, but to know him is even less possible. For language may show the known if not adequately, at least faintly, to a person not totally deaf and dull of mind. But to mentally grasp so great a matter is utterly beyond real possibility…

– Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 28.4

Intellection requires an object of intellection, and to know an object is to know it as one thing over against another, a this instead of a that. If God is the source of all things, then he is not one of them. The very categories of sameness and difference are posterior to him. It is for these reasons that there is a robust tradition of speaking about the encounter of God as the encounter of darkness:

What does it mean that Moses entered the darkness and then saw God in it? […] For leaving behind everything is observed, not only what sense comprehends but also what the intelligence thinks it sees, it keeps on penetrating deeper until by the intelligence’s yearning for understanding it gains access to the invisible and the incomprehensible, and there it sees God. This is the true knowledge of what is sought; this is the seeing that consists in not seeing, because that which is sought transcends all knowledge, being separated on all sides by incomprehensibility as by a kind of darkness […] knowledge of the divine essence is unattainable not only by men but also by every intelligent creature.

– Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses 2.162-163

It is not as if God were a really big entity whose attributes are quantitatively superior to ours and so we politely say we cannot know him. On the contrary, he is absolutely unknowable, and that confession is not a pious platitude. In fact, that God is absolutely unknowable is the philosophical ground of the Judeo-Christian prohibition of idolatry. No image or conception of God can capture God, nothing can define him as a this and so limit him or, worse, control and manipulate him. We must protect against idolatry if we are to encounter the true and living God! So Evagrius of Pontus says, with a sheer simplicity of words to match the content:

God cannot be grasped by the mind. If he could be grasped, he would not be God.

– Evagrius of Pontus, PG 40:1275C

Contra Schellenberg, it would be a mistake to think that the insistence on God’s ineffability and unknowability is in flagrant contradiction to speaking about God. Theological language is irreducibly cataphatic (positive) and apophatic (negative). Nonetheless, the apophatic way, the via negativa, always takes precedence, but to speak of apophatic language in the truest sense is not to say God is known by negative language, but rather that we must transcend language altogether.

Since it is the Cause of all beings, we should posit and ascribe to it all the affirmations we make in regards to beings, and, more appropriately, we should negate all these affirmation, since it surpasses all being. Now we should not conclude that the negations are simply the opposites of the affirmations, but rather that the cause of all is considerably prior to this, beyond privations, beyond every denial, beyond every assertion.

– Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, Mystical Theology 100B-C

To know the world is to know it as caused, dependent, finite, limited, measured, and so on. But coming to that insight alone is to encounter the uncaused, absolute, infinite, unlimited, unmeasured. One can only do the former, that is, know reality qua finitude, if one somehow is in touch with the standard that judges it as such. Once we have rallied the full weight of creation to speak about God, we must understand that it points beyond itself, it speaks indeed; but its speech necessarily fails. Thus, the language manifests the hidden, but it manifests it as hidden. To know something as finite is simultaneously to see it as pointing to the infinite, but I cannot get beyond the finite to the infinite, I can only encounter the infinite in the finite, and I cannot reduce one to the other. To negate the negation, to successfully engage in the apophatic, is to hold the positive and negative language in a consistent tension to keep the mind from complacency in the created or lower God to the created. I must encounter God in creation by knowing the world as created. In short, God is the source of all genera, but is himself not a genus.

God is not essence, understood as either general or particular, even if he is principle; nor is he potency understood as either general or particular, even if he is means; he is not act, understood as either general or particular, even if he is end of essential movement discerned in potency. But he is a principle of being who is creative of essence and beyond essence, a ground who is creative of power but beyond power, the active and eternal condition of every act, and to speak briefly, the Creator of every essence, power, and act, as well as every beginning, middle, and end.

– Maximus the Confessor, Chapters on Knowledge I.4

In Aristotelian language, God is not a mix of potency and act, but neither is he one or the other absolutely. He is the condition of the possibility of all things. As condition, he is prior to them; yet as their very possibility, the power of their power, all things inevitably reflect his superabundant life. This dynamic is enshrined in Christian Orthodoxy; it cannot be conceived of as anything less than dogma:

The Divinity, then, is limitless and incomprehensible, and this His limitlessness and incomprehensibility is all that can be understood about Him. All that we state affirmatively about God does not show His nature, but only what relates to His nature.

– John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith I.4

I must be clear, this vision is not peculiar to the Greek East, just take two examples from the two pillars of the Latin tradition:

Have I said anything, solemnly uttered anything that is worthy of God? On the contrary, all I feel I have done is to wish to say something; but if I have said anything, it is not what I wished to say. How do I know this? I know it because God is inexpressible […] this battle of words should be avoided by keeping silent, rather than resolved by the use of speech. And yet, while nothing really worthy of God can be said about him, he has accepted the homage of human voices, and has wishes to rejoice in praising him with our words.

– Augustine of Hippo, On Teaching Christianity I.6

And even in that strenuous scholasticism that the East typically laments, we find a total commitment to God’s transcendence and ineffability:

Now, because we cannot know what God is, but rather what He is not, we have no means for considering how God is, but rather how He is not.

– Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae Ia Q. 3, preface

Notice the context of what Augustine has said (and even the context of Thomas’s Summa). It is the context of praise. The apophatic is not merely intellectualized faith, something akin to ‘the God of the philosophers’, a scholastic maxim, or the privileged view of analytic ‘theolo­gians.’ It is enshrined in the powerful principle of lex orandi, lex credendi (the law of prayer is the law of belief); it is the inheritance and experience of every baptized Christian, which is embodied in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. Consider, the liturgy begins with a recognition of God’s transcendence and ineffability as the faithful gather together to begin—to use Dionysian language—their ascent toward the synaxis of the noetic altar:

O Lord our God, whose power is incomparable, whose glory is incomprehensible, whose mercy is immeasurable, and whose love for mankind is inexpressible…

– Prayer of the First Antiphon

From there plunging into ever-deepening layers of hiddenness and manifestation, reaching a heightened pitch at the Anaphora:

It is meet and right to hymn thee, to bless thee, to praise thee, to give thanks to thee, and to worship thee in every place of thy dominion, for thou are God ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever-existing, and eternally the same…

– The Holy Anaphora of St. John Chrysostom

And here we arrive at the apophatic core: the Eucharist. Indeed, the Eucharist is not simply presence, immanence, and manifestation; it is simultaneously absence, transcendence, and hiddenness. Martin V. Nemoianu, a philosopher and professor at Loyola Marymount University, has made precisely this argument in the context of the problem of divine hiddenness by drawing on a most unlikely ally, Blaise Pascal. Nemoianu’s explanation is worth quoting in full:

Turning then to a broader consideration of the question, Pascal writes that the history of the world can be understood as the history of God entering ever more deeply into the particulars of nature and human experience (OC II, pp. 30–31). Seen from one side, God’s action may be understood as progressive concealment. God hides himself first of all in nature itself. He then veils himself in the words of scripture, and once more beneath the literal meaning of those words, in the mystical sense of the text. In time he hides himself within the visible human nature of Christ. Finally and most fully, he conceals himself beneath the homely species of the Eucharist.Pascal is quite in earnest when he refers to the divine entry into human history as hiding. “All things,” he says, “are veils which cover God” (OC II, p. 31), and he claims, strikingly, that God was easier to discern before the Incarnation, under the veil of nature generally, than afterward. Indeed, God’s presence in the species of the Eucharist is “the strangest and most obscure” concealment of all (OC II, p. 30).

And yet, Pascal argues that, taken from another side, God’s intentional hiding is progressive self-disclosure. Under each veil of natural and historical particulars, he is found by some. Past the appearances of the natural world, he is discovered by pagans, who, as St. Paul puts it, recognize an invisible God through visible nature. Beneath the words of scripture, in its literal sense, he is found by all the Jews, and, beneath this, in its mystical sense, by a smaller group. At the Incarnation, hidden in the human nature of Christ, God is found by all Christians. Lastly, concealed by the sacramental veil, he is recognized by all Catholics in the Eucharist.[xii]

If Nemoianu is right, which I believe he is, then reasonable non-belief does not occur, and so S3 is false. God’s existence is demonstrable from the things he has made, and the history of religious adherence (of all stripes), as well as the philosophical and theological reflection of over two millennia, make that fact abundantly clear; non-belief is an anomaly of the modern world. The atheist lacks the democracy of history and experience on their side. In which case, the burden of proof most certainly falls to them.

Further, the claim that a perfectly loving God would not allow such non-belief to occur is likewise false. For what we see in the problem of Divine hiddenness is precisely a demand for God to conform to human expectations and desires. It is an idolatrous demand on the part of humanity, not a failure of God to perfectly love his creation. To say so is to refuse to paint God as an obstinate protector of his fragile personality, as if he could do otherwise than he does. In brief, it is metaphysically impossible for God to be otherwise than he is, and that necessity is not imposed upon God as something external to God, but is the perfect freedom of the source of all being as the summum bonum.

Here we arrive at where I began. Schellenberg says that one way that God could manifest himself to all his creatures in order to combat non-belief, and fulfill the obligations of perfect love (which seeks explicit reciprocal relationships) is through a kind of religious experience. However, the religious experience he has in mind does not accord with the theological tradition, nor, as we can see, is it even possible: if you comprehend it, it is not God. To repeat, God is not some discrete object of experience. While it is true that there are different kinds of ‘extraordinary’ experiences available to us, and the scriptures are full of the experiences of angelic beings and other facets of reality beyond the material, these are experiences that come with proper receptivity and holiness. In other words, they are there for us whenever we become properly receptive to the Divine. Religious experience, in fact religion as such, is about attunement to reality and not about the arbitrary interventions of a massive being or attempts to coax that massive being into satisfying our will. To quote Maximus the Confessor: “voluntary movement, either in accord with the will and word of God or against the will and word of God, prepared each person to hear the divine voice” (Ambiguum 7.3 1085C). And just to demonstrate that this view is not unique to Christianity:

How then, since we possess such great things, do we not apprehend them[?] […] it is necessary, then, if there is to be apprehension of the things that are thus present, to turn that which apprehends inward, and pay attention to what is there. Just as, if someone waiting for a voice that he wants to hear, turning away from other voices, should arouse his ear toward the best of things heard, when it comes; so too, here, dismissing sensible sounds except as far as necessary, we must keep the soul’s power of apprehension pure and ready to hear the voices from above.

– Plotinus, Ennead V.1.12, 1-20

We do not need extraordinary religious experience to experience God, for the greatest religious experience is open to all through the levels of reality God has gifted to us through nature, scripture, incarnation, and eucharist. We must engage God as God has revealed himself. To encounter those realities in truth is to understand that Divine hiddenness is not a problem, it is the very context of the believer’s experience of God. It is a basic dogma of Orthodoxy. God reveals himself as hidden, and each revelation is a deepening of that hiddenness, not an annihilation of it. If you desire to encounter God, then enter a church. God is there in the nature encompassing the building and in the very matter of its foundations and its walls. God is there in the mystical reading of the scriptures. God is there in the hymns, the feasts and the fasts. God is there on the altar. He courses through the flesh and sinews of the communicants being formed in his likeness. He is declared in the radiant splendor of the halos encompassing the saints in the iconography. Yet, even there, amidst it all, you will encounter darkness. In fact, you are invited to know only darkness…

Taste and see that the Lord is good.



[i] The gist of the difference between a theodicy and a defense is that the former intends to provide the reasons God has for X, while the latter tries to consider possible reasons God might have for X.

[ii] Schellenberg has since reformulated his argument in terms of modality. For the argument’s development, see Schellenberg (1993, 1996, 2005, 2007, 2016) below. I’ve focused on the argument found in (1993), but as formulated by Michael Rea in Rea (2016). Rea, a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, is perhaps one of the few major analytic philosophers attempting to argue from the historical tradition, to greater and lesser degrees of success. I would devote more attention to that fact if only time and space would allow.

J.L. Schellenberg (1993) Divine Hiddenness and Human Reason (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press).

—(1996) ‘Response to Howard-Snyder,’ Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 26, 455-462

—(2005) ‘The hiddenness argument revisited’ Religious Studies, 41, 287-303

—(2007) The Wisdom to Doubt (Ithaca NY: Cornell University Press).

—(2016) ‘Divine hiddenness and human philosophy,’ in Hidden Divinity and Religious Belief: New Perspectives (Cambridge University Press), 13-32.

Michael C. Rea (2009) ‘Narrative, Liturgy, and the Hiddenness of God’ in Metaphysics and God: Essays in Honor of Eleanore Stump (NY: Routledge).

—(2011) ‘Deus Absconditus,’ in Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology (Stamdford CT: Cengage Learning), 369-392.

—(2016) ‘Hiddenness and transcendence,’ in Hidden Divinity and Religious Belief: New Perspectives (Cambridge University Press), 211-225.

[iii] McBrayer 142; Justin P. McBrayer & Philip Swenson (2012) ‘Scepticism about the argument from divine hiddenness,’ Religious Studies, 48, 129-150

[iv] ibid. 132-134

[v] ibid. 134-135

[vi] ibid. 135-138

[vii] ibid. 139-140

[viii] ibid. 141-142

[ix] ibid. 145

[x] ibid. 148

[xi] Schellenberg (1993), 46

[xii] Martin V. Nemoianu, ‘Pascal on Divine Hiddenness’ in the International Philosophical Quarterly vol. 55. No. 3, Issue 219 (September 2015) p. 341

* * *

Alexander Earl currently teaches Theology and History at a college-preparatory school in Santa Monica, California. He holds a Masters of Arts in Religion and Philosophical Theology from Yale Divinity School.

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33 Responses to The Problem of Divine Hiddenness: It Even Gets Worse After Pascha

  1. well, you’ve managed to make your “God” as vague as possible to excuse its impotence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alexander Earl says:

      If by vague you mean indefinite, then well, yes, indeed. That God is indefinite, however, is not arrived at by vague handwaving, but, as I’ve said, is the conclusion to rigorous metaphysical questioning. Why would you conclude that vagueness is an excuse for impotence? Metaphysically speaking, it is precisely God’s infinity that is the condition for his omnipotence: to be ‘defined’ is to be limited, and said limitation must be external to the entity, which entails that entity has limited power (e.g. being X entity under X conditions with X avenues of activity, and so on). To be omnipotent is to have unlimited power, and so infinite, indefinite, etc.. I know you are trying to use it as a pejorative, but that use has no philosophical force.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        trolls refuse the dogs’ crumbs

        Liked by 1 person

      • I mean vague as cannot be defined and unable to be shown to exist. We see no action from this god nor any definition of what it can do, so it is quite simply to go from vague to impotent, or better yet, imaginary.

        If you cannot define your god, there is no reason to believe it exists or is infinite. Unlimited doesn’t mean indefinite, nor does infinite mean indefinite. Neither require indefinite-ness to exist.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thomas says:

          > We see no action from this god nor any definition of what it can do.

          On the contrary, everything that is is an instance of God acting. What else could “source of being” mean?

          Liked by 1 person

        • Rob says:

          I like where you’re going with this; although I think you’re a bit heavy handed in some of your arguments like the ‘define God’ part. Alexander Earl does acknowledge the “punt to mystery” as you have described it in other words. But I genuinely like where you’re going with this line: “Unlimited doesn’t mean indefinite, nor does infinite mean indefinite.” There’s a good idea there. There’s an interesting relationship between these words. Obviously I could just argue back that something unlimited is precisely not definite, and so on. But saying so would be petty bickering. What I like about your argument is that it’s like you’re saying that just because you can’t count an infinite beach of atoms that doesn’t mean you’re aren’t touching some of them. I want you to be right because I want to be in touch more with God and I feel like I’m not. So I’d prefer something as easy as giving God’s absence the finger and calling it quits. I don’t want to kid myself which is sort of like the extra commandment in religion- that you have to play pretend a little bit to make it work when it doesn’t- and I dislike that costume and roleplay of religion (to use euphemistic language, out of respect for Fr. Kimel). But you have an idea with your clarification that unlimited and infinite don’t mean [absent].

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Ben Bollinger says:

    My only objection to this perspective is a problem that I really struggle with in general, particularly because it shows up so often in discussions of God as revealed in the sacraments. That is, how do we reconcile this view with the fact that so many different Christian sects claim to have the “true Liturgy”, the “true sacraments, the “true faith” at the exclusion of the rest? Because Christian division has always been present. There have always been rival bishops at rival altars claiming they have the true Eucharist while the others don’t. And if we adhere to traditions orthodox sacramental theology, which holds that schismatics and heretics don’t have true sacraments, then that means that what they do is blasphemous and idolatrous, because not only is it not real, but it’s almost mocking that which is real. So essentially if the sacraments are the means by which we encounter God, why does He allow for all of these problems to exist within sacramental theology?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Cannot speak for Alex, but here is my personal view (which is certainly not original to me): I do not think it is our job to declare that the sacraments of ecclesial communities outside the canonical boundaries of Orthodoxy are not true sacraments. Only God can know this. It is our job to point to the Church where Christ is rightly proclaimed and the sacraments are rightly administered. I leave the rest to God.


      • Ben Bollinger says:

        I tend to take that view too, however it just doesn’t sit right with me. It just seems like if Christ and His Church are how God is made known, the very least He could do is keep one Church instead of allowing all of these confusing historical ambiguities to pop up that have divided Christians for millennia

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I have a whole list of things I believe that God should have done. I hope to have a long talk with him about this in the Kingdom.


    • Alexander Earl says:

      I understand this concern. However, depending on where it goes, I don’t see how it doesn’t open up various regresses. The fact that there are differences of opinion is never an indication that there is no truth of the matter. In other words, simply that there are numerous religious traditions, or numerous Christian denominations, or numerous accounts of sacramental theology, does not lead one to conclude there is not a true account among them. In other words, the fact of diversity is not an argument against the reality of exclusivity. Against a position of sheer diversity (which would inevitably be a kind of relativism), It is impossible that all options are true in the fullest sense, since there are countless contradictory propositions between them, and even if we could discern a core truth amidst them all, it would be at that point trivially true. Thus, our task is to discern amongst them.

      Speaking of Christianity, I think something like the following propositions are key:

      (1) The fullness of the truth is revealed in Jesus Christ.
      (2) Knowing the truth is what sets us free (i.e. we think there are certain dogmas that are conditions for union with God)
      (3) Since Jesus is a historical figure, the possibility of knowing the truth would entail that this truth was preserved and made available to us through history
      (4) The best candidate for said preservation and availability would be the Church
      (5) The gospels give us some indication of a promise that the Church will not be overcome by ‘Hades’ (let us say, ‘deception’)

      We could debate each proposition, but something like that strikes me as a basic starting point. Particularly for #5, my qualm with most Protestants, or any kind of movement of retrieval, is that it opens up an epistemic regress. If the Church lost its way at one time or another, that is, was seriously mistaken on a matter of dogma, then God allows his Church to fall into error (and it must be dogma, not just practical corruption or what have you, the same regress would apply). If God allows his Church to fall into error, then we no longer have any epistemic conditions for determining what was lost, what needs to be found, if we’ve found it, or if we are not currently in error. Moreover, metaphysically speaking, since error is privative upon Truth, to say the faith was lost or distorted is to say it was overcome by deception (by Hades), which is just as much to say Christ, while being the fullness of the truth, did not succeed in preserving that truth amidst his people, and so back to square one. Need more incarnations, or something.

      All of that to say, that the task of discernment is daunting, I do not deny. That we must undertake it, though, is inevitable. If you concede any kind of basic free will defense, then it’s entirely plausible that God has preserved his Church and the truth amidst variously claimants. But, per Kimel, that need not entail we demonize the other. We must continue to discern (personally) which is the best candidate, and in prayer and humility submit ourselves to our findings, to the best of our abilities and our conscience, and always open to the voices from on high.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ben Bollinger says:

        While I think you’re correct in saying that just because various religious and Christian traditions exist, that doesn’t necessarily mean that one isn’t true, I think it simply supports a more evidential argument in general. Something along the lines of “if God was really trying to interact with humans through religion, and particularity Christianity, then He would at the very least make this known to the point where your religion and denomination aren’t dependent upon your geographical location.” Obviously I’m just playing devils advocate here, but as I’ve stated this has been a major concern of mine since becoming Christian.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Grant says:

      Hmm, God’s grace works through all things, and I don’t think we can say not only whether or not the Eucharist is true (that is whether it is truly the Messiah’s) outside a particular communion, as it is not given to us to know. But further I don’t think the Lord waits until we have the perfect words, the just right practices or we have the correct doctrine in either intellectual believes or practices until He comes to us, and by the Holy Spirit the gifts of bread and wine become for us the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ doesn’t just go home because the words aren’t quite right, or done right, whether temporarily or longer. He doesn’t refuse or offended because of our blindness and short comings or mistakes or misunderstandings. It’s not a magical invocation, but the invitation and self-giving love to us baptized into full union with Him as His brothers and sisters to partake in full Communion with Him, just as we are gifted when we enter the lives of those in need. As the Lord washing the disciples just as He initiates the Eucharist, and Dr John Chrysostom also stated, the Eucharist and love and service to those in need are gifted to partake in Christ, to two being linked and united. They and all our interactions our there in the Eucharist and Christ’s presence that we partake in is there in those we interact in love, they form one unity.

      And do Eucharist is a gift of Christ’s love and Self, of His to His People to come and join the love, dance and Life of the Trinity. It is all a gift of Himself, and I believe He no more waits for our perfect understanding or practice than He did in His earthly Life. And this to me is a good thing, do we even now either know and am or was correct in all things now, or where one person, has incorrect concepts or ideas (assuming they are in the Church in it’s fullness), yet they do still partake in Him. Also despite all the disunities and breaks in communion, they remain united in Christ despite conflict between bishops, both historic breaks between different patriarchal sees, including the contemporary on between Constantinople and Moscow. Despite that break in ecclesial unity doesn’t affect that the Lord is there in either Church, He doesn’t restrict Himself because of it, because one is more correct on the issue that another. He is not bound by our failings or disagreements, our failures of love and understandings, as St Paul reminds us, we don’t belong not are we of the Church of Apollo, Peter or Paul, we all belong to Christ and His Church, and if the gates of Hades can’t stand against it, neither can our arguments, strife or lack of love or disunity. He is the Lord, not us, and is more than capable of transcending our conflicts.

      We can also see this in diversity in liturgies across numerous traditions, from Byzantine, Coptic, Latin, Ethiopian, Syraic West and East and do on and diversity not only between them but also within the same tradition at different times and places. The Assyrian Church of the East doesn’t have the words of announcement yet this has been found to be the case in the oldest surviving anaphoras, the West has the filoque, the form of the Armenian Orthodox version of the Creed at least was different from both Greek East and Latin West (and escaped the attention of both). We could go on, but great diversity has always existed, and often if not almost always lead to problems in translation from outside. But the Lord I believe transcends our issues, I for one have stopped trying to decide which of the ancient Churches is the Church, perhaps on does have the fullness that the others have in more diminished manner, or perhaps on has it in some areas and another in others and the full unity is only together.

      One thing I will say is that Communion together has never broken down completely, not just in the past where it has been shown that say Communion continued between Greek East and Latin West more actively until the 18th century, but exceptions in emergencies to administering the Holy Gifts are between some provided for. Equally between communities of say an Eastern Catholic Rite and their Eastern, Oriental Orthodox or Church of the East, particularly in areas where they live together in minority status they do live and marry together, attend each other’s church and take Communion. This may be irregular to the wider Church, but organically in the life of the faithful links of Communion remain. There is also say the agreement between the Catholic and Church of the East allowing members of either Communion if unable to get to their own Church to take Communion in their corresponding Church (admittedly Eastern Orthodox may care nothing about this 😉 ) but these links have always remained. Or take St Issac of Ninevah (very familiar here) who was part of the Assyrian Church of the East, yet is accepted and honoured as a Saint in the not only the Church of the East but the Eastern Orthodox, Chaldean Catholic and other Eastern Catholics. And this was after Ephesus, when Communion was officially broken between Church of the East and both Greek East and Latin West. Yet he remains a Saint and Father in both, part of the accepted Communion of Saints in all three traditions (even as he generally isn’t acknowledged as a Saint commonly in the Latin part of the Catholic Church, but who are in full Communion with these Eastern Catholics) which all members take part in when they take Communion. And so are in Christ and Communion of Saints unified together despite disagreements.

      Does this mean those apparent differences don’t matter and we should have full, open Communion, no that is not my view. Full Communion together is an outward sign of full unity and agreement and so that means it is the last thing and requires accord between this Church and that one. Like a marriage, the marriage act the fundamental sign and act of Communion and unity between husband and wife, but you still need to be married and in unity first.

      However, l do take it as an important sign and evidence of God’s grace and the Lord’s transcending our arguments that Communion has in organic, lived reality never fully and completely broken down between the ancient Churches (despite our best and persistent attempts), that though impaired schism has never been complete that all remain therefore in Communion in Christ, and are in the Church whether or not it is in it’s complete fullness in one Church or another. The marriage has never fully broken down, Christ’s Lordship transcends our attempts at schism, and me it seems clear that at least these must partake of the same Body and Blood of Our Lord, evident in these organic aspects of continued Communion.

      No doubt those concerned with the technical issues of ecclesial and conflicts over differences (apparent or real, for myself I find it difficult to judge or know) or have strong convictions on the issue will disagree with my position. But that is how it seems to me, and I no longer worry over thinking which is the Church in it’s fullness or if the Eucharist offered there is true, I believe it is, and for me have what I believe are good reasons for thinking so. Most of all centred on Christ Whose love and Lordship is truly in control and transcends our misunderstandings and disagreements.

      As for those outside the ancient Churches I do not know for sure, but remember at Communion you don’t just receive. As a preist and king you offer and bring into unity in Christ all you are connected to to share in that grace, which to me certainly includes other Christians.

      Probably views some would think heterodox but there are my thoughts for what they are worth 🙂 .

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ben Bollinger says:

        While I certainly wish I could believe this, it just seems too much like the Anglican branch theory, and seems contrary to the traditional orthodox belief in one holy catholic and apostolic Church comprised of orthodox bishops.
        But then again, I think that it’s for my own good that I not think about this too hard.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Grant says:

          I definitely get that, and I am definitely not advocating branch theory, I don’t believe that is sustainable, though perhaps I fly to close. Though my reflections if anything come both from what I both have learnt from reading and listening to the late Father Robert Taft involved in the ecumenical discussion between Catholic and particularly Eastern Orthodox, and his thoughts, and his understandings of Vatican II, perhaps going further than he would maybe(?). And also from discussions between Eastern Catholics and Orthodox and the fact of continued existing Communion, however rare, that indicates on the ground schism isn’t entirely compete, and a number of people including Sebastian Brock (the translator of St Issac of Ninevah, particularly the second book) on the nature of the divisions that appeared in Ephesus and Chalcedon. And how current understanding is that those disagreements were one’s of misunderstandings and lack of understanding say different liturgical languages, in which people are saying the same thing within those different liturgical traditions (or say the theology behind the filioque etc and what differences they really are, rather than assumed). And then that just being my thoughts and reflections on it all, one Church probably is the Church in it’s fullness (but that could even be the Church of of the East, the current smallest though once largest, St issac’s tradition) but I can’t see it. And being all contingent as we all are, no of us can know of certain, I guess I just reflect on these things and believe that none of the all ancient Churches that retain the self-identity as being the ‘Catholic and Apostolic Church’ , are still based on say that continued intercommunion are still of the Church, even if most might not be the Church seen in it’s fullness.

          I guess I just things, like much in current life, are perhaps more messy and complicated then our own neat concepts and systems would often have it (not to say it those aren’t important or not true as basic truth, otherwise I would be a Anglican 🙂 , and that’s not a knock at Anglicanism).

          But you a right than in the end, it may be best to not think to much on it, I’m just a layman, not any theologian, or clergy or someone with deep knowledge or understanding of all this, I’m likely wrong, but I just found trying to decide which is the true Church something that would likely drive me insane 🙂 . I think in the end what you can trust is Christ, you can trust in His Love and the Holy Spirit is not bound to our human limitations or barriers, God is God, and while many cannot say if the Eucharist offered to another Church is Christ Presence bodily, we can say I think that Christ will never abandon His own, and that He is with all Christians gathered in His name by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Gifts are God’s gifts to the Church, not things the Lord is restricted by, particularly with Christian failings past and present to help all and particularly those that love Him.

          So I would say, if you can never be certain about anything else, you can be certain of the Messiah Jesus, trust and have faith in Him, in His Love and total Faithfulness and the fact He will never abandon anyone 🙂 .

          Liked by 1 person

  3. brian says:

    Erich Przywara tried to indicate the dramatic, dynamic analogy of being. The apophatic and the cataphatic are a rhythm that is open and oriented towards an infinite horizon as Nyssa discerned. Revelation as disclosure is necessarily taken up into the Word or it would not be recognized. How that happens, what level of participation through grace and praxis is needed, if it is even a necessary prerequisite or if God may wave that requirement on occasion is not something one is going to discover through logic, reason, or a theology handbook. Reason itself may be reduced to the ratio of modern times or expanded out to include the medieval intellectus, that intuitive aesthetic opening towards the real that acknowledges reason’s ecstasis towards that which exceeds it. Regardless, darkness is an equivocal term. The darkness of excessive light is not simply existential darkness in the face of evil; awareness of the one does not negate the anguish and perplexity of the latter.Disclosure of the revealed as always pointing beyond to the ever greater dissimilarity between the divine source and the symbol bearing event may be nearly a tautology for God’s hiddenness, though I would argue that even for the creature, the disclosive event points towards an incomprehensible surplus. Only the mind fixated on determinate, “clear and concise” ideas will confuse the modern object with the elusive giftedness of the res. All that said, the wrestling with evil, the horror of death and the disappearance or torture of the beloved, none of that is answered by a philosophy, a logic, even fully by a theo-logic. We await in faith the only possible answer which is the realization of the eschaton where the justice of love will be lived out in flourishing wonder.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Alexander Earl says:

      Thanks for your comment. I am not willing to say that “participation through grace and praxis” is at any level arbitrary; that is, some ‘requirement’ that God could wave at will. I prefer Nyssa’s approach; there is a clear prerequisite and requirement for union, which is being completely transfigured by the divine. Failure to accomplish theosis in this life will necessarily require purification in the next. There are no shortcuts. I agree with you regarding the equivocity of darkness, and my point here is to refute a certain vision of divine encounter that makes an idol out of a certain variety of ‘religious experience’. You put it nicely: “only the mind fixated on determinate, “clear and concise” ideas will confuse the modern object with the elusive giftedness of the res.” The above is not an answer to evil. I wholly agree with Dionysius on that score. It is unintelligible and must remain so. My point, rather, is an attempt to challenge the assumptions and reorient the basic premise in a theologically richer direction. In other words, where one thinks ‘hiddenness’ means ‘absence’, and so no God, we should begin to think of ‘hiddenness’ and ‘absence’ as the very conditions of encounter, which only becomes more excessive. Regarding existential darkness, since Christ descended to hell, even there we may encounter him. Paradoxically the darkness of privation has been filled with the darkness of excess. They may not, after all, be equivocal as we imagine, or at least post-Easter.

      Liked by 1 person

      • brian says:

        I do believe that ultimately something like Balthasar’s theology of Holy Saturday “answers” the mystery of evil. I worry that some may too easily invoke the rhetoric of theology to prematurely vanquish the discomfort of ambiguity or to distance the believer from empathy with the sheer vertigo of the experience of evil, its capacity to exhaust, destroy psychological stabilities, and throw one into the abyss which is intrinsic to our passage as pilgrims through a fallen time. I don’t think there is identity between that darkness and “the Cloud of Unknowing,” though God’s intimate presence is surely hidden amidst the feeling of abandonment. You misunderstand my intention regarding grace and praxis. I have written extensively on this site and nowhere do I prescind from the notion that theosis is the destiny of creation or the necessary state for true gnosis. While I agree that the liturgy centered around the Eucharist is the central ecclesial act from which insight may be engendered, I wanted to allow for the freedom of the Holy Spirit to work outside of normal sacramental channels or identification with any particular Church.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Alexander Earl says:

          I agree with much of what you have said:
          (1) The above is not an answer, nor an attempt to vanquish the discomfort. It all depends how you want to define “answer.” In your initial reply you said evil cannot be answered by philosophy, now you’re saying that Balthazar might give an answer. I think I grasp your intent, and I’m happy to use whatever definition you want, but let’s not equivocate. So, to be clear, in one sense there is no answer to the POE, DH etc. Per above, I prefer Dionysius’ view that it’s unintelligible: to ascribe it a cause is to give it intelligibility, and so being, and so run into dualism. In one sense that is not an answer, in another sense it is. I suspect we are in agreement here.
          (2) I find the topic of the relationship between privative darkness and excessive darkness fascinating. I can’t give any definitive answer here, though I think there is a good bit of ambiguity. John of Cross and the Dark Night of the Soul comes to mind as one instance where they are close. I also think the full suffering and death of the God-man renders it more ambiguous than not, simply saying they are equivocal is too quick.
          (3) I apologize if I misunderstood you on this score, but took the phraseology of ‘waving the requirement’ as indicating something essentially legal.
          (4) I, too, want to allow the Holy Spirit to work outside the ecclesial community. I think that’s possible within Maximus’ account of levels of incarnation: nature, scripture, history, eucharist. I’m even willing to assert degrees of ‘eucharist’, where one ecclesial community may possess the reality in fullness while others possess it partially.

          Thanks again for your comments. Forgive me if I misunderstand or misrepresent your views. I think we are mostly in agreement, though working out #2 above requires further reflection.

          Liked by 2 people

          • brian says:

            Issue #2 is intriguing and likely to bring in considerations too complex for brief discussion. At risk of too compressed a short-hand, I’d venture this much. Darkness as privative would seem to reduce to a lack of the Good rather than the ungraspable nature of an infinite, mysterious Good. But as you note, the Cross and mystical participation in Christ’s Passion introduces important considerations. I surmise, following William Desmond among others, that night serves to upend quotidian certitudes and to breakdown limited and distorted artifacts of the ego-self. Mystical death removes resistance/impediments and creates a possibility for renewed porosity to the agapeic source of gifts. Cyril O’Regan has an interesting comment on Olivier-Thomas Venard’s work. O’Regan states that “Venard’s interest is whether Christ the Word demonstrates his power in the literature that execrates him just as much as in the literature that gives him unstinting praise.” The Poetic Christ that Venard glimpses inhabits desolation and accompanies delusion and the fractious cacophony of lies, gathering to Himself all those enchained by self-deception forged in language that madly wishes to escape into a solipsistic void separate from participation in the Word. Kenosis may be discerned not only within soteriological foci, but also speculatively in the context of intra-Trinitarian life and intimate relation as revelatory. Balthasar’s notion of Supertime or “dramatic eternity” implies an infinite plenitude that provides the bases for temporal event. If there is a kenotic, revelatory event character to TriUne perichoresis, one may tie the gnosis of excess light more compellingly to the Cross.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Iain Lovejoy says:

    Isn’t there also an error in Schellenberg’s premise that a more perfect love requires more “in your face” insistence on being loved than a less perfect love? Perfect love, it seems to me, is anything but controlling or impatient but rather infinitely patient in allowing and encouraging the other to come to love of themselves by persuasion than through insistence or force. Schellenberg’s “perfect love” sounds more like the stalker who won’t stop calling than anything else. To put aside one’s own feelings and give the beloved space to work their own issues out seems to be the hallmark of a more, not less, perfect love.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Alexander Earl says:

      Though the atheist might reply that you don’t let your child play on the stove, or take a fork to a light socket, or wander into a minefield. Why the degree of distance? Are the choices that either God is a stalker or is guilty of parental negligence? In my view, that whole way of thinking is misguided. I think N.N. Trakakis says it well,

      “It seems that ascribing a personality or subjectivity to God, replete with an unexpressed interiority or motivational structure that has to be lived out in relation to, if not in competition with, the deliberations and dispositions of external realities (in this case, human persons), is to ascribe the kind of dependent finitude to God that the classical traditions of East and West have consistently sought to avoid”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Iain Lovejoy says:

        I’m in agreement with you on that: it would be equally wrong to insist that perfect love is required to keep a particular distance as to say that it is required to insist on being constantly acknowledged.
        We cannot know intellectually what perfect love would or would not do, since we all love imperfectly. Any syllogism based on “If God exists then he would have to do X” has the same flaw. I do think that our alienation from God and frequent inability to perceive him is a question that needs answering, but it in itself can’t be used, as Schellenberg tries to do, as proof of his nonexistence.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Joe says:

    Thanks for this interesting post. But did not God reveal himself through Christ?

    The other question is how can a Trinitarian God be a simple oneness?

    As for the problem of hiddenness I think that is an interesting question. And I think it Isaiah at least hints at the answer. He asks God to come and points out that because God stays hidden people turn away from him. I don’t think God revealing himself more often would necessarily fully coerce us, but it would not reveal as much about ourselves. I think we want to know God’s judgment is just and so we want to know how we would act. I think that plays a role.

    Also I think the analogy of us being without him in the forest does not account for the fact that we do not remain there forever. Certainly a good parent will allow children to do somethings on their own. “helicopter mom” is not a flattering name.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alexander Earl says:

      Hi Joe, thanks for your comment. See my comment to Iain and to Thomas. I think there are similar thoughts and concerns there.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thomas says:

    > Intellection requires an object of intellection, and to know an object is to know it as one thing over against another, a this instead of a that. If God is the source of all things, then he is not one of them. The very categories of sameness and difference are posterior to him.

    This is probably the deepest fault line between the Aristotelian line of thought exemplified by Aquinas, and the Platonic approach characteristic of many of the Fathers. It is also is the source of many intractable theological dilemmas.

    If intellection requires a distinct object, “one thing over against another”, how is it that God can be one, and yet know himself? It’s quite natural to say that there must be a One prior to knowledge of that One, to suppose that the Logos must be distinct from and subsequent to what the Logos articulates, and so on. This isn’t an antiquated problem; Stephen R.L. Clark falls right into something similar in his attempt to argue for the Trinity.

    An equally difficult problem arises in the case of divine knowledge of the world. If God knows the world as an object, he must have a cognitional act for which the world is the object. But without the object, there would be no act (or at least a different act). Thus, God’s knowing is different on account of the world — and something in God is contingent.

    Better, I think, to adopt the Aristotelian view over against the subject-object theory of knowledge. For Aristotle, knowledge is the actuality of intelligibility. Because we humans begin in ignorance, we often use the objects of our experience, objects distinct from us and one another, to actualize intelligibilities. For immaterial intellects, on the other hand, intelligibility is already actualized, and there is no need for distinct objects. And God, by virtue of being an infinite intelligibility, not only has no need of distinct objects, but knows everything simply by being himself.

    This difference results in there being quite different meanings to what St. Thomas means when he says “we know God by what he is not”, and the apophatic tradition in the Eastern Fathers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Alexander Earl says:

      Great response. I, too, worry about some of these things. However, I think the Platonic view is not ultimately threatened, and I would not take Aristotle and Aquinas outside the Platonic tradition (c.f. Lloyd Gerson, “Aristotle and Other Platonists”). I think Aquinas’s commitment to divine simplicity is Platonic and not Aristotelian. Per Denys Turner, I think that Aquinas’s commitment to apophaticism is not different from someone like Eckhart, despite differences in language. I actually have a forthcoming article in the “International Philosophical Quarterly” on trinitarian theology and the metaphysics of Plotinus. It would be too much of a bear to unpack here, but, in brief, Plotinus has trinitarian language in some of the Enneads. In order to express the One’s self-sufficiency, he seems to necessarily describe the One as having an internally relational life. However, I don’t think this threatens simplicity, but is a necessary articulation for finally resolving the problem of the one and the many. I rely on the scholarship of Lewis Ayres, Adrian Pabst, and Rowan Williams to make the case.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thomas says:

        I’d be interested to read that … but I do think the contradictions that arise are insoluble on the Platonic view.

        And while Aristotle is in many ways “of the Platonic school”, but on the issue of knowing, there is a direct contradiction between a view which defines knowing in terms of a subject-object relationship, where the object is in some way distinct from the subject, and Aristotle’s view. On the latter view, God does not need a distinct object to know, while on the former view he does. Unless knowledge is by identity and not a duality, God will either not be omniscient, or he will be dependent.

        This difference explains a great deal of the differences between the two traditions (why the Forms are not intelligences but Aristotle’s separate substances are, why the highest cause for Aristotle is both fully intelligible and intelligent while Plotinus’ One is not really either, and so on).

        There is a difference here, and it is pretty fundamental. Aquinas is squarely on the side of Aristotle on the issue and doubles down on that viewpoint with his account of apprehension and judgment, not to mention in his explanation of the psychological analogy.

        Apart from the theological problems of the subject-object account of knowing, it faces insuperable philosophical and phenomenological problems in explaining human knowing as distinct from animal knowing, the problems surrounding objectivity, and the nature of the modern sciences. I think Lonergan really settled this issue in his critiques of “knowing as taking a look”–though I realize that is a big claim for a comment on a blog!

        Liked by 1 person

  7. Robert Fortuin says:

    Late to the game, so nobody will read this, pure evil….

    An observation, which is not to detract or distract from the excellent points you make, Alexander.
    It is quite fascinating to me that queries about evil and obscurity resolve to questions about the nature of knowledge. And about that there’s something missing for me – affirmation and negation (i.e. cataphatic and apophatic approaches) are absolutely inadequate to surmount the radical cognitive dissonance it is asked to overcome. The nature of the obscurity (and revelation) lies in the infinite mode of being – not in a being which is hidden in the normal sense (by distance, obstruction, time, darkness, etc.). The problem is metaphysical not logical: that which is beset by limits can never know the unlimited. We know less than we do, or let me slightly modify this, what we know signifies less of the signified than is normally realized: simple denial of this or that affirmation does not adequately account for the infinite modal dissimilarity. The modal dissonance requires a process of purification and qualification (what Nyssa would call ek katachreseos) – which I surmise is knowledge by way of analogization. What we affirm must ever be held in tension – it must be ever be qualified (not simply negated) as it pertains to the infinite mode of being and the interval it presents to us.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Iain Lovejoy says:

      Ha! Not too late, I read it!
      Too many big words for my small brain to follow, but is what you are saying that knowledge is inevitably a very partial approximation, and, in the case of God, a “partial approximation” in the same way that a pine-scented plastic pine cone is a “partial approximation” of a pine forest?
      If so, and everything is a “best guess” (and not a good one at that) the problem with all these arguments is that they usually start from the premise “If X is the case then Y” which we can never actually know. My view is that there is enough to know that there is at least something there, a genuine perceptible goodness and love of some kind towards which to gravitate, and an argument that “proves” my ideas about it are mistaken simply misses the point – I am indeed mistaken as to God’s nature, my ideas about God are indeed wrong, which is one reason to continue to pursue him via the best means I currently have.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        Iain and Alexander,

        Terribly short on time, so I am combining my responses to you.

        This concerns the knowledge the nature or essence of God.

        Iain – a more accurate comparison is to say that a real pine cone is a partial approximation of a pine forest. Creation is a true and real image (not a fake) of the Creator, but it remains veiled. I am not suggesting we are without revelation, without knowledge of God. However…..

        Alexander – I am suggesting that “vision” as metaphor for knowledge of God is misleading for it cannot not account for the modal disjunction which obtains between the Uncreated/Created. Or, to approach it from another angle, I am suggesting that the nature of our knowledge of God is fundamentally and completely analogical. It is not the case that we have univocal knowledge X of God to which we “after the fact” add some analogical modifiers Y. Our knowledge is not the product of X + Y, but rather its own type of knowledge Z.

        Why does “vision” (and darkness, light, obstruction) fail? These metaphors are themselves conditioned by the created mode of being (diastematic, beset by the limits of time, space, extension, etc.) and thus must themselves be “purified” by analogy, kept in check by the infinite modal disjunction. The veil and the darkness, the partial and the vision, all these themselves must be kept in mind to be analogical. Which is to say that we have no more or less knowledge of God with the cataphatic vs, the apophatic! You can see how this conflicts with notions of the apophatic as entering into some dark nihilist void.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Alexander Earl says:

      Robert, I love your thoughts here. While many people have difficulty stomaching apophaticism, you seem to want to take it a step further. In my view, apophaticism is not negative language, but precisely the kind of ongoing qualification you describe. Moreover, I don’t think apophaticism is some epistemological method, whereby we can intellectually ascend to God in the confines of our bedroom; I think it is precisely a process of purification of the whole person as it encounters the living God. It is the condition for that engagement, a necessary protection against idolatry, which reduces real encounter to illusion. Lastly, following Dionysius, the real context of this language is the liturgy. All of that to say, I couldn’t agree more that the issue is metaphysical.

      Happy to hear more of your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Rob says:

    Thank you. This particular issue has been harder on me than anything else. It’s the first insightful exploration of the issue that I’ve read. There are versions of answering the Hiddenness of God that I really deplore- like the parable about the guy who asked God to save him and God sent a boat and a helicopter, etc. the guy refused these because they were not the saving presence of God. So when he died and met God, the fellow asked God why God didn’t save him. God replied that he sent all of that stuff… but the helicopter and the boat and whatnot were never the saving presence of God. I really admire the guy for just dying in the parable and holding his ground- of course that’s not the point of the parable to most people. But in your essay, this emphasis on the transcendent nature of God is something I tend to underplay I suppose. Interesting essay, Alex.

    Liked by 1 person

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