Perfect Being Theology, Theistic Personalism, and the Eclipse of the Apophatic


Readers of this blog will by now be well-acquainated with the term “theistic personalism.” It was coined by Brian Davies to describe what he believes to be a problematic understand­ing of divinity, commonly advanced by analytic philosophers. He specifically names Alvin Plantinga and Richard Swinburne, perhaps the two best-known contemporary Christian philosophers on the planet. Unlike the metaphysically simple God of classical Christianity, theistic personalists begin with the notion of God as an incorporeal person. “Person” here means just what it does in our ordinary discourse—a being that possesses intelligence and will. To this divine Person we may attribute various properties, such as omnipotence, omni­science, goodness, righteousness, benevolence, and so on. These properties are typically determined by perfect-being extrapolation and a plain reading of the Holy Bible. Philoso­phers of the analytic school debate among themselves which properties may be properly attributed to the Deity. Does God foreknow the future, for instance? Some say yes, others say no. How can even the Creator know what hasn’t happened yet? Many theistic personalists deny divine impassibility and mutuality. “Indeed, many of them make a point of doing so,” comments Davies:

Why? Largely because they think that, if God is impassible and unchange­able, then he cannot be taken seriously as a person. The persons we call people are changed by what they encounter and discover. They are modified by other things. And, says the theistic personalist, this is how it must be with God. An impassible and unchanging God would, they argue, be lifeless. Such a God, they often add, would also not be admirable. We admire people who can be moved by tragic events. We admire people who can become elated when good things happen. And, theistic personalists sometimes say, we can admire God only if he, like admirable people, is suitably affected by the good and the bad which occurs in the world. (An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, chap. 1, pp. 12-13)

Theistic personalists also commonly reject the metaphysical attribute of divine simplicity, both because they deem the notion philosophically incoherent and because it ostensibly contradicts the biblical portrayal of divinity. The God of the Bible is, if nothing else, a distinct individual with distinct properties and perfections. As William Lane Craig remarks: “the doctrine of divine simplicity is one that has no biblical support at all and, in my opinion, has no good philosophical arguments in its favor.”

Classical theists wonder whether the deity of theistic personalism can be properly described as God. David B. Hart is characteristically blunt:

Many Anglophone theistic philosophers …, reared as they have been in a post-Fregean intellectual environment, have effectively broken with clas­sical theistic tradition, adopting a style of thinking that the Dominican philoso­pher Brian Davies calls theistic personalism. I prefer to call it monopoly­theism myself (or perhaps “mono-poly-theism”), since it seems to me to involve a view of God not conspicuously different from the polythe­istic picture of the gods as merely very powerful discrete entities who possess a variety of distinct attributes that lesser entities also possess, if in smaller measure; it differs from polytheism, as far I can tell, solely in that it posits the existence of only one such being. It is a way of thinking that suggests that God, since he is only a particular instantiation of various concepts and properties, is logically dependent on some more comprehen­sive reality embracing both him and other beings. For philosophers who think in this way, practically all the traditional metaphysical attempts to understand God as the source of all reality become impenetrable. (The Experience of God, pp. 127-128)

While I have not come across any rejoinders from the analytic theologians to the criticisms advanced by Davies and Hart, I imagine they would emphatically reject any suggestion that in their prayers and reflections they are intending any other God but the Holy Creator rendered in the biblical witness and worshipped by Christians for the past two thousand years. All affirm that he is a metaphysically necessary being, existing in all possible worlds. As Swinburne puts it: “His existence is not merely an ultimate brute fact, but the ultimate brute fact” (The Coherence of Theism, p. 277). Most affirm that God created the world from out of nothing and continues to sustain it by his providential will. How then can the God of analytic theology be compared to a god? Aren’t the classical theists being more than a bit unfair?

Barry Miller does not think so. In chapter 1 of his book A Most Unlikely God, he contrasts the classical theistic understanding of divine nature and attributes with what he calls “per­fect-being theology.” He cites Thomas Morris as a notable practitioner of this “Anselmian” method. Given the limited availability of Miller’s book, I thought I would quote him at length:

In challenging the controlling notion of God employed by perfect-being theologians, I have no wish to deny that he is indeed the absolutely perfect being. What I shall be denying, however, is their particular understanding of that notion. Aquinas, for example, understands a perfect being as Actus Purus, a being devoid of all potentiality; Maimonides conceives of it as One, a being ‘without any composition of plurality of elements’; but Anselmians understand it as a being having the maximally consistent set of great-making properties or perfections. Whether the Anselmians’ view is acceptable, how­ever, depends on what they mean by a perfection. As explained by Morris, it is a property that fulfils the following conditions:

1.01. It is better to have than not to have.
1.02. It may vary in degree.
1.03. It is ‘constituted by the logical maximum of an upwardly bounded, degreed great-making property.’ Omnipotence and omnipotence are offered as examples.

The procedure for determining which great-making properties belong to God could hardly be simpler, namely, if having property P contributes to the excellence of a thing that does have P, then an absolutely perfect being has P, otherwise the being does have not have P. Among those that pass the test are omnipotence, omnibenevolence, omniscience, and indeed all the perfections.

The Anselmians’ notion of a perfection has immediate implications for their understanding of God’s transcendence over his creatures. They succeed in setting him well apart from his creatures, many of which may perhaps have great-making properties but no one of which would have even one of them to the maximum degree possible. On this view, the gulf between God and creatures would therefore be wide, and perhaps unimaginably so, though it would not constitute an absolute divide. It is difficult to see how it could be more than a difference of degree, since the terms indicating his properties—‘powerful,’ ‘knowing,’ ‘loving,’ ‘merciful,’ ‘generous’ and so on—seem to be univocally of God and creatures. True, when applied to God, those terms are often qualified as ‘maximally powerful,’ ‘all knowing,’ ‘infinitely merciful,’ unsurpassably generous,’ but the qualifiers do nothing to change the sense of the terms they qualify. Hence, the role of ‘maximally,’ ‘all,’ ‘infinitely,’ and ‘unsurpassably’ cannot be that of alienans adjectives like ‘decoy’ in ‘decoy duck,’ or ‘negative’ in ‘negative growth,’ each of which does serve to change the sense of the term it qualifies. Rather, they are merely superlatives, which of course leave quite intact the sense of the terms they qualify. Thus under­stood, God’s properties are merely human ones, albeit extended to the maximum degree possible.

As conceived of by perfect-being theologians, therefore, God turns out to be simply the greatest thing around, some kind of super-being that would be quite capable of evoking admiration and wonder, but who could scarcely be described as being absolutely transcendent, or as being worthy of worship. The point is that the terms that perfect-being theology predicates of God are being used in precisely the sense that ipso facto precludes their being predi­ca­ted of a God who is absolutely transcendent, since it is a sense in which they could equally be predicated of creatures. The difference between creatures and any God of whom they really could be predicated would therefore be simply one of degree. Although this may seem to be a hard saying, it follows straightforwardly from the fact that absolute transcen­dence cannot be attained merely by extending human attributes to what­ever degree is deemed to be ‘maximal.’ The Anselmians’ God is therefore anything but ineffable, for not only can we talk about him, we can do so in precisely the same terms as those we use in talking about humans. Such a view succeeds in presenting God in terms that are comfortingly familiar, but only at the price of being discomfitingly anthropomorphic. (pp. 1-3)

The give-away here for Miller is the univocity of language for God. For perfect being theol­ogy, to say that God is “wise” and that Plato is “wise” is basically to say the same thing, though God’s wisdom is also qualified to be far, far greater. In this sense, the eternal Creator and his creatures share all sorts of properties in common. The difference between the two entities is relative, not absolute—at least so it appears.

The contrast between the God of analytic theology and the God of the Church Fathers and medieval doctors is stark. Although St Basil of Caesarea and St Gregory of Nyssa may have affirmed the univocal use of language when speaking of the divine propria, they also insisted upon divine simplicity and the incomprehensibility of the divine essence. How they pulled this off is the burden of Andrew Radde-Gallwitz’s ground-breaking book, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity [but cf. R-G’s recent essay “Gregory of Nyssa and Divine Simplicity“]. But for the Cappadocian brothers, God remains absolute Mystery, as he was for St Augustine, St Maximus the Confessor, and St Thomas Aquinas.

The Mystery disappears with the analytics.

(30 May 2016)

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29 Responses to Perfect Being Theology, Theistic Personalism, and the Eclipse of the Apophatic

  1. Maximus says:

    I have not read Radde-Gallwitz’s monograph in full, but it would seem more appropriate that we speak analogically concerning God’s activities, rather than univocally, since they just are God. Of the essence, however, no analogy pertains; we fall silent before the absolute Mystery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      If no analogy pertains – then whence theology, and whence the affirmation that no analogy pertains? Absolute equivocity is a non-starter.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ben says:

        No kidding. If the operations (or energies) are not revelatory of the essence, then all theology is meaningless. Neo-Palamism is total nonsense. Yeah, we can’t comprehend the divine essence. But we can and must make analogical predications about it. Just as Gregory of Nyssa told Eunomius.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Grant says:

        And as a layman I would say, it renders Christ saying to have seen and known Him us to see and know the Father, meaningless. However that very declaration and the Incarnation means that in His infinite transcendence God is able to meaningful reveal Himself, and what is revealed bears a meaningful relation to God as He is, though by analogy, that analogy is though inadequate nevertheless bares a true relationship to God. If not Christ’s revelation is meaningless as He can make of the Father or Himself known to us, our language and faith would have no meaning to it (hate could mean the same as love, evil as good of God) as if what is said has no meaningful relation to God, it has no meaning at all, and would be just gibberish muttered into the divine abyss and in truth the could be no affirmation of truth, of one theological statement to another, one religion’s claims to another, just theistic agnosticism and nihilism.

        At least as I see it, though I’m just a layman as I said in these deep waters.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Maximus says:

        Robert, we attribute characteristics or qualities to God, we “speak a word about God” (i.e. theologize) based on His activities—His power displayed among us and in us. To know the essence is to de-fine God, and He is not fin-ite. Your questions (and those of Ben and Grant) are answered precisely by St. Basil the Great in his Letter 234. I’ve included below that which is relevant to what you asked.

        [It is asked,] Do you worship what you know or what you do not know? If I answer, I worship what I know, they immediately reply, What is the essence of the object of worship? Then, if I confess that I am ignorant of the essence, they turn on me again and say, So you worship you know not what. I answer that the word to know has many meanings. We say that we know the greatness of God, His power, His wisdom, His goodness, His providence over us, and the justness of His judgment; but not His very essence. The question is, therefore, only put for the sake of dispute. For he who denies that he knows the essence does not confess himself to be ignorant of God, because our idea of God is gathered from all the attributes which I have enumerated. But God, he says, is simple, and whatever attribute of Him you have reckoned as knowable is of His essence. But the absurdities involved in this sophism are innumerable. When all these high attributes have been enumerated, are they all names of one essence? And is there the same mutual force in His awfulness and His loving-kindness, His justice and His creative power, His providence and His foreknowledge, and His bestowal of rewards and punishments, His majesty and His providence? In mentioning any one of these do we declare His essence? If they say, yes, let them not ask if we know the essence of God, but let them enquire of us whether we know God to be awful, or just, or merciful. These we confess that we know. If they say that essence is something distinct, let them not put us in the wrong on the score of simplicity. For they confess themselves that there is a distinction between the essence and each one of the attributes enumerated. The operations are various, and the essence simple, but we say that we know our God from His operations, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His operations come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach.

        But, it is replied, if you are ignorant of the essence, you are ignorant of Himself…. Recognize that the voice is the voice of mockers, when they say, if you are ignorant of the essence of God, you worship what you do not know. I do know that He exists; what His essence is, I look at as beyond intelligence. How then am I saved? Through faith. It is faith sufficient to know that God exists, without knowing what He is.


        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Well you have masterfully mangled out of context the words of the great Basil. Basil’s response is to those who claim the essence of God can be named and defined. (I do not claim this, so you are tilting against windmills). If you will follow Basil’s argument and that of his little brother, you will encounter their language theory in full. I claim no originality here as I am simply following the Cappadocians, that the only possible conception of God, be it his nature or works – no distinction is made – is by way of analogy. Nothing exotic here but basic patristic apophatic theology of the fifth century luminaries, and Dionysius, Maximus, John of Damascus, and so on. Even what is known about God from his work, all this knowledge can only be predicated of God by analogy – not univocally, not equivocally.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Maximus says:

            Robert, it’s difficult to see how I’ve quoted St. Basil out of context, since I quoted almost 3/4 of the Letter 234. If you are referring, however, to the context of his broader thought, then I welcome, sincerely, being corrected on this point. Please provide quotations, preferably not masterfully mangled out of context. 🙂 You are absolutely correct: Basil’s response is to those who claim the essence of God can be named and defined—which is is exactly what you claim can be done, by analogy. Yet Basil explicitly says that “we know our God from His operations, but do not undertake to approach near to His essence. His operations come down to us, but His essence remains beyond our reach.” Since God’s essence is absolutely simple, to know it even a little bit, would be to know it in full—i.e., to define the divinity. Basil openly claims complete ignorance of the divine essence; no positive statement, not even by analogy, can be made.

            When you claim that no distinction can be made here between God’s nature (I assume you mean “essence” since that’s what we’re talking about) and God’s works, it seems you are simply being willfully obstinate. The saint could not be any more clear: the essence is “beyond intelligence,” it remains beyond our reach, but “we know our God from His operations.” Yet you claim God’s essence is within our cognitive reach, by means of analogy. In your own words, analogical predication makes a positive statement, attributing “a literal likeness, but not univocal.” Even in the context of the so-called infinite dis-similarly, analogical predication still makes a positive statement, attributes a literal likeness. But St. Basil in Letter 234 says you can’t do that regarding God’s essence.

            I’ll be glad to concede this point regarding his broader thought, if you can show we where he says otherwise.


          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Maximus: “You are absolutely correct: Basil’s response is to those who claim the essence of God can be named and defined—which is is exactly what you claim can be done, by analogy”

            Robert: then you profoundly misunderstand the nature and function of analogy. Analogy does not yield univocal knowledge of what God is, which is precisely what the Cappadocians’ interlocutors claimed was known.

            Maximus: “Basil openly claims complete ignorance of the divine essence; no positive statement, not even by analogy, can be made.”

            Robert: from the broader context of his work it is clear that absolute equivocity is precluded from his language theory.

            Maximus: “When you claim that no distinction can be made here between God’s nature…and God’s works, it seems you are simply being willfully obstinate.”

            Robert: No I am not obstinate – I am working from a larger context of the Cappadocians’ writings, a context which proof texting is not able to provide. But it’s no use. I have shown you St Gregory’s position for you then to retreat under the umbrella of your bishop. Well now, why in the world are you even commenting here then??

            Maximus: “Yet you claim God’s essence is within our cognitive reach, by means of analogy. In your own words, analogical predication makes a positive statement, attributing “a literal likeness, but not univocal.”

            Robert: Yes indeed, and I furthermore claim that even you make positive statements about God’s essence, and by way of analogy no less! “God is”


          • Maximus says:

            Robert, thanks for the response. Just several follow-up thoughts.

            When you shared the actual texts from St Gregory of Nyssa’s works, I seem to remember showing my appreciation. I do highly value that sort of careful scholarship—not in the sense of proof-texting but in the sense of broader readings that are based on actual things said by authors. The scholarship that has convinced me the most has followed method this repeatedly. Perhaps their readings are wrong. But at least they’ve “shown their work.” This is simply good pedagogical method, don’t you think? Appeals to an unverifiable “broader context” just aren’t that convincing (at least, to me).

            You have, indeed, convinced me that St. Gregory wrote things that put him near an actus purus mode of theologizing. Seriously, Robert, thank you! My point about relying on my bishop was that individual saints can err (as St. Gregory did on apokatastasis), and I need the Church to teach me which ones did and which ones didn’t. It seems clear to me that if the Cappadocian brothers indeed shared a doctrine of God in which there is no distinction between essence and energies, then St. Basil (one of Orthodoxy’s Three Hierarchs) contradicts himself in his Letter 234. His words are so clear and emphatic! However, if Letter 234 represents his consistent teaching, then your broader reading is incorrect. I’m glad to concede that the Basil contradicted himself (well, kinda), but I’ll need to see some evidence, in good epistemic faith. Please know that I am willing to change my view if patiently taught. Thank you for your patience!

            Just one more point. Your last statement initially struck me as profoundly true. Then I realized that St. Basil addressed it in his letter (last par. quoted). Though he does not address it at any depth, he doesn’t seem to recognize any tension between asserting that God exists *in the same breath* as confessing complete ignorance of His essence. He writes, “I do know that He exists; what His essence is, I look at as beyond intelligence.” Based on these words, I have an honest, and I think legitimate, request: Could you explain what purpose analogical predication serves if it does not serve human intelligence? Thanks. If it does serve human intelligence, then St. Basil here teaches that the ontological status of the divine essence precludes our analogical predicates.


          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Maximus, I didn’t resort to an unsubstantiated claim to refer to the broader context of the Cappadocians’ context – this is hardly a place for an extended study on the language theory developed by the Nyssen. I have touched on this subject before, see for some relevant Gregorian passages. And I am hardly original in this: Scot Douglass’ Theology of the Gap is worthwhile monograph on the Cappadocian language theory, as are studies by Claudio Moreschini, G. Stead, Theo Kobush, Mosshammer, Maspero, and many others. Perhaps I will contribute a new essay on this subject, time permitting. The bottomline is that I am not asking you to take my word for it – in fact the opposite is the case, my reference to the broader context is to move you away from proof texting and to get you to read the primary and secondary sources for yourself! Even if you will not come to agree with me, I know you will be the better for a deep and wide study of the subject matter (and perhaps you will come to see the validity of a few of the things I have said).

            I am glad you are seeing the light on Actus Purus 😉
            To clarify the teaching of Actus Purus – to be more precise God as ‘pure actuality’ denies not only unactualized potentiality in God, it denies potentiality period. That is to say that potentiality does not obtain for God, for only creatures actualize potentiality and God does not actualize (“look Ma there’s nothing to actualize!”)

            As to the purpose of analogical predication and my claim that even you (along with St Basil) make positive statements about God’s essence ( I used “God is” as an example of a positive statement about God’s essence). St Basil makes a difference between that God is and what (how) God is – the knowledge of the first claim is affirmed while the latter is denied. The infinite cannot be comprehended by the finite, for our knowledge and language has only finitude as its reference. While we can affirm God’s being and existence – “God is” – we are unable to intellect how God exists (or what God is) and this inability means that even our affirmation of God’s existence (i.e. “God is”) cannot be univocal (for “God is” is not like “Maximus is”) nor absolutely equivocal (for “Maximus is” is like “God is”). The affirmation then, as is all our knowledge of God, is analogical – it is the “to and fro” between the divine likeness of creatures and the always greater dissimilarity. This is a consequence of God’s transcendence: a maximal god would not need to be thought of analogically – for the maximal god is univocal to us (larger in size, more fully actualized, more capable etc) as belonging to the hierarchy of beings. But this is denied of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the great I AM, who does not belong to the chain of creatures, who is rather transcendent to them, unbound by space, time, necessity, contingency, mutability, and so forth.
            Note: “God is” as an example of a positive statement about God’s essence is not claiming a definition of God’s essence. God cannot be named in that sense, there is no fitting word or words that defines Him (Eunomius claimed a divinely revealed definition of God’s essence – “unbegotten” (agennetos)). It is precisely only analogy which can avoid definition (univocal signification) and therein is its purpose.


          • Maximus says:

            Robert, thanks for helpfully clarifying your position, pointing out this further scholarship, and directing me to some of your own. One thing that we agree on and about which I’m absolutely sure: I need to read more deeply and widely, especially in the patrisitc primary sources. No ifs, ands, or buts. Thanks for the (continuing) conversation.


          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            This discusson on Basil reminded me that I wrote a series of articles on Basil and Eunomius six years ago. The series as a whole may be of interest, but the concluding piece is on point: “St Basil of Caesarea and the not so Simple God of the Gospel.” I don’t know if my series stands up to more recent scholarship. Perhaps Robert can offer an opinion. Basil, of course, must be interpreted in his own right, as should St Gregory. We should not think the two brothers agreed on everything.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Also of interest here is Alexis Torrance’s essay “ Precedents for Palamas’ Essence-Energies Theology in the Cappadocian Fathers.”

            Bottomline: despite the terminological similarities between Basil and Palamas, the doctrine of the latter should not be read back into the former.


  2. Iain Lovejoy says:

    William Lane Craig remarks: “the doctrine of divine simplicity is one that has no biblical support at all and, in my opinion, has no good philosophical arguments in its favor.”
    I don’t get this at all. The “doctrine of divine simplicity” is not, in the context, as far as I can see, strictly speaking a “doctrine” at all, in the sense of a belief to be held about God, nor can it be “argued for”. It is more a definition of what we are talking about when we use the word “God”. If William Lane Craig is right, the God of the Bible has been mistakenly identified as God, when he is in fact a demiurge of some kind.


    • Ben says:

      If WLC really knows no good philosophical arguments for divine simplicity, all that means is that he’s ignorant of the whole of Western and Eastern metaphysical tradition, including some of the most brilliant minds in human history. Anyone who does not grasp the logical force of the arguments for divine simplicity in Plotinus, Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine, Proclus, Dionysius, Maximus, Thomas, Ibn Sina, Ibn Qunawi, Mulla Sadra, Shamkara, Vivekenanda, Bernard Lonergan, W. Norris Clarke, etc. is just a bad philosopher.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Robert Fortuin says:

    It’s important to note that, following Richard Cross, Andrew Radde-Gallwitz has radically changed his position on this subject, and rightly so. He no longer holds that the Cappadocian brothers affirmed the univocal use of language when speaking of the divine propria. See Modern Theology July 2019, Gregory of Nyssa and Divine Simplicity: A Conceptionalist Reading.

    Andrew surmises that ‘In God, what makes a sentence like “God is good” or “God is unbegotten” true is nothing other than the divine essence. But in order for our language to be meaningful, the predicates naming divine perfections do not need to correspond to any extra-mental property; they need only signify distinct concepts. Gregory is therefore more “metaphysically parsimonious” than Eunomius. I am convinced that conceptualism is a fruitful lens for reading Gregory.’ Be sure to read it all, both this article, and the his monograph. And Gregory of course.


    • Maximus says:

      Robert, thanks for this article. I do wonder if Radde-Gallwitz has changed his view that drastically, since in the book also he says that concepts formed by epinoia “do not depend for their existence or their validity on any features of extra-mental reality” (143). And, as others have pointed out, I would just note that this leaves open the question upon what could these concepts rely for their validity, if indeed they are valid at all? Perhaps your form of conceptualism answers this more clearly.


  4. T. Aidan McGuire says:

    Is it fair to hold that the two perspectives should be held in a sort of tension? For quite apparently God is being but as being he has revealed himself to us as triune persons and paramountly in a person.


  5. Jack says:

    I looked up the book you linked to on Amazon. This part of the blurb caught my attention.

    ///He demonstrates that divine simplicity was not a philosophical appendage awkwardly attached to the early Christian doctrine of God, but a notion that enabled Christians to articulate the consistency of God as portrayed in their scriptures.///

    That seems to imply that Divine Simplicity can fit comfortably within a biblical context. Can you think of any other efforts to do this? There do seem to be hints in the OT and NT?


    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      That divine simplicity cannot be proven from Scripture is, IMHO, neither here nor there. That only means that the biblical writers had not yet progressed in their reflections to the point of philosophically distinguishing the (infinite) Creator who need not have created the world from the (finite) creatures he has freely made. That will only happen later in the history of the Church.


      • I think this is an important point. The Bible is not a theology manual but it is the basis for all theology. It’s not hard to imagine how the Jews and Christians in antiquity picked up on the Divine declarations like the Shema, or Isaiah’s prophetic declarations of the Lord being the “first and the last” and rather quickly developed the framework for classical theism. By as early as Irenaeus (as far as I am aware), God was unambiguously described as simple.


  6. Mattias Matthiesen says:

    I think it might be possible to consider God’s infinity as the limit of a univocal series, while nevertheless exhibiting the limit attribute only analogically. In mathematics, the limit of a sequence of elements of a set can end up not being a member of that set. This is the idea of a “limit point”. For example, each approximation of the number pi is a rational number, but the terminus of the sequence of increasinly better approximations is the irrational number pi.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:


      Yes, indeed. I concur with Barry Miller who refers to God’s perfections as “limit cases,” precisely such as you suggest. So God’s goodness is the limit case of creaturely goodness, and as limit case is not part of the series of creaturely good. The creaturely goodness (acquired, and in degrees) point and refer to God’s limit case, who is the Good.


  7. Frederick says:

    You all have read so much more than I, particularly as I come from the radical reformation ‘kindergarten’ (Anabaptist universalist). It seems to me, however that Hart’s critique is rather shallow, though I’m certainly judging from just a short quotation. The thing I remember about the Greek poly-theistic pantheon is the blatant conceits and insidious partiality of it’s members (obviously not very Biblically ‘godly’ “attributes”). Certainly this could correspond with the pre-Socratic concept that reality is fundamentally a warfare. The Greek gods were not good, nor were they true, and ethically they were ugly, though they were idolized in ‘fleshly perfection’ and admired for their clever use of power, as you all know. So, Socrates and Plato graduated from that ‘poetic’ folly and sought after and embraced the good and the beautiful and the true ‘God’, in a typical way an example of what Paul said in the Agora in Athens-Acts 17:27.

    Really, fellows, it seems to me that for the most part, this comment section is an example of ‘the distraction of (philosophical) abstractions’. Don’t you remember what the apostle John said in 1 John 3:1-3? “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.”

    And so how will it be that we shall know Him even as we are known of Him? Paul said it ” For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” 1 Cor. 13:12.

    And how well does He know us and, thus, how well shall we know Him? “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.? ” Hebrews 4:12-13

    As I said above, I am a total freshman when it comes to patristic literature, but it seems to me that seeking to appeal to philosophy to validate or even compliment theology is a borderline fool’s errand, notwithstanding it’s long and treasured historical tradition, particularly in Orthodoxy, and it’s stimulating intellectual atmosphere.
    I always remember Paul’s testimony to the Corinthians about after left Athens and arrived in Corinth for the first time: he wrote , as you recall, ” And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” 1 Cor.2:1-5

    We have been given some pretty strong, and I hope you agree, authoritative witnesses on the topic of knowing our God and Father as He is.

    Brothers, though and if we be elders, yet we are children of one Father. I have more and more felt that speaking of Him abstractly in His presence, where we all are, is pretty dishonorable. My intuition tells me this was at the heart of Paul’s fear and trembling upon his arrival in Corinth.
    Marana tha, seriously, with His blessing upon all who love the truth.


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      There’s no appeal to philosophy to validate anything Frederick – everyone’s a philosopher and a theologian, especially those who deny it. It’s simply impossible to do theology without philosophy. As to abstractions – yes I grant you some of the discussions can get quite tedious, but the devil’s in the details, isn’t it? Tell me the kind of God you believe in?

      In any case, we operate here on the ancient and fruitful Christian tradition which holds that worship and theology are a single movement of beholding the Beauty, Truth and Goodness that is God.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Frederick says:

        Thank you, Robert
        When I referred to philosophy I was thinking particularly of Christian ‘apologists’ in relation to pagan philosophy, Gnosticism, Judaism, and Arianism,etc., which would seem to be well justified
        according to the evangelical approach of Paul when he wrote ” For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. . . .To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” (1 Cor.9:19,21-22) So he might also have said, ‘to them that are philosophers, I made myself as a philosopher that I might save some’.

        But does “the everyone” you refer to as being philosophers and theologians include to your mind, all Adamic souls, or only Christians, that is, them that have been blessed with Holy Spirit?

        You wrote ” but the devil’s in the details, isn’t it?” I have found that pretty generally it is rather, “the devil’s in the premise(s)”. In argument, or rhetorical applications, it could be ‘the devil’s in the definitions’; or perhaps, really, ‘the devil’s in the question?’ (eg. “Hath God said?”).

        So you asked me “Tell me what kind of God you believe in?”. I’m thinking, truly without offense, that this is sort of test question to hopefully enable me to see or realize that it’s impossible to do theology without doing philosophy. (Please correct me if I’m wrong). Seems to me this gets back to definitions.

        (An ‘aside’ : One of my favorite portions of Scripture is Malachi 3:16-17 “Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name.And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.”
        A question could be, were these ones who feared the LORD doing “philosophy and theology” ? A second question could be “did it matter to our God?”. Nevertheless, the primary reason I value Eclectic Orthodoxy is because the forum is, for me, an example of Malachi 3.)

        ‘Kind’ is an abstraction, a category, a generalization, a definition. I’m not saying that generalizations, or categories are not useful and necessary in many applications. However, in relation to ‘ho theos’ I believe they do not ‘fundamentally’ apply, particularly in relation to the word “kind”, so I believe we must be careful.
        For it is written, “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God”; and “Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.” (Isaiah 44:6,8).
        Is ‘one of a kind’ a ‘kind’?
        So my answer, in any case, to “what kind of God do you believe in?” would be ‘the only kind of God’: the LORD, YHWH, he that is what he is and does what he does, the I AM, ‘hayah esher hayah’, revealed in word and deed, and in the person of Jesus Christ, and His Spirit to we who have believed in our hearts, according to the good pleasure of His will.
        I truly don’t believe I’m playing word games here, Robert.

        Finally, you wrote ” In any case, we operate here on the ancient and fruitful Christian tradition which holds that worship and theology are a single movement of beholding the Beauty, Truth and Goodness that is God.”
        I’m assuming that the “we. . . here’ refers to those who are ‘in house’ regulars at Eclectic Orthodoxy, and that “the fruitful Christian tradition” is particularly Greek Orthodoxy.

        I am happy and thankful for all blessedness that comes to man in the name of Jesus Christ. Yet I have come to realize that the gratitude towards our Father for those pious ones that have come before us can lead to an incorporated vanity such as the incipient sectarian vanity of certain ones Paul rebuked in 1 Corinthians 1, all who no doubt believed, however briefly, in the ‘orthodoxy’ of their ‘champions’. Such vanity, when well established can lead to ‘traditions of men’. This is obviously a ‘Reformation’ type view, I but I’m not going to be judged of God because I don’t explicitly follow Basil the Great or any of the so-called church Fathers, or ‘the councils’ of the church, generally, (or Luther, Calvin, or anyone else). These are and can be helpful, but only as secondary sources. This of course became the basis of the Reformation doctrine of ‘sola Scriptura’, and which is why I quote Scripture after the manner of Lord Jesus and the apostles. Yet, personally, I believe, rather in ‘prima Scriptura’, first the Scripture, after the manner of the Bereans. If I am ignorant (and not willfully ignorant) and not proud, perversely provocative, contentious, or hypocritical, my judgment will issue in my inheritance with my Father, our Father through Lord Jesus, and I will still be able to bless others in some ways here and now.

        I do, however, greatly respect the Orthodox principle of the collegium of ‘the fathers’ with regard to the apprehension of the truth as it is in Jesus. This is one reason why I have profitably read of them as I could. Still, it is difficult, in one lifetime, having been placed by God in one geographical historical and cultural segment of the church of Jesus of Jesus Christ, to easily receive claims of “orthodoxy” from anyone, including ‘Bible believers’. This is particularly so for those of us who have been raised in one of the many, many ‘denominations’ of Protestantism (though I haven’t been an adherent to any for many decades). who first of all, if they were sober minded, had to digest why Rome was aberrant.

        I know this was long, but thank you for your patience. Frederick


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