Apprehending Apokatastasis: The Necessary Choosing of the Good

Every human being is divinely ordered to God under the aspects of the transcendentals of being—the Truth, the Good, and the Beautiful. We hunger and thirst for union with him, for only in him can we enjoy supreme and overflowing happiness. Divinity is inscribed in the ontological depths of human nature. In the words of Dumitru Staniloae:

Man, without being himself infinite, not only is fit, but is also thirsty for the infinite and precisely for this reason is also capable of, and longs for, God, the true and only infinite (homo capax divini—man capable of the divine). He has a capacity and is thirsty for the infinite not in the sense that he is in a state to win it, to absorb it in his nature—because then human nature itself would become infinite—but in the sense that he can and must be nourished spiritually from the infinite, and infinitely. He seeks and is able to live in a continual communication with it, in a sharing with it. (Orthodox Spirituality, p. 78)

Created in the image of God, we are incomplete without God. Of course, no one is truly without God. As divine Creator, he acts in the ontological depths of every person. He is more intimate to us than we are to ourselves. Yet we suffer from an existential inquietude that evidences our brokenness and alienation. Despite the counsel of the Church’s ascetics and spiritual teachers, we continue to seek our fulfillment in the relative goods and de­lights of the cosmos, with predictable results. We remain dissatisfied, unsettled, restless and discon­tent. Once we obtain that which we think will fill the hole in our hearts, we find that we need something else, someone else. And so the quest continues, ad infinitum. We are inescapably drawn to fullness of life. Contrary to the theorists of the natura pura, human beings have not been given two ends, natural and supernatural.1 There is only one telos and beatitude for mankind—eternal life in the perichoretic Love that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Church calls this theosis. David Bentley Hart elaborates:

Above all, a Christian is more or less obliged to believe that there is such a thing as an intrinsic nature in rational spirits: We are created, that is to say, according to a divine design, after the divine image, oriented toward a divine purpose, and thus are fulfilled in ourselves only insofar as we can achieve the perfection of our natures in union with God. There alone our true happiness lies. This inevitably places Christian thought in the classical moral and meta­physical tradition that assumes that true freedom consists in the realization of a complex nature in its own proper good (the “intellec­tualist” model of freedom, as I have called it above). Freedom is a being’s power to flourish as what it naturally is, to become ever more fully what it is. The freedom of an oak seed is its uninterrupted growth into an oak tree. The freedom of a rational spirit is its consummation in union with God. (That All Shall Be Saved, p. 172)

God, and God alone, is the true happiness of the human being. He is our absolute good and the consummation of all desire. Under the present fallen condition of ignorance, delusion, and disordered passions, we only apprehend the Good partially and defectively through the prism of finite goods. We therefore often find ourselves choosing lesser goods over greater goods, apparent goods instead of real goods—the Church calls this sin—but if we were ever presented with a full and perfect apprehension of the Good, free from igno­rance, delusion, and disordered passion—the Church calls this the beatific vision—we would necessarily embrace the Good as our own, for we would recognize it as the true and final happiness for which we yearn. Or to put it differently, we would know that the happi­ness that we will for ourselves and the happiness that God wills for us are identical. Hence the Hartian maxim: to see the Good is to insatiably desire the Good. In the unmediated presence of the infinite and transcendent Creator, the will cannot help but to desire and possess him. There is no longer a “choosing” between different possible happinesses: there is only the eternal bliss of the one God who is Holy Trinity. Choosing him is no choice at all. St Thomas Aquinas explains:

Man does not choose of necessity. And this is because that which is possible not to be, is not of necessity. Now the reason why it is possible not to choose, or to choose, may be gathered from a twofold power in man. For man can will and not will, act and not act; again, he can will this or that, and do this or that. The reason of this is seated in the very power of the reason. For the will can tend to whatever the reason can apprehend as good. Now the reason can apprehend as good, not only this, viz. “to will” or “to act,” but also this, viz. “not to will” or “not to act.” Again, in all particular goods, the reason can consider an aspect of some good, and the lack of some good, which has the aspect of evil: and in this respect, it can apprehend any single one of such goods as to be chosen or to be avoided. The perfect good alone, which is Happiness, cannot be apprehended by the reason as an evil, or as lacking in any way. Consequently man wills Happiness of neces­sity, nor can he will not to be happy, or to be unhappy. Now since choice is not of the end, but of the means …; it is not of the perfect good, which is Happiness, but of other particular goods. Therefore man chooses not of necessity, but freely. (ST I.II.13; emphasis mine)2

In this sense, but only in this sense, we are eschatologically doomed to happiness.

If we still balk at our transcendental determination to the Good, perhaps the reason lies in our defective understanding of who and what God is and therefore what authentic freedom must mean. If we think of Deity as a being among beings, then it might appear that we can ultimately choose other gods and other goods instead of him. Why not Baal instead of the LORD? Why not wealth and power instead of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? But once God is properly understood as the infinite plenitude and actuality of Being, then he cannot be understood as just one option among many. He is not a discrete object that we can simply choose, as one might choose cake instead of a chocolate sundae. He does not stand alongside other beings and other possible goods. He is Truth itself, Goodness itself, Beauty itself. To be free is to flourish in communion with him. We are not free because we have multiple choices available to us; we become free when we choose well, thereby achieving the happiness for which we are divinely destined. This choosing well in turn requires that we “ever more clearly see the ‘sun of the Good’ (to employ the lovely Platonic metaphor), and to see more clearly we must continue to choose well; and the more we are emanci­pated from illusion and caprice, and the more our will is informed by and responds to the Good, the more perfect our vision becomes, and the less there is really to choose” (Hart, p. 173). The impossibility of a free and final rejection of God becomes even clearer when we recall the teleological structure of human activity:

Neither, though, can God be merely one option among others, for the very simple reason that he is not just another object alongside the willing agent or alongside other objects of desire, but is rather the sole ultimate content of all rational longing. Being himself the source and end of the real, God can never be for the will simply one plausible terminus of desire in competition with another; he could never confront the intellect simply as a relative and eval­uative good, from which one might reasonably turn to some other. He remains forever the encompassing final object that motivates and makes actual every choice, the Good that makes the will free in the first place. Even an act of apostasy, then, traced back to its most primordial impulse, is moti­vated by the desire for God. Even the satanist can embrace evil only insofar as he thinks it will satisfy a desire for what is most agreeable to his own nature. He is in error in the choice he makes, and is culpable to the degree that he abets the error willingly; but it is also then the case that, to the degree he knows the Good in itself, he cannot but desire it rationally. However the “gnomic” faculty may wander, the “natural” will animating it seeks only one ultimate end. You can reject a glass of wine absolutely; you can even reject evil in its (insubstantial) totality without any remainder of intentionality. Neither of these things possesses more than a finite allure in itself. But you cannot reject God except defectively, by having failed to rec­og­nize him as the primordial object of all your deepest longings, the very source of their activity. We cannot choose between him and some other end in an absolute sense; we can choose only between better or worse approach­es to his transcendence. As I have said, to reject God is still, however obscurely and uncomprehendingly, to seek God.

This means also that God could never be, for the rational will, merely some extrinsic causality intruding upon the will’s autonomy, or some irresistible heteronomous power overwhelming the feebler powers of the creature. He is freedom as such, the fiery energy that liberates the flame from the wood. He is the very power of agency. He is the Good that makes the rational will exist. He is the eternal infinite source of all knowledge and all truth, of all love and delight in the object of love, who enlivens and acts within every created act. As an infinite and transcendental end, God’s goodness may be indeterminate as regards proximate ends, and that very indeterminacy may be what allows for deliberative determinations. There may be conflicts and confusions, mistakes and perversities in the great middle distance of life; as Duns Scotus says, we frequently must deliberate between which aspect of the Good to pursue, whether to be guided in any moment by our affectio iustitiae (our sense of what is just) or the affectio commodi (our sense of what is suitable or convenient); but the encircling horizon never alters, and the Sun of the Good never sets. No soul can relent in its deepest motives from the will’s constant and consuming preoccupation with God. If this were not so, and if reason had no natural, ontological, and necessary relation to God as the final rationale in all desire and agency, then God would himself be something separate from the Good as such, and from rationality as such, and could attract the rational will merely in the manner of a predilection. But then he would not actually be God in any meaningful sense. In truth, he gives his creatures freedom always by making them freely seek him as the ultimate end in all else that intentional consciousness seeks. (pp. 184-186)3

Human beings desire happiness and act toward this end, no matter how perverted and twisted the desire has become. The belief that we may reject God absolutely assumes an absolute—but ontologically impossible—divorce between God and Goodness and therefore between God and happiness. From his very different analytic perspective, philosopher Tom Talbott has come to a similar conclusion:

Religious people sometimes speak of God as if he were just another human magistrate who seeks his own glory and requires obedience for its own sake; they speak as if we might reject the Creator and Father of our souls without rejecting ourselves, oppose his will for our lives without opposing, schizo­phrenically perhaps, our own will for our lives…. But if God is our loving Creator, then he wills for us exactly what at the most fundamental level, we want for ourselves; he wills that we should experience supreme happiness, that our deepest yearnings should be satisfied, and that all of our needs should be met. (The Inescapable Love of God, p. 172)

God wills our good, and our good is God. He has created us with an insatiable hunger for him, to the end that we might become adopted sons of the God and Father of Jesus Christ. This natural desire for communion with the Holy Trinity is the secret of the universalist hope. John Kronen and Eric Reitan state the argument:

Rational creatures, by definition, can choose based on reasons—that is, they are motivated to act not merely by instinct or appetite, but by the recogni­tion that certain apprehended truths (rea­son) entail that a course of action is good to do. Saying that rational creatures are ordered to the good means two things: first, when they directly and clearly encounter the perfect good in unclouded experience, they will recog­nize it as the perfect good; and second, the perfect good (which, by defini­tion, is the stan­dard according to which all oth­er goods are mea­sured) would, un­der conditions of imme­di­ate and unclouded apprehen­sion, present itself as overrid­ingly wor­thy of love. Crea­tures’ subjective values will thus spontaneously fall into har­mony with the objective good, with all choices reflecting this proper valuation.

Put another way, immediate awareness of the per­fect good will so sing to the natural inclina­tions of the soul that love for the good will swamp all poten­tially contrary affective states. One would have every reason to con­form one’s will to the per­fect good and no reason not to. This latter point gains further strength from the Christian notion that what is pruden­tially good for rational crea­tures (what promotes their welfare) does not ulti­mately conflict with what is morally good—both are realized through union with God. Unclouded apprehen­sion of the perfect good will thus harmonize prudential motives such that every rational creature presented with a clear vision of God would have every reason to love God and no reason to reject Him.

From all of this it follows that God could guarantee uniform salvation-inducing motives in rational creatures simply by presenting an unclouded vision of Himself. God’s doing this certainly seems metaphysically possible, and hence within God’s power; and if (as Aquinas maintained) free acts are not random but motivated, it follows that any rational creature presented with the vision of God will freely but inevitably respond affirmatively to the promise of loving union. (God’s Final Victory, p. 136; emphasis mine)

The key to the above argument is the ability of the omnipotent Creator to bring every rational creature to an “unclouded apprehension” of God as perfect goodness. Does God have the power to bring this about? If he does, can he wield it without violating the libertarian freedom of human beings? Exponents of the free will defense of hell seem to think this is impossible, even for an omnipotent Deity. Any attempt by God to effect a happy eschatological ending will inevitably violate human free will. We must be free to damn ourselves if we want to. Hart finds this a curious line of reasoning that ultimately collapses into a mythological construal of divinity. Properly understood, divine causality does not and cannot compete with creaturely causality. God is not a being among beings. Creator and creature do not operate on the same metaphysical plane:

The suggestion, then, that God—properly understood—could not assure that a person freely will one thing rather than another is simply false. Inasmuch as he acts upon the mind and will both as their final cause and also as the deepest source of their movements, he is already intrinsic to the very struc­ture of reason and desire within the soul. He is not merely some external agency who would have to exercise coercion or external compul­sion of a creature’s intentions to bring them to the end he decrees. If he were, then the entire Christian doctrine of providence—the vital teaching that God can so order all conditions, circumstances, and contingencies among created things as to bring about everything he wills for his crea­tures while still not in any way violating the autonomy of secondary causality—would be a logical contradiction. God, in his omnipotence and omniscience, is wholly capable of determining the result of all secondary causes, including free will, while not acting as yet another discrete cause among them. In one sense, naturally, this is merely a function of the coincidence in his nature of omniscience and omni­potence. Knowing not only all the events that constitute each individual life, but also all of an agent’s inner motives and predispositions and desires—all thoughts, impulses, hopes, preferences, yearnings, and aversions—and so knowing what choice any given soul will make when confronted with certain options and situated among certain circumambient forces, God can (if noth­ing else) so arrange the shape of reality that all beings, one way or another, come at the last upon the right path by way of their own freedom, in this life or the next….  God, being infinitely resourceful and infinitely knowledgeable, can weave the whole of time into a perfectly coherent continuity whose ultimate result is that all circumstances and forces conduce to the union of every creature with himself, and can do this precisely by confronting every rational nature with possibilities he knows they will realize through their own free volitions. It is true that he might accomplish this by imposing limited conditions of choice upon every life; but the conditions of choice are always limited anyway, and deliberative freedom is always capable of only a finite set of possible determinations. (pp. 183-184)

Now we see through a glass darkly, but when we are brought face to face before him and see him in the glory of his goodness, beauty, and truth, how can we not love him?

 

Footnotes

[1] For a helpful introduction to the natura pura debate in Catholic theology, see Edward T. Oakes, A Theology of Grace in Six Controversies, chap. 1. The notion of a human nature not oriented to theosis is alien to Orthodox theology.

[2] On Aquinas’s understanding of human freedom, see Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, chap. 16, esp. pp. 394-398.

[3] For a fuller discussion by Hart of divine transcendence and causality, see his essay “Impassibility as Transcendence,” The Hidden and the Manifest, pp. 167-190. This essay is an indispensable companion piece to That All Shall Be Saved.

(Return to first article)

 

This entry was posted in Book Reviews, David B. Hart, Eschatology and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

51 Responses to Apprehending Apokatastasis: The Necessary Choosing of the Good

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    We come full circle – human nature oriented to theosis, intrinsic nature of rational spirits, transcendental determination to the Good, the denial of a natura pura, the denial of external divine agency – whatever we may call this capability of and orientation to the divine and however we may put it, it appears to me that none can be properly conceived without analogia entis, the analogy of being. Which is to say that the will’s intention for the Good is not an ex post facto movement of grace to supercede nature, but rather the very reason for being, its natural condition and state. We come up against rival notions which place this capability in the incarnation, in christology.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Robert, I’m unclear how the analogia entis fits in here. I am no doubt being a dunce, but can you elaborate for us please.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        If there is an opposition, as some claim, between nature and grace; or if post-lapsarian human nature is intrinsically is sinful, then talk about the rational creature’s intrinsic desire for the Good is called into question. The desire for the Good comes not at the point of creation but at the point of salvation. This is the classic analogia fidei vs. analogia entis clash.

        Like

  2. John H says:

    The analogy of being is also key because it shows that God’s freedom transcends the analytic notion of libertarian freedom. God is perfectly free to be Himself by willing the Good. There is no gnomic or deliberative will in either God the Father or in the God-man, Jesus Christ. It is the human will that is limited by the Fall. In this life we can only approach the perfect freedom of the Divine Will. As the excerpts from the Summa and Kronen and Reitan indicated, once we see God in the beatific vision our intellects recognize Him as the perfect Good, which causes us to love that Good as God loves Himself within the Trinitarian perichoresis.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Thank you, John, for this comment. I was beginning to think that the brethren had decided to ignore this article. I agree with you about the divine freedom transcending libertarian–or compatibilist–accounts of freedom. As you know, the libertarian version of free will lurks behind much of the opposition to universalism.

      Like

      • I am not trying to disagree or be contentious here. I have read with delight DBH’s book and actually gave my copy to someone who I thought would really enjoy and benefit from it.

        I have been in a conversation with an Orthodox priest who has become rather annoyed with me as I continue to press the points I have learned in favor of Apokatastasis. I feel I have done a good job representing the teachings, however, he did corner me the other day on the issue of free-will theodicy. Here’s our interaction:

        ME: “Again, you have to prove that a rational soul with a truly free will (that is, unencumbered by blindness, internal corruption of sin, or any other deceit) would choose against itself and pick torment over bliss. Only an insane person would make such a choice. I would have to be convinced that a soul seeing Christ in all His love and glory would rather choose suffering than to immediately repent in sorrow and submit to whatever punishment the Lord would give for its sins.”

        PRIEST: “Satan, the demons, Adam and Eve, Judas…”

        So then, regarding Satan, the demons, Adam and Eve (no Judas, born into sinful corruption was not totally free), how do we answer this? You could perhaps say that Adam and Eve were not totally free because they did not fully understand both the plentitude of what they were turning from as well as the consequences of their action….but the spirits before Creation?

        Well, I have no answer, and would appreciate getting one.

        Thank you!!

        Like

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I think you know the answer. Assume as true DBH’s analysis. If a rational being rejects God, what may we infer?

          Like

          • If I remember correctly, that the being cannot said to be rational?? Is that correct?

            Could it also be said that without the full effect of sin in the world and on the cosmos, Satan, the demons, and especially Adam and Eve, really could not make a completely rational choice. It would seem that the only rational choice able to be made is when every single facet of knowledge regarding the choice is available to the intellect, which leaves Adam and Eve out.

            As Bulgakov said, only when Christ wraps up all things will be devil and the demons see the full futility of their efforts and realize completely their utter nothingness outside of union of God. The weight of this frustration, this full and complete knowledge, will drive him to repentance.

            Did I get all that right?

            Like

  3. Tom says:

    I’ll bite…

    Fr Aidan: “Now we see through a glass darkly, but when we are brought face to face before him and see him in the glory of his goodness, beauty, and truth, how can we not love him?”

    Granted – to ‘see’ God in his goodness and beauty is to love him. I actually don’t think anybody (the most insistent of infernalists included) would disagree with this. You have to back up a bit and ask: By what MEANS does God come to be seen by us as the good, the beautiful? How does one come to see face to face? And – to reveal my hand – what role does the will have in coming to see?

    Johnny One Note

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Tom: “By what MEANS does God come to be seen by us as the good, the beautiful?”

      Regarding our present life, I would point to the ascetical, moral, sacramental, and liturgical practices of the Church as instruments that God uses to illumine us; but of course he is not limited to those. I suppose everything is a potential instrument of God’s converting and enlightening work. No surprise here. And of course, we know that human beings often remain closed to his work. Again, no surprise here.

      Tom: “How does one come to see face to face? And – to reveal my hand – what role does the will have in coming to see?”

      Here is where everything becomes interesting, because we (at least 99% of us) have never experienced an unclouded vision of God. Hence we don’t know what we are talking about. It’s all speculation. In the present God’s revelation of himself is mediated through the finite world and therefore limited. It does not capture our imagination, heart, and mind with irresistible immediacy. Heck, for many of us God is so hidden we often wonder if he even exists. Hart talks about this somewhere in TASBS, as I recall, but I’m too exhausted to hunt for the passage. (I think I’ve come down with a cold–at least that’s what I’m trying to persuade myself that that’s what it is.) But let’s at least entertain the possibility of such a post-mortem or eschatological encounter with God in immediate and unavoidable fullness. Western Christians talk about seeing God in his essence. There’s no longer anything to argue about. No more questions to ask. There is only truth and beauty flooding our hearts. In this scenario, resistance is utterly futile–not because we have met a being like the Borg who is more powerful than we are, but because we finally see that all our reasons for resistance are absurd. The will therefore immediately embraces the Good that the intellect grasps. And we can even throw in a period of purgative suffering to boot to aid in our transformation.

      How does that sound? I’m sure others can express this much better than I.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never found the distinction between primary and secondary causality that persuasive in maintaining freedom. It’s still essentially divine determinism. As that last quite from Hart on providence shows, God would know every choice you would make logically prior to you making it (so it’s not simple foreknowledge which logically depends on a free choice which is then foreknown).

    This is compatibilism of a kind. It’s the claim that all free choices are compatible with God being the explanation which is logically prior to our will explaining a choice.

    Second, that last quote on God assuring we will one way rather than another gives the game away. On most libertarian accounts of free will, we are not intellectually determined to choose one good over another, let alone determined by passion or habitation. The point is there is no where to completely explain why we make a choice than ultimately appealing to a movement of will that is indeterminate of the preceding factors (reason, habitation or passion).

    If God can determine (even as a primary as opposed to secondary cause) which way our will moves then explaining our choice as ultimately our will (which is a sourcehood view of free will) would be false. That our will chooses A over B would ultimately have to be explained by God as primary cause. The two aren’t equal but different modes of explanation. One is absolutely dependent and passive with regards to the other. We wouldn’t even be able to choose insignificant goods like coffee or tea which wouldn’t be determined by God.

    I say all this to highlight that you can still get your conclusion that God can bring all to beatitude without overriding their freedom. Rather than maintain every single choice is really moved that that specific choice by God and argue for its compatibility, you should just stick with the close interaction of the intellect and will and the will’s natural telos to the Good. As Truth and Being Itself and Goodness itself the intellect cannot even give an alternative option to choose. Once the will is informed by the Intellect it will see that it is the fulfilment of its nature – it will be impossible to choose otherwise. Nothing here is new to you, you did say this on your post. But that is al you need to maintain free will. Not alternative possibilities for every choice but sourcehood when the will is ultimately what explains our specific choices. Once God gives the intellect a glimpse its game over. We freely choose what fulfils us to our core.

    Like

  5. John H says:

    How does one come to see? And what role does the will have? Tom, to answer those questions one has to refer to Hart’s first meditation. It is God Himself, as the infinite fullness of Being and Goodness, who ensures that our natural wills see God in all of His glory. This follows from both the nature of God and the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. God is perfectly free to realize His own goodness as both the Trinitarian perichoresis and in creation.

    Should there be any residue of unresolved tragedy in the eschaton, than God would be responsible for that as well, and could not be the Christian God who is the Good as such. This is where the analogy of being comes into play again. Because if God is not the Good, Truth, Beauty and Being, than He is a lesser god subject to a tertium quid. In other words, he would then be a lesser being like us but certainly not the God of classical Christianity.

    Like

  6. Tom says:

    Thank you John H and Fr Aidan.

    “Here is where everything becomes interesting.” (Fr Aidan). Yes, indeed!

    This is what I’m hearing: In the eschaton God adopts a fundamentally different policy in bringing person’s into union with himself. Whereas prior to the eschaton the revelation of truth was measured to secure (epistemic) room for the will to move deliberatively toward God, in the eschaton this room is removed by a flooding of consciousness with truth so immediate and so clear as to make deliberation impossible. The will ‘then’ makes the only choice it can – God.

    ————-

    With other universalists, I’m opposed to eternal conscious torment and annihilationism for all the excellent reasons Hart describes (transcendental grounding, teleology, the moral objections to the notion that God accepts either possibility in creating from nothing), but I’m as opposed to the idea that humanity’s end in God can be secured by (if I’m reading it rightly) essentially removing the deliberative capacity of the will in the manner assumed above (i.e., without the will’s deliberative participation).

    Supposing God secures our end in him through such means raises the problem of evil in an acute (and to me, intolerable) form. For if the end can be secured through such means, if precarious deliberation is not an essential part of getting humankind from origin to end, if God can foreclose upon its exercise through a revelation of himself sufficient to leave the will no room to choose awry, then, literally speaking, what the hell? Surely an infinitely good and benevolent God would set us upon THAT route. But he didn’t. And that he didn’t suggests to me it simply isn’t possible. And if it’s not possible, it can’t be brought in at the end to explain how God gets the end for which he creates. The will can come, through its own deliberative exercise, to surrender itself to God and rest irrevocably in its natural orientation – but only through its deliberative exercise, not through its removal in the manner I’m hearing described.

    Tom

    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Tom no one is suggesting (nor have I heard – who is saying this??) that God shall foreclose upon the creature’s will, or shall remove or else curtail the will’s active agency. True freedom is upheld, perhaps better said established, by the creature’s active will discovering its true cause and end in God. This fulfillment is neither a passive moment, nor a forced capitulation. The false and the irrational shall be revealed to be what they are, in truth, by means of God’s revelation of himself – the alternatives (if they can be so called, which they really aren’t – who or what compares to God?) are in truth neither God nor the creature’s true liberty. It is in this active movement towards and its final rest in God that creation will be free, in the fulfillment of God’s all in all.

      Like

      • Tom says:

        Robert: True freedom is upheld, perhaps better said established, by the creature’s active will discovering its true cause and end in God.

        Tom: I don’t doubt our truest freedom is established as such. The question is: How does the creature’s active will discover this? Can God simply give the mind this discovery? If so, why not from our origin in God?

        Robert: The false and the irrational shall be revealed to be what they are, in truth, by means of God’s revelation of himself – the alternatives (if they can be so called, which they really aren’t – who or what compares to God?) are in truth neither God nor the creature’s true liberty.

        Tom: That’s the problem (for me); namely, that the sight (the seeing, the discovery, the realization) which makes deliberation re: God impossible is simply given to creatures by revelation. One does not choose one’s way deliberatively into that seeing which is irreversible loving. For me this is a problem. Because the question arises: Why not this arrangement from the beginning? If God can achieve his end in us by virtue of a clarity of revelation which essentially reduces choice to one (God), don’t you agree God would have adopted that mode of relation from the beginning? Why do you suppose deliberation was possible at all given the fact that God can achieve his ends in us without it?

        Tom

        Like

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Tom: How does the creature’s active will discover [freedom]?

          Robert: by way of a process over time (in this or the next age) and in the manner of participation

          Tom: That’s the problem (for me); namely, that the sight (the seeing, the discovery, the realization) which makes deliberation re: God impossible is simply given to creatures by revelation.

          Robert: I never indicated revelation would be a mere ‘given’, indeed by my emphasis on the active agency of the creature’s will I deny notions of passive reception. Revelation is neither a passive moment, nor a forced capitulation.

          Tom: Why not this arrangement from the beginning?

          Robert: Change, movement, participation, discovery, contingency – all these are creaturely characteristics and find their analogue in God. He could have achieved things differently, no doubt about it, but it is what it is. Why do people fall in love? What is the need for beauty?

          Liked by 2 people

          • Tom says:

            Thanks Robert. Hunkering down indoors here in Cali like us in Sacramento? I’ve been in the house for 5 full days – which might explain the lapses in my reasoning processes!

            —————-

            Yes, by way of a process of participation. But what is the nature of this process/participation?

            “I never indicated revelation would be a mere ‘given’, indeed by my emphasis on the active agency of the creature’s will I deny notions of passive reception. Revelation is neither a passive moment, nor a forced capitulation.” (Robert)

            That’s good news then. If you’ve said this before, forgive me for missing it.

            I don’t think what I’m saying is that obtuse or complicated, but maybe I’m losing my mind! I take it that you see the issue, which is the nature or role of deliberation in the ‘process of participation’ you describe, a process which delivers the mind/will finally to its rest. So we’re agreeing: We choose our way deliberatively into an increasingly free (and thus increasingly less deliberative) exercise of the will.

            ——————–

            Tom: Why not this arrangement from the beginning?
            Robert: Change, movement, participation, discovery, contingency – all these are creaturely characteristics and find their analogue in God. He could have achieved things differently, no doubt about it, but it is what it is.

            Tom: From my point of view there is every reason to doubt there is any other way to get rational creatures into loving union with God. The same moral intuitions that Hart brings to bear upon ‘ends’ (relative to God’s creating ex nihilo) can be brought to bear upon the ‘means’ necessary (or not) to achieving that end. If the same end is achievable through means that preclude the very possibility of evil, then morally speaking we have to conclude God is a monster for giving us (unnecessarily/freely) the deliberative ‘means’ he gave us when the same ‘end’ is perfectly achievable through means that preclude the possibility of evil; and this would be true even if all are eventually saved.

            I assume then that deliberative (& temporal, contingent, participatory, precarious/risky [for us, not for God]) becoming is simply the metaphysical price-tag of getting any creation into loving union with God. We can explain both beginning and end in terms of the same deliberative process.

            So, we’re in agreement?
            Gnomic/deliberative becoming per se is not something we fell into, but is instead our God-given origin.

            Liked by 2 people

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Yes I think we are very much in agreement – “We choose our way deliberatively into an increasingly free (and thus increasingly less deliberative) exercise of the will.” This is well put – with the proviso that the opposite is also true – that we may choose our way deliberatively into an increasingly less free, and less rational, exercise of the will. (I take there to be an end to this slide into the irrational as the irrational is not without limit, unlike the Good). It is not deliberation per se which is problematic, but rather what comes from this process, when the irrational is taken for the good.

            Back to cnn.com 🙂

            Liked by 3 people

  7. Grant says:

    Some stumbling block for some people is the idea of choice being removed from them, but this is a mistaken idea. They truth is we don’t really choose as they are imagining things, all our choices, even our most frivolous ones, are more correctly attempts at discernment of our desires, drives and most fundamental impulses, appetites and makeup of our own nature, and to the reality around us, to beauty, truth and goodness, and so to God. Whether someone is a railway enthusiast, a sports fan, a fan of particular art, the interests we have, dreams we see, friendships we make, people we fall in love with, children and parents, brothers and sisters, we don’t choose them, or anything about any of these things. All these things, and the drive to them come prior to any action we make, and all actions and reactions are based on this prior orientation and nature inherent to us. All these further actions, everyone as I see it, is just our stumbling way to discern the true nature of those desires, of our nature in both at situation and beyond and it’s relation towards reality and God. The fact we are both finite and fallen, means our eye is dark and we wander in levels of ignorance, confusion and impairment to fully be able to see, discern and live in the Truth, and while under the effects of death will never be truly free. This of course is all in agreement with the Gospels, that we are only free to the extent that we know the Truth, that is Christ and live in Him, and that we don’t know what we do is the Lord said from the Cross. We all lack understanding.

    Therefore there is no real choice being removed, rather we are being delivered from our bondage, ignorance and impairment of sight and being, being made whole and given clear vision and understanding of nature, desires, of creation and God for which we always reach of being.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I asked a Catholic theologian to read this article and comment upon it. (He will for the time being remain anonymous.) I’m hoping that these comments will restart the conversation:

    “Despite the counsel of the Church’s ascetics and spiritual teachers, we continue to seek our fulfillment in the relative goods and delights of the cosmos, with predictable results. We remain dissatisfied, unsettled, restless and discontent. Once we obtain that which we think will fill the hole in our hearts, we find that we need something else, someone else. And so the quest continues, ad infinitum.”

    Not a point of disagreement, but an expansion on your thoughts that I wish were included more in Christian writings on the topic: It is true that no finite good will satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. However, if we understand faith as assent derived from the existential reality of having fallen in love in an absolute fashion with Love Itself, the source of all that is good, then one experiences within oneself a shift in one’s perception of the world, a shift that can be characterized as the move from the feeling that nothing is enough, to the peace which surpasses understanding because everything is more than enough. This is the reason that faith brings “unceasing” joy and thanksgiving. We can give thanks and are filled with great joy because everything is gift when seen from the eyes of faith as love of and through Love Itself. If conformity to Divine Love is the ultimate telos of ascetic practice, then the acknowledgment that no finite thing can ultimate satisfy our fundamental desires should give way to the freedom to love finite reality through the love of God that has brought them into being. Our love of God is that love by which we love the world, a participation in the creative love of God, an extension to finite being of the infinite love that is the perichoretic subsistent relationality of the Trinity. So, when we fall in love with God, we must need fall in love with the world, absolutely and indefatigably because divine love, the love in our hearts that is the Spirit, is absolute and indefatigable. In divine love, our own good is caught up in the good of all things through the sacred heart at the source of all things. Again, this is sort of a tangent, but where my thoughts went when I read those four sentences. Not a critique at all. Perhaps a small addendum.

    “Contrary to the theorists of the natura pura, human beings have not been given two ends, natural and supernatural. There is only one telos and beatitude for mankind – eternal life in the perichoretic Love that is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

    Another addendum that is not a critique: There are finite ends correlative to the finite capacities immanent to human nature. But none of these are the final end of human nature. So, I would just want there to be a distinction between ultimate and relative ends. When Aquinas speaks of nature as opposed to grace, he means the relative ends correlative to the finite capacities immanent to human nature which can be satisfied by finite realities. There are, then, two types of ends that can be identified from an analysis of human nature. Only the supernatural, however, can be considered ultimate.

    “We therefore often find ourselves choosing lesser goods over greater goods, apparent goods instead of real goods—the Church calls this sin—but if we were ever presented with a full and perfect apprehension of the Good, free from ignorance, delusion, and disordered passion—the Church calls this the beatific vision—we would necessarily embrace the Good as our own, for we would recognize it as the true and final happiness for which we yearn.”

    The reason for this, as your Aquinas quote expresses well, is that all finite goods are only partially and not absolutely good. That is, finite goods are good in some sense, relative to some end or in some context. Only God is good in a perfect sense, the good defining all ends in every context as that good by participation in which all other goods are good. There is no perspective from which God could be not good, unlike all finite goods. The condition of the ignorance resultant from original sin causing wrong choice is that finite goods are good from one perspective but not from another. Only God as perfectly good cannot be evil from some perspective. Again, another addendum for clarity.

    “To be free is to flourish in communion with him. We are not free because we have multiple choices available to us; we become free when we choose well, thereby achieving the happiness for which we are divinely destined.”

    I would agree with this definition of freedom but would want it to be a bit more nuanced to ward off objections from our analytics detractors. I would want to set up two analogically related senses of freedom. In one sense, we are free when we have the ability in a particular context to choose among opposing possibilities. As you may notice, this is close to the definition Aquinas gives in the quote you included from the Summa – to will or not to will concerning a particular choice in a given context. We are not free, therefore, when we are being coerced in some way because under conditions of coercion we cannot choose among opposing possibilities. Our choice of God as our ultimate end is a free choice in this first sense because we can choose between union with God and the state of being incurvatus in se. In another sense, we are only free from coercion, from the coercion of habits as Augustine put it, only when we are in a state in which our will is concretely ordered according to right reason. That is, under this second sense of freedom, we are free from the coercion of sin within us, we do not experience the double competing wills within us described by Paul in Romans 7. In this sense of freedom, we are free in choosing God because we are choosing according to right reason in choosing God as our ultimate end since God is Truth and Goodness Itself. While I think that you are right that freedom is not only defined by having multiple choices before us, I would want to retain that as an essential, though not sufficient, element of it.

    Roberto De La Noval also has a fascinating argument relevant to all of this. He asserts that the libertarian conception of freedom requires that our nature be undone rather than perfected in the beatific vision. If we can choose evil per se, then the choice of Good Itself in the beatific vision would do away with a fundamental capacity of human nature. The rational conception of freedom, on the other hand, involves a will determined by the transcendental horizon of the good, that we always choose under the formal aspect of the good. In this sense, we do not lose our capacity to will when we choose God because of God’s being the highest good. Rather, our capacity to will is perfected as being in line with its transcendental horizon as an orientation to the Good Itself. Noval’s argument, then, backs your conception of freedom. And I think it is spot on.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. brian says:

    I think it ought to be obvious, but alas, apparently is not, that “choosing God” always entails “choosing the cosmos” that is theophanic in it’s essential being. Indeed, while as Przywara continually asserts, the infinite of God transcends any created All so that the Nyssan epektasis is an eternal deeping into infinite depths beyond any Created Whole, I would want to also assert — and this is implicit in Przywara’s analogia entis properly construed — that the cosmos is itself not a satiated surfeit ala Parmenides, but a gifted infinite with depths that musically “follow” God’s plenitude. In short, there is a “dance” between created being and the Uncreated, not merely the Divine surpassing of a Created Whole and the failure to recognize the nature of created flourishing is not only a moralized asceticism, but also an impoverished, ultimately idolatrized sense of God.

    As to freedom, I still believe the libertarian notion is deeply flawed and fundamentally contingent rather than metaphysically necessary. Historically, one can posit that “gnomic” deliberation and choice is entailed as a kind of prerequisite to the perfected liberty of theosis, but I incline towards the view that that aspect of choice is a consequence of the Fallen condition. Apart from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, original freedom would have participated in a trajectory that is realized by Christ, who never experienced a gravitational pull away from perfect unity with the Good. If so, human nature does not “require” libertarian options in order to develop perfected liberty. If one wants to ascribe “libertarian choice” to the kind of preference associated with artistic performance, i.e., the “option” of choosing just this key for the base line of a score or this form to embody an idea, etc., I think that is tolerable, though it misses the modern understanding of choice as “indifferent” and no longer teleologically oriented towards the horizon of a Transcendental Good. Artistic choice, as Wittgenstein recognized, always has an “es muss sein” quality, just as romantic love is not a choice so much as a discovery. In that sense, libertarian choice is not radically constitutive of liberty, whereas the perfected flourishing of being ought to be the fundamental criteria. Only a modern who presumes the sensibility and metaphysical horizons of modernity will understand the latter as a “coercive determinism” rather than the paradox that perfected liberty eliminates “libertarian choosing.”

    Liked by 2 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Well put Brian – the last sentence stands out to me, “Only a modern who presumes the sensibility and metaphysical horizons of modernity will understand the latter as a ‘coercive determinism’ rather than the paradox that perfected liberty eliminates “libertarian choosing.” We can see this in the responses to TASBS fourth meditation – the objections to freedom as construed by DBH are invariably based on the assumptions of the ‘metaphysical horizons of modernity’. For the modern it is that universal salvation, the all in all of God, must entail the violation of the will : choice is understood to be without terminus in God; and so following their account the ‘choosing God’ remains a choice among many, a choice which is not creation’s proper beginning and end, a choice without ontological (ie. natural) grounding, a choice lacking a divine analogue. This is why I believe the analogia entis is not optional, but rather the cornerstone of Christian metaphysics.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Robert, methinks you should write a piece for EO explaining the analogia entis in relation to human freedom … just me methinking. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

    • Maximus says:

      Brian,

      I’m regularly amazed by your ability to synthesize profound lines of thought. Seriously, wow. I have a question, though, about your last two sentences. I agree that “libertarian choice is not radically constitutive of liberty,” and that “the perfected flourishing of being ought to be the fundamental criteria.” Yes, our natural, transcendental orientation to the Good should remain the criterion for elaborating the fullness of human freedom. But this question has been brewing in my mind for a week or two, and you seem just the man who could answer it, so here goes: how might we incorporate the notion of personhood into that of nature’s deep-seated volitional inclination? For each human person does not merely instantiate human nature but does so uniquely, and indeed, I would say, freely. The movement to assimilate one’s mode of being (tropos) to one’s logos, and thus to the Logos, is not a natural but a hypostatic movement.

      My intuition is that hypostatic integrity is at stake here, and I wonder if such heavy emphasis on human nature’s indomitable eschatological function risks dis-integrating human personhood. Indeed, it seems the imago dei obtains just at the latter level. Our theological method tells us this: we begin with God as the Person of the Father, not as generic essence; we are images of the hypostatic Image. Does the metaphysical frame of protology and teleology, while invariably situating our human nature within God’s economy, forever beckoning us to come Home, go so far as to make natural volition “radically constitutive of liberty” at the expense of *personal* assimilation to the Good? In other words, even if (as you said), “human nature does not ‘require’ libertarian options in order to develop perfected liberty,” does not human personhood require it?

      For me, I have (slowly) come to understand that the personal mode of human being which jettisons human nature (logos), amounting to a moral and metaphysical “tearing” asunder of person from nature, constitutes the very essence of hellfire. Thus, to apostatize from nature is to renounce God. Conversely, the human process of personally assimilating to human nature—in cooperation with a (Personal) Power beyond nature—is the very process of theosis.

      I believe the person/nature distinction may be pivotal in this debate, especially concerning freedom. I’d appreciate your thoughts on the distinction of personal liberty and natural liberty, and how these might relate. Thanks.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Robert Fortuin says:

        The whole point is that one cannot make a distinction between personal liberty and natural liberty – that attempting to do so is what the modern move entails.

        Like

        • Maximus says:

          Hmmm. But if human persons were *mere* instantiations of human nature, which is inherently oriented heavenward, then we’d all be gods by grace already. Thus, choosing against nature (i.e. sin) is a real possibility. To say it’s not possible risks calling evil good, right? And if it’s possible then there must be something more to the human person and his freedom than what he is by nature. What he is, is one thing; *how* he is, is another. In other words, one can *use* his personal freedom well or poorly, either in a mode according to nature or in a mode contrary thereto. This is my current understanding, but I’m open to further suggestions.

          Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            No one here claims sin isn’t possible – the claim is that it is irrational to do so. My point is that this does not posit a distinction between personal and natural liberty; on the contrary, the integrity of the transcendental orientation of the person is affirmed by recognizing the irrationality of the choice away from its first and final cause.

            Like

          • Maximus says:

            Well put. But doesn’t my original point still stand? An irrational choice is not a choice according to nature. An irrational choice is a personal choice, but not a natural choice, for to choose naturally means always to choose rationally. Thus, persons have the ability to act contrary to nature, an ability which indicates a distinction between personal and natural liberty. Does this follow?

            Like

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            At the risk of sounding dismissive (I am not) it remains a meaningless and useless distinction: volition, be it rational or irrational, involves the complete human person, including their nature. The distinction violates the integrity of the human person. Human nature is not something concrete, one can remove and still have a human person. It is misleading to speak of nature, person, volition. agency, etc. as if they can be separated, as distinct and concrete parts.

            Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        He’s back! When I posted this article ten days ago, Maximus, I thought you’d be the first to comment. But the days rolled by, and I began to think you’d been taken by the coronavirus. Glad to see you’re till in the land of the living. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        • Maximus says:

          Thanks for the welcome back, Father. Honestly, though the topic is an important one, I wasn’t sure I had anything valuable to contribute. But Brian’s comment stirred my thinking. Still not sure this offering is of any value, but maybe it will keep the conversation alive. 🙂

          Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Maximus, have you been reading Zizioulas or maybe Yannaras? 😉

        Like

        • Maximus says:

          Unfortunately, I have not read either in any depth. Only much Stăniloae, who, so I hear, posits a much more balanced form of “personalism.”

          Like

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Maximus, you are certainly to define personal (hypostatic) freedom in such a way as to make the possibility of eternal self-damnation necessary. All you have to do is stipulate it. 🙂

        But presumably you’d like to have stronger philosophical-theological grounding than that. Hence:

        Our theological method tells us this: we begin with God as the Person of the Father, not as generic essence; we are images of the hypostatic Image.

        What does this mean? I used to think I knew what it meant back in the day when I was reading Zizioulas, but now it all sounds vacuous. So treat me as a beginner and explain to me how it is that the personhood of the Father defines our understanding of creaturely freedom.

        Like

        • Maximus says:

          Thanks, Father. I did not intend by the quoted statement to claim “the personhood of the Father defines our understanding of creaturely freedom.” Rather, the statement was only meant to support the prior two sentences. A heavy (exclusive?) focus on human nature in this conversation tends to subvert the notion of the human person as an integral whole. Likewise, we approach God (theologically) as Person first, the Father, instead of building up a natural theology via creaturely analogues, eventually to arrive at a generic, absolutely simple deity that may possess this or that attribute. That’s all I was saying. 😉

          Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            I highlighted your statement that we begin with the personhood of the Father because I think that may be precisely the problem–in two ways: (1) the theological term hypostasis does not mean “person,” as we understand personhood today, and (2) theology properly begins with the incarnate Christ, who has introduced us to the Father.

            Orthodox internet apologists (I won’t name them but you know who they are) typically invoke the person/nature distinction as an important difference between Western and Eastern theologies. In particular they see this distinction as somehow being critical to properly understanding freedom divine and human freedom.

            Your challenge, Maximus, is to articulate an understanding of human personhood and freedom that requires the possibility of everlasting self-damnation. My guess is that the best way for you to do this is by embracing a fully voluntarist understanding of divine and human freedom. In other words, forget all about transcendental orientation to and desire for the Good. All that matters is the decision of the libertarian will to embrace God, who and whatever he is.

            But that is for the moment by the by. If the personhood of the Father is our beginning point, as you suggest, then please explain for us what this means and how it impacts on our understanding of freedom. Does the Father freely beget the Son? Might he have chosen not to? Might he have been otherwise than he is? etc.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Maximus says:

            Forgive me, I’m think I was unclear again. My point about the personhood of the Father was not meant to hold out human freedom as analogous to divine freedom. Maybe it is analogous, but my statement was only making a point about the import of personhood in general. Prioritizing and over-emphasizing nature—in this case, natural orientation and natural will (both of which I accept)—can tend to impinge upon the full integrity of the person, the latter of which activates a mode of being not present in the notion of nature “alone” (I’m aware that nature always comes enhypostatized!).

            For instance, the divine nature is hypostatized by the Father uniquely, according to an identifiable mode, specifically as the Unbegotten One. Human beings also hyopstatize human nature, not generically but uniquely, activating a specific mode of life that either assimilates to natural orientation or deviates therefrom. With God, no deviation is possible; with sinful humans, deviation is our daily dynamic. The analogue here concerns not freedom but the priority of personhood.

            I’m also aware of and agree with your points #1 and #2. However, concerning #2, trinitarian taxis does begin with the Father. But, again, this is far afield from my original post and the point I was making about the Father.

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Let’s then put aside for the moment the Father and the constitution of the Trinity, and focus once again on human freedom. Your task, it seems to me, is to advance an understanding of personhood that requires the possibility of eternal self-damnation. To successfully achieve this, I suggest, in turn requires the abandonment of any notion of transcendental orientation to and desire for the Good. In other words, it requires a state of indifference, i.e., voluntarism. We must be able to definitively reject God simply because we will to do so. Yet how can we do so when the consequences of doing so are so dire? Self-preservation alone should prevent us, if we knew and truly understood (and perhaps experienced) the full ramifications of our decision. In other words, we do not exist, if the infernalist position is true, in a neutral state in relationship to God. We exist rather in a coercive state–convert or else! Are we then truly free?

            Like

  10. brian says:

    Maximus, thank you for your kind words. I am unable to properly respond. Unlike many, I am still working despite the virus concerns and unfortunately I don’t have the leisure to adequately respond. In general, Robert is a good proxy for me as our sensibilities and basic understanding is very similar. I would say that there is equivocity in the terms nature, person, and freedom and one has to be careful to distinguish in order to avoid confusion. For example, a fellow like Yannaras, who I like, treats nature as mortal finitude that must be overcome to attain personhood. Another understanding of nature would see personhood as the gifted by grace teleological end of nature whereby one attains a perfected flourishing. I am in the latter group, whilst finding much in Yannaras helpful. You properly recognize that nature is only conceptually distinguished from the reality of what is “always already” enhypostatized, yet I would want to add that our reality is weighted towards eschatology and that our eschatological reality is always progressing infinitely towards the plenitude of divine personhood. So one can properly recognize analogy and the limits of creaturehood, but the person is still ultimately a gift of theosis, a participation that ought to be rooted in Christology. As a result, I would further assert that liberty is performed or enacted as mission. Hence, a truly Christian appreciation of personhood is not abstract and one has to place against the contention that personhood can fail (infernalism) the theological sense that God’s victory entails every lost sheep, coin, prodigal, that mission is not frustrated by creaturely recalcitrance because personhood is never that of isolated, atomized individuals. Rather, the fatherly care that so often appears in fallen time as abandonment shows up as a sustaining that tempts one to think of it as a form of sadism — I am preserved only in order to continually suffer and fail (this is the existential feeling of being in hell,) whereas the true reality is that one is only ever sustained in order to be ultimately drawn into divine life and thus to say amen, to enter into receptivity that is nuptial and generous, aware that we are not “self-contained” substances, but identities that flourish through infinite, expansive relation. In my view, it is only within this theological horizon that one is able to discern the impetus of revelation. This, despite the weight of tradition that may believe otherwise.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Maximus says:

    Brian, thank you for this comment. I too remain (gratefully) employed. The feedback is much appreciated, and I offer only a few more thoughts in the limited time I have as well.

    In your “inadequate” response (!), you broach a number of weighty metaphysical realities, some I’ve never considered. I find intriguing the notion of personhood as “the gifted by grace teleological end of nature whereby one attains a perfected flourishing.” That is (if I’m understanding), a free personhood as eschatological attainment—a hypostatic journey in a christological and missional key—rather than personhood as a present (static) possession. In other words, the dynamic human movement to become “persons” finds it terminus via a perpetual progress in/with God who is “persons.” It seems this line could be profitably combined with Fr. John Behr’s project concerning the cruciformity of becoming human. Fascinating…

    Honestly, though, I get stuck on the assertion that “personhood can[not] fail.” From my admittedly limited purview, I think the insights from your comment could all be integrated into a view which both affirms your statement, “one is only ever sustained in order to be ultimately drawn into divine life,” and yet makes the concession that one may ultimately resist being drawn, thereby denying one’s given nature.

    The metaphysics of St. Maximus guide my thinking here. I would agree the human hypostasis is a dynamic reality which *naturally* moves from being to well-being unto eternal well-being. The first stage, as pure gift, grants logos. The second stage, however, consists in a trajectory based on the way we choose to live (tropos), in which the proper or improper *use* of free will is crucial. When we align our tropos with our logos, our trajectory points toward God and well-being (eternal well-being is gift also, for those who live well). If we choose not to align our mode of life with our divine design, we move (back) toward non-being.

    I mention these things (which you already know) only to emphasize the framework that accompanies my comments concerning natural and hypostatic liberty. Although nature and hypostasis are always simultaneous in the world, the metaphysical distinction is helpful as it corresponds, fairly neatly, with the logos/tropos dialectic. Those things we are designed to do (logos) are natural; those things we choose to do in a certain way (tropos) are hypostatic. For Maximus, this dialectic of logoi and tropoi demonstrates both God’s providential reign and the unhindered allowance of human free will.

    The perfect alignment of human tropos with logos, and thus with Logos, has of course been accomplished in Christ. But each person must assimilate himself to this reality, in Christ, and must do so (for St. Maximus) hypostatically. Nature doesn’t “do the work.” There’s no necessity to choose the Good, to live in accord with nature. The human person must choose to live a “logical” mode of existence in order to return to God. In other words, logos—and the transcendental orientation it instill in being—never determines tropos. Other than the foreknowledge of God, the latter remains open-ended, personally, not naturally, determined.

    I say all this, Brian, not to argue but merely to clarify my own position, to honor your generous response with some effort of my own. Thanks for taking the time. Many blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. brian says:

    Thanks for your kind words and continued wrestling with these most important questions, Maximus. At risk of reiterating what has been no doubt written numerous times here, the eschatology of Christian universalism does not affirm a flourishing nature at the expense of or despite the liberty of the person. As I tried to indicate, the flourishing of nature is the feat, the achievement of Personhood. Yet I would challenge you to think more deeply upon the very concept of Person — there remains a certain confusion, I suspect, between the inalienable uniqueness of person and the isolated individual. The latter is often a product of modern metaphysical presuppositions which one simply breathes in, as it were, with the zeitgeist, so that one generally has to bring a critical spirit to presuppositions that we import into theological understanding. If one understands that identity and unique person paradoxically derive from gift and relation, it becomes less problematic to recognize that the attainment of flourishing nature is not a culmination of choice or an alternative distinct from the reality of person, because person is first receptivity and event before it can be “named” and demonstrated by actions we call choice. Just as the formation of initial ego is a development that first arrives as familial nurture, summoned as it were by the mother’s smile, choice is a later development, not the founding act. Hence, the genuine liberty of the person emerges from a gift that is prior and the continual assertion of libertarian choice as the necessary prerequisite of personal liberty is a chimera built upon a false understanding. Neither is Divine liberty less free than creatures because lacking an experience of such choice. My friend Tom Belt is anxious that somehow this means that the healing of wounded humanity becomes a “magical” transformation outside personal decision, but the reality is that Person is not antithetical to natural teleology so when the obstacles of sin are cleared away by purifying vision, irrational attachment to idols, to false, delusional ersatz goods, or preference for lesser goods that derive their appeal and very goodness by participation in the Divine, infinite, “ever greater” Good, “choice” disappears in the joy of revelation.

    It also seems to me that the connection and “gravitational weight” between Person and Christology is often given a superficial gloss. You are right to focus on Behr’s “cruciform” sensibility, though I would add to that something like Jedidiah Paschall’s recent column on the convergence of Cross and true human Origins. The unity of mankind is not an abstraction, but hidden reality. David Hart’s essay on Nyssan anthropology in The Hidden and the Manifest is worth your perusal, as is Hart’s essay on thrift which is more than a cultural analysis; more deeply, it juxtaposes the “strange generosity” of the gospel against the individualism and zero sum game of modernity that infects bad theology. The “indifference” of libertarian choice discounts the kenotic Fatherly care, the Son’s searching discovery of every conceivable path into wandering error so that nowhere does the sinner strive without Christ’s presence, without Divine Humanity proleptically pointing the lost sheep back to the House of the Father. If you treat the sinner as “choosing” as an isolated, atomized individual who only then has access to grace consequent upon a libertarian choice for God, you are mistaking the grace that sustains the sinner even in his wandering.

    As you know, this argument ought not to be separated out from other contextual inquiries into the metaphysics of person, the theological implications of creatio ex nihilo, etc. And as John Milbank properly asserted, the human approach to truth is not an exercise in mere dialectic and syllogism or analytic parsing of concepts. We think with our whole being, we understand with body and mind, with imagination and intuition, it is more “messy” than “clear and concise” and this merely an expression of our finitude and intellectual poverty, but rather, of the mysterious richness of nature and reason which ecstatically and dynamically moves towards the grace that “always already” founds the very being of the creature in all its depths, qualities, and powers. I would recommend a reading of George MacDonald’s Unspoken Sermons as partner to your reading of Maximus who is indeed among the greatest of patristic voices.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Tom says:

      Brian: My friend Tom Belt is anxious that somehow this means that the healing of wounded humanity becomes a “magical” transformation outside personal decision, but the reality is that Person is not antithetical to natural teleology so when the obstacles of sin are cleared away by purifying vision, irrational attachment to idols, to false, delusional ersatz goods, or preference for lesser goods that derive their appeal and very goodness by participation in the Divine, infinite, “ever greater” Good, “choice” disappears in the joy of revelation.

      Tom: Hi Brian, and blessings! I seem to be as busy quarantined as I was when free to roam the fruited plains, although I will blame Fr Al’s chess challenges for some of my preoccupations.

      Yes, this is what I call magic (if I’m understanding you). I thought Robert and I had reached a happy ending on this. If God can secure our end in him through a revelation that – note the following qualification – **need not be deliberatively (precariously) negotiated** then he’s truly a monster to have not begun there. He didn’t begin there, and he’s not a monster, so I assume there was no way to begin there, i.e., the end for which he created cannot be achieved outside risky, precarious deliberative negotiation – from its origin to its bloody end. That’s not to say such negotiations imply the capacity to foreclose upon all possibility moving Godward to our final end in him. They don’t, obviously. But they do imply at least this much: We have to choose our way (deliberatively and precariously) into a vision of God that slowly (even if eventually, through our deliberative surrender) fills the horizon of our perspective (and thus our choosing), delivering us finally to an all-consuming vision of God.

      Like

      • brian says:

        Well, yes, Tom, and as I believe we also agreed, though perhaps not, this path was a contingency, not a necessity, so that it is not inherent to liberty by its very nature, but a difficult ascesis because we occupy Fallen time. Regardless, vision clarifies so that deliberation becomes increasingly otiose. Furthermore, the notion of eternal recalcitrance is exposed as an irrationality for deliberation is oriented towards fulfillment of nature which is not separate from or conceptually opposed to fulfillment of person. Deliberation cannot ultimately “fail,” person does not perpetually “choose” some flawed understanding of unique identity expressed as a repudiation of “mere nature” which seems to be the implicit possibility that Maximus is entertaining.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Tom says:

          “Deliberation cannot ultimately fail…”

          Yes. Agreed.

          Like

        • Maximus says:

          Brian, yes, I would agree that a perpetual repudiation of our nature and its orientation is distinctly possible. For me, I cannot square the teaching that says, “eternal recalcitrance is exposed as an irrationality [because] deliberation is oriented towards fulfillment of nature,” with the notion—pervasive in the Greek fathers—of self-determination (αυτοδιάθεσης). Doesn’t the will and its choosing exemplify some level of spontaneity, even if we all agree that purely spontaneous liberty is an illusion? This also begs the theological question: Did God have to (i.e. under the constrains of natural necessity) create the world, or was His volitional activity in some sense spontaneous, i.e., free to be directed otherwise? These are the kind of ideas that convince me no more than a universalistic *hope* ought ever be asserted.

          Like

          • brian says:

            Maxiumus,

            When the philosophers speak of “spontaneity” they intend more or less a synonym for “indifferent” freedom which the classical understanding argues is an oxymoron. Freedom is free because it is rational and it is rational because the will is directed by the intellect’s apprehension of the Good. Now, it’s a bit more difficult than that because there is a recursive element whereby the intellect is also affected by the intentionality of the will and as with everything else of substance, the metaphysics of person and freedom entails considerations that do not yield to pithy treatment once one pursues the details. Nonetheless, in the strict sense, I would argue that the will properly understood does not entail any degree of spontaneity, that spontaneity in the sense discussed is the equivalent of a “willless will,” “brute chance,” ultimately the exact opposite of what we mean by person. There’s a long book that traces out the history whereby “spontaneity” and libertarian indifference became our common sense of what freedom means. It’s a heavy tome, literally, but if you are able to venture safely to a good college library at some point, you may want to look over Minding the Modern by Thomas Pfau.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Maximus says:

            A very helpful comment, Brian, thank you. Good to have in hand as I continue to think through this, and as I return again to the statements of the fathers. Would you say that, in the main, many of the prominent patristic witnesses failed to integrate “the classical understanding” of volition and choice? Or, would you say that “free will” from their vantage matched this classical perspective? (I’m not asking so much about a consensus but just your general impression.) My sense is that many assumed the model I’ve tried to articulate, but I would be glad to learn otherwise. I could reproduce several pastristic passages as fodder for discussion if that would be helpful. Thanks again for your time and suggestions.

            Like

  13. brian says:

    Ah, invoking the spirit of Tom Belt brough on its own inevitable results . . . :last paragraph, third sentence: “this not merely an expression of finitude and intellectual poverty.”

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.