When Making Makes No Nuttin’ Difference

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We have to be careful. It’s easy to misconstrue the Christian claim that God has created the universe out of nothing. In his popular book Theology and Sanity, Frank Sheed writes:

God made it. And He made it of nothing. What else was there for Him to make it of? … If God, having made the universe, left it, the universe would have to rely for its continuance in existence upon the material it was made of: namely nothing. (chap. 10)

It’s hard to resist the temptation of reifying nothing, to think of it as something; yet when we do so, we end up speaking nonsense. As Denys Turner states, “The making that is ‘out of nothing’ is not to be thought of as if there were some soupy kind of undifferentiated lawless stuff called ‘nothing’ out of which what there is was made by some explanatory causal process” (Thomas Aquinas, p. 142). The creatio ex nihilo simply denies that God made the world out of anything. Hence God’s creation of the universe cannot be identified with the big-bang beginning of which cosmologists speak:

There is a making here, but it is a making with no “out of” at all, no process, no antecedent conditions, no “random fluctuations in a vacuum,” no explan­atory law of emergence, and, there being nothing for the “some­­thing” to be “out of,” there can be no physics, not yet, for there is nothing yet for physics to get an explanatory grip on. (p. 142)

A making that is not a making, a creating that is not creation. We cannot grasp the divine act of bringing into being that which was not.

Aporia.

Language breaks.

Thought stops.

Just as we cannot conceive of God, so we cannot conceive of nothing. We can comprehend emptiness; we cannot grasp or conceptualize non-existence. We cannot think the nihil. Physicists may complain that it’s a waste of time speculating about metaphysical nothing­ness; but mystics and philosophers know that precisely at this point we confront the wonder of being. As Ludwig Wittgenstein remarked, “Not how the world is, but that it is, is the mystery.”

We know what it means to make something.

  • We put a glass of water into the freezer, and ice is made.
  • We take a block of marble and chisel it, and a statue is made.
  • We dip our brush into a can of paint and brush it onto the canvas, and a painting is made.
  • We take planks of wood and hammer them together with nails, and a house is made.
  • We type a bunch of symbols into a computer, and a software program is made.

The list of making goes on and on. But the one thing we cannot do is make something out of nothing. We need something to make something. By our making we change things. A philosopher might describe a making as the actualization of the potentialities in matter. Aristotle wrote of two kinds of changes: accidental change (Socrates becomes pale) and substantial change (tomatoes, mushrooms, and beef become a stew). But when we speak of God making the world, we immediately see that it makes no sense to think of the divine act of creation as effecting either an accidental change (God modifying a substance) or a substantial change (God converting a substance into a different substance). Herbert McCabe elaborates:

There is nothing for the universe to be made of or made out of. In other words creation could not have made any difference to anything—there was nothing for it to make a difference to. If God created the world he operated at a different level, or in a different dimension, from making as we understand it. To bring it about, in this sense, that something should exist is not to make any difference to it or to anything else, it is not to change it in any way. It is just for this reason that Aquinas denies that creation is a change (Ia.45.2.ad 2). But what sense can we make of a making that does not change anything? (God Matters, p. 147)

Consider once more the case of creation: we know what it is to make, say, a statue by carving and altering a piece of wood; we are also familiar with a more fundamental change in which stuff is changed into a different kind of stuff, as in cooking or digestion—here not just a new shape but a new thing has come into existence. Now we extrapolate from here to speak of a coming into existence which is not out of anything at all, a making which is not an operation upon anything—evidently we cannot conceive this, we do not understand what we are saying. (p. 149)

It seems counter-intuitive to think of the creatio ex nihilo as not making a difference to the world. But to make a difference to something presupposes the present existence of that something. McCabe continues:

This clearly depends on driving some kind of wedge beteen being and being-this-sort-of-thing, a difficult wedge to drive since the Aristotelian is surely quite right to deny that any sense can be made of ‘existence’ as a detachable or abstractable quality or element common to things that exist. Creation does not make any difference to anything, it is not a matter of transition from one kind of thing to another kind of thing, it does not, so to say, take place at the level of substance, it is not a substantial change, it is the ‘change’ from non-existence to existence. In thinking of something as creature we are not thinking of it in contrast and distinction from other creatures, we are thinking of it, or trying to think of it, as existing instead of not existing. We merely fool ourselves if we think that we are here deploying concepts of sheer ‘existence’ and ‘non-existence’—they are simply words we use in our attempt to point to some more fundamental account of things than having-come-into-existence-out-of-something-else, to some coming to be more fundamental than substantial change. (p. 150)

When God makes the world, he does not make it different; he makes it to be. We cannot comprehend this radical kind of making—it makes no sense in an Aristotelian worldview or perhaps any worldview—yet we are compelled by the radical transcendence of God to speak of it nonetheless. Hence we use words like “make” and “create,” understanding all the while that our language is necessarily metaphorical and apophatic.

(16 December 2013; rev.)

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33 Responses to When Making Makes No Nuttin’ Difference

  1. sinkovski says:

    Dear Fr. Kimmel, what about making babies?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      I’m sure if you do a Google search, you’ll find a helpful instruction manual. 😃😇😎

      Liked by 3 people

      • sinkovski says:

        No doubt about that 🙂 Seriously, is not each new human person a whole new cosmos? Brought into being from non existence?

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        • apoorcatinstasis says:

          I’m far from understanding all of the theological issues involved here, but it seems to me that the issue of the creation of personal beings, whether human beings or angels, raises slightly different, and much deeper, problems than the creation of the rest of the natural order. I find it very interesting that Bulgakov seems to recognise this difference, and distinguishes, in a striking way, between these two sorts of creation.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Now we are talking about the soul. Are you a creationist or a traducian? The former has been the prevailing doctrine of the Church: that is to say, the soul is created directly and immediately by God.

      I honestly have not thought a great deal about the soul and its generation. You might want to take a look at the two articles in the Catholic Encyclopedia on traducianism and creationism.

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      • sinkovski says:

        And how does the parhypostatic (non)existence fit in? 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m quite curious if Hart will touch on this in his new book on consciousness. Creationism seems strange to me because it goes against what we see in every-day life. God would have to perform a miracle at every new birth. I wonder if traducianism could be updated to fit better with modern science? From a purely scientific perspective, I like the idea of consciousness as an emergent property, but I know the idea that the body somehow produces the soul would have been seen as anathema in Nyssen’s or Maximus’s day. I really don’t know what to think about the soul, other than it exists. I like panpsychism as well, but there are also obvious problems with that.

        DBH, if you’re reading this, I’d be most interested in your thoughts.

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        • DBH says:

          Consciousness cannot possibly be an emergent phenomenon. As for panpsychism, sure, so long as it is not a physicalist panpsychism. Consciousness is not a physical property, but an act.

          That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Marcus says:

            David, would you be more attractive to this form of panpsychism…. Cosmopsychism…. (shamelessly ripping off from the wiki here)

            “Cosmopsychism hypothosizes that the cosmos is a unified object that is ontologically prior to its parts. It has been described as an alternative to panpsychism,[38] or as a form of panpsychism.[39] Proponents of cosmopsychism claim that the cosmos as a whole is the fundamental level of reality and that it instantiates consciousness. They differ on that point from panpsychists, who usually claim that the smallest level of reality is fundamental and instantiates consciousness. Accordingly, human consciousness, for example, merely derives from a larger cosmic consciousness.”

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        • apoorcatinstasis says:

          Wouldn’t some of these issues be clarified by distinguishing between soul and spirit? There are clearly aspects of what we, rather vaguely, call the “soul” which elude consciousness. If one believes in a soul, and isn’t a Cartesian dualist about it, then the soul is plausibly seen as being involved in holding the body together while we are alive, in the functioning of our various bodily systems and organs, in determining that a rose grows into a rose, a dog grows a dog and a human being into a human being etc. It seems to me possible to reconcile the belief that some non-physical, formal element (soul in the sense of a principle of life and biological form) is passed on (and clearly we do inherit various things from our parents, including our features) with the belief that the individuality of the person properly speaking (which one could call spirit rather than soul) is created.

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  2. apoorcatinstasis says:

    Definitely the former. My point was not in any way about denying the soul’s direct creation by God (though probably, if we are speaking about Bulgakov, it would be necessary to distinguish here between soul and spirit). What I had in mind, with regard to Bulgakov’s treatment of these issues, has more to do with the fact that the creation of a person or, as he puts (if I remember correctly) the human hypostatic spirit, seems to imply a different and much more active “response” to the creative act. Although this seems like a flat contradiction, in logical terms, he seems almost to suggest that created spirits must in some sense “assent” to being created. This is, of course, contradictory because one can hardly respond to anything prior to existing. But I think he is getting at an important issue. If we imagine a creation without any spiritual beings—so, no angels or human beings (and perhaps even without higher animals, since even sentience complicates these issues slightly) then it becomes an open question in what sense such a creation would really exist independently of God. In what sense could the multitude of inorganic and organic forms be said to exist, in the absence of any conscious, finite spirits to perceive and understand them? Without appealing to some rather naively objectivistic notion of matter, or something similar, it seems to me difficult to imagine in what sense this creation would, on the side of the creation, be really distinct from God, rather than being a theophany which would be wholly active on the divine side, and wholly passive on the created. But a person, a self, a hypostatic spirit (or whatever term one prefers) is simply not an “object,” even a “spiritual” one. It seems to me that what Bulgakov is gesturing towards is that even if this “response” occurs at the very threshold of being created, as it were, it is simply impossible for a spirit to be created in a way that would be describable in, to put it crudely, third-personal terms. I’m also reminded of a point that John Milbank makes somewhere; the idea, if I remember right, is that creation ex nihilo, since it denies any pre-existing matter, must imply that the very receptivity of the creation (its “being created”) is itself given. In other words, this receptivity (which is somehow both passive and active at once) cannot be something merely on the created side of the God world relation (since this would be to assume that there is already something there to receive the creative act, in which case it would be a shaping of something already existing, and not creation proper).

    Liked by 1 person

    • brian says:

      Take a look at what Milbank writes about Blondel in Theology and Social Science. Also, Blanchette’s philosophical biography of Blondel tackles some of these issues a bit in the latter half of that long work (800 pages).

      Liked by 2 people

      • apoorcatinstasis says:

        Thanks. I have read Milbank’s book, but I don’t recall the discussion of Blondel. I don’t know Blanchette’s biography of Blondel, but I found another of his books useful: The Perfection of the Universe According to Aquinas: A Teleological Cosmology. There are a couple of choice passages there which relate to my previous post: “Without knowing beings in the universe this perfection would be lacking. The universe would be less of a universe, and more like a mere juxtaposition of beings, each perfect in itself, perhaps, but always imperfect in comparison to others and to the whole of which it is only a part. The universe had to be thought of as somehow relating to human sense and intelligence in its ultimate perfection” and “Without the human being’s knowing activity, nature remains essentially incomplete.”

        The other considerations, implicit in my post, have to do with the question of how the creation of the human being relates to the Incarnation. Here I am totally out of my depth, so what I say will no doubt be rather muddled, but I have found it fascinating to engage with the discussions of Neo-Chalcedonian Christology by someone like Jordan Daniel Wood. If, as I understand this perspective to be implying, the Incarnation reconciles the difference between God and the world in a unique way, precisely in relation to the human being (since Christ is, as I recall Wood writing somewhere, both creature and Creator) it would seem that the Incarnation must crucially influence how we understand the creation of the human being, as distinct from the rest of nature.

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        • brian says:

          Erich Przywara’s Analogia Entis is notoriously difficult, but John Betz’s introduction to the English translation is good (can’t seem to recall the other fella that worked on that book, but I’m pretty sure he can explain all this in seven or eight languages!) But the short version is Christ is the analogy of being, though of course, what precisely that means requires a long discursus. Jordan Daniel Wood is always worth the read. Blondel discerns in a phenomenological and metaphysical analyses of human action the primordial presence of the Infinite. The spirit is “always already” addressed. From the origin (William Desmond focuses on the “passio essendi” where being is “suffered” as a giftedness that excludes “third person” ontology,) one is confronted with the difference Gabriel Marcel characterizes and the fundamental priority of being over “having.” But then again, this is probably true for the entire cosmos. In this sense, the flourishing headship by which humankind is called to a priesthood of creation that “speaks for all” remarks a unified action in which every being contributes something unique and “essential,” notwithstanding those who would treat non-human creation as necessary, but discardable means to the emergence of spiritual agents — as if diamonds, giraffes, hummingbirds, orchids, beluga whales, and the mighty oak are like booster engines on the Saturn rocket that plummet earthward once they have performed their propulsive role. God did not make death, nor is creation a clockwork mechanism of aloof, deist design manifesting inadequate transcendence and hence an impoverished understanding of divine intimacy. The Eucharist is sacramental promise and kenotic witness to the integral cosmos resurrected in the living flesh of Christ.

          Being is not nothing — it is never “purely” passive. This is why Edith Stein describes potentiality as “something and not nothing” because an actual nothing could not be receptive of gift. (None of this implies a denial of creatio ex nihilo. Creation names contingent being made room for in God by a generous “withdrawal of the divine.” The whence from nothing is metaphysically inescapable.) Augustine’s existential quest is determined by the ever greater reality of the Infinite that founds his own identity. He discovers himself only by leaving behind any conceptual, “external” fabricated persona — to be is to be lifted by grace beyond the intellectual and imaginative boundaries of finite being. Theosis is both ontological transformation and noetic translation whereby the finite intelligible is impossibly drawn into the dynamic plenitude of divine perfection. All this was once a commonplace of contemplative praxis that recognized in Nature a Mystical, Symbolic text. Yet one should not forget that Augustinian discovery is a product of historical development and existential search, though accomplishment remains a pure gift of grace boht beyond and invisibly within temporal action. It is still event. As John Behr’s insightful introduction to Origen’s On First Principles makes clear, it is lack of sufficient awareness of the distinction between eternity and time that led to the misinterpretation that Origen taught pre-existent souls. Rather, his entire vision is liturgical and profoundly eschatological. It is the “future that is God” that precedes any temporal beginnings. What appears contradictory if one is stuck in a linear, univocal plane becomes at least imaginatively available when one begins to intuit the revelatory dynamism that is both analogical and eschatological. Hence, the spiritual assent of personal being pondered in terms of origin is a result of temporal development and the inbreaking of eternity “at the end.” This can engender paradoxes. “Unless the Unhoped for is Hoped for it will not be discovered,” wrote Heraclitus. Bulgakov follows Origen here.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            “But then again, this is probably true for the entire cosmos.” Yes, I am weary of strict boundaries between humanity vs. the rest of creation in regards to this. Not to marginalize the distinct and unique role of consciousness (and I aver it indeed contributes a ‘heightened presence’ of the Imago Dei), but the very cosmos in its process of becoming is always already active receptivity, a reciprocity of gift to and from the other, an ecstatic going forth from God and a return to God in its utter contingency. This is equally true of space dust, a butterfly, or homo sapiens; oversight of this is in my estimation simply a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of reality, of ourselves as creature.

            Quick word on the nothingness of creatio ex nihilo – it is in reflection on the meaning of nothingness and non-being that creation-as-emanation paints a more accurate picture than do the more commonly accepted notions of “making” or “creating”. Which of course is another way of saying that univocal approaches fall utterly short and should once for all be abandoned.

            Liked by 1 person

  3. Matthew Hryniewicz says:

    Is it incorrect to think that creatio ex nihilo is strictly from the perspective of creation? There was nothing like the cosmos from which the cosmos could spring, but it still sprang from ‘somthing.’ It seems to me that the ‘something’ being created from is really none other than God himself; “creatio ex deus” if you will. Otherwise I’m not sure how to get around violating ex nihilo nihil fit.

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    • Matthew Hryniewicz says:

      Or am I getting muddled up in some kind of pantheism?

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Aquinas says that God is the efficient cause of the universe but not the material cause. As William Carroll puts it: “God, with no material cause, makes all things to exist as entities that are really different from His own being yet completely dependent upon His causality.”

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  4. John H says:

    Dear Father Al:

    The Catholic Encyclopedia’s article on creationism was very interesting. I did not know that scholastic theologians, including Aquinas, viewed the creation of the soul as occurring in stages throughout the gestation period of the fetus. The actual rational soul was therefore not created by God until several weeks after conception when embryonic development was sufficiently advanced to accommodate the intellect. In modern medical jargon, this would probably be the stage of development where brain activity commences.

    Of course, the current unequivocal position of the Church is that the complete soul is created at the moment of conception. Do you happen to know when the Catholic Church first formulated the aforementioned doctrine? Is Aquinas’ position still a permissible theologoumenon ? And did Orthodoxy ever hold a position on the creation of the soul similar to that of Aquinas?

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    • incessable says:

      Regarding “Of course, the current unequivocal position of the Church is that the complete soul is created at the moment of conception. Do you happen to know when the Catholic Church first formulated the aforementioned doctrine? Is Aquinas’ position still a permissible theologoumenon ?”

      My understanding of the situation – up until the 19th century, the majority view in the Latin church was that the rational soul only became present at quickening; that the rational soul was present from conception is the minority view. Since the 19th century, the former minority view has now become the majority view in the Church. (Exactly why this change happened is disputed; some argue it is due to the modern science of embryology overturning certain assumptions made by Aristotle, others point to the adoption of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin.) However, the question of whether the new majority view is in fact formally binding on Catholics, to the extent that the former majority view is no longer a permissible theologoumenon, has not as yet been clearly answered by the Catholic Magisterium. I’d note that, although this debate is often brought up in the context of abortion, historical advocates of the rational-soul-at-quickening view (such as St Thomas Aquinas) still believed abortion to be sinful throughout pregnancy, it is just that they viewed early abortion as the sin of contraception not the sin of homicide.

      On the topic of the Orthodox Church, since I am Catholic not Orthodox, it is not really my place to say what the Orthodox view is, but it is worth noting that in 1988 the major jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church in the United States submitted an amicus curiae brief to the United States Supreme Court arguing for the overturning of Roe v Wade. The Amicus brief argued that the majority of the Orthodox tradition supported the ensoulment-at-conception view, and cites St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nyssa in support; although it acknowledges that St Augustine argued the opposite viewpoint, it views the former two figures as more definitive for the Orthodox tradition. (It also notes that Tertullian’s support for the ensoulment-from-conception viewpoint, not that Tertullian is generally seen as a binding authority for the Orthodox, but simply to note that this viewpoint was also accepted by many in the Latin church.) All that said, I don’t think an amicus curiae to the US Supreme Court is in itself binding on American Orthodox, let alone those in other countries – but, given it argues on the basis of preferring St Basil the Great and St Gregory of Nyssa over St Augustine, which is generally the way Orthodox theology trends, it may nonetheless be a fair statement of the majority view in the Orthodox Church (but it is certainly not for me to comment on whether or not that majority view is binding on the Orthodox, and whether or not the opposing minority view is acceptable for them)

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  5. brian says:

    Robert, there needs to be a beer emoji on this site. Well stated and could not agree more.

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    • apoorcatinstasis says:

      For some reason, there is no reply option to Robert’s post, so I will just reply to both of you here. Perhaps I’ve misunderstood both of you, and certainly Brian’s response was far too rich and complex for me to address adequately. In any case, my questions had little to do with drawing a strict boundary between humanity and the rest of creation. Indeed, one of the points of the thought experiment of imagining a creation without any finite created spirits was precisely that this is not the cosmos we in fact inhabit. It seems to me equally misleading both to “treat non-human creation as necessary, but discardable means to the emergence of spiritual agents” and to suggest that the distinctive being of the former is conceivable in abstraction from their place in a whole of which created spirits are an integral part. And, in any case, even apart from the question of created spirits, it is impossible to avoid the question of how non-human (and non-angelic) creation relates to Spirit (which I prefer to consciousness, since the latter is too apt to be misinterpreted in narrow psychologistic terms) since, after all, it is all created by God. I don’t see how it could make sense, unless one is a naturalist of some sort, to consider those aspects of creation that do not even seem to possess sentience (say plants and inorganic nature), independently of their constitutive relation to spirit and personhood.

      I suppose my problem with a lot of the implicit metaphors used to speak about analogy, participation etc.—specifically in relation to the question of the creation of the human “I”—is that they actually imply the presence of spirit, whether human or divine. Whether one speaks of an image, or a reflection, or a mirroring etc., in each case the metaphor implicitly presupposes the presence of someone who recognises both the difference between original and image, and their relation. To me, the idea that, say, a reflection in a mirror would be a reflection in an atheistic, purely material universe, which was not created by God and which does not contain any finite created spirits, is basically unintelligible.

      As far as my original questions, and their relation to Bulgakov, this passage, from The Lamb of God, is relevant:

      “Therefore, as far as the in-hypostatization of the Logos in man is concerned, the postulate of the Incarnation is a certain primordial identity between the Divine I of the Logos and the human I; this identity, however, does not exclude the essential difference between them. This is precisely the relation of the image to the Proto-Image, the relation that unites the identity existing generally between the image and the Proto-Image with the difference existing between eternity and temporality, between the Creator and creation. The human hypostatic spirit, which lives in man and which fundamentally distinguishes him from the animal world, has a divine, uncreated origin from “God’s breath.” This spirit is a spark of Divinity that is endowed by God with a creaturely-hypostatic face in the image of the Logos and, through Him, in the image of the entire Holy Trinity, insofar as the trihypostatic Face can be reflected in the creaturely consciousness of self. Through his spirit, man communes with the Divine essence and is capable of being “deified.” Being “united with and living by the divine nature, man is not only man but also potentially – by predestination, by his formal structure – a god-man. At the same time, in his nature, as the soul of the world, as “flesh” (i.e., through his animate body), man unites in himself the entire world, which in this sense is his humanity. Man consists of an uncreated, divine spirit, hypostatized by a creaturely I, and of a created soul and body. This humanity of his has, in its cosmic being, the image of the creaturely Sophia; and he himself therefore contains the creaturely Sophia, who is hypostatized in him. As a result, he is the sophianic hypostasis of the world.”

      My question really arose from the fact that I am very sympathetic to the idea that it is impossible to make sense of the “I” (and I think “consciousness” is a far too limited term for what is in question here) without the assumption that there is, in the most intimate depths of the “I” some “spark” however small, that is uncreated. This seems, unless I am totally misreading Bulgakov, what he is implying here. If that is granted, as it seems to be by Bulgakov, my problem has to do with the difficulty of making sense less of the “primordial identity between the Divine I of the Logos and the human I” but rather “of the “essential difference between them.” Specifically, I am struggling to make sense of what “the relation of the image to the Proto-Image” actually means, and to what extent the implicit metaphor here is adequate to articulate a relation between “human I” and “Divine I.” This not a question of my accepting or rejecting this idea; rather, I simply don’t understand what it is supposed to mean, over and above the implicit metaphor of imaging or mirroring, which is a third-personal one. An alternative first-personal analogy here, which I find it much easier to understand, is that between and act of consciousness and its content, in other words, the difference, say, between a noetic act and the reflective awareness of that act, which is both somehow identical with the act, and yet also different from it. But even here, similar problems arise. Even at the human level, and despite the fact that we have no immediate access to another person’s “I,” it is obviously true that this active spirit reveals itself in the ways that we experience them, and we do not think of them as being merely a certain, relatively unified “content” of our consciousness. Indeed, apart from the obvious fact that other people are not creations of our consciousness, to think so would be dehumanising.

      There seem to be a few primary options here: the metaphor of reflection, or of imaging, some sort of mereological account, or an account in terms of the relation between particular and universal. None of these seem fully adequate to me. The first seems to imply two main assumptions: a) the difference between original and copy and b) a relation of similarity (not identity) between two particulars. This seems inadequate both because of its third-personal character, because God is not a particular, and because there is, in the Divine I/Human I relation, not possible “third” observer, as it were, who would discern the relation of both difference and similarity. A mereological account would involve something like the claim that human I’s are somehow parts of the divine I. This, again, seems inadequate for any number of reasons, including the fact that it seems to side-step the issue of creation altogether, and because it is too strongly tied to sensible analogies. The particular/universal account would suggest, roughly, that human I’s are particular instances of a universal divine I. This, again, seems inadequate, because, among other things, God is not a universal, and also because such an account would seem to imply that the Divine I is individuated, in human I’s, by matter (a matter which, if one is speaking of creation ex nihilo, does not exist prior to creation). This is no doubt a result of my inadequate knowledge of the theological tradition, but I find it hard to conceive, at present, of any clear alternative to these inadequate analogies.

      None of this is meant to imply a rejection of analogy or of talking about image original etc. I’m just trying to understand what it actually means, in a way that would avoid, for instance, seeing the “human I” as merely a diminished “copy” of the Divine I, but would, instead, understand the existence of finite spirits as something positive, however much the true relation between them and their divine original might be obscured by the Fall.

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      • brian says:

        I think you have to contextualize what Bulgakov is saying there in light of the entire Christology articulated in The Lamb of God. This means, among other things, that Christ’s humanity is not compartmentalized along individualist, nominalist lines of thought. You are not just dealing with metaphors, but ontological modes of thinking. And, as Balthasar often pointed out, person is always a participation in Christ. We are all truly “in Christ.” Last, I think this is found in DC Schindler’s Plato’s Critique of Impure Reason, consider that one perhaps should not think of the image as a pale copy of the Form, but itself a vibrant reality that enriches the Form. Edith Stein expounds a metaphysics in conversation with phenomenology that would also recognize in the living being a compelling, concrete reality that should not be intrepreted as a mere defatigation from formal aseity.

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        • apoorcatinstasis says:

          So, if I am understanding you correctly, this definitely points in the direction I have in mind. Part of the difficulty is that I’m trying to articulate, in my own theologically amateurish way, questions for which I lack the proper theologically terminology.

          A few points/questions:

          1) if we should not think about Christ’s humanity in a “compartmentalised,” “individualist” and “nominalist” way, then am I right to assume that in speaking of His human nature, as opposed to his person, or hypostasis, we are speaking of something like a concrete universal (perhaps in the sense in which Gregory of Nyssa, if I am not misrepresenting him, conceived of “humanity” as comprising all human beings from the beginning of time till the end), which is neither some abstract essence existing independently of the human hypostases who realise it, nor merely a collection of bare particulars? In other words, would it be right to say that “human nature” does not refer only to Christ’s one, particular living body, but also, in some sense to humanity as a whole?

          2) Ultimately, when we are speaking about Christ, what (or who) in Him is it that says “I”? I assume, perhaps wrongly, that it is His hypostasis and not His human nature, which (if the preceding questions are on the right track, is not itself a “person” if considered in abstraction.

          3) What is the relation between Christ’s “I” and that of human beings? Or, to put it otherwise, if “person is always a participation in Christ,” does this imply (as it seems to me to do) that, strictly speaking, no human being possesses their own “I,” but only receives it by participation? In other word, would it be true to say that if, impossibly, we did not participate in Christ, we would be only psycho-physical beings, each whom realises an aspect of a shared nature.

          4) And this relates back to my earlier questions about whether the human “I” (or, if you prefer, spirit) is created, in the same sense in which not only the rest of nature is, but even in the sense in which the ensouled body is (where “soul” is being used not in the sense of “person” but in a concretely universal sense corresponding to “nature”). In a sense, this is partly a question about the nature of human individuation, since it does seem to me that we are less individuated at the level of body and soul, if these are considered in abstraction from what I am here calling spirit.

          5) Here I am perhaps getting into hazardous speculation; nevertheless, the combination of a non-nominalistic understanding of human nature, together with the idea that “person is always a participation in Christ” seems to me to imply that, strictly speaking, the one, fully individuated human being is God Incarnate. If this is right, then it would seem that in speaking about “person as always a participation in Christ’ one is speaking not about the participation of independently existing human hypostases, but rather about “humanity.” This, in turn, would influence how we think about the creation of human persons, since it would seem to follow that one cannot think of this as involving the creation of already “complete” psycho-physical entities, who subsequently participate in Christ. Rather, since on this view we are constitutively incomplete, the Incarnation would in fact be the metaphysical condition for the possibility of the creation of human beings.

          Is any of this remotely related to Bulgakov, and to the sort of thing Jordan Daniel Wood has in mind when he writes: “If creation itself is divine Incarnation, then we must find a way to understand that and how Maximus’s proper Christology really is his metaphysics or cosmology. Christ, I mean, must be the paradigm of creation, the perfect microcosm of the world”?

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          • brian says:

            Both Being and Person are properly true of God. Person for us is aspirational, which is not to say we are not persons with intrinsic dignity along the path of becoming. There remains something obscure and mysterious about person and that is partly because we have not fully arrived and in another sense Person is a gifted dynamic that is always arriving as adventure and discovery and Nyssa understood. #5 is very strong and that is where I am at.

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  6. incessable says:

    I have often wondered about the idea of “creatio ex se” – not God creating us out of nothing, but rather God creating us out of himself. Of course, I realise this idea is probably way too panentheistic for most Christians – although, I do think there is a panentheistic undercurrent in Christian theology, see in particular Eriugena – Eriugena’s image of God as an ocean invites the idea that we are drops that will one day merge into that ocean, and if we merge into that ocean in the end, might we not have emerged from it in the beginning? That all we were once God, and that all will one day be God once more. Of course, I realise this is possibly getting pretty far from “orthodox”, and maybe insufficiently orthodox even for an “Eclectic Orthodoxy”…

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    • DBH says:

      Creatio ex Deo, you should say, or creatio ex seipso perhaps (as in Deus ex seipso creavit omnia)–the phrase creatio ex se is ambiguous in Latin.

      What would the difference be, metaphysically, between creatio ex nihilo and creatio ex Deo? In point of fact, none. Both mean that God imparts being to creatures who otherwise would not exist solely out of his own infinite Being.

      Exitus et reditus, egressus et regressus, diastole kai systole, proodos kai epistrophe… There is only one source of essence or of existence.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        Until I read Dionysius the Areopagite, I did not understand that creatio ex nihilo and creaio ex Deo really meant the same thing.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Fr Kimel and DBH. I intuitively vibe with what you’re saying, but my question would then be, does this mean that nihil Deus est? (This is something that I have wondered since 2016, and if true I suspect it has interesting implications for interfaith dialogue with Buddhists; those charmingly sophisticated nihilists 🙂 )

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        • Oh, and supplementary to my question DBH, would you say that Exitus reditus est, egressus regressus est, et diastole systole ἐστί, και proodos epistrophe ἐστί?

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          • finally, are we exiting from and return to God, or exiting from and returning to nothing, or simultaneously exiting from and returning to both God and Nothing simultaneously? etc etc etc (I’m getting चतुष्कोटि vibes right now. I finished BOTI a week or two ago and the waves of divine gnosis are still lapping against the shore of my mind. Unfortunately the tide is going out 😦 But I’m planning to re-read the minor dogmatic section soon for my Trinity major essay! 🙂 )

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          • (last message i promise). DBH I thought your formula was “Creatio ex nihilo in Deum”. There does seem to be a difference between “Creatio in Deum” and “Creatio ex Deo” (and therefore arguably “Creatio ex nihilo” is not strictly conveying the same concept as “Creatio ex deo”, although I do understand how all of these formulations express orthodox truth), at least linguistically. I guess it’s a matter of semantics

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          • DBH says:

            Creatio ex nihilo in Deum and creatio ex Deo would be the same thing, wouldn’t they? The nihil is not some thing “outside” God. The creature’s ascent into God is nothing but God ceaselessly imparting his being to the creature.

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