To Infinity and Beyond: Desire and Deification in the One-Storey Universe

In this final installment of my reflections upon You Are Gods, we come to the fourth, final, and most contentious highlight of the book:

4) Human beings are necessarily ordered to deification in Jesus Christ by virtue of their creation as rational beings.

In 1946 Henri de Lubac unleashed a theological revolution in mid-20th century Catholicism by asserting that humanity is created with an absolute and unconditional desire for the beatific vision. He maintained this position over the decades, though conceding the possibility that God could have created human nature solely determined by a natural end. In You Are Gods, David Bentley Hart advances the argument that de Lubac did not, and per­haps could not, advance: in every possible world, humanity naturally seeks communion with God. Such is what it means to be a rational spirit.

I begin with Hart’s elegant chapter on Nicholas of Cusa, “The Treasure of Delight: Nicholas of Cusa on Infinite Desire.” In this chapter Hart exegetes Cusanus’s remarkable little book The Vision of God, composed as a prayer to the LORD. Cusanus makes the following claims:

God is Absolute Infinity and therefore incomprehensible, transcending all finite conceptuality.

O Lord God, Helper of those who seek You, I see You in the garden of Paradise, and I do not know what I see, because I see no visible thing. I know only the following: viz., that I know that I do not know—and never can know—what I see. Moreover, I do not know how to name You, because I do not know what You are. And if someone tells me that You are named by this or that name, then by virtue of the fact that he names, I know that [this] is not Your name. For the limit of every mode of signification that belongs to names is the wall beyond which I see You. And if anyone expresses any concept whereby [allegedly] You can be conceived, I know that this concept is not a concept of You; for every concept reaches its limit at the wall of Paradise. . . . Hence, when I am very highly elevated, I see that You are Infinity. (§13)

To be illimited is to exceed all boundaries, but to be without boundaries is to be inherently unknowable, as St Gregory of Nyssa perceived in the fourth century.

♦ God is his own infinite end.

You, my God, are Absolute Infinity, which I see to be an Infinite End. But I cannot apprehend how it is that an end is an End without an end. You, 0 God, are Your own end, because You are whatever You have. If You have an end, You are an end. Therefore, You are an Infinite End, because You are Your own end, since Your end is Your essence. The essence of end is not limited by, or ended in, something other than end but by and in itself. Therefore, the End which is its own end is infinite; and every end which is not its own end is a finite end. Because, O Lord, You are the End that delimits all things, You are an End of which there is no end; and thus You are an End without an end—i.e., an Infinite End. (§13)

Only the infinite God is his own end; contingent beings are ordered to their Creator as their final end. Yet the final end for both is identical.

♦ The cosmos is theophany, the self-manifestation of the Holy Trinity in a finite mode.

The theme is theophany is somewhat hidden in The Vision of God, veiled under the language of enfolding and unfolding, yet it must be noted as a presupposition of Cusanus’s under­stand­ing of the desire for the Infinite. As in Dionysius the Areopagite, the created order bespeaks and sacramentally presences its Creator:

Trusting in Your help, 0 Lord, I turn once again in order to find You beyond the wall of the coincidence of enfolding and unfolding. And when at one and the same time I go in and out through the door of Your Word and Concept, I find most sweet nourishment. When I find You to be a power that enfolds all things, I go in. When I find You to be a power that unfolds, I go out. When I find You to be a power that both enfolds and unfolds, I both go in and go out. From creatures I go in unto You, who are Creator—go in from the effects unto the Cause. I go out from You, who are Creator—go out from the Cause unto the effects. I both go in and go out when I see that going out is going in and that, likewise, going in is going out. . . . For creation’s going out from You is creation’s going in unto You; and unfolding is enfolding. (§11)

As Nancy Shaffer, née Hudson, explains: “God enfolds the created order in himself and unfolds or self-manifests in the world. Accordingly, creation is not a fabricated object apart and against God, but is intimately related to the divine. He offers an understanding of the created order that gives each created thing its own unique self-identity, makes it a perfect reflection of the divine, claims the being of God as its own being, and provides it a place in a united cosmos (a universe).”1 I quote from another of Cusanus’s works, On Learned Ignorance, in which he boldly speaks of the universe, and every being within it, as a “finite infinity” and “created god”:

Who could understand the following? how all things are the image of that one, infinite Form and are different contingently—as if a created thing were a god manqué, just as an accident is a substance manqué, and a woman is a man manqué. For the Infinite Form is received only finitely, so that every created thing is, as it were, a finite infinity or a created god, so that it exists in the way in which this can best occur. [Everything is] as if the Creator had said, “Let it be made,” and as if because a God (who is eternity itself) could not be made, there was made that which could be made: viz., something as much like God as possible. (II.104)

Underlying humanity’s desire to know finite beings is a primordial and innate desire to know Absolute Infinity.

We arrive at the heart of Hart’s essay on Nicholas of Cusa. I quote the entirety of chapter 16 of The Vision of God because it is so darn rich and illuminating, as well as crucial to understanding Hart’s philosophy of desire and knowing:

Unless God were infinite, He would not be the end of desire. Fire does not cease from its flame and neither does the burning love which is directed toward You, O God. You are the Form of everything desirable; You are the Truth which is desired in every desire. Hence, because from Your melli­fluous gift I have begun to taste of Your incomprehensible sweetness, which becomes more pleasing to me the more infinite it appears to be, I see the following: that the reason You, O God, are unknown to all creatures is so that amid this most sacred ignorance creatures may be more content, as if [they were situated] amid a countless and inexhaustible treasure. For one who finds a treasure of such kind that he knows it to be altogether uncountable and infinite is filled with much greater joy than is one who finds a countable and finite treasure. Hence, this most sacred ignorance of Your greatness is a most delectable feast for my intellect—especially since I find such a treasure in my own field, so that it is a treasure which belongs to me.

O Fount of riches! You will both to be comprehended by my possessing You and to remain incomprehensible and infinite. For You are a treasure of delights, whose termination no one can desire. How could the appetite desire to cease being? For whether the will desires to exist or not to exist, the appetite cannot cease from desiring but is directed toward infinity. You descend, O Lord, in order to be comprehended; and You remain uncount­able and infinite. And unless You remained infinite, You would not be the End of desire. You, then, continue to be infinite in order to be the End of all desire. For intellectual desire does not aim at that which can be greater and more desirable but at that which cannot be greater and more desirable. Now, everything that is less than infinite can be greater. Therefore, the End of desire is infinite.

You, then, O God, are Infinity itself, which alone I desire in every desire. I can approach unto a knowledge of Your Infinity no more closely than to know that Your Infinity is infinite. Therefore, the more incomprehensible I compre­hend You-my-God to be, the more I attain unto You, because the more I attain the End of my desire. Therefore, I cast aside anything occurring to me that purports to show that You are comprehensible, because it misleads me. My desire, wherein You shine forth, leads me to You, because it casts aside all finite and comprehensible things. For in these things it cannot find rest; for it is led unto You by You Yourself. But You are Beginning without a beginning and End without an end. Therefore, my desire is led by the Eternal Beginning—from which it has the fact that it is desire—unto the End without an end. And this End is infinite.

I, an insignificant human being, would not be content with You my God if I knew You to be comprehensible. The reason is that I am led by You unto You Yourself, who are incomprehensible and infinite. Lord my God, I see You by means of a certain mental rapture. For if the capacity of sight is not filled up by seeing nor that of the ear by hearing, then even less that of the intellect by understanding. Therefore, it is not the case that that which the intellect understands is that which fully satisfies the intellect, i.e., is the intellect’s end. On the other hand, that which the intellect does not at all understand cannot fully satisfy it, either. Rather, [it is fully satisfied] only [by] that which it understands by not understanding. For an intelligible object that is known by the intellect does not fully satisfy the intellect—and neither does an intelligible object that is not at all known by the intellect. Rather, the intellect can be fully satisfied only by an intelligible object which it knows to be so intelligible that this object can never fully be understood. By comparison, a man who has an insatiable hunger is not fully satisfied by a snack which he can eat. Nor is he fully satisfied by food that does not reach him but only by food which does reach him and, though eaten continually, can never all be eaten up, since it is such that it is not diminished by being eaten, since it is infinite. (§16)

Unlike Aristotle and the medieval scholastics, especially those in the natura pura tradition, Nicholas refuses to limit natural desire to the natural world. God is the “Truth which is desired in every desire.” The intellect cannot find final satisfaction in the apprehension of finite reality. It suffers, we suffer, from an abiding disquietude. Fulfill one quest and soon another beckons. We strive to know more and more, to know more than we can know. The rational thirst for the infinite is insatiable; it cannot be quenched by the things of this world. Ultimately it must transcend the finite to apprehend the transcendent One who images himself in the finite, to gaze beyond the wall of Paradise. “You, then, O God, are Infinity itself, which alone I desire in every desire.” Human beings are drawn to Absolute Infinity precisely because it cannot be comprehended. “You, then, continue to be infinite in order to be the End of all desire.”

But not only does humanity desire the supernatural end which awakens desire; but, as Hart elaborates, the infinite horizon to which we are oriented enables us to know finite realities and recognize them as incapable of satisfying desire:

Nicholas recognizes from the first that nothing could actually prompt an appetite for the infinite that is truly capable of drawing us toward finite ends except a real intelligible horizon of rational longing, against which the intellect can measure and evaluate any finite object of desire. Every limited terminus of rational desire, then, is recognizable to the intellect only and precisely as a contraction and mediation of that formally limitless terminus. And so Nicholas sees this exquisite state of elated frustration as nothing less than the original intentionality of spirit toward God’s revelation of himself in all things, an openness of spiritual creatures to all things, through which all things are reciprocally opened up to spiritual creatures. God’s “facies absoluta“—his absolute face or aspect—is the “natural face of every nature,” the “art and knowledge of everything knowable,” and so the “absoluta entitas omnis esse,” the “absolute entity of all Being.” He is the face of all faces, already seen in every face or aspect of any creature, albeit in a veiled and symbolic manner; he is the infinite treasure of delight glimpsed within every delight, manifesting himself in all that is and by every possible means of attracting the rational will to himself. . . . We receive the world, therefore, and the world is available to our spiritual overtures, entirely on account of this prior infinite appetite for an infinite end, this desire to know the infinite in a real “infinite mode”: that of incomprehensible immediacy, unknowing knowledge. We are capable of knowing any­thing at all only because the primordial orienta­tion of our nature is the longing to know God as God, to see him as he is, rather than as some limited essence. For that vision to be achieved, however, all finite concepts must be surpassed by the intellect as it ascends to a more direct apprehension. That hunger for the infinite as infinite, which can never come to rest in any finite nature, is also the only possible ground of the mind’s capacity for finite realities as objects of rational knowledge or desire. But for our inextinguish­able intentionality toward the “face of all faces,” no face would ever appear to us.2

Note the bolded sentence. In one form or another, we meet this provocative thesis throughout You Are Gods, as well as in Hart’s previous writings: we only know finite reality because human rationality is oriented to deifying union with the transcendent Creator.3 “A finite intention of intellect and will,” Hart comments, “is possible only as the effect of a prior infinite intentionality.”4 Or as I might put it: we want to know anything and everything because God has planted deep in the heart of every human being (and every angel) the appetence to know him as Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Only in him will we find our rest in ecstatic epektasis.

In his Confessions, St Augustine of Hippo famously prays: “Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee” (1.1.5). Hart echoes this prayer in this lovely passage:

Another way of saying this, perhaps, is that our natural and irrepressible desire to know the truth of anything and everything is the desire to “see face to face” and thus to “know fully,” just as we are “fully known” (1 Corin­thians 13:12), and so “to see him as he is” (1 John 3:12). It is the longing to arrive at that place where knowing and the known perfectly coincide, where mind and being achieve so perfect a transparency one to the other that they constitute a single act. The rational will, therefore, can rest content only in that infinite divine simplicity where being and knowing are one event, perfected in the repletion of love.5

In light of the ongoing debate concerning the natural desire for God, I submit the following as the most philosophically radical passage in You Are Gods:

Not even God could create a rational nature not called to deification, any more than he could create a square circle; to have received that call is precisely what it is to be a rational being. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a spiritual creature can possess no purely natural end at all, not even as a penultimate station along the way, and certainly none to which a super­nat­ural end is merely contingently or gratuitously superadded. Quite the con­trary: a spiritual creature is capable of a rational desire for a natural end only within the embrace of a prior supernatural longing, and hence a spiri­tual creature appropriates any given natural good not merely as an end in itself, but as more originally an expression of the supernatural Good. A finite intention of intellect and will is possible only as the effect of a prior infinite intentionality. Any intellectual predilection toward a merely immediate terminus of longing can be nothing other than a mediating modality and local contraction of a total spiritual volition toward the divine. One cannot contemplate a flower, watch a play, or pluck a strawberry from a punnet without being situated within an irrefrangible intentional continuum that extends all the way to God in his fullness.6

Why does Hart believe that human beings necessarily possess an absolute and uncondi­tional appetence for the divine? Because we are rational spirits, created in the image of God. Only because we ordered to Absolute Reality are we able to know the world in which we live. And for the same reason, and no less radically: only because we are ordered to the Absolute Good are we able to purposively act within the world:

The rational will, when freely moved, is always purposive; it acts always toward an end: conceived, perceived, imagined, hoped for, resolved upon. Its every movement is already, necessarily, an act of recognition, judgment, evaluation, and decision, and is therefore also a tacit or explicit reference to a larger, more transcendent realm of values, meanings, and rational longings. Desire and knowledge are always, in a single impulse, directed to some purpose present to the mind, even if only vaguely. Any act lacking such purposiveness is by definition not an act of rational freedom. There are, moreover, only two possible ways of pursuing a purpose: either as an end in itself or as a provisional end pursued for the sake of an end beyond itself. But no finite object or purpose can wholly attract the rational will in the latter way, and no finite thing is desirable in the former. A finite object may, in relative terms, constitute a more compelling end that makes a less compelling end nonetheless instrumentally desirable, but it can never constitute an end in itself. It too requires an end beyond itself to be compelling in any measure; it too can evoke desire only on account of some yet higher, more primordial, more general disposition of reason’s appetites. If not for some always more original orientation toward an always more final end, the will would never act in regard to finite objects at all. Even what pleases us most immediately can be intentionally desired only within the context of a rational longing for the Good in its own fullness.7

I find Hart’s argument compelling; but I am neither metaphysician nor phenomenologist. Will other philosophers, or at least theistic philosophers, be equally persuaded? The jury is out. As one of my seminary professors liked to quip, “Interesting, if true.”

The rationale behind Hart’s emphatic rejection of the natura pura hypothesis should now be clear. The creation of intellectual beings necessarily implies a supernatural end. To divorce human nature from such an end, even hypothetically, is to imagine a nonhuman, nonspiri­tual entity incapable of rational thought and purposive action. What then would be the point? Surely none worthy of the God and Father of Jesus Christ.

I cannot resist circling back to Cusanus in order to share with you yet another of Hart’s lovely reflections:

For Nicholas, the very structure of all finite rational desire is nothing other than a created participation in the infinite movement of the divine life: the Father knowing himself perfectly in his Logos, such that his being and his knowing are one and the same reality, consummated in the love of the Spirit. And the radical implication of this way of seeing things is that the immanent telos of God’s own life and the transcendent telos of the life of a spiritual creature are, formally and finally, one and the same telos: the divine essence, understood as the perfect repletion of God’s life of love and knowledge. As God is God in the eternal and eternally accomplished movement of God to God, so we are gods in the process of becoming God solely by virtue of always existing within that movement, proceeding from the same source and toward the same end; we do so in the mode of finitude, contingency, and successiveness, and so are not God in se; but teleolog­ically we are nothing but God. There is no “place” other than “in him” where a spiritual creature can live and move and have its being and so seek its ultimate end—which is to say, the fullness of reality that God is. In fact, it might not be wrong to say that, for Nicholas, the difference between God and spiritual creatures is in some sense ontologically modal: it is the difference, that is, between the infinite simplicity of divine being, on the one hand, in whom there is a perfect identity of knower and known or of essence and existence (this latter is not Nicholas’s terminology, of course) and the finite dynamism of created being, which directly participates in that divine reality but only under the form of a perpetual synthesis of knowing and being known.8

Hart has been recently accused of advocating a heretical form of pantheism.9 The above passage puts the allegation to the lie. He clearly maintains the distinction between the uncreated God, for whom essence and existence are identical, and created gods, who are freely and gratuitously summoned into existence from out of nothing to participate in the infinite plenitude of the divine life of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. If we must label Hart’s position, I propose “non-dualist classical theism.”10

“Is it not written in your Law,” Jesus asks the Pharisees, “‘I have said you are gods?'” (John 10:34). And does not the Apostle Paul promise that God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28)? In the God-Man and by the Holy Spirit, we are gods-in-the making and therefore will be and indeed are God. I admit that this phrasing is bold and unexpected and vulnerable to misunderstanding. I probably would not speak this way from the pulpit. Too much explanation is needed, and one can hardly ask parishioners to digest Hart’s book. Far less confusing is the biblical language of (a) adoption as sons in the Son (Gal 4:4-7) and (b) partaking in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). The challenge is to read and preach these two two texts together. When we do, we may find ourselves very close to Hart’s position. Is this not what theosis ultimately means, to become gods in God and thus to be God? Recall Hart’s fourth and fifth premises, stated in the introduction:

God became human so that humans should become God. Only the God who is always already human can become human. Only a humanity that is always already divine can become God.

God is all that is. Whatever is not God exists as becoming divine, and as such is God in the mode of what is other than God. But God is not “the other” of anything.11

Consider: God is not an other over against his creation. We of course think and speak about him as a being, as does Holy Scripture. We tell stories about him. We imagine him living somewhere we know not where. Yet Christian theology has never been completely comfortable with this way of thinking. God is beyond being, Dionysius the Areopagite declares; God is Being, St Thomas Aquinas asserts. In either case, what does this mean for us? Following in the tradition of Thomas, Robert Barron states: “Creatures do not so much have a relationship to God; they are a relationship to God.”12 Christian liturgy stipulates that our conversation with God occurs within the triadic Godhead: we pray to the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. In God we live and move and have our being. So far so good. But Hart goes on to say that God is all that exists. What the heck does that mean? Don’t we exist? Aren’t we something? Yes but in a mode of radical contingency and dependency. We are a blink of an eye from the abyss. Only God exists in himself; only God is his own end. As for everything else, they exist in the mode of becoming divine and therefore “is God in the mode of what is other than God.” It sounds like nonsense (and a Thomist would no doubt agree), yet what sounds like nonsense in one philosophical tradition makes paradoxical sense in the tradition of Dionysius, Eriugena, and Cusanus.13 Hart’s point is rigorously metaphysical. God plus the world does not equal two. “Take away God from the creation,” Nicholas writes, “and nothing remains” (Ignorance 2.110).

Here I direct the reader to the difficult final chapter of You Are Gods, “The Chiasmus: the Created Supernatural and the Natural Divine.” In this essay Hart succinctly lays out his metaphysics of uncreated and created being and the logic of divine transcendence and the deification of the not-God:

To say that God is but also shall be “all in all” is to say that his eternal act of being God includes within itself his act of being God within the not-God. No dimension of the divine fullness can be lacking, even the dimension of that fullness expressing itself “beyond” itself. The creation, redemption, and deification of rational creation, the restoration and transfiguration of material creation, the whole of God’s action within created time—all of it is the created expression of the uncreated in its transcendence even of the division between transcendent and immanent. This is the necessary amphibology of the One: possessing as it must all possibility as actuality in perfect simplicity, it contains within the inner actuality of the divine plenitude even the possibility of creation’s relation to its creator as wholly other.14

The logic is challenging and difficult, as is its conclusion. To be ordered to God as our final end, which is his end, is to be God. Clearly Hart is not speaking nonsense, nor is he speak­ing heresy. He is pointing us to the eschatological mystery of uncreated and created divin­ity. The now standard Orthodox construal of theosis as participation in the divine energeiai, which are God yet not God in the simplicity of the divine essence, approaches Hart’s view—yet differences remain.15 Both formulations seek to affirm maximal deification of the human being in the incarnate Word; both seek to affirm maximal participation and union in the infinite life of the Trinity. Both would agree with the teaching of St Maximus the Confessor: “All that God is, except for an identity in being, one becomes when one is deified by grace.”16 Perhaps the key difference is how Hart thinks the creatio ex nihilo within the eternal self-knowing of the Father and the Word in the Spirit. “Surely the temporal is, from the perspective of the finite, contingent,” he elucidates. “But, from the perspective of the eternal life of God, God’s manifestation of himself to himself is never without his manifestation in creation, and so creation is eternally present within the eternal act whereby God is God.”17 Hart thus maintains a clear distinction between the eternal generation of the Son and Spirit by the Father and the eternal creation of the world from nothing by through the Son in the Spirit. Once this is clearly seen, it is but a small step to affirm that the not-God, namely the finite universe, must be God by virtue of the divine simplicity. The Palamite distinction between the divine essence and energies would thus seem to be unnecessary, at least within Hartian metaphysics. In other words, the Palamite account of deification is insufficiently grounded in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

I must ponder all of this further. I hope that philosophers and theologians will invest the serious work needed to comprehend and where necessary critique the metaphysical vision Hart has offered to the Church.

And I invite you, the reader, to ponder the wondrous, breathtaking destiny of humanity—to become gods in God. This is the inextinguishable desire that lies deep in our souls.

Footnotes

[1] Nancy S. Hudson, “Divine Immanence: Nicholas of Cusa’s Understanding of Theophany,” Journal of Theological Studies, 56 (2005): 455; also see her book Becoming God (2007), chap. 2.

[2] David Bentley Hart, You Are Gods (2022), pp. 24-25; emphasis mine.

[3] See, e.g., David B. Hart, The Experience of God (2013), part two; and his Notre Dame paper “Mind, Soul, World” (2016).

[4] Hart, p. 13.

[5] Hart, p. 30.

[6] Ibid., pp. 12-13. I do concede that other “most radical,” and perhaps even more radical, claims can be found in You Are Gods, especially in the final chapter.

[7] Ibid., pp. 13-14.

[8] Ibid., pp. 30-31; emphasis mine. “Grace and nature remain continuous for Cusanus. . . . In De filiatione dei Cusanus explicitly declares the human spirit to contain a divine seed that allows it to grow into full conformity with God’s Son. The soul’s natural aspirations remain unfulfilled until she reaches this theosis which allows her to partake in God’s own nature.” André Dupré, “The Mystical Theology of De Visione Dei,” in Eros and Eris (1992), p. 107.

[9] See, e.g., Edward Feser’s online review of You Are Gods: “David Bentley Hart’s Post-Christian Pantheism,” Public Discourse (31 March 2022).

[10] Cf. David B. Burrell, “Creatio ex Nihilo Recovered,” Modern Theology, 29 (2013). The term panentheism also comes to mind to describe DBH’s understanding of divinity, but heck, everyone today wants to be a panentheist.

[11] Hart, pp. xviii.

[12] Robert Barron, Catholicism (2014), p. 76.

[13] See, e.g., Dermot Moran, “Pantheism from John Scottus Eriugena to Nicholas of Cusa,” American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 64 (1990): 131-151. Consider the following passage from Cusanus:

Each of the blessed, while the truth of each’s being is preserved, exists in Christ Jesus as Christ and through him in God as God, and God, remaining the absolute maximum, exists in Christ Jesus as Jesus and through him in all things as all things. (Ignorance 3.12.261)

[14] Ibid., p. 118.

[15] Cf. Kallistos Ware, “God Immanent yet Transcendent: The Divine Energies According to Saint Gregory Palamas,” in In Whom We Live and Move and Have Our Being (2004): 157-168.

[16] Maximus, Amb. 41.5. This oft-quoted sentence appears to be succinct paraphrase of the original text, which is why it’s oft-quoted. Also see Artemije Radosavljević, “Deification as the End and Fulfillment of Salvation According to St. Maximos the Confessor.”

[17] Hart, p. 104

(Return to first article)

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43 Responses to To Infinity and Beyond: Desire and Deification in the One-Storey Universe

  1. TJF says:

    Theosis always blows my mind. Sounds like the rankest blasphemy and heresy to those who have never heard of it, like myself, a few years ago. Makes more sense than anything else though. I think Hart is just taking the claim at face value and not making the litany of qualifications people have tried to introduce to basically say “You become God, but not really.” To this Hart heartily responds, “Yes, really.” And he is backed up by some pretty gigantic figures in the tradition. Please correct me if I am mistaken.

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      No – DBH is careful to make the necessary qualifications; for instance, such that theosis does not mean the creature is or becomes God-self. The uncreate-created distinction remains fully in tact.

      Liked by 1 person

      • TJF says:

        I guess I should’ve been more clear. That one is necessary, usually more qualifications are added. You’d still see Orthodox Christians blush at some of the statements made in this blog post and in the book.

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      • DBH says:

        Ummmm…..not exactly. Like Eriugena and Eckhart (and Maximus, I would argue), I would argue that the distinction is present in both God and creation, such that there is that which is uncreated in the creature, and such that creation is also the created God. I would not be able to agree to the way you formulate it without several qualifications.

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      • Renée says:

        Both Ibn Arabi’s, “The servant remains the servant and the Lord remains the Lord,”–i.e., on the level of Creator and created, the distinction is not erased–*and* Meister Eckhart’s, “”There is something in the soul, which is uncreated and uncreatable…”

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  2. JBG says:

    “As God is God in the eternal and eternally accomplished movement of God to God, so we are gods in the process of becoming God solely by virtue of always existing within that movement, proceeding from the same source and toward the same end; […]”

    I’m wondering if this might lend credence to at least some aspects of process philosophy?

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    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Not sure which aspects of process you have in mind JBG, but as far as the contingent is understood to be enfolded in the perfected movement of God, one cannot meaningfully speak of process theology. Speaking of accomplished or perfected in the context of theological proper is terribly misleading and infinitely inadequate, as God’s movement cannot be perfected, it was always already complete and perfect.

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      • JBG says:

        Robert Fortuin: “God’s movement cannot be perfected, it was always already complete and perfect.”

        Right, but is the creation of gods (and their movement from source to end) somehow external to God’s complete and perfect movement?

        DBH: “Whatever is not God exists as becoming divine, and as such is God in the mode of what is other than God.”

        DBH: “Nothing can ever truly become anything other than what it already is, at least potentially.”

        So, it would seem that “gods in the process of becoming God” is but God in another mode. And this mode of God (God in mode of becoming) obviously does not detract from God’s already complete and perfect Being.

        Some might be tempted to refer to God in this other mode—in the mode of becoming divine—as God in process.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          I understand JGB, but then one gives short shrift to the meaning of “other than God”. One must refrain from giving in to the temptation of the modal collapse. 😉

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          • JBG says:

            Ok, what does it mean for God to be other than God? It seems, at face value, like a contradiction, a logical impossibility.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Well you know the whole mirror, reflection and light analogies – they all break down at some point (as they should) but point to real participation in the life of God. No matter how we cut it, we can’t really suppose some “outside” of God in which creation resides…

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          • JBG says:

            Robert Fortuin: “ we can’t really suppose some “outside” of God in which creation resides…”

            This doesn’t address my question. Ok, we’ve established “where” but now onto the “what”?

            Going back to the 5th premise:

            “God is all that is. Whatever is not God exists as becoming divine, and as such is God in the mode of what is other than God. But God is not “the other” of anything.”

            We are other than God but God is not the other of us.

            I feel like this is a bit of a “wink, wink” statement. Is this a matter of perspective? We are other than God from our perspective (that is, our limited view) but from God’s “perspective” we are not seen as an other, simply because there can be no other. And isn’t God’s “perspective” absolutely true, while our limited human perspective is only relatively true?

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            “I feel like this is a bit of a “wink, wink” statement.” Well you have to take that up with the author 😉

            But seriously, I don’t think it is case of equivocation nor is it a matter of mere perspective, DBH is stating the truth of it accurately. Everything that is created is always a “speculation” of and a participation in the life of God. But we are not muddling things in regards to the hypostatic nor the essential natures. Paul remains Paul, a rabbit remains a rabbit – while yet each is and becomes ever so more God-like, each according to their God given logos.

            From God’s perspective we are seen as other, but always enfolded in his completed act of self-knowing, the eternal intra, inter, and extra exitus-reditus.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            I will tell you this – I think DBH is right in using the language he is – we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that creation is merely participating in the energies of God, if by this we mean participation is in some “thing” other or less than God-self. The problem is a reified distinction between energies and essence, which becomes a distortion and truly non-sense.

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    • DBH says:

      I would not think so.

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  3. DBH says:

    Al,

    I would offer only two modifications.

    1) To say that my views differ from those of most Christian philosophers and theologians of the last millennium is false, if the issue is simply that of the necessary ordering of a rational nature to the direct knowledge of God. That was tacitly assumed by everyone of consequence until the modern period. Yes, in the twentieth century, de Lubac and even Lonergan were forced to give lip-service to a view they didn’t share, all the while looking for a loophole in the phrasing of that silly encyclical.

    2) [I think there’s a typo to fix. The plural of energeia is energeiai.] I think the differences between my view and that of the neo-Palamites are larger than you suggest. Maximus is more radical than the neo-Palamites as well, as is Bulgakov.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Logan(mercifullayman) says:

    This may be a very rudimentary question that someone can answer, and again, I am but a “civilian” in these matters, but doesn’t middle Schelling, while he goes a bridge too far, but I’m thinking about the Bruno/Naturphilosophie/Parts of when explaining the mytho-poetic of the Freiheitsschrift, kind of come to these conclusions as well (and also vividly is universalist)? I mean, it isn’t just the fathers who find these expressions that wind up being an already established fact that is both what it is intended to be, and yet not fully realized, but will be eventually and can only be changed by the subjects apprehension of the other that isn’t other. Where time is both cause and effect together, as well? There are these kind of strange passages in the Bruno (admittedly neo-platonic and he admits as such) that kind of push this same idea. So it seems like any Catholic encyclical act of hegemony on the matter is really just an act of willful blind faith and control to a narrative. I’d also ask DBH, wouldn’t you lump SL Frank into this position with “The Unknowable?” He’s pretty Cusanian on this stuff, no?

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  5. Robert Fortuin says:

    A hasty note here, but I believe the key in understanding how we can claim to be God is in the last sentence of the last quote Fr Kimel cites from You Are Gods. The key questions are: from whence the “other” of creation? And how is it other than God?:

    “This is the necessary amphibology of the One: possessing as it must all possibility as actuality in perfect simplicity, it contains within the inner actuality of the divine plenitude even the possibility of creation’s relation to its creator as wholly other.”

    To explicate this we can say that the contingent possibility of creation and its ever further actualization into itself, and God, is enfolded “located” within the perfected, fully actualized, life of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In God’s perfect knowledge of God-self he knows, and gives possibility to creation’s relation as other; but it is situated precisely in the Son’s speculation of the Father through the Spirit. Creation is born from and by and for the Father’s gaze at the Son, in whom the Father sees himself as in a perfect reflection, but also the Son as the other. Creation then is that speculation, that reflection of God-self, in whom God sees (knows) himself and the other. The aspiration of the rational creature is to know God as other and itself in God.

    No doubt this raises more questions, but that is how I see it, for now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Robert, you have inspired me to add the following quotation to the article: “Surely the temporal is, from the perspective of the finite, contingent. But, from the perspective of the eternal life of God, God’s manifestation of himself to himself is never without his manifestation in creation, and so creation is eternally present within the eternal act whereby God is God.”17 😎

      Liked by 1 person

      • JBG says:

        This is very well stated.

        Nicholas of Cusa said, “ Take away God from the creation and nothing remains.”

        Continuing on that theme of making two out of one, for the purposes of a thought experiment:

        What if one takes away creation from God? God would remain, but what about God’s self-revelation—God’s manifestation of himself to himself? If creation is the reflection of God in whom God knows himself, can God see and know himself in the absence of creation?

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          FWIW, I believe that the answer to last question is yes, though I suspect that contrafactual questions like this may be meaningless in this context. It’s like asking, would be still be Triune if he had never become incarnate in Jesus Christ?

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          • JBG says:

            Ok, it can be a bit confusing because phrasing such as “God’s manifestation of himself to himself is never without his manifestation in creation” implies that God’s manifestation of himself to himself and creation are the self-same singular act. Thus, creation might be interpreted as the means by which God manifests himself to himself and knows himself (or at least knows himself in particular way) and therefore, serves a purpose FOR* God in eternal act of God as God. But of course, this violates the notion that creation is somehow necessary and that it adds even one whit to God (in this case, self-manifestation as the means to self-knowledge).

            *caps are a substitute for italics.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Of course, that’s just my personal opinion. I don’t know how DBH would respond. He does have some interesting things to say about divine freedom and necessity in the last chapter of YAG.

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          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            JBG, I think we also need to remember that for DBH, following Maximus and Bulgakov, God has created the world for the Incarnate Christ. Hence for both creation and the Incarnation–and the two cannot be thought apart from each other–enjoys a kind of divine necessity within the divine freedom. Or as Jenson might say, the Father knows himself by looking at Jesus.

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        • Robert Fortuin says:

          We must give full force to God’s perfection in se, where the possible is fully actualized.
          Failure to do so turns God into a creature bound to limit, finitude, contingency, unrealized potential, mutability, and so forth. Notions of is this or that event or possibility to be necessary for God to be God, to be fully actualized, does not adequately consider God’s self-sufficient perfection (better: simplicity).

          Liked by 1 person

          • JBG says:

            Robert Fortuin: “Notions of is this or that event or possibility to be necessary for God to be God, to be fully actualized, does not adequately consider God’s self-sufficient perfection (better: simplicity).

            Right, but I might say that the eternal act of creation/self-manifestation IS God’s self-sufficient perfection. Do you see the difference?

            You seem to be doing the very thing you claim as nonsense: making creation an extraneous “event” by claiming that God didn’t “need” it in order to be “fully actualized.”

            If God is absolute simplicity, all acts of God are but one eternal, infinitely simple act. To isolate this “event” (creation/self-manifestation) from the one act of God being God, belies the infinite and absolute simplicity of God.

            It’s not as though creation was an “event” dreamed up to address a divine existential problem—the dearth of self-knowledge! This is not what I’m saying. Creation itself is a timeless internal “movement”. It is a Self-act, without beginning or end, no more or less “necessary” or “free” than the act of God being God.

            Yes, God is always already fully actualized and creation/self-manifestation is always already an eternal act. It IS God’s actualization. It IS God’s perfection. It IS God being God.

            Anyways, that is what I might say.

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          • Robert Fortuin says:

            JBG – perhaps the distinction between the act of creation and its effects may shed light on this? Yet another way the modal collapse stares us in the face.

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          • JBG says:

            Yeah, I suppose the best answer for many of these theological questions is:
            yes and no and neither yes nor no. It’s becoming ever more clear to me why the Buddha absolutely refused to engage in God talk.

            Liked by 1 person

          • Robert Fortuin says:

            Yes, which makes the confession of Christ as the Logos of the Father ever more profound.

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    • DBH says:

      D’accord.

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  6. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    I have tweaked my article a bit–changed the wording in a couple of places, added some footnotes. So of course you need to read the article all over again. 😜

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  7. Myshkin says:

    Re footnote 9. How can good Dr Feser call DBH God intoxicated and then keep writing a dissent. Don’t you just say I’ll have what DBH is having and start drinking. Blood of Christ inebriate ne indeed.

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  8. JBG says:

    “Christ as the Logos of the Father”

    Yes and no and neither yes nor no.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Why the equivocation, JBG? Have you become a Nestorian? 😜

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      • JBG says:

        Well, Father Al, I think you know how I might answer that. 😜

        Forgive me for going so far off topic. It just seems to me that theology, if followed deep enough down the “rabbit hole”, tends to devolve into paradox-laden riddles, which are not always particularly helpful. Certainly it is a deficiency of language and the capacity of conceptual thinking to represent Reality as it is.

        In this particular example: “Christ as the Logos of the Father”. For me, the truth of this statement would depend on the definition of each of the terms: “Christ”, “Logos”, and “Father”. And, as far as I know, there is no way to define, much less conceive, what these terms actually signify, in a manner that is self-validating. It has been said that no two people believe in the same God, and I find this to be true.

        So yes, I agree with this statement depending on how the terms are defined just as, I assume, your assent to this statement would also depend upon what you perceive as the “correct” definition of terms. Furthermore, even we were able to define these with the utmost precision possible (and to know that we had achieved such precision) it is obvious that it would yet be infinitely far from Reality. This is not to say that there isn’t a time and place for the valiant attempt.

        So, I think I may be coming to a period where I approach the mystery with silence and not with beliefs and concepts. I feel that, not only can these only take you so far, they actually pose a hinderance beyond that point.

        So for now, I pray for God to rid me of God.

        Liked by 1 person

        • JBG says:

          P.S.— This observation of the shortcomings of theology is not directed at anyone in particular, certainly not DBH. I actually find that he writes with more clarity than most. It’s the nature of the topic, not any expositor, per se.

          I say this to preemptively defuse any potential situation, before I am relentlessly ground into the dirt like a spent cigarette and revealed to be a pathetic, uneducated, bad faith, philistine with inferior cognitive faculties and exceptionally poor reading comprehension skills. 😆

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  9. DBH says:

    AK: “In other words, the Palamite account of deification is insufficiently grounded in the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.”

    Precisely.

    It also invents a concept of energeia that is equivocal to the point of vacuity: what is an act except the real presence of the agent’s essence in manifestation? And if the agent be infinite and simple…?

    Liked by 2 people

  10. I do wonder though, if theosis in the fullest sense does entail that the creature “becomes” the creator in *some* sense? Like, YAG seems to be really pushing the limits towards this, without straight up saying it. Are we sympathetic to the straightforward Latter Day Saint exaltation theology, where we become “God” in an equivocal sense to how Heavenly Father is “God”? If so, how would be load the dice so that the resulting theology tends towards a classical conception of God rather than an infinite sequence of Brahmas?

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  11. Logan(mercifullayman) says:

    I’ve been reading John Updike(which I would totally recommend for a ton of reasons, but there are some interesting quotes that would fit in nicely around our circles here). Which has been a very intriguing experience, but I’ve been enamored with the depth through the existential reality of the novels he writes. There is this moment in Roger’s Version where one of the characters slips off into a discussion about Boolean Algebra that kind of makes the point very well. In certain senses, logically speaking 1+1 does not equal two. 1+1=1. In the end, the discussions about potency and act, about essence and energy, boil down to the tension of the existential flection point. It was Shestov’s issue, as well as many others, that the God who lies beyond even being itself is one who moves, and acts….who speaks, and who through us also creates, builds, and allows us to point back that reflective gaze. There is a sense in which, in some ways, and I could be totally off base, but if you read the pre-socratics there is this sense in the vocabulary that there is an inversion of terms. The natural end, the natural will, the natural side of all creation is merely what it is in its actuality. The Logos sits there as the basis and ground and yet, the true sense of gnomē, is the thing that grounds us all. Its intention, its plan, its will, is the thing that drives us forward, and yet as children we sit in the world caught between the tension of fully becoming and fully being what we are, the one that has been in the divine mind from the outset. The move to so quickly objectify being as pure act still drives one into the death throes of cataphasis alone. There is an incredible beauty that springs up from the depths of the Divine that makes Him both the farthest thing we could imagine and yet also the nearest thing that is there. And while I may get shouted down, there is a need in God for man. He does need us. Just as we need Him. It is in the relational, in the divine wellspring of pure eros that one finds the addition of two into one. 1+1 does in fact equal 1, and in the relation of the other because that is the logical end and logos for all creation. The univocal desire to meet and gaze upon each other and realize that all is all and that for us all creation was made to reflect back on its Artists intent. It is in the gaze of being known, of being adored, we find that we were always joined together from the start, and that we too will transcend whatever Yet it also allows us to be free of predetermination, to be truly free, and to realize the fullness of what it means to be individual. By abandoning the worry of what we can say, we actually gain the ability to say a myriad of things and in that moment, that deep longing that makes us remember that history/teleology is as much about what we’ve forgotten from the beginning and dawn of creation as a unified whole (man in the macrocosmic sense) will be what we will build in the sense of man at the microcosmic level.

    We can make God as simple, and immutable as we want, and yet, what does that actually look like in the fullest sense when everyone from The Aeropagite on down, has shown us that even those terms betray the truth, for even those are merely pointers that point directly to the heart of ourselves.

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    • JBG says:

      Logan: “And while I may get shouted down, there is a need in God for man. He does need us. Just as we need Him.”

      Well, you are in good company, my friend. Meister Eckhart writes, “One can understand heat even without the fire and the rays without the sun, but God is unable to understand Himself without the soul, nor the soul without God, so completely one are they.”

      Logan: “…even those terms betray the truth, for even those are merely pointers that point directly to the heart of ourselves.”

      I’m sure you know that old Zen saying, “Don’t mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon.”

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      • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

        I have a ton of respect for Eckhart, Ruusbroec, Böhme, and Von Baader. I think they were hinting at and hitting at a depth that is required to discuss the existential side of what is occurring. In many ways, I take the mytho-poetic of things like some of the Gnostics, or the Hermetica/Kabbalah to really be pointing at us as the broken vessels of the Good. That each of us is that tiny peace that splintered off. And because of such, I would say that the saying of the Zen master should actually see that in the depths of all of us is that ability to be the moon. So in a since you are very much the moon already, you’re just finally recognizing it. That you finally see yourself for what you were always intended to be. A part of the divine life that lies deep within the hearts of us all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • JBG says:

          Yes, it is within us.
          _______________________

          There is that in me—I do not know what it is—but I know it is in me.
          Wrench’d and sweaty—calm and cool then my body becomes,

          I sleep—I sleep long.
          I do not know it—it is without name—it is a word unsaid,

          It is not in any dictionary, utterance, symbol.
          Something it swings on more than the earth I swing on,

          To it the creation is the friend whose embracing awakes me.
          Perhaps I might tell more. Outlines! I plead for my brothers and sisters.

          Do you see O my brothers and sisters?

          It is not chaos or death—it is form, union, plan—
          It is eternal life—it is Happiness.

          —Walt Whitman, Leaves Of Grass (Part 50)

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