A (New) Suspended Middle? On David Bentley Hart and the Nature-Grace Question

by Ty Monroe, Ph.D.

Inasmuch as nature’s and grace’s distinction and relation entails the specific matter of human nature’s compatibil­ity with divinity—its ordering toward graced participa­tion in, likeness to, and ultimate unity with God—the nature-grace debate is much more than a singular con­cern or cordoned-off locus of theological reflection. It is, rather, an inquiry into the very core of reality, into the reason for anything’s existence. And this is because an investigation of the rela­tionship between nature and grace is an inquiry into the relationship between crea­turehood and divinity, world and God. David Bentley Hart recognizes this fact, and for this reason his recently published series of essays, You Are Gods (hereafter, Gods), makes a significant contribution to the nature-grace debate. In addition to probing the dis­cretely anthropological concerns which have often served as entry points, Hart’s analysis makes plain to the reader that underlying all expressions of the nature-grace relation is one fundamental question: how to think the Creator-creature relation and distinction? By dilating his scope so patently, Hart leads the reader toward the core of the matter. He shows that our thinking and desiring the discrete objects of our present existence is never merely what it seems but is instead evidence of a prior appercep­tion of and an ultimate intention toward the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. But he then traces this line of inquiry to its necessary conclusion, plumbing the ontological depths which such anthropological considerations, on their own, only begin to sound.

In this review essay, I want to summarize and interrogate the three primary ways in which Hart has thrust the broader nature-grace debate into somewhat new territory, beyond the back-and-forth of what I would call broadly intra-Thomistic debates—whether about natural desire, velleity, obediential potency, or even intrinsicism vs. extrinsicism. I also aim to show how, in doing so, Hart has placed the debate on such a precipice that any ‘further’ step is one in which Hart himself seems hesitant to make. To the pivotal features of his proposal, then:

  1. Hart’s wager in the nature-grace debate moves well beyond the ‘intrincism’ of de Lubac (et al.) by a) its moral reassessment of the relationship between gratuity and necessity and b) its explicitly ontological reframing of that question. To that last, he is not merely addressing the issue of humanity’s intrinsic capacity for and ordering toward the divine, but is instead positing humanity’s nascent unity with the divine, as well as divinity’s own mutual or reciprocal capacity for and fundamental unity with the human.
  2. Though this more radical intrinsicism enjoys a notable proximity to certain German Idealist systems—namely, Hegel’s—Hart nevertheless recoils from what he takes to be the excesses of Hegelianism, disastrous as he thinks it is to any meaningful distinction between the creaturely and the divine.
  3. He thus aims to occupy a middle space well beyond less radical intrinsicisms but short of Hegel’s totalizing vision, primarily by suffusing his entire reading with a rigorously teleological soteriology. That soteriology is bulwarked by his version of an ‘analogical interval’ between divinity and humanity, over against a notion of divine-human identity.

Each of the three features of his proposal is not that difficult to glean from the book, but I hope that my explicating them serially and in view of their interrelations will prove fruitful. Ultimately, I aim to flag where and how they depend on and yet remain in tension with one another, especially as it pertains to Christology. This will allow me to chart the suspended middle of Hart’s new nature-grace revolution and to assay its coherence. My summary account is this: Hart is right to stage a more radical intrinsicism, for in rejecting the idea that a divine telos is extrinsic to or only contingently possible for humanity, he has simultaneously rejected the notion that creating, redeeming, and becoming human are extrinsic to God. In this way he has allowed the fullness of the Christian revelation to be more fully animated by its singular Grundprinzip, the Incarnation. Yet, merely saying that the unity-in-distinction of nature and grace, of creature and creator, means that creation is not extrinsic to God, Hart’s proposal remains suspended between1 the less radical intrinsicisms which he’s surpassed and some further position which, he thinks, would wholly rupture the creator-creature distinction. Without a positive articulation of how what it means to be ‘God’ preserves but also transcends the mere distinction between divinity and humanity—and so includes creaturehood, even in its very historicity—Hart remains in tension with his own Christocentric intrinsicism and with his own otherwise unwavering commitment to the ultimate primacy of the Good.

A More Radical Intrinsicism

Hart’s endeavor surpasses previous attempts to secure the intrinsic relation of nature to grace which merely affirm that human nature is always and everywhere ordered to, capable for, and in some sense desirous of the supernatural (i.e. divinized) end, but which still define the gratuity of this gift over against necessity. Put positively, for Hart the very terms of necessity and gratuity must be wholly recalibrated. This continues prior efforts which Hart undertook in That All Shall Be Saved (hereafter, Saved). Gift and necessity only seem to be mutually exclusive to one another, since they are often pitted against one another in our (merely) creaturely mode of existence. For, here essence and existence—nature and action—remain potentially and often concretely distinct, such that even if my best nature or character ‘demands’ my generosity toward my children, I can hypothetically (if not also actually) entertain and even enact generosity’s lack. Not so with God, who is the very love, generosity, and parental care which God always has and will exhibit, even when cauterizing us with the consuming fire of painfully purgative affection:

Between the immanent and the transcendent, or the finite and the infinite, such rivalries of agency are not even cogently conceivable. An intrinsic rational desire for God would constitute a “right” to God’s grace only if our nature were our own achievement. Yes, in a sense God does manifestly owe his creatures grace, within the terms of the gift of creation; but that is a debt he owes ultimately only to his own goodness. (Gods, 9)2

If these kinds of claims appear in Hart’s earlier writings on apokatastasis, they are deepened and expanded on the anthropological-phenomenological front in Gods, with its several chapters on knowledge, desire, and ethico-aesthetic judgment. That they render his proposal a step well beyond, say, any de Lubac-inspired recalibration becomes clear when one considers, say, de Lubac’s own recalibration of gratuity and necessity.

When the nature-grace debates, begun in part through the interventions of Maurice Blondel, took on the force of a narrow, intra-theological controversy, the crux of the matter was Henri de Lubac’s resistance to the concept of natura pura.3 And at the heart of his ‘intrinsicist’ (or ‘anti-extrinsicist’) critique was a rejection of the notion that God might create a rational human whose innate end is some form of beatitude short of the visio Dei, whose flourishing might culminate in some ‘merely natural’ desire for of happiness—i.e. a natura pura. For, he concluded, even the hypothetical could do much to distort our thinking about the concrete and thoroughly graced character of human existence as we actually experience it. His resistance forced the question of necessity and gratuity, writ large. For, as those opposed to de Lubac’s intrinsicism complained (and still do), to say that there is inherent in human nature, per se, a ‘natural’ desire for the ‘supernatural’ is to place a constraint upon God. Surely, God couldn’t place an intrinsic desire for union with the divine within a nature and then fail to fulfill that desire with (at least) the offer of participation in the divine life. And, so, to constrain God in this way would be to render such an offer a debt, something owed rather than something gifted ‘gratuitously.’

For his part de Lubac did aim to rethink the terms of nature and grace by rethinking the terms of necessity and gratuity.4 Primarily, de Lubac reminded his readers that to be given a nature—nay, to be given existence such that one might receive and instantiate a nature—is already to have received something gratuitous. Worry over dessert and debt in view of the human’s supernatural teleology is, then, a product of forgetting that all these terms must be understood already and always under the sign of the gift. So far, so good, except that in order to shore up his footing on the question of gratuity, de Lubac makes eminently clear that he sees the gratuity of this prior gift as in fact secured by its non-necessity:

[…] we can continue to say that if God had wanted, he could have not given us being, and that he could have not called this being that he gave us to see him. For if this language is inadequate, it is not at all because of the sovereign freedom it recognizes in God […] God could not be constrained by anything, either from outside or from within himself, to give me being. Neither could he be constrained by anything to imprint in my being a supernatural finality. And if it is true that in God all is identified in a perfect simplicity, at the very least through relation to me, I must carefully distinguish and always maintain a twofold gratuity, a twofold divine gift, and therefore, if one may say so, a twofold divine freedom.5

In this way, while de Lubac has begun to recalibrate our understanding of gratuity and necessity, he has done so merely by pushing the goalposts back from redemption to creation.6 However, it’s even this kind of thinking that Hart’s proposal largely rules out—and, to my mind, rightly so—precisely because he seeks a more totalizing recalibration. With characteristic tenacity, Hart forces us to recognize that God’s simplicity and eternality transcend the mere definition-through-opposition that regularly (though not always) determine our expressions and experiences of gratuity and necessity. This is precisely because, as the Good, God’s ‘necessary compulsion’ toward generosity simply is God’s character. This is no ‘external’ compulsion (whatever we might wrongly understand as wholly ‘external’ to God, anyway); it is instead simply what it means for God to be God.7 When we define or secure God’s gratuity by reference to a voluntarist expression of freedom not bound by God’s eternal and unchanging character, we ultimately question whether God is who God is in some arbitrary sense, and we posit a shadow God, a God-behind-God who, even if ‘hypothetically’ looms over and shapes our perception of the revealed God. If God is the free and gratuitous creator and redeemer precisely because God might not have created and might not have saved (or might decide not to save all), what of that other ‘possible’ God and his actions, anyway? What, too, of God’s ontological stability? Central to Hart’s entire proposal is that for all of God’s doings, from creating to redeeming to ultimately and fully restoring, God’s character transcends the apparent opposition between freedom and necessity: God’s utter freedom create and to deify is motivated by an ultimate and unflinching love and goodness which surpasses even the mere consideration of its opposite—i.e., its withholding—without its being impersonal and restricted divine ‘automation.’

In making this wager, however, Hart is doing more than merely tweaking our moral vision. For, by refusing to define divine gratuity by the lack of its purported ‘opposite’—namely, necessity in its deficient and merely creaturely mode—one is necessarily rethinking the distinction-and-unity of divinity and creaturehood as such. Anthropology, and a phenomenological analysis of knowledge and desire may be the entry point, but, as always, ontology is the core issue. And at the very core of the core is the issue: the divine-human relationship.

Hart’s more fundamental reassessment of these central questions of ontology takes different forms throughout the essays. For example, he makes the subtle but necessary transition between anthropological and phenomenological speculation to ontology simply by his seeing through to its furthest conclusion the necessary and dynamic relation between knowing and being. I say ‘dynamic,’ because his (correct) proposal extends beyond the stock-in-trade claims that the knowable is the existent and vice versa, or that there’s some reasonable correspondence between the orders of knowing and being. Rather, his assertion is that “the ordo cognoscendi is the inversion of the ordo essendi, and that the terminus ad quem of each is the terminus a quo of the other.”8 While knowing and being can be conceived of distinctly, they are not, in fact, anything other than a unified whole: to know fully is to become or, at least, to evince one’s ultimate unity with the known. This means that there are both substantive and formal connections between the opposed pairs of knowing-being and nature-grace: which is to say, knowing is always and already an engagement in being, or the becoming-unto-Being, just as nature is always and already a teleological ordering toward and passage toward graced divinization. But this is also because true knowledge—full knowledge of the True in the most comprehensive, holistic sense—is that very passage from nature unrealized in its telos to nature fully realized in graced theosis. Hart points up the substantive and formal connections in a passage that’s too jam-packed to summarize and too fruitfully furious to skip over:

All too often, the [nature-grace] debate was shaped by perceived antitheses and disjunctions where there were in reality only continuities, albeit as descried from sometimes inverse perspectives. Just as the ordo cognoscendi and the ordo essendi are one and the same continuum (as considered now from one pole, now from the other), so too perhaps are such seeming binary oppositions as nature and grace, creation and deification, the first gift and the second gift, the claims of the creature upon God and God’s gifts to the creature—not to mention sufficient and efficacious grace, or the antecedent and consequent decrees of God, or any number of other oppositions that this essay has not directly addressed. And the passage from one pole to the other, rather than involving an extrinsic addition to or intrinsic annihilation of anything, should be understood as occurring only along that continuum, and as progressing only by relative degrees of intensity within an original unity. There is no abiding difference within the one gift of both creation and deification; there is only grace all the way down and nature all the way up, and “pure nature”—like pure potency or pure nothingness—is a remainder concept of the most vacuous kind: the name of something that in itself could never be anything at all. Creation, incarnation, salvation, deification: in God, these are one gracious act, one absolute divine vocation to the creature to become what he has called it to become. (Gods, 19)

N.B.: keep in mind unity-in-distinction, as it will crop up again at important junctures below.

Having made explicit the necessary connection between being and knowing, between phenomenological and ontological inquiry, Hart further substantiates the radical terms of his intrinsicism: the dynamism of creation’s ordering toward deification must imply humanity’s intrinsic compatibility for, in some sense its ultimate and even prior union with, divinity. For, Hart thinks, a nature “can never become something truly extrinsic to itself without ceasing to be what it was.”9 Yet Hart’s proposal takes one further step, bringing us to the very marrow of theological reflection and of Christianity’s central revelation: God’s creating only eventually to deify—a fact only really known and ontologically guaranteed by the fact of God becoming human, let us not forget—reveals not only the intrinsic relation of humanity to divinity but also the intrinsic relation of divinity to humanity. If on pain of ultimately denying divine simplicity we come fully to reckon that God is what God does, we come also to see that

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. (Gods, xviii)

This fundamental compatibility and, in Hart’s case, cautiously-posited mutuality and unity between Creator and creature is the metaphysical ground upon which his moral and epistemic arguments rest. His is thus a more thoroughgoing and radical intrinsicism which is bound up with the simple recognition that while our knowledge of God is not comprehensive, the God we know through God’s personal self- disclosure is actually the God who is.

Hart v. Hegel: Jericho or Jabbok?

The further implications of this even-more-radical intrincism come through in various ways throughout Gods, whose capstone essay posits a chiastic structure to reality, a broadly exitus-reditus schema to the whole of divine action, creation through redemption:

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 and 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 in the mode of finitude, contingency, and successiveness, and so are not God in se; but teleologically we are nothing but God. (Gods, 32)

These stakes of the wager mustn’t be glossed over. Of course, they have already elicited complaints of heresy, whether of a pantheistic sort or otherwise. Though, trigger-hair worries over affirming the radically imminent presence of God are evidence of one’s forgetfulness that pantheism or panentheism, in some form or another, is actually a fundamentally Christian way to think, when suffused with the insights of God’s self-revelation in history.10 More interesting, then, is to survey the battle which Hart self-consciously wages, not against a set of thinkers who think he’s already collapsed the distinction between divinity and humanity altogether, but against excesses of thought and expression in German Idealism which he takes actually to have entertained such a collapse. Indeed, he lays that very charge at the feet of G. W. F. Hegel.11 Yet the onslaught against the Swabian is hardly a straightforward rejection; rather, Hart’s is a delicate balance between cautious approbation and withering criticism.

That balancing act is necessary, if only because in turning away from stock-in-trade conceptions of the divine-human relationship and its expression in the various iterations of the nature-grace debate, Hart is ultimately seeking to renegotiate the terms of unity and opposition and of subject and object. And his laudable impulse is, like Hegel’s, toward an ultimate unity, though not at the expense of plurality as such. Yet, aside from his remonstrations against Hegel’s often ambiguous diction and hubristic attempt at a totalizing system, Hart’s primary complaint is against the untenable terms of unity which he thinks any honest reader of Hegel must notice. Eschatological and even primordial unity between Creator and creature, yes, but not unity conceived as symmetrical identity or “dependent reciprocity.”12 By this Hart means that creatures are always in the mode of dynamic recipients, necessarily depending upon their Creator from within their agonistic process of becoming like their Creator, and so becoming who they ‘were’ within God’s eternal act of creation-redemption and who they are truly meant to ‘become’ but are not yet. However, he makes clear that the Creator mustn’t be thought to be dependent upon those creatures’ process of teleological fulfillment in order to be or become what the Creator is or was meant to be, and especially not upon the strife and evil present within that creaturely history.

But the tension remains. Having made his own wager and transcended previous intrinsicist formulations to the point of positing a compatibility of humanity for divinity and vice versa, even a “primordial commonality”13 or ultimate “moment of indistinction,”14 Hart perhaps now sits alone, opposite only Hegel, or at least some reading of him. Will Hart defeat Hegel, Joshua-like, at Jericho, or is he Jacob, wrestling with the Sage of Jena in the mud of the river Jabbok, only to have his hip touched and so to limp in perpetuity? Moreover, would the limp be a blessing or a curse?

The terms might best be put in the form of a question: How is it that the LORD’s having created this world and ordained it to theosis is, in some sense, fully revelatory of and so intrinsic to God’s character or identity, while, at the same time, God’s identity is not constituted by and so ‘dependent upon’ the dynamically unfolding process of history, much less upon the violent and bloody vagaries of the creaturely narrative? Hart is unwavering in his commitment to charting a middle path here. An extended quote from another recent publication is worth presenting in order to highlight the delicate balance:

Those who believe that [Hegel] was in fact a theist and an orthodox Christian […] tend to believe also that for him there really is a transcendent God who is luminously present to himself and known to himself in his eternal being, and that the story of Geist in history and nature is only a participation of the finite in the infinite sufficiency of that self-knowledge, and is to that degree wholly modally contingent. If that were so, the classical analogical interval between God in himself, as the eternal order of the trinitarian life, and the secondary, economic, and subordinate expression of that order in creation would still be present, and would still constitute a kind of cordon sanitaire between God’s innocence in se and the accidental violence of fallen time.

Now, mind you, that interval does not imply—or should not—some kind of initial arbitrariness in God’s act of creation. It should be taken entirely as a modal qualification of creation, a clear statement that creation is ontologically contingent upon God, and that it in no way modifies or qualifies the divine nature. That does not mean that creation does not belong to God’s nature from eternity, or that creation is the conditional result of some sort of trinitarian “primordial decision” (Urentscheidung). That is a silly anthropomorphism that ultimately reduces trinitarian thought to mythology. Rather, all that need be said is that creation follows necessarily from who God freely is in the infinity of the divine nature, but that who God freely is is not dependent upon that expression of the divine. More simply, creation follows from who God is, but who God is does not follow from creation. (And, since God is not a thing or a finite substance, that absence of reciprocal dependency is perfectly logically coherent.) (“The Sage of Jena”)

The tension lies between saying that creation-redemption is a (freely) necessary act which “belongs to God’s nature from eternity,” and also saying that to be the transcendent God is to be That which is and which knows Itself as (and thus, in some sense, can be known by us as) ‘transcendent’ precisely by being and being known apart from any reference to the modally contingent order of creation-redemption. The shorthand version: “creation follows necessarily from who God freely is in the infinity of the divine nature, but that who God freely is is not dependent upon that expression of the divine”—i.e., there is no ‘reciprocal dependency.’

Suspended By Teleology

How Hart occupies this moment of tension is perhaps already clear from the above quotes: he maintains the necessity of positing an analogical interval between the creaturely and the divine. The motivation for and inner logic of Hart’s invocation of analogy is simply the primacy of the Good. Such primacy, he thinks, can only be fully affirmed and preserved in one’s thought patterns if one views the entirety of the creation-redemption drama through a teleological soteriology. By that clumsy term I just mean to denote Hart’s dogged commitment to seeing everything that is or seems real to us through the lens of the final consummation in the deifying presence of God to, in, and perhaps as all things.

Teleology serves as an epistemic and ontological grounding principle throughout Gods. It produces two sets of outcomes. It means that what humanity is, is only truly what it will become in divinization, and that one can only know what’s ultimate about reality from the vantage point of an eventually and fully realized eschatology. For Hart, what’s most real and true about creaturehood is that it’s on its way toward fulfillment in the divine life and, to whatever extent possible, that it now dimly foreshadows what that fulfillment might be like. Hart doesn’t sketch many of the details, but we can presume that we’re seeing ‘reality’ when we’re seeing creatures exemplify the Good, in actu.

The second upshot of Hart’s commitment to teleology is implied by the first. While his claim about humanity’s intrinsic capacity for the divine might seem like a valorization of human nature and of creaturehood, in fact it also moves Hart to cultivate a critical eye toward the creaturely order as it is presently constituted. If what’s truly ‘natural’ is something that we are only implicitly, something we are becoming, then what we and the rest of Creation are and do now is regularly and unmistakably marked by sin’s deformity. Ours is in a world ruled by “archons and powers and principalities and daemons”15 which suffers a “provisional dualism”16—provisional precisely because, in the world’s violent struggle with its own deficiencies, its historical particularities do not univocally bespeak the eternal God. In this sense Hart’s is unlike the non-provisional dualisms of certain ancient ‘Gnostic’ systems, which risk eternalizing strife: Hart’s dualism posits something of an eternal ‘future.’ In the teleological view, provisional dualism anticipates its own dissolution. The ramifications of such an outlook would appear to be manifold, even if Hart doesn’t spin all them out.17

We return, then, to Hegel. For Hart, the metaphysical and epistemological wager of Hegel’s system is simply too steep, precisely because in Hegel’s way of affirming the radical presence of divinity within the structure of creation, Hart sees him positing within divinity an intrinsic capacity for and even identity with creaturehood as it is now, not only as it will be. For Hart, Hegel is all too willing to define God by reference to the historical development of Geist in history—that’s to say, with the othering which God is not only in the eternal begetting of a Son and in their mutual co-inherence (and Aufhebung) in and as Spirit, but also with the divine othering that occurs in the very act of creating and creation’s process of becoming, bloody and butchered as it undoubtedly is. Hegel thus constructs “a narrative monism unqualified by any hint of true gnostic detachment, irony, sedition, or doubt.”18 To the extent that creation is its own history, divinity cannot be or even be defined by its union with creaturehood as it exists now. The ravages of creaturely history, with its seemingly intrinsic evolutionary violence and in the apparently unavoidable physical and psychical slaughterhouse of human rule and society, cannot be in any sense ultimate features of the ‘real.’ Thus, for Hart, the ‘middle’ chapters of the story which currently seem all too real to us now in fact only tell us a half truth about who and what creaturehood is. And that is precisely because they say nothing true about what divinity is, and thus they say nothing true about what we are to become: errare non est humanum, nec divinum. Humanity’s real esse is what divinity ultimately already is. Loss of analogy, of some interval between creature and Creator, is loss of teleology and the primacy of the Good. So, pace O’Regan (et al.), Hegel is not ‘too Gnostic;’ rather, he’s not Gnostic enough. At least, insofar as ancient Gnosticism’s most valuable insight is, to Hart’s mind, a keen memory of the New Testament’s own (provisional) dualism, its detachment and sense of irony about this present aeon.

Analogy, then, names the fundamental prophylactic against any expression of divine-human unity or mutuality which would result not merely in their abstract conflation but, more importantly, which would make possible a conception of divinity that besmirches God’s moral innocence. It’s worth noting that this way of wielding the analogical distinction is somewhat different from standard Thomist usage, and seeing this difference might be helpful for exploring underlying rationale for Hart’s own usage. There is, of course, a fairly subtle logic to the standard Thomist usage for analogy, one that attempts a balance between continuity and discontinuity.19Yet the terms of that balance are rather different from Hart’s. That’s to say, analogy is often deployed to guard against precisely the kinds of affirmations and denials Hart himself is so fond of making. Say that it was intrinsic to God’s character, and therefore in some sense morally ‘necessary’ for God to create, to effect redemption, and to patiently await the correction of all, and you will quickly be reminded that this is to abrogate the predicatory limits set by the analogia entis. As I’ve been told before, it’s a mistake to make too much of my unconditional love for my children which leads me to conclude, hopefully, that I would wait aeons for any of them to return to me were they to try to exempt themselves from my love. That is, I’m wrong to think of God’s love similarly, since such thinking, I’m told, fails to reckon with the analogical gap between my creaturely expression of fatherhood and the LORD’s transcendent mode thereof. Apparently, because of ‘analogy’ we learn that the God Who is love is totally ‘free’ to stop waiting. Or, if one affirms that God’s ‘necessary’ freedom for the Good entails concluding that the only reasonable and eventual telos for a creaturely will made in God’s image is to transcend the mere freedom of indifference and ultimately attain Godlike freedom only for the Good, one will be told scolded for failing to attend to discontinuity, for running afoul of the maior dissimilitudo.20 I’ll let the reader ponder whether these competing uses of analogy among Hart’s likely detractors are not, in fact, incoherently at cross purposes. A dissimilitudo or radical distinction between divine and human natures there surely is, but what it means or amounts to is the key question.

What matters here is the difference between certain standard uses of ‘analogy’ and Hart’s own expressions of analogical reserve. At least since Saved, Hart’s unabashed confidence in the capacity of our speech to point accurately in God’s general direction stems from his confidence that the goodness and beauty of the creaturely world, from which our thought and predication extrapolates toward the divine, is on solid footing. Despite all protestations to the contrary, Hart does not claim to have definitive knowledge of God or ultimate comprehension even of God’s ways and means here below, yet he’s on the warpath against a cowering form of epistemic humility and in favor of a morally confident one,21 against those who would use analogy to curb our trust in God’s character as both creator and redeemer. But as I’ve already intimated, their morally and aesthetically fuzzy speech-policing leads in some sense to equivocation, rather than serious analogical continuity: somehow, what we might all see as unreasonable and even evil within the realm of human action can, in their view, be reconciled with divine Goodness by gesturing toward the concept of analogy.

Hart thus deploys analogy within the context of thoroughgoing moral and aesthetic continuity. And this continuity of linguistic meaning is won by—or, at least, walks hand-in-hand with—his affirmation of greater ontological continuity between divinity and humanity. For Hart, then, analogy is not “an interval merely of accidental and extrinsic relatedness between two separate things. Our being in God and God’s being in us are both also and more originally God’s being as God.”22 When he does use analogy negatively, it’s only to make clear that what we cannot say about God is what mistakenly implies God’s complicity in and identification with our world in all of its dynamic change and, in particular, its violent struggle with its own ontological lack and deformity, i.e., evil. Thus, he sees analogy’s lack in Hegel’s system as no better or worse than its misuse by, say, a certain kind of Thomist who deploys it to restrict our speech about God’s intrinsic ordering toward creating, supernaturally ordering, and becoming human.23

All of which raises the stakes even further, leaving the reader to wonder: does his use of analogy and its ever-so-delicate rapprochement with and rejection of Hegel(ianism?) work? Is it coherent to posit a fundamental compatibility, or even primordial commonality, a moment of indistinction between the creator and creature yet disallow any real reciprocity between the divine and the creaturely? Can we say, as I think we ought, that there is nothing arbitrary about these features of God’s action and so also God’s identity, but then deny that that the historical working-out of those actions are somehow intrinsic to God’s identity? What would it mean to posit a reciprocal or mutual relationship between divinity and humanity, and why should we care? Should we want a Jericho or a Jabbok outcome for Hart v. Hegel?

I want to conclude by showing why we should seek more clarity from Hart on these matters and why, more specifically, we would want him to reconsider the terms of his divine-human compatibility so as to include some form of ‘reciprocity’ and/or thoroughgoing identity, though not, I must make clear, of the ‘natural’ or ‘essential’ kind—indeed, the only way unity between creator and creature is achieved is through a hypostatic or personal unity which simultaneously transcends and preserves absolute natural difference (cf. Jesus Christ). Note that, in principle, all of this has little to do with Hegel or with how best to read Hegel. Even if I’d read more of Hegel than I have up to this point and could provide a more full- throated defense of the Sage of Jena, doing so would only be helpful or necessary to the extent that Hegel’s thought is productive of further inquiry about the God-world relationship. In my naiveté I happen to think that it is,24 but the exegetical point so far remains secondary, if only because the terms of my inquiry are, I think, set by the Gospel itself and by Hart’s own best impulses. To pursue clarity, then, I conclude with three questions.

Three Concluding Questions

1) What does it mean ‘to be God’ or ‘to be divine’? Hart has already gone a long way toward answering this question: to be God is precisely to be the God who creates and redeems in time, as an eternal act of divine perfection. Hart has already pointed us to this, the revealed God. His is the God whose radical transcendence and incomprehensible power and wisdom are expressed to us truthfully as overflowing goodness, precisely in and as the beginning and end of all things. Hart is already an apostle for the God-behind-whom-there-is-no-other. To have wagered this utter recalibration of necessity and gratuity, of divinity and humanity, of hiddenness of manifestation, is already to have begun to make the most important wager—namely, allowing God to define Godself through the very acts of creating and redeeming.

But for us to know that this is who God is and for God actually to be that God takes more than an abstract ontological proportion or analogy between divinity and humanity. Rather, in fact, these terms have their radical distinction and positive unity expressed in—nay, generated by—the personal union of the Word. Hart’s recognition of this fact, his grounding of his proposal in Christology, is evident at various junctures, even if at times the anthropological and ontological speculation in Gods can appear to float free of that grounding. Ultimately, Hart has made clear that there is no ‘natural’ nor any ‘humanity’ apart from the supernatural precisely because Jesus Christ’s personal union of these two ways of being is the condition of the possibility of there being a human nature or a creaturely order whatsoever: so, he proclaims, the natural and supernatural may be radically (modally) distinct, yet they remain more fundamentally united, just as divinity and humanity are distinguished on the level of nature but remain united in the hypostatic identity of Christ’s single subject.25 So central is the Incarnation to the very structure of reality that he can say that “creation is the incarnation in the fullness of all its necessary historical and natural dimensions.”26 Thus, I think Hart has reckoned with the fact that God’s self- definition, God’s very identity in some sense includes being a creature. For, to be God is simply to be Christ: the simultaneously divine-human hypostasis of the Word, who is perichoretically one with the Father and the Spirit: thus, to be God is also to be the Father and to be the Spirit, but not, on pain of affirming tri-theism, in ways that exclude the identity of the Son.

Christology is the only solid footing for Hart’s broader endeavor to define what it means to be human by what it means for the human ultimately to become divine. Such Christology ought to be faithful to all of the ecumenical councils by attending to the post-Chalcedonian theology that made possible the later councils, Constantinople II through Nicaea II. For, it’s this Christological perspective that sees to its conclusion the radical reassessment of God’s relation to the world begun dogmatically at Nicaea, a reassessment to which Hart’s entire project is an integral contemporary contribution. Christo-logic teaches us to define what it means ‘to be divine’ in view of the fact that there is no ‘divine’—there is no ‘God’— who is not already implicated in being united to creaturehood. There is no divine essence not hypostatized as one of the Persons of the Trinity, including the divine-human Son, united perichoretically to the Father and the Spirit. In Hart’s own words: “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.”27

2) How does the preceding not lead to a kind of ‘reciprocity’ or mutual sharing in the very identity of ‘God’? Or, what reciprocity might we actually countenance? Of course, the reciprocity which Hart rejects he also qualifies with the modifier ‘dependent’ and he also glosses as entailing God’s being a ‘result’ of the oftentimes patently deviant the world-historical process.28 Remember that teleological soteriology is the governing Gestalt, and rightly so. If we thus simply think further through the Irenaean soteriological dictum, God became human so that the human might become God,29 we understandably assume ‘directionality’ to this logic—that’s to say, the point seems to us not so much about merely ‘trading spaces,’ since we conclude that the point of that union is the perfection of one nature (the human) by means of its union with the other (the divine). We’re inclined to avoid predicating creaturely imperfections of the divine, per se, precisely because if in becoming human the divine takes into itself what imperfections are proper to the human, what good is it for the human to ‘become God’? Teleology is rendered aimless, it seems, in such a balanced equation, since the target (‘becoming divine’) is a moving one, at best. And if the divine is defined as a ‘result’ of all of the world’s processes, the target is evil, at worst.

When routed through the logic of teleological soteriology, what the question of reciprocity seems to boil down to is this: is it better to be divine than to be human? I think, however, that we can see this is a false dichotomy if we consider another Irenaean dictum and also see its ultimate Christo-logic.

“The glory of God is a living human being.”30 That human, we must maintain, is none other than Christ and all who are finally and fully conformed to his image, who are likewise divinized, but who all remain fully human, or, rather, who are fully human precisely because they are divinized. Everything short of such an existence isn’t ‘full’ humanity.31 In this way, to predicate of ‘the divine’ something of the imperfections of humanity is simply an impossibility, precisely because these imperfections are not constitutive of being fully human, especially not the immoral sort. And this is perhaps a soteriological way of charting the claim that Christ is, in Maximus the Confessor’s words, “neither mere man, nor naked God.”32 There is no ‘divine’ which is not hypostatized as a specific subject, and thus no ‘divinity’ whose identity doesn’t also include personal identity as, in the case of the Word, or perichoretic union with, in the case of the Father and Spirit, a real and full human. Thus, the salvific goal is not ‘to be divine’ but to be fully ‘divine-human’ in the identity of a person in whom the two natures unite perichoretically33 yet without confusion.

3) Does this then mean that ‘to be God’ is to be “wholly the ‘result'” of the world’s processes, of history’s developments and changes, let alone its glaring abysses of hatred and evil? Is God yet waiting to become fully God? It seems to me we must tender a two-part answer to these questions if we’re to be faithful both to the ancient tradition of Christological speculation and also to the New Testament.

First, let me say that Hart is undoubtedly right that Christianity’s commitment to the primacy of the Good cannot withstand any imputation of evil to God’s character, since to do so would be to give in to an un-Christian and irrational voluntarism.34 I’m skeptical, however, whether this must mean, then, that we must or even can think ‘the divine’ in such a way that the historical development of the world is not somehow intrinsic to God’s identity. In fact, I’m skeptical that the primacy of the Good can itself be preserved if we tend toward thinking of the divine identity in this way. It seems to me that Hart recognizes this and so remains in some tension with himself, wanting at once to say that “nothing in nature or history can be simply extrinsic to this movement of the Father’s ‘achievement’ of his own essence in the divine life,”35 while also speaking of a divinity who is “actus purus […] is always already absolved of, triumphant over, and in no need of the negative.”36 This is a point of tension not because we must instead affirm a sense of essential and yet extrinsically fulfilled ‘need’ in God for evil, but because locutions like the latter seem quick to distance God from history, while locutions like the former only vaguely posit anything of God’s unity with history by way of mere negation (e.g. ‘not extrinsic’). One wonders whether Hart yet countenances a divina natura pura, a hidden God at odds with his true, revealed God.

To the previous question, then. The reason that we can first say ‘no’ to the question of whether God is ‘waiting’ to be God is, once again, grounded in Christology: during his historical life on earth, the one divine Son, the singular hypostatic identity of the Word, experienced a process of development and maturation which itself entailed his ‘becoming’—i.e. his becoming fully rational and thus, in some sense, ‘fully’ human in all of his acts of reason and volition. And yet, on pain of endorsing a rather crude Nestorianism, we affirm that Christ was fully and throughout this process ‘divine,’ and worthy of the name ‘God.’ And if we say that this is so precisely or only because of his identification with and as his other nature, the divine nature, we are already begging the question—that is, we’re already deciding ahead of time that the notion that being ‘God’ doesn’t entail being the personal unity of the divine and human but instead entails instantiating the divine nature more primarily than the human or instantiating the divine nature in a manner that, at least conceptually, excludes his being human. Thus, Christ is God throughout his life, such that we have Christological grounding for concluding what would perhaps seem patently obvious: here, in the ‘middle’ of (his own personal) history, God is already God.

And, yet, the follow-up to the initial ‘no’ requires further clarification, since if that process of development is to matter at all, it must be somehow included within the identity of the divine-human ‘God’ who is its telos. Note my choice of words here: the telos of salvation is not the achievement of a nature, much less one nature over another; rather, the telos is personhood, is the double-natured Person who is already the fulfillment of both natures in their perichoretic identity, and is our shared personhood in and even as Him. This fact allows us to consider the question of the ‘results’ of history on both of these related fronts, that of the Son of God and that of the many sons and daughters of God.

First, we must ask: is the person of Christ, the Word, his history? Is he his own sufferings? It seems to me fundamental to human personhood to be, in some sense, our history, our narrative, and for various reasons. For one thing, I cannot even name or identify myself nor even my own body fully without telling a narrative of my history, in all of its ups and downs. In the case of the Word, we ought preeminently to think this way. If Christ is a fully human person because he is a fully divine-human person, so also does his eternal-and-temporal identity positively include a history. The ‘who’ of Christ must include his actions and his passions—all of them. This seems only too evident in moral and existential terms. The ‘ultimate’ teleological goal of his resurrection, ascension, and recapitulation of all things receives its meaning from its beginning in God’s eternal counsel, its consummative end in the deification of the whole created order. Yet its meaning is incomplete without its middle, its actual historical outworking, including the evil done to him. One of the Holy Trinity was crucified37 precisely because One of the Holy Trinity “learned obedience through the things he suffered” (Heb. 5:8) and, while always and ever ‘God,’ nevertheless, his full identity as God, seen from the protological and eschatological perspectives, includes both the goal which he reached and the path he took to get there. The risen Christ is the Christ who no longer bleeds, but whose scars bespeak a real and meaningful process toward victory.

Or, does he yet bleed? That last question becomes more pertinent not only when we consider the very mechanics of humanity’s deification—in which, a case could be made, the goal is our personal perichoretic union with the persons of the Trinity38—but also and more immediately when we consider the scriptural tendency to think of Christ’s own person in corporate terms. This tendency crops up at various junctures, whether in Matthew 25 or in Paul’s claim to be “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” (Col. 1:24) and it seems to indicate that although our tortuous, sin-ridden path toward deification is different from Christ’s own historical and utterly sinless path, in some sense ours is also Christ’s path—i.e., it is also ‘God’s’ path. It’s what leads Maximus, for example, to say that “if the poor man is God, it is because of God’s condescension in becoming poor for us and in taking into himself the sufferings of each one sympathetically and ‘until the end of time,’ always suffering mystically through goodness in proportion to each one’s suffering.”39 For, as Maximus understands, it is no mere hyperbole to claim that “Jesus my God and Savior, who is completed through me who am saved, brings me back to himself who is always filled to overflowing with plenitude and who can never be exhausted. He restores me in a marvelous way to myself, or rather to God from whom I received being and toward whom I am directed.”40 Thus, these ultimate (if seemingly extreme) entailments of totus Christus41 logic shed further light on the notion that while God is now ‘all in all,’ simultaneously God ‘will be‘ all in all at the final subjection of all things. We can only say this with utter seriousness if history matters, not only to ‘us’ but ultimately to God’s identity, precisely because and so that it can matter to ‘us’ insofar as we are divinized with God.

The questions, then, of whether “the Absolute is wholly a ‘result'” of the world’s historical process,42 or whether “the economic Trinity actually somehow constitutes the immanent in its ultimate identity,”43 are questions that can only be answered first if one clarifies the terms, and then if one reckons with the logic that must govern those terms. For, while the divine nature is not a result of human nature—not least because natures do not act, only persons do—the personal identity of God the Word is constituted by both his eternality and his temporality, just as his hypostasis is the composite of his two naturally distinct natures.44 In his person he transcends the distinction even between eternity and historicity precisely by being their personal identity without erasing their natural and infinite distinction. But he does not transcend it by the sheer negation of one to the preference of the other, his identity being defined by one over against the other. He is the already and not-yet, but not in such a way that the ‘already’ wholly evacuates the ‘not yet’ (I resist the urge here to use the term ‘sublation,’ the way a small child ought to resist the urge to use a razor-sharp knife, knowing that his capacities are undoubtedly more to blame for the danger than is the implement itself).

Hart has, I think, already faced up to the notion that to be ‘God’ requires a deeper logic than one might employ merely to discern what it means to be the divine nature simpliciter. But in his pursuit of a more radical intrinsicism, he has opted largely to forgo making sense of this framework by grounding it fundamentally in the hypostatic identity of the two natures, instead preferring to speak of a natural compatibility, primordial commonality, and capacity for shared hypostatization.45 What I fear is that his effort to affirm and protect the primacy of the Good without conceiving of the ultimate unity of divinity and humanity in the form of hypostatic identity will end up falling short of its eminently laudable goal. To press us to think God always and ever as the God who creates, redeems, and is or becomes human only to stop short of some more positive claim about God’s identity vis-a-vis history is to posit a suspended middle between the less radical intrinsicism which he’s left behind and some more thoroughgoing account of the divine-human union (and so also of the nature-grace relationship). Granted, to come up short, so to speak, in the presence of history’s unmistakable and unspeakable horrors is more than understandable. But if we’re to champion teleological soteriology as we should, if we’re to reckon with the redemption of that ever elusive creature, time,46 we must reckon with its positive role within the identity of God.

The alternative given to us by Hart, while elegant and almost entirely compelling, rests on what amounts to a quasi-miaphysitic47 notion of union in which the identity and constitution of the persons deified therein remains fundamentally static. In this schema, the divine-human union only fully exists in the primordial beginning, ‘wherein’ the logoi remain still folded within the one Logos, considered sub specie aeternitatis, and in the end, ‘wherein’ the completion of all things seems to shine, but perhaps without an real sense of its journey there. While I have no delusion that he intends it to be so, this approach to the divine-human union and its historicity threatens to undermine his soteriological aims. It risks becoming an already completed teleology which is its own dissolution and in which genuine linear movement toward completion begins to look ultimately meaningless.

The teleological soteriology that is the driving engine of Christian thought and action does not requires saying that God’s being all in all is the transformation of humanity into divinity and of history into eternity—indeed, when we understood deification finally by reference to Christ’s union of the two in his hypostatic identity, we see that there is not and need not be any transformation of a previously-compatible nature, since compatibility lies in the capacity of personhood to unite extremes.48 Instead, it entails saying that the assumption of such opposites into God the Word’s identity, the fulfillment and revelation of their utter unity. Only in this way can we understand the Good in its truly dynamic fullness, and only can the Good be dynamically fulfilled, while being the Good all along the way. Christ is the Alpha and the Omega precisely because he is also beta through psi. This is not to be understood in such a way that Christ is the fallenness of history, precisely because ‘true’ history is the narrative of the Good’s victory: I am not the harm committed against me or which I’ve committed against others, but I am the strength earned despite and even through such sin, and I am the love I choose in turning away from such a false past. In the final consummation, if we’re to forget the nihil of historical evil—and forget it, in some real sense, I think we must—we cannot therefore erase the memory of the self-sacrificial love wrought in response to such nihil: won’t we remember the valor and love of Sts. Stein and Kolbe, while the evil and hatred which became the negative condition of the possibility of their love will finally be able to be ‘seen’ by all for what it is not? That is, won’t it be ‘unseen’ and dissolved in oblivion? If so, it is only because such a positive account of history becomes real first in Christ, who in his own discrete hypostasis only suffers but never perpetrates evil, and who in his corporate identity is the Good seeking its final primacy. Suspended in his own genuinely historical middle, he can redeem and, eventually, fully transfigure it once for all because he has and continues to live and, in some sense, be that middle.

[S]ince as our Lord Jesus Christ is the beginning, middle, and end of all the ages past, present, and future, one could say that through the power of faith, “the end of the ages”—I mean that end which will be actualized by grace according to its proper form in the deification of the worthy—”has already come upon us.” (Q. Thal. 22.6)49

 

Footnotes

1 The perhaps cheeky joke here entails a reference to Balthasar’s somewhat ambivalent assessment of Henri de Lubac’s proposal as a suspended middle between theology and philosophy. John Milbank has subsequently assessed this suspension in less ambivalently positive terms and seen it as a more pervasive balancing act between various extremes.

2 Note that this is part of a broader reassessment of gratuity and necessity vis-a-vis God

3 Though, as Aaron Riches has recently argued, this did not ultimately mean for de Lubac an outright rejection of the concept as a pure hypothetical, or else de Lubac perhaps wouldn’t have been able to maintain his staunch agreement with a particular intrepretation of Humani Generis. See Riches, “Qualcosa Di Dio: The Metaphyisics of Desire and Paradox of the Real,” Communio 49 (Spring, 2022), 168–9. He is right, it seems to me, to focus on de Lubac’s consistent attention to the concrete existence of humans; however, as I note below, in this effort he still ultimately defines gratuity by reference to the hypothetical lack of such a gift.

4 For a concise summary of this aspect of de Lubac’s proposal, see John Milbank, The Suspended Middle (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 43–7.

5 “The Mystery of the Supernatural,” in Theology in History, trans. Anne Englund Nash (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996), 302. Later, de Lubac quotes Romano Guardini: “[God] is also Master of himself, there is thus no ‘pressure of being’ in him that he would be interiorily constrained to follow. God is absolutely free… But he loves truly and actually” (“Mystery,” 315).

6 Riches points out that the block quote above was one de Lubac seemed to stand firmly behind into his very last years, and that it was precisely on these grounds that he remained untouched by the remonstrations of HG (“Qualcosa Di Dio,” 164–5). Thus, Riches is only partly right to say that de Lubac “is wholly uninterested in abstract speculations about other possible worlds—logical deductions of God’s potentia absoluta. As valid as it may be to affirm the divine potentia absoluta, such speculation tells us little about the real world and history, and even less about God.” (ibid., 157). For, at bottom, the shadow of the God-who-might-not-have-created secures the foundation of reality’s ‘gratuity,’ such that the non-concrete does play a key role in de Lubac’s thought. Riches’ own claims about this perspective thus seem ultimately irreconcilable:

Positively, this amounts to a declaration that God is God and can create as he pleases. He could have created an intellectual being without calling it to visio; he could also have saved the human race without becoming incarnate […] God is God. God could have created the world otherwise, just as he could have graced it otherwise. As such, the anathema leaves wholly uncontested the core theological proposal of Surnaturel, according to which the divine gratuity is neither secured or defended by ‘contrast,’ by separatio with a ‘pure hypothetical.’

In short, I remain unable to square that final claim with what precedes.

Lastly, as to the question of Roman Catholics’ fidelity to HG or to magisterial teaching more generally, it’s hardly a deflection simply to admit that this is a complicated matter. If one takes it that the encyclical sets what Riches calls a “dogmatic limit” (“Qualcosa Di Dio” 168), one will have to give a fuller account of how this is so: do all (seemingly) definitive claims in papal encyclicals set (irreformable?) dogmatic limits? That, simplistically construed, would seem to flood the magisterial archive with an impossible supply of ‘dogmas,’ much of it arguably reformable if not already reformed (what to say, already, about HG’s apparently hard line on monogenesis?). If one takes a subtler tack so as to say that the specific claims regarding what God can or cannot do are, in fact, dogma, one still must do the necessary work of interpreting and applying those statements and its lexical contents. For example, would creating a “rational being” [entia intellectu] not ordered and called to the beatific vision [“quin eadem ad beatificam visionem ordinet et vocet“] in fact be creating a ‘human being’? All of which will seem to some like just so much obfuscation in service of avoiding fidelity to the Church’s teaching office. Yet the history of Catholic theology and its magisterial bounds suggests that these complexities must be faced squarely if one is to be faithful both to the tradition and to the ongoing demands of theological inquiry in both the speculative and practical registers.

7 See Gods, 105, 116.

8 Gods, 99.

9 Gods, 11.

10 I won’t spend any more of the reader’s precious time trotting out texts from the tradition—and not only the ‘exotic’ thinkers like Nyssen and Maximus—to substantiate my claim here, let alone quotes from, say, St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians!

11 Gods, 69, 81.

12 I begin here to draw on Hart’s more recently published essay, “The Sage of Jena” <https:// davidbentleyhart.substack.com/p/the-sage-of-jena>.

13 If it’s not unfair to do so, in an effort to gain the utmost clarity about Hart’s positions I here quote a paper recently given at the 2021 international Bulgakov conference, Building the House of Wisdom: Sergij Bulgakov 150 Years after His Birth: “Gods, Chimaeras, and Portmanteaux: Bulgakov and the Metaphysics of Personhood.” In the same paper, he speaks of a “primordial indistinction” between divinity and humanity.

14 Gods, 108; cf. ibid., 101, 110–11.

15 Gods, 77; note that here Hart isn’t merely waxing solipsistically eloquent but is instead just riffing on standard Pauline locutions.

16 Gods, xv; cf. ibid, 77.

17 Concomitantly, Hart’s proposal may also seem to some readers a danger to certain forms of natural law ethics, and something similar could be said of his reading of Genesis 1–3 (viz., the Fall) as meta-historical. However, I don’t think that taking seriously humanity’s historical dynamism, in its epistemic and/or ontological modes, is inimical to natural law reasoning as such, even if it presents challenges whose navigation will be hard-won but necessary.

18 Gods, 88.

19 In recent decades was deployed perhaps most forcefully in order to ward off (or qualify) everything from dialectical Barthianism to an oftentimes a-metaphysical, grammatical-linguistic (‘language-game’) conception of doctrine. The key here is to safeguard against accounts of theological knowledge and speech that appear too scared to talk positively about God—too worried about naive metaphysics and their concomitantly naive epistemologies to accept that our God-talk has any real purchase on the realities to which they refer—and implicitly the watchword is analogical continuity, or at least correspondence: our talk about God is both somewhat intelligible to us and even to outsiders of the faith, precisely because as creatures our being and our experience and our thinking and speaking all bear an analogical bond with the Creator. But these subtleties of analogy’s usage take on a different pungency when deployed in the other direction, so to speak, against the so-called rationalism of those who are seen to fail at reckon ing any (or a sufficient) distinction between God and creation and who thus undermine transcendence and freedom vis-a-vis creaturely action and contingency.

20 Indeed, the preservation of the creaturely mode of ‘freedom’ for evil perhaps lies at the very center of, say, von Balthasar’s championing of the analogia entis in pursuit of an unflinching commitment to the ‘drama’ (read: tragedy) of the creaturely wager. On which, see Jordan Daniel Wood, “George MacDonald against Hans Urs von Balthasar on Universal Salvation,” <https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2020/04/26/george-macdonald-against-hans-urs- von-balthasar-on-universal-salvation/>.

21 Among other inspirations for this endeavor, one can count George MacDonald. See his “A Higher Faith,” from his Unspoken Sermons, Series 1.

22 Gods, 105.

23 I’m inclined to think that this more stringent use of analogy represents a departure (or, at the very least, a marked change in emphasis) from some of Hart’s earlier writings on analogy, if only because in the latter he seems not to be seeking to recalibrate wholly our understanding of gratuity and necessity, and so also the ontological continuity that it would imply. See, for example, his “The Destiny of Christian Metaphysics: Reflections on the Analogia Entis,” in The Hidden and the Manifest: Essays in Theology and Metaphysics (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017). This essay (or a form of it) originally appeared in The Analogy of Being: The Invention of the Anti-Christ or the Wisdom of God?, ed. Thomas Joseph White, OP, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011).

24 This, not because Hegel’s system warrants no critique or challenge, but rather because I think first that Hegel, too, wishes to validate the ultimate primacy of the Good (a point which Hart at times seem to concede by reckoning the distance between Hegel’s ‘voluntarism’ and that of the middle Schelling [see Gods, 81–2]) and because I disagree with Hart’s quick dismissal of any true Christic center to Hegel’s later thought. Ultimately, it matters little to me whether an ‘Hegelian’ reading of Christology and of reality more generally is faithful to every facet of Hegel’s textual and conceptual ‘kaleidoscope.’ For, every reading and appropriation of another’s thought is and must be a creative re-reading and re-appropriation, with and sometimes even against the original author. One needn’t, for example, co-sign every locution of Hegel’s in the Preface to the Phenomenology in order to recognize even here Hegel’s commitment to the ultimate primacy of the Good (see, in particular, §§18–21, which Hart points to in order charge Hegel with a crude notion of God’s being the mere ‘result’ of the world’s process). While a more straightforward account of the primacy of the Good over evil is evident in the concluding sections of the Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion (viz. 1827 series), the key to any constructive re-appropriation of Hegel seems to entail sorting out the way that ‘evil’ (like ‘falsehood’) is both like and unlike all other negations. That’s to say, it requires understanding how evil might represent the extreme negation or antithesis, such that it remains categorically different from all other forms of negation and opposition, but also such that its sublation is really its redemption (a possibility perhaps already evident in §39 of the Preface). Here again I wonder whether Hart hasn’t already opened himself up toward Hegel’s way of thinking, if only because in his advocacy for a ‘provisional dualism’ he has in some sense tethered fall and (initial) creation closely, though not simplistically. Perhaps this feature of Hegel’s thought is not, in fact, salvageable or requires significant re-appropriation. Whatever the case may be, we all stand to gain the more Hart wrestles with Hegel.

25 Gods, 18–9.

26 Gods, 113.

27 Gods, xviii. One ought, I think, to hear resonances between this impulse in Hart’s thinking and Robert Jenson’s biblical and ultimately conciliar rejection of the logos asarkos. For concise treatments, see “Jesus in the Trinity,” Pro Ecclesia viii.3 (1999), 308–18, and “Once more on the Logos asarkos,” IJST 13.2 (2011), 130–33. Jenson briefly notes his own affinity for Neo-Chalcedonian Christology and the later ecumenical councils.

28 “The Sage.”

29 Cf. Adversus Haereses iii.19.1.

30 AH iv.20.7.

31 I do not, of course, mean this in the sense that prior to divinization we lack the dignity of ‘full humanity;’ rather, I only mean that total dynamic fulfillment of what we possess innately in potency forces us to reckon with the possibility of becoming ‘even more human’ than we currently are (or at least I currently am, as my loved ones can undoubtedly confirm).

32 Maximus, Amb. 5.3.

33 The hypostatic identity of the Word grounds the radical natural distinction of the two natures and their inseparable, unconfused, and perichoretic union. That the union is perichoretic is a claim traceable to Gregory of Nazianzus, but one which seems to reach its fullest conceptual fruition in the thought of Maximus. On which, see Jordan Daniel Wood, The Whole Mystery of Christ (South Bend, IN: Notre Dame University Press, 2022), 43–53, et passim.

34 Whether or not he’s right to attribute it flatly to Hegel, it strikes me as perceptive of Hart to link the voluntarism of the late medieval period to that which perhaps reaches a crescendo in the middle Schelling (by way of Böhme).

35 Gods, 115.

36 Gods, 117.

37 See Canon 10 of Constantinople II.

38 On which, again, see Wood, The Whole Mystery, 123–32.

39 Ecclesiastical Mystagogy, §24 in Selected Writings, trans. Berthold (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1985), 212. Particularly helpful here is Wood’s treatment of this passage at various junctures in The Whole Mystery, in conjunction with his discussions of God-world reciprocity in his fourth and fifth chapter. On the specific question of historicity and reciprocity in Maximus’ thought: “Hence arises the possibility—one that has grounds, I think, in parts of Maximus’s corpus—of a fundamental or primordial reciprocity between God’s eternal self-knowledge (cf. Q. Thal. 56.7) and the particularities of historical events, yet not in such a way that the former simply determines the latter (lest there be no true reciprocity at all). From this vantage the Word himself, through his creative condescension as the logoi of creation (cf. CT 1.66–67—historical and cosmic at once!), would be the identity that grounds such a reciprocity. Then creation would prove an inevitable “result” of God’s self-knowledge even while it does not possess any “simultaneous” or “co-eternal” (i.e., natural) relation to the divine essence itself (as ruled out by texts like Q. Thal. 60.9.” (The Whole Mystery, 274n21).

40 Myst. §5, Berthold, 192

41 One can see similar impulses at work in Gregory of Nyssa’s magisterial exegesis of 1 Cor. 15:28, In illud: Tunc et ipse Filius (GNO iii.2:3–28), trans. Rowan A. Greer (with J. Warren Smith) in One Path for All: Gregory of Nyssa on the Christian Life and Human Destiny (Eugene, OR: Cascade Publishing, 2015), 118–32.

42 Hart, “The Sage.”

43 Hart, Gods, 71.

44 For the conciliar basis of Christ’s composite person and their shared, symmetrical identity, see Canon vii of Constantinople II: “and if anyone understands the two natures in the mystery of Christ in the sense of a division into parts, or if he expresses his belief in the plural natures in the same lord Jesus Christ, God the Word made flesh, but does not consider the differnece of those natures, of which he is composed, to be only in the onlooker’s mind, a difference which is not compromised by the union (for he is one from both and the two exist through the one [εἷσ γάρ ἐξ ἀμφοῖν και δί ̓ ἑνός ἀμφότερα / unus enim ex utroque et per unum utraque]) but uses the plurality to suggest that each nature is possessed separately and has a subsistence of its own: let him be anathema” (trans. Norman Tanner, SJ, Decrees of the Ecumenical Councils [Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990], 117).

45 Hart has begun to share some of the more detailed Christological (and anthropological) entailments of and reasons for this move, especially in “Gods, Chimaeras, and Portmanteaux.” Hart seems to suggest that hypostatic identity understood as the ‘nonformal positivity’ which exhibits ‘total indifference’ to the natures it unites (to use Wood’s words) simply cannot bear the weight it ought in signifying and explicating the divine-human union. He opts, then, to appropriate Bulgakov’s notion of Sophia (or ‘sophianicity’), specifically in its mediating role on both sides of the creator-creature distinction. Such sophianicity is an intrinsic ordering and compatibility of each nature to one another and, he adds, toward hypostatization. To those at all familiar with Wood’s reading of Maximus, it might seem like the divergences between their proposals are so vanishingly thin to matter any more. However, Hart’s other motivation for charting this route seems to pertain to his desire to preserve the analogical gap, and that, as I’ve already shown, is a concern driven almost solely by his concern for the primacy of the Good. To speak of the human as having the essential capacity for ‘becoming divine’ is then to speak precisely with the logic of nature rather than hypostasis, and this perhaps generates even further concerns about divine and human integrity or identity. If the notion of hypostatic identity as the ground of both identity and radical distinction between the natures—in Christ and ultimately in those deified by, in, and as Christ (without dissolution of their own hypostatic personhood) —can be shown to preserve the primacy of the Good and address some of the concerns I raise here about the dynamism of teleological soteriology in its true historicity, then perhaps there’s a way forward for reconciling their competing approaches.

46 One might add that truly seeing the Word as the unity of time and eternity will result in taking history more seriously, but not in the form of a reductive ‘historicism.’ The latter is united more closely to a-historical approaches to metaphysics, since both share the ultimate impulse to think that history has little or no intrinsic meaning.

47 By this I do not mean a ‘miaphysitism’ of the crude and caricatured sort one glimpses in the polemical depictions of, say, Apollinarius. No, those charges of a hybridized, centaur-like conception of the Christological union ought instead to give way to a subtler reading of the miaphysite tradition from Apollinarius through Severus. Instead, I mean here the sort of interpretation that Bulgakov (a clear inspiration of Hart’s in these pages) gives in his defense of the anthropological and soteriological impulses of Apollinarius’ unitive Christology, or of the sort that Gregory of Nyssa’s soteriology and eschatology entertain—an irony, perhaps, given Nyssen’s tenacious polemic against Apollinarius! (on which Christological complexities, see Monroe, “Toward Unity: On the Christology of Gregory of Nyssa” Studia Patristica CXV, vol. 12, [Leuven: Peeters, 2022], 107–24). In fact, throughout we find Hart elegantly embroidering the Nyssenian patrimony, from its fundamental commitment to the primacy of the Good to its ‘transformative’ soteriological ontology (see, e.g., Gregory’s Cant. 1 [GNO vi.28–9]). Indeed, we would all do well to remember that in their complaints against the somewhat vague formulations of Chalcedon—and, worse, the patently divisive Christology latent in Leo’s Tome—it was the miaphysite communities and their thinkers who pushed the Church to reconcile unity and distinction. This they did both by forcing thinkers like Leontius of Byzantium and Maximus to meet their concerns for hypostatic unity while seeing in that singular identity the distinction of natures. All of which is to say that my appellation of miaphysitic is hardly a negative judgment.

48 As Maximus makes clear, in deification, “we too, thanks to Him, will come to be in the world above, and become gods according to Him through the mystery of grace, undergoing no change whatsoever in our nature” (Amb. 31.9), but the lack of change in nature does not rule out hypostatic identity in Christ, nor does it rule out our perichoretic personal unity with the Trinity.

49 On Difficulties in Sacred Scripture: The Responses to Thalassios, trans. Fr. Maximos Constas, Fathers of the Church 136 (Washington, DC: CUA Press, 2018), 152.

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54 Responses to A (New) Suspended Middle? On David Bentley Hart and the Nature-Grace Question

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    Thank you Ty for carefully and masterfully unpacking the issues that matter in “Gods”. You single handedly moved the conversation along by 20 years, so it seems to me. You have given the reciprocal God/creation identity some needed substance and robustness here, and you have shown how it can be done within the bounds of orthodoxy.

    If I read you correctly our “now” in time is no less part of the radical intrinsic ontology as is the primordial eternal creative act as is the consummation in the eschaton. But unlike Hegel it is the transformation of time, redeemed time, that is indicative of true reciprocal identity. We see the necessity of creation without it setting the terms of identity: time is completed, transformed, redeemed.

    Again thank you for this, I am finding this super helpful in furthering my own thoughts on these questions.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Ty, Gregory Mehr has posted the following criticism of Hart’s position on the natural desire for God and has given me permission to post it here, hoping for your response:

    It would seem that David Bentley Hart’s two-step argument for theosis being the “natural” telos of creatures (in his _You Are Gods_) is flawed in the following ways:

    Hart’s thesis is that since it is possible for us to undergo theosis, it cannot happen to us unless the possibility of theosis is inherent in our nature: here he gives the example of a fool being made wise, which doesn’t do violence to the humanity of the fool because being wise is part of the possibilities inherent to human nature, or of the barren woman being made fertile not being contrary to her womanhood.

    However, it doesn’t follow from the fact that the possibility of theosis is inherent in our nature to the conclusion that therefore theosis is our telos, such that God owes it to his goodness to give us theosis. Here we can use the example given by Hart himself of fatherhood:

    Being a father is a possibility of mine, and it even fulfils my humanity, but no woman on earth is by that reason obligated in the least to bear my children.

    After this “metaphysical” argument, Hart uses a “phenomenological” argument (to use his terms):

    This argument is that since all desire is ultimately a disposition towards the Good, and the desire for Good as such being the necessary condition of all other desire, the Good as such is our natural end. And likewise, since all knowledge-seeking is the seeking of Truth as such, only the knowledge of Truth as such can be our natural end. And since God is Truth itself and the Good itself, we have a natural desire for theosis.

    However, here we must distinguish — something can be natural in two ways: whether it is desired naturally, or whether the mode in which it is desired is natural for what is desired and/or the desirer.

    In this, we can indeed concede that we do have a natural desire for the Good as such and Truth as such, but we do not have a _perfect_ natural desire for these, only an imperfect one. It is not natural to us to have a perfect desire for Truth and Goodness, and therefore whilst in one sense, God is our natural end, in another sense we do not have a natural desire for God in the mode he ought to be desired.

    In this we can give another analogy: all living things have the drive to _be_, and what is this drive but the active disposition to transcend the contingencies of the world and remain in existence? In other words, what is the drive to exist anything other than the drive to immortality? Yet, no living creature in the material world has such a drive except imperfectly, and therefore eternal life cannot be the _natural_ end of any (purely) material creature.

    The same must therefore be said of Hart’s argument for theosis being the natural end of rational creatures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ty Monroe says:

      Thank you, Fr. Al, for mediating Gregory’s comment. I’ll try to be brief.

      The first objection fails to reckon with the fundamental character of divinization’s (and thus grace’s) intrinsic relation to nature and vice versa—fundamental in the sense that it is categorically unlike all other such potencies because it’s at the heart of what it means to be human in a way that no other potencies are. In this sense, the claim is actually deeply connected to the phenomenological claims raised in the second objection—i.e., that knowledge and desire and their necessary ordering toward ultimate truth and the love thereof. And, so, to the second, it’s precisely the kinds of (more or less Thomistic) distinctions about ‘natural’ vs. ‘modally natural’ that Hart is pressing us to reconsider, precisely because they are question-begging. They assume the extrinsic relation of nature to grace ahead of time, and then (circularly) prove the premises which they presume, thereby circumventing the standalone arguments made from metaphysical and phenomenological observations and principles. More specifically, objections of this second kind already presume a disjuncture between a ‘natural’ mode that isn’t perfectly ordered to divinization and supernatural that is, forgetting (perhaps) that what’s most natural to being human is only seen in the divine-human person Jesus Christ. See St. Maximus on the ‘natural’ vs. the merely ‘gnomic will’, the former always being ordered to the good and thereby revealing the *truth* of human nature and the latter being a feature of the fallen world which Christ did not need to endure. And, if you’re willing to be a bit daring in your exegesis, perhaps also see _Gaudium et Spes_ §22 for a concise (if oblique) gesture to this way of thinking in a RC magisterial document.

      Many thanks, again!

      Liked by 3 people

    • DBH says:

      Al,

      Mehr is asking questions already answered in the book. He is also making the same mistakes Feser made. He is confusing the question of natural potency with the question of natural faculty. And he apparently doesn’t understand the tradition he’s defending, which necessarily denies that spiritual creatures naturally desire the knowledge of God in himself, and also claims that without superelevation creatures are capable only of an elicited curiosity about God as cause of all things. As the book demonstrates, but for the natural desire to know God in himself, there can be no such thing as a rational creature, and so there could be no creature capable even of that elicited curiosity.

      I do wish these guys would take the trouble to read the book carefully before offering their opinions. The first chapter is extremely precise on all these matters, and it’s tiring to have to keep repeating what’s already been said.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. brian says:

    Ty,

    Thank you for this quite interesting article.

    George MacDonald anticipates nearly every more recent attempt to articulate how the gospel reveals divine Fatherhood and Triune generosity. All those reactive traditionalisms that continue to resist the implications for Creation and theosis merely alienate themselves from the unique logic of perfect love itself. So, I don’t think Hart’s use of analogy in the affirmative manner posed is utterly novel, but his emphasis is both timely and necessary. It’s clear that the opposite use of analogy is akin to what Hart has elsewhere called “theological nihilism.” If one takes the difference between God and creatures to be such as to permit a radical renunciation of what we mean by Good, then what’s to stop one from affirming that He might after all be what we call a devil? In theological debate, however, this is a proxy war for whether one can assimilate infernalist eschatology with God’s innocence. (The answer, of course, is in the negative.) The really intriguing part of the essay happens with the questioning of Christology in regards to historical event, drama and development. And here, I don’t have answers, but only wish to ruminate upon what you have speculated. I think it is very important to take time seriously, and for spirit, this involves memory and history. Avoiding “Hegelian” necessity, one still requires that the unique journey of irreplaceable singularities somehow be justly acknowledged. As someone who has wrestled with all this as a writer of fiction, there are real conundrums involved. On the one hand, it’s impossible to think a person apart from specific relations and perduring remembrance. The figure in film and fiction who experiences amnesia is given a holiday from a perhaps enslaving past, yet the quest for wholeness always requires retrieval. Identity is incomplete without some form of anamnesis. On the other hand, it is repugnant to imagine eschatological bliss where even the trace of evil remains as memory of unspeakable horrors. How to extricate the latter and consign to oblivion without rendering the former an ersatz identity that is no longer properly the person who has lived out an historical drama?

    Part of the answer of what shall remain a mystery is to strongly note — as John Milbank (among others) did a generation back in Theology and Social Theory – Triune difference is the foundation of ontic difference. The pagan metaphysics of strife and ontological war is mistaken, a Fallen metaphysics ignorant of divinity that is agapeic love. Hence, evil is not necessary for the choice of the Good and the uniqueness of singularity does not intrinsically require the passage through horrors to realize and know an incommunicable identity. All the same, one might object that while not fundamentally necessary, we are, in fact, products of just such a passage through history rife with evil, failure, suffering, perversity. I have tied these kinds of thoughts to Yom Kippur. A young scholar named Richard Barry IV wrote a thoughtful dissertation on this subject joining Christology to the Old Testament rite. Barry posits that the two goats involved, the goat for Yahweh and the goat for Azazel, represent two sides of a single soteriological action. In brief, the goat for Yahweh brings the perfected, iconic reality of the earth to the Father. At the same time, the unfortunate scapegoat consigned to oblivion in the desert is the way in which the idols of our slithering sins are brought to annihilation. In a poetic register, one might imagine an eschatological reality where the “name on the white stone” is the perfect realization of the Father’s summons of unique identities to existence. Our perverse dereliction is destroyed as “ontological falsehood” in Hart’s terms. Whatever is needed of historical memory seems to me must be understood as anonymous evil at the deepest metaphysical level – because the putative identities of sinners, let’s just use the much employed shorthand of Hitler or Jack the Ripper as exemplar, sinners ordinary folk rightly find deeply offensive and repugnant in the extreme, are historical facts brought to nullity by Christ. Healed persons that are paradoxically the true Origin, for the Creation is always “Good, very Good” are liberated from the chains of mundane facts by the creative fidelity of Triune care. Yet how one accommodates these sorts of conjecture is nothing one can bring to apodictic conclusion. Jordan Daniel Wood appears to speculate that the integrity of the Creation may ultimately require the complete healing of every wound to the point where evil is rendered something that never happened within the realm of God’s truth. Hence, the wounds of Christ’s Resurrected Body are penultimate to the absolute victory of the gospel. This may be correct, though I am inclined to think the wounds differently, as transfigured from the scars of battle with evil to open doorways, eschatological porosity to ever greater discovery and bliss; the point of epektasis is that these are robust, flourishing singularities called to an ever expansive discovery of eternal event that is somehow first encountered (from our finite perspective) in the dynamic of historical time.

    Liked by 6 people

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      I too can’t agree to the erasure of the past, this seems to be what Jordan Wood is arguing for, but not sure I’m understanding him correctly. But in any case neither erasure or a loss of memory corresponds to what can be the case, not in my estimation if we are to understand creation’s history as real and not some sort of illusion. If it can be forgotten or erased then it is all for naught, it may all have been nothing or something different. But it is not for nothing, it can’t be if we are to affirm the incarnation. And we are commanded, “do this in remembrance of me” – a remembrance of the shedding of blood, of violence, no less! Which in any case would be odd indeed if it were erased or subjected to amnesia. No, this can’t be the case.

      Bulgakov’s sophianic approach seems to me a better take on this: creation is Sophia, the expression of the Divine Sophia in time, and as such, in God, creation has its foundation in the uncreated, it is as it were a joining the two, an uncreated-created. As its foundation is the eternal, the timeless, it comes alongside the uncreated in a coming-to-be for its own in temporality; time is the necessary occasion for it to come alongside the uncreated, in God. Which is to say that sophianic creation can come to fulfilment in the divine Sophia, its origin and destination, only in time. The temporal, its being in time, is then (also) the very occasion for the beginning of its fulfillment, its completion, into the Divine Sophia. The tragic loss of a child in a house fire will be known to its fullest as a tragic cutting short in time of this particular uncreated-created logos, whose logos in spite of the loss comes to its fullest expression at the end of time, in the Divine Sophia. The loss is remembered, but the loss is no longer just a loss, but the occasion for healing, for redemption; it’s fulfillment at the end of time will disclose it’s reason to be. The remembrance discloses redemption, a revelation of the transfiguration of senseless darkness to the occasion of uncreated light in creation. Time cannot be erased as the occasion for its redemption. Time stands as a moment in the eternal, as the created Sophia in the Divine Sophia and as such it can neither be erased nor forgotten.

      Liked by 3 people

      • brian says:

        Robert,

        I’ve been greatly influenced by Bulgakov and largely follow the line you sketch out. I do think it is more complicated, but I am not comfortable sketching out all the thoughts I suppose relevant to this discussion. I can’t do it briefly, at any rate. There is something absolutely right in Wood’s conjecture (if I understand him.) The way I would contextualize it: consider Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience. What the Romantic search for healing wanted was not a simple retrieval of innocence, but a wise innocence that had passed through the gauntlet, knew the suffering and deprivations of Experience. You could say that the picture you enumerate is just that — and it does indeed do well enough as an image of what the coincidence of justice and mercy in the truth of love might be. Though there is still a remnant of evil in the trace memory of it. Let us take something in nature, say, the terrible deprivations of a river and the surrounding ecosystem by rampant industrial pollution. Think of all the wildlife that dies and suffers because of it. It would certainly be a victory for the cosmos to be healed and transfigured into eternal life. But I find myself balking at supposing I would have to retain even the image of that suffering, or of mass graves from a concentration camp, or a burn victim, or more personal, existential memories of loss and humiliation. I think restoration must be more than recuperative. Innocence must flourish not simply as healing, but as genuinely originary though somehow also wise with experience. That is the hard thing. Anyway, I spent 300K words of novelizing wrestling with these things, so I can’t boil it down to a pithy explanation . . .

        Liked by 4 people

        • Ty Monroe says:

          Thank you Brian and Robert both for these thoughtful replies. I don’t suppose we’re all that far off from one another. I don’t see in Jordan’s speculative accounts in the links I provided above or in my essay anything about a simple consigning of history—even the struggles therein—to oblivion or erasure. In fact, taking seriously my challenge to Hart re: history and God’s character/identity, it seems to me in retrospect that I’m trying to affirm the necessity of memory, including of the sort that is suggested by Christ’s scars (see my sixth-to-last paragraph) and my claim that something of the love and perseverance of human lives in holy *response* to evil is decidedly to be remembered as the truth of history, in saecula saeculorum. However, I take Jordan’s point, via Maximus, equally seriously, that the evil actions themselves are and were never ‘real’ to begin with. This would render their place in the eternal memory something other than an item of recollection as we know it, it seems to me, but so, too, would the memory of any of our holy and loving actions, mixed as they are even by our never-quite-immaculate intentions, motives, etc. In short, to my mind, *all* history requires a transfiguration that is neither wholesale erasure nor simple recollection.

          Liked by 4 people

  4. Tom says:

    Thank you Ty. Appreciate this very much. It expresses nearly everything I’ve been asking and struggling with for – well – a long time. I have a lot I wanna say (and ask), but I’m gonna let it sit and steep for now.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Ty, analytic theologians like to raise what they call the modal collapse objection to all classical theologies that affirm divine simplicity and immutability. My impression is that the position you have outlined escapes this objection. Do you agree, and if you do, could you elaborate on why it escapes the objection?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ty Monroe says:

      Thanks, Fr. Al. I don’t know these arguments or their counterarguments very well, but from a cursory investigation of the “modal collapse” debate, it seems both sides are fighting over what’ll turn out to be an empty lunchbox—i.e., they both stage their debate on an agreement about a voluntarist/arbitrary notion of divine freedom (at least on this question of creation, since few of them would want to affirm a *moral* arbitrariness to the divine will, though I fail to see how the question of “whether or not to create hummingbirds and waterfalls and humans” *isn’t* a profoundly moral question!). I think the position I’ve outlined is on this score simply in keeping with Hart’s, and I do think that it’s a more coherent position re: divine simplicity. Granted, it requires first recognizing that unity and plurality are not irreconcilable realities, as well as a significant shift in the way we think the God-world relationship. But the Incarnation has been the cause of exactly that kind of that renewed recognition and conceptual ‘shifting’ work since… well, since we realized it happened and continues to happen.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

        My impression is that those analytic philosophers who advance the modal collapse objection are thoroughly committed to a libertarian construal of freedom and are thus voluntarists through and through.

        Liked by 2 people

  6. Tom says:

    Ty,

    Again, loved your post. Very appreciative. It helped me better organize issues I’ve had tumbling around my mind for years.

    I’ll try to describe what my concerns are. For the length. So – we have radically incommensurable natures (uncreated|created, infinite|finite, plenitudinous|temporally becoming, simple|complex, etc) that are united hypostatically, but not without mind-numbing effects for those who ponder this. I think to ease the burden of mystery and find some relief, theologians (as they are inclined) tend to let out the steam on one side or the other of this equation. Some eventually collapse one into the other.

    I’ve always tended to refuse budging on the created side of things, fighting to keep its finite, contingent temporal nature irreducibly what it is. So I complain about those who (IMO) come too close to identifying Creation with God. On the one hand we admit the obvious contingent nature of the World, but the whole project (all of it, every contingency, every choice we make, the collapse of every quantum particle) is also present in the Son/Logos. Creation becomes so identified with God’s essential act of being (the very begetting of his own Image in the Son) that I can’t see any way to affirm and celebrate God’s freedom with re: to creation. I appreciate the sense in which ‘necessity’ and ‘contingency’ ultimately converge in God. Still, I don’t want to up with God being no more free with respect to creating than he is with respect to being the Absolute. (To anticipate an objection, I’m not presuming a voluntarist notion of divine freedom.)

    There are existential reasons having to do with salvation itself which drive me toward the keeping creation out of that which constitutes God’s triune plenitude. For if ‘that’ creation is (at all) is determined by its place in the uncreated act of the Son’s begetting, that screws things for me existentially, for creation would follow from God’s existing at all, and we can no more call creation a free act than we can call the existence of the Absolute a free act, and we don’t do that latter. So – I’m unable to conceive of God who isn’t God without me, or who I can’t imagine as existing fully as God without me, otherwise we both end up participating in each other (albeit in different ways), and that’s the end of theosis for me; for God cannot give the creature what God is not.

    For example, the first of your final 3 questions: What’s it mean to be divine? I would never say being divine means creating. Being divine is creation’s possibility, obviously, but to identify ‘being divine’ with ‘being human’? I know that’s where many theologians are. I can’t go there. (Fr Al and Robert F and Brian M and I have kicked this question about for many years – or maybe it’s me they’ve been kicking about – but they’ve been a great support and challenge.)

    Though I suck at describing this, Ty, I really do feel it deeply. It’s anything but academic for me. When people talk about God as if the determination to create is perfectly interchangeable with (and indiscernible from) the begetting of the Son, I can’t see it. And if I say something like, “But of course God would be the Triune God of love without creating. He doesn’t get ‘being that’ in or from or through creating,” I’m reminded that there’s no way I could possibly know this. Then I ask how they could possibly know that and the conversation spirals downward from there.

    I know most people would feel great to know their existence is (forgive my untrained choice of terms here) an aspect of ontological moment determinative of God plenitude. I can’t imagine that being good news – for either me or God.

    Liked by 2 people

    • brian says:

      Part of it, Tom, is that finite antinomies just don’t apply to God. Freedom and Necessity as we tend to conceptualize them are “outwitted” (a favorite term of Radical Orthodoxy) by the Triune explosion of our limited categories. I think I do see the point of your existential anguish,however, and I don’t think it is answered fully by pointing at how God transcends our aporias. I have tended to embrace Philip Sherrard’s notion that the necessity of Creation for God is akin to the way an artist is “compelled” to give life to the beautiful possibilities hidden in the depths of memory and imagination. Though, naturally, Creation proper is unique to God and I agree with Pure Act and with Desmond’s understanding of a pluperfect Plenitude that always exceeds any determinate appearance. Thomists deny the real relation between God and world, btw. What is convertible in grace and through Christ needs to be distinguished from what is the recipient of the gift of theosis. If it’s any consolation, I have an angel pal who assures me that God swears he never heard of Tom Belt before he showed up one day on the doorstep making a fuss.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Ty Monroe says:

        Thank you, Tom and Brian both.
        Tom, let me be clear about one thing: I very much appreciate your profession that this is personally and existentially very important for you. I’m a one- or two-trick pony who, for the last 15 or so years has apprenticed himself to modes of discourse that don’t really encourage straightforward, accessible diction, though it’s partly my fault for not learning to move beyond that training and write more accessibly. But please don’t take my writing style or academic the manner in which I approach these very difficult topics as indication that I think them anything less than the very beating heart of the universe and, therefore, of every soul (whether it knows it or not!). In short, thank you for expressing the personal meaning of these questions to you; I feel very similarly, even if my essay failed to communicate that.

        In light of that, let me pose a few follow-up questions aimed to poke and prod at the relations between various things you said.

        Setting aside the Christological ‘problem’ as you first articulated it—and, in my mind, you did so in a way that shows exactly why so many Christological endeavors end up in Nestorian or miaphysitic tendencies, even to the point that explicit adherents of one often wind up affirming something distinctive of the other!—you seem to want to resist a voluntarist/arbitrary conception of divine freedom, but then you go to great lengths to explain why the act of creating (and becoming hypostatically one with creation, as God the Word) must be seen as ‘unnecessary’. I’m’ sure your persistent and very solicitous(!) friends have repeatedly challenged you to consider the difference between ‘external’ necessity and ‘necessity’ internal to one’s very character, and Brian’s metaphor of the artist seems apt to me. What’s interesting to me is that you seem to see the importance of consistency on these matters, even to the point of saying that ‘to be the Absolute’ is not a result of divine freedom, implying instead that it’s under compulsion(?) that God is God. But why think that way, other than that you’ve already decided what ‘necessity’ is and that it isn’t reconcilable with true freedom? Surely we do talk about God’s freedom to be God, no? God is *compelled necessarily* to be the eternal communion of three hypostaseis, but is this precisely in an act of utter freedom, a compulsion from within God’s nature—i.e., freedom for the Good of being the Triune God! We don’t call this ‘free’ >only< in the sense that we don't call it 'arbitrarily' free. Do you see why I feel I'm detecting within the very way you're describing things an a priori commitment to defining freedom over against necessity, rather than seeing necessity's reconciliation to freedom in the divine freedom only for the good?

        Then, as to the more specific question of how the act of creating can be similarly free and necessary, I take it that your moral and soteriological concerns are the driving force here, and I think that's a good thing. That's why in the final section of the essay I tried to address the question of divinization and 'directionality'. In my words, we want there to be distinction between divinity and humanity so that when we say a human becomes a full partaker in the divine life, it means something, there's a target that's neither 'moving' nor simply less worthy of our aspirations (i.e. an evil divinity). In your words, if 'to be divine' also, in its fullest sense, means 'to be human': "we both end up participating in each other (albeit in different ways), and that’s the end of theosis for me; for God cannot give the creature what God is not." The first thing to say is that there is an infinite natural distinction between divinity and humanity; however, this distinction doesn't have the last word, so to speak. Yes, it's an integral feature of the structure of reality and, therefore, of the grammar of Christian thought. But the fundamental principle of both of these registers is a person, Jesus Christ. His person is the union of otherwise seemingly irreconcilable realities. But this isn't just a conceptual gymnastics trick. It's the reconciliation of reality to its creator and, in a sense, to its true self. To get back, then, to the question of directionality, there is absolutely still soteriological/salvific directionality to deification, but not because we have to define what it means to be 'divine' by contradistinction to what it means to be 'human'—quite to the contrary, on dogmatic terms we regularly affirm the existence and identity of a single person who is 'fully God' and 'fully human.' The problem, then, is in thinking that 1) we are already 'fully human', and so that 2) what we need is to aim at becoming like a God who is 'fully divine' (but to the exclusion of being human). But we're *not* fully human, since, for instance, sinning isn't 'natural' and so reveals our falling short of true humanity. Yet, if Christ is the fullest (and perhaps only true) expression of what it means to be human, save for the special case of the Theotokos, then the 'target' of theosis is one absolutely worth shooting for and one absolutely better than our current status. The target is to be Christ—that is, to be fully divinized while and, in fact, *by* becoming fully human, and to become fully human precisely by becoming fully divinized. I don't know if helps or is any clearer than the original essay, but please let me know either way.

        Lastly, I wouldn't say that "the determination to create is perfectly interchangeable with (and indiscernible from) the begetting of the Son". This would be to deny the conciliar/dogmatic principle that Christ has 'two births' (Canon 2, Constantinople II). That's to say, just because we want to speak in some univocal way about the necessity of God's intra-trinitarian acts of begetting and proceeding and the necessity of God's being the God who creates and redeems does *not* mean that these are indistinguishable actions. I mean, even someone like von Balthasar wants to locate the creating act of God in the intra-trinitarian 'space' between the Father and Son, and Balthasar's no fan of 'necessity' talk vis-a-vis God. That being said, I do think there's a fundamental continuity between the Son's identity as (necessarily) eternally spoken Logos of the Father and as Logos of all created reality, and not by way of mere 'fittingness'. But I don't think that seeing both of these things as intrinsic to what it means to be God is to collapse their uniqueness, any more than it would collapse the personal distinction between the Son and Spirit simply to recognize their being begotten and breathed forth from the Father are necessary in quite the same ways! Both are necessary, and yet they remain distinct.

        Again, I hope some of this is helpful, and i apologize for any further confusion or error I've added to anyone's thinking on these matters. God will deal with me if the latter cases are true!

        Christ's peace– Ty

        Liked by 4 people

        • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

          Ty,

          Great work…..And, it has been too long! Still so sad I missed out on your Berdyaev Seminar. I think the notions of confusion that pop up in us as creative agents is that all agency is necessarily freely brought forth by ourselves in the creative act and not as the extension of the fully creative teleological moment. It is actually the most divine moment because it is the kernel of the divine bringing forth its telelogical aim with the coupling of the freely moving spirit in the proper way. All creation is a wholly unified act. In a sense, it is the logoi fully becoming a part of the Logos from which grounds it, and vice-versa. So while they are not the same in actu, they are the same in kind. Hence why St. Paul talks about being co-heirs. You are not the same, but yet you are of the same kind. If the divine Logos is the thing that brings forth all from the depths of itself, then we as the logoi must necessarily tie back into that purpose, freely bringing forth in the sense of what truly freely should be. That phanstasms of existence that are created by mechanistic necessity are never genuinely free until realized in such a way that they approach the limit of existence and burst forth into the real by embracing the creative actions that bubble up from within in the way that extend and also reflect the Divine that resides within each of them. Necessity and Freedom are merely the illusions of the soul in its reflective points of immediacy. What am I seeing as the conduit to be free? And does the acceptance of that very same freedom cause me to maybe necessarily create in a specific way? It is an and/both proposition that flows from the pure act of delight that grounds the creative process in general as the whole being of humanity points towards the divine realization of what it has worked out and is bringing forth within us all. Jaspers is really good on this idea, and obviously Berdy.

          In a sense, even time itself is a creative movement within the divine to provide the tension and arena for creation to unfold as it is meant to and yet to also have the capacity of a space to perform what is ever meant to be, whether in the reality of things or their illusions. So even a Hegelian notion of becoming is really just one piece of the puzzle. Schelling is much better on this, even in the later positive side, to see that all becoming points to a radical prius that is holding the becoming forth in the tension of what is, was to be, could be, and will be, and in the end, is only ever fully identified by us through an intellectual intuition which is the divine merely seeing itself and moving towards itself. Time cannot be a necessity of the fall, but it can be a tool that then feels the brunt of the fall pulling against the divine notion of a moving stillness (as Maximus suggests), which is in a way, no different than the burden that Nature feels. The pull of the fall trying to encapsulate a false reality around the freedom it is meant to share in.

          Again, great work man!

          Liked by 2 people

          • Ty Monroe says:

            thanks for this, Logan! lots to think on here! and i suppose this is “Coach” Logan, whom i’ve been out of touch with for a while?? either way, great to hear from you, and thank you. i aim to become better acquainted with Schelling’s work—especially in the later period—so thanks for that tip!

            Liked by 1 person

    • Calvin says:

      “So – I’m unable to conceive of God who isn’t God without me, or who I can’t imagine as existing fully as God without me,”
      Why not? What do you think you are?

      Like

      • Ty Monroe says:

        hi Calvin. apologies, as I think that I originally thought your reply was to Logan (in part because I’m somewhat unfamiliar with the layout of WordPress). I take it now that you’re directing this question at me, specifically. I suppose it’s less what I think I *am* than what I think God created me with the ultimate intention that I become and what I will become—not per my own agency in any sense apart from God’s mercy, grace, and love—when I finally come, perhaps after aeons of purgation, to be in Him who has become all things (1 Cor. 15:28). Daring as it may sound, if that’s not the logic of Christianity’s understanding of God>>the act of Creation>>the deifying logic of salvation, then what logic do we understand to unite those things in place thereof?
        Thanks!

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        • Tom says:

          Ty I think Calvin is directing that to me. I’m the one who said “I’m unable to conceive of God who isn’t God without me, or who I can’t imagine as existing fully as God without me.” Calvin asks me Why? Who do I think I am?

          Calvin, I just think I’m not God, not an essential part of the divine identity, that’s pretty much it. I think part of saying this is acknowledging that my contingent existence does not play a role, have a part (in *any* sense) in determining, shaping, or otherwise constituting that identity. I could be wrong, but I think my contingent existence is ‘gratuitous’ to God’s being and identity, and that this gratuity is the grace of the gospel. On the existential level, as I tried to describe, I have genuine struggles imaging my perfection being a gift of a God who could not ‘not create me’, to whom I am not gratuitous. So I’d like to say God’s triune plenitude is antecedent (not temporally of course, but ontologically) to the determination to creation – which I’m sure raises red flags for everyone. How does we ‘say’ this when we also admit that necessity and freedom converge in God’s and so remain beyond our comprehension. But to answer your question ‘Who do I think I am?’, the answer (re: to this conversation) is ‘Nothing, nobody’.

          Tom

          Liked by 1 person

  7. DBH says:

    Thanks, Ty. A very thorough, serious, and intelligent review and set of questions, and I’m grateful you have lavished such effort on my book. I should spend some time praising you for your perceptiveness on many issues, but time is precious I also promised in our email exchange to answer your queries.

    Here, I’m afraid, you’re not going to get any joy from me, because you plainly want me to embrace a set of views that in fact I lcannot. To put it simply: no, God does not become the God he is in Jesus of Nazareth and in creation; Jesus of Nazareth and the creation that comes to be (ultimately) in him are the necessary expression of who God is; but God is not an object in relation to another object, or an object within a set, or a thing that becomes. It is simply a modal catachresis to think the word “God” indicates anything that involves a potency that is made actual in any kind of “real relation.” The sufferings of Christ, his humanity, his flesh all belong to the Logos by condescension, by kenosis, as an act of God, not as a pathos (a modification or qualification). It sounds very dramatic (in a late Lutheran way) to speak of the history of Christ somehow determining who God is–rather than being determined by who God is–but such language I believe to be logically vacuous.

    I’ll try to answer a few of your remarks, excerpted here:

    You write: “Without a positive articulation of how what it means to be ‘God’ preserves but also transcends the mere distinction between divinity and humanity—and so includes creaturehood, even in its very historicity—Hart remains in tension with his own Christocentric intrinsicism and with his own otherwise unwavering commitment to the ultimate primacy of the Good.”

    No, the classical theistic definition of God as absolute transcendence and absolute immanence–simple, infinite, immutable, etc.–suffices to answer all such questions, and there is no tension whatsoever in the account. God is the all, as Sirach says, absent from nothing, but nothing modifies or qualifies God, since God is not an abject in a qualifying relation to some other object. All things are expressions of God, but God is not an expression or product of those things.

    You write: “Central to Hart’s entire proposal is that for all of God’s doings, from creating to redeeming to ultimately and fully restoring, God’s character transcends the apparent opposition between freedom and necessity: God’s utter freedom to create and to deify is motivated by an ultimate and unflinching love and goodness which surpasses even the mere consideration of its opposite—i.e., its withholding—without its being impersonal and restricted divine ‘automation.’”

    Yes, but it is not merely a matter of “character”: it is a matter of nature, of the bonum diffusivum sui. The word “motivated” here might give the impression that we are speaking of some kind of Urentscheidung.

    You write: “Is it coherent to posit a fundamental compatibility, or even primordial commonality, a moment of indistinction between the creator and creature yet disallow any real reciprocity between the divine and the creaturely? Can we say, as I think we ought, that there is nothing arbitrary about these features of God’s action and so also God’s identity, but then deny that that the historical working-out of those actions are somehow intrinsic to God’s identity?”

    Not only is it coherent, it is an absolute logical necessity–depending on what you mean by “intrinsic”. It is only the infinite qualitative difference between divine transcendence (which, by virtue of that difference, is also absolute immanence) that makes it coherent to believe that God is really fully present in the contingent without ceasing to understand God as God. As for “intrinsic”–if by this you mean that the historical events of the life of Christ determine rather than perfectly express the identity of God, then that in fact would erase the moment of indistinction we are talking about, supplanting it with a moment of dialectical differentiation and resolution. I do not believe that that indistinction is something achieved; rather it is what achieves all things.

    You write: “This tendency crops up at various junctures, whether in Matthew 25 or in Paul’s claim to be “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions,” (Col. 1:24) and it seems to indicate that although our tortuous, sin-ridden path toward deification is different from Christ’s own historical and utterly sinless path, in some sense ours is also Christ’s path—i.e., it is also ‘God’s’ path.”

    Just to make this point: The author of Colossians does not speak of making up in his flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. That is a common misreading. He speaks of making up what he is lacking in his flesh of Christ’s afflictions (which are lacking nothing).

    You write: “we would want him to reconsider the terms of his divine-human compatibility so as to include some form of ‘reciprocity’ and/or thoroughgoing identity, though not, I must make clear, of the ‘natural’ or ‘essential’ kind—indeed, the only way unity between creator and creature is achieved is through a hypostatic or personal unity which simultaneously transcends and preserves absolute natural difference (cf. Jesus Christ).”

    That, I believe, is a meaningless formulation. The grounding of the unity of natures in the hypostatic union is vacuous, unless that union is already grounded in a prior unity of natures. This is no problem, obviously, given the disproportion of the divine and human natures: the absolute dependence of the latter upon the former; the participation of creation in the uncreated, the impartation of being from the uncreated to the created. The formula you propose, however, simply asserts and then reasserts a paradox, pretending to reconcile it under an empty category (called “hypostasis” but not actually meaning “hypostasis”: subsistentia). More to the point, hypostasis and personhood should not be confused. That is an accident of terminological history. Most especially, hypostasis should not be confused with personal subjectivity. The Logos does not have a psychology; that, like the flesh of Christ, is something assumed by kenosis, as an action rather than a passion. Hypostasis means subsistence—of a nature. The true question of Christology is not “How can two disparate natures be reconciled in a single person?” In that way of putting it, “person” is just a name for an empty magical category that somehow achieves a logically impossible unity. The real question is “How can a subsistence of the divine nature and a subsistence of the human nature be one and the same subsistence?” And the answer that Bulgakov gives is the only one I find coherent.

    You write: “indeed, when we understood deification finally by reference to Christ’s union of the two in his hypostatic identity, we see that there is not and need not be any transformation of a previously-compatible nature, since compatibility lies in the capacity of personhood to unite extremes.”

    Don’t you see here how the category of “personhood” is functioning as a nebulous catch-all that somehow performs a task that is otherwise impossible? But one cannot really say then what it is, because any coherent definition would suddenly reveal how magical this formulation is. Simply waving the magic wand of “personhood” (which is taken somehow as simultaneously also “subjectivity” and “hypostasis”) over a paradox does not actually remove the contradiction.

    You write: “the personal identity of God the Word is constituted by both his eternality and his temporality, just as his hypostasis is the composite of his two naturally distinct natures.
    While I have no delusion that he intends it to be so, this approach to the divine-human union and its historicity threatens to undermine his soteriological aims. It risks becoming an already completed teleology which is its own dissolution and in which genuine linear movement toward completion begins to look ultimately meaningless.”

    No, there is no threat to my soteriological aims here. The “personal identity” of God in the Logos is an eternal reality that is not constituted by anything at all.

    Anyway, I could go on. I know you (along with a certain honorable and Wooden presence in the life of you and your friends) want to unite high neo-Chalcedonian Christology to this Lutheran, quasi-Hegelian picture of a God who becomes God, and to use the category of hypostasis as a remedy for every logical lacuna. I am not on your side here. I don’t have to be. In fact, I can’t be, since I regard the project as incoherent. But go you on, with a blessing on your head. You’re wrong, I believe, but I’m not going to convince you.

    For my part, I can only see the matter one way. The incarnation is not an event that happens to God. It is not God’s self-definition. God is not something or someone to whom things happen. There is no God who could become God. The incarnation is the creation of the world, the redemption of the world, etc , precisely because there is no reciprocal identity between God and world.

    History is meaningful for us. In relation to God, it is creation as not yet fully created.

    None of these are complaints. They are disagreements. My one actual complaint about your review, I should note, is the repeated rhetorical tendency to treat my failure to say what you want me to say as a “tension” or contradiction or aporia in my argument. This is not the case. My account in the book is entirely internally consistent. I wish, however, that I had written that Bulgakov essay you mention in your notes before publishing the book; had I included it, it might have made my position that much clearer.

    Thanks again, Ty. A very impressive review.

    Liked by 7 people

    • David says:

      No desire or ability to get involved in the wider discussion here, but I thought I’d point out that:

      “Jesus of Nazareth and the creation that comes to be (ultimately) in him are the necessary expression of who God is” appears (to me) to be ambiguous as to whether it means either:

      ‘the fact that creation – in general – exists and that God incarnates in a human being is the necessary expression of who God is’

      OR

      ‘every detail and contingent fact about creation – including the crucifixion and every individual sin we commit – is the necessary expression of who God is’

      The first option may be a bit fiddlier insofar that it implies history could be different, God would ‘know’ different contingent facts, but God would be the same. Though no doubt there are some clever solutions appealing to the extrinsic mode of divine knowing or the fact that the details of creation, while genuinely autonomous, are in some way ‘fixed’ from the divine perspective.

      Anyhow I assume DBH affirms this and rejects the second option given it seems to write sin and suffering into the divine necessity.

      Like

      • DBH says:

        The former.

        Like

        • Calvin says:

          And so would you say that every particular human being that has actually existed needn’t not have, or are they individually in their perfected sense a necessary expression of who God is?

          Like

          • DBH says:

            Again, you’re making a distinction there between freedom and necessity inapplicable to the infinite God who is reality itself. I would say the former as a modal definition of creatures, the latter as an evident modal truth about God. If you think about it, that’s inevitable.

            Like

          • Calvin says:

            So, just so I understand, you are saying that you think that each particular human that lives or has lived might not have only in a temporal sense, but eternally must (in some sense) exist as part of God’s expression? So one might in eternity run into humans that could have been (a different sperm that didn’t reach a particular egg in our world for instance) but now are?

            Like

        • David says:

          Thought so – cheers for the clarification!

          p.s. you may like to know that I have purchased ‘The Mystery of Castle MacGorilla’ for my child. They are still in the womb, so I anticipate it may be some time until they are able to appreciate its full merits, but I for one can confirm its excellence. Thank you Dr Hart!

          Like

      • Tom says:

        DBH: For my part, I can only see the matter one way. The incarnation is not an event that happens to God. It is not God’s self-definition. God is not something or someone to whom things happen. There is no God who could become God. The incarnation is the creation of the world, the redemption of the world, etc , precisely because there is no reciprocal identity between God and world.

        Thanks for the entire response, David. Very helpful.

        I’m guessing Ty would not want to say the Incarnation is an event that “happens to God.” I surmise he’d want to say creation/Incarnation is the event “of God’s own eternal happening,” his ‘always already essential identity’. Because the world is God’s act and God is his acts, those creative acts are his “self-definition,” and though they do not “happen to him” there is a “reciprocal identity between God and the world.”

        Does this seem less objectionable or is it still too ‘Wooden’? ;o)

        Tom

        Like

        • Tom says:

          I posted without having seen David’s and Ty’s exchange below. So my question is probably answered there. Carry on.

          Like

        • DBH says:

          If so, then we can drop language of reciprocity, as it becomes otiose. Or we can drop language of God and creation altogether. But I would reject those formulations too. Again, not because they are too monistic, but precisely because they are not nearly monistic enough. They mistake God for a term within a reciprocal real relation. That renders talk of God meaningless. In place of the word “God” in such a scheme, I propose something like “the infinite, immortal, omnipotent elephant” or “tortoise”–or “grandest and lowermost of all the grand turtles whose ranks stretch all the way down.”

          Liked by 3 people

          • Tom says:

            Not monistic enough? I confess I wasn’t expecting that. I would have expected the denial of “any reciprocal real relation” to undermine attempts at too radical a monism, but perhaps that’s because I’m thinking of a ‘real monism’.

            What I’m hearing you say, then, is that since God isn’t a term “within a reciprocal real relation,” we’re in the surprising position of being able to assert the most radical monism, a monism of ‘the analogical’ and not ‘the real’? Do you suspect that the Boston Young Turks lean dangerous toward the latter?

            And if I might try to extend this phenomenologically/existentially, might one say that we ‘really experience God’ in the sense that the experience of God ‘really satisfies’ our created, finite natural desire, but without reducing God to the terms of our experience? This is both life-giving and death-dealing (to the self) because we desperately want to define what we experience and possess what we define (and then usually market and sell what we possess). But God escapes these attemps and possesses us instead.

            Honestly David, sometimes I think most if not all our debates over this and related topics are versions of our this refusal to ‘die’ in a certain sense, to be, as it were, grammatically ‘passive’, to be ‘possessed of’ and ‘known by’ God whom we’re unable to possess and define in the same manner we are possessed and known by him. We finally ‘rest’, but never from having to ‘surrender oneself in trust’ to what can never become our cognitive property. That distance is painful now, but it will become in time as sweet a presence as it is a distance.

            Tom

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          • Tom says:

            Typos in that reply. Hope you can make it out.

            Like

          • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

            Tom: “Might one say that we ‘really experience God’ in the sense that the experience of God ‘really satisfies’ our created, finite natural desire, but without reducing God to the terms of our experience?”

            Question: Do we want to say that our desire for God is finite? Obviously it’s the desire of a finite being, yet it is also a desire for the infinite God and therefore can never be fully satiated–hence epektasis. May we thus say that the natural desire for God is infinite precisely because its telos is infinite?

            Liked by 2 people

          • DBH says:

            What Al says.

            Like

    • DBH says:

      Oh, Ty, I forget two things:

      Your fn 34 suggests that I “flatly” attribute voluntarism to Hegel. I most certainly do nothing of the kind. I say only that, within one reading of Hegel, one may legitimately ask whether there is some initial moment of spontaneity in the absolute. This is how many of his theological interpreters–with their talk of an Urentscheidung and of God choosing to be Trinity–read him. I have no opinion at all, principally because I do not believe that any single answer can be demonstrated from Hegel’s texts; but also because I don’t care.

      You also suggest that my position is poised between the more dualistic view of things and the position you advocate. It is not. In fact, I reject your position as not nearly radically monistic enough, in that it requires a moment of duality and dialectic to accomplish an end that I regard as absolutely repugnant to duality and dialectic.

      take care.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Ty Monroe says:

      David, I am very appreciative of your response here, along with our email discussions. The highest compliment you could pay me regarding the essay is to engage it so thoroughly.

      I agree with you that I’m not likely to convince you on any of these matters, and I am almost as confident that you’re right that I’m not going to be convinced by you; for that reason, I’ll try to be brief, though I know I likely won’t succeed.

      At the heart of our disagreement, I think, is the question of personhood, or what it means to be a person, and its connection to the historical use of hypostasis(/prosopon/persona/suppositum/etc. in conciliar and theological texts. That includes, especially, the notion of Christ as a “composite hypostasis” (‘kata synthesin’ or, in a later juncture in the Latin of Const. II, ‘subsistentiam compositam’). Your claim is that there is little or no substantial continuity of meaning between ‘hypostasis’ as it was used successively in ancient epochs by, say, the Cappadocian Fathers, Leontius of Byzantium, the later conciliar texts, Maximus, and what it means for Jordan Wood or for any other contemporary person who might associate ‘hypostasis’ with ‘what it means to be a discrete “someone”‘. I, however, in agreement with Wood, think there is continuity of meaning, and for at least three reasons.

      1) Hypostasis needn’t have meant exactly to Nyssen or Cyril what it means to me now for the term to have a more developed meaning in later context, whether my own or in the 7th century. We know it didn’t initially mean what it later came to mean, not least because, as you rightly imply, its etymology as the Greek equivalent for _substantia_ (rather than persona or subsistentia) was the source of so many terminological disputes in the late 4th century and following. But to say that prior narrowness or even difference in meaning in earlier contexts bars the way to any development in the use of a concept would be to call into question the (orthodox) deployment of many other pivotal terms that were patently deployed in later contexts in ways that stretched their meaning, such as _homoousios_, ‘borrowed’ from its 3rd century modalist origins and redeployed to rather different (orthodox) ends in the 4th century (to say nothing of Nicaea’s anathematizing anyone who distinguishes between Father and Son by way of ‘hypostasis'(!), the clearest evidence for the aforementioned terminological quagmire). Of course, the case of homoousios is different, because we’re not thinking about a term that was ‘stretched’ to much as to shift from heterodox usage to orthodox usage, but the formal point stands. It also stands, to my mind, for further, substantive reasons having to do with this term in particular.

      2) One such substantive reason is the simple fact that I cannot see my way toward denying that hypostasis’ usage both initially (in the late 4th C.) had an inchoate continuity of meaning with and then in time came more fully to denote ‘person’, a ‘someone’. We can for the moment set aside vexed questions about personal ‘subjective’ identity or the contingent psychological factors (i.e. the ‘qualia’ I experience in registering what it seems like to me to be a person). It seems to me rather evident that as participants in both the Trinitarian and Christological controversies averted to these terms, they drew upon existing understandings of what it means to be a ‘someone’ discrete from other ‘someones’, as evidenced early by analogies used in those Trinitarian controversies (one needn’t adopt all of the tenets of so-called “Social Trinitarianism” to recognize the import of Nyssen’s Ad Ablabium in this regard—and, no, this appropriation of the analogy doesn’t lead to tri-theism). But, more than that, I think we could reasonably argue that the further deployment of hypostasis/persona in the Christological controversies made possible the expansion and further redeployment of ‘person’ logic in various other contexts, paving the way for development of an even more robust account of ‘what it means to be someone’ or of ‘personhood,’ including the notion of universal personal dignity, though I recognize that’s a bigger genealogical claim. Still, tThe question is whether and how these further developments then redound to the terms’ meanings more generally, not historically-retroactively. Not in a way that makes us conclude that earlier authors explicitly meant by those terms something they didn’t (or perhaps even couldn’t) have meant—but, rather, shedding further light on the full significance one ought to apprehend and appreciate by the terms as language and, more importantly, doctrine develops and, along with it, our further understanding of its implications. Such developments may end up being more or less ‘accidents of terminological history,’ as you call them, but such ‘accidents’ are exactly the stuff of doctrinal development, and thus they often become meaningful in ways that prior generations cannot have fully envisioned. But the point of whether one could ever come to use ‘hypostasis’ to refer to typical ‘persons’ in a sense semantically contiguous with its reference to the person of the Word (and vice versa) takes on greater import when we consider precisely the implications of doing so with the latter, Jesus Christ. And here we return also to the more specific question of how it might actually be that matters of ‘subjective’ identity and even psychological experience matter in the terminological dispute.

      3) Your claim is that “[t]he Logos does not have a psychology; that, like the flesh of Christ, is something assumed by kenosis, as an action rather than a passion.” I worry about this claim on a couple of fronts, the first of which is that I can’t see how it dodges certain fundamental soteriological principles. The Second Person of the Holy Trinity surely did not experience a lifetime of personal psychological experiences commensurate with mine, but if, during his historical life, he did not experience anything akin to what it is like to me to be a discrete human person, then I’m unsure of how we uphold the dictum that the unassumed is the unhealed. How could he be like me in all things but sin but not ‘have a psychology’ or human psychological experiences akin to mine, yet, again, without sin? I have no delusions that you would want to abrogate that principle, and so my next surmise is that perhaps you want to say that the psychological experiences, qua human person, which were associated with the Logos during his historical life were predicated of him but were in fact relegated to his human nature, which strikes me as a move too easily associated with Nestorian tendencies, and so I resist concluding that this is what you mean, knowing full well you don’t intend to harbor such tendencies. But rather than guess at what you might mean by it, I would instead simply suggest that we are back at the question of identity, and we risk begging the question for either side of our disagreement: you seem averse to saying he ‘has’ these things in a straightforward way, I presume, because you wish to avoid saying he *is*—i.e., that the Person of the Word shares his eternal identity with—his flesh, psychology, and so on. And, I, on the other hand, am hook-line-and-sinker with Wood in feeling compelled exactly to say that Christ does not merely ‘have’ these things because he *is* that which he assumes. And this is because to me if he is not what he assumes he simply isn’t a genuine human person and, thus, I am not saved by him. For, I am my body (and my soul) and I am, in some sense, my psychological experiences, at least to the extent that I am becoming what I am to be eschatologically. The Person of the Word was what he had and did even more fully than I am what I have and do. But this I know in part because of my holistic understanding of what it means for me to be a human or on the way to becoming a full human, such that I know I can predicate it even more thoroughly of the sinless God-Man. In short, to answer my questions in the essay, “is the person of Christ, the Word, his history? Is he his own sufferings?” the answer seems to me patently and unequivocally to be “yes,” for various soteriological and plainly logical reasons, and from there one must reason toward the account of his being a ‘person’, a divine-human ‘someone’, an account that can only coherently terminate in accepting that the ‘composite hypostasis’ which the Word is allows him to be the identity of the things which are naturally (and infinitely) distinct.

      You do not find reasoning in that direction or to that conclusion compelling, and I think for both ontological and moral reasons. My claim that there’s tension in your thought was simply meant to suggest that there’s more affinity between your broadly monistic impulses and the strong reading of NeoChalcedonianism given by Wood (and followed by others, including myself, though in that case clumsily), precisely because of how far off all of us are from those who want to paint the God-world relation in wholly extrinsic terms. They’ll say (and have said) that you’ve already given up the farm and are in league with those whom you’re categorically rejecting. I know you don’t care so much about what “they” say, but I happen to think there’s merit to the claim of a family resemblance, though I don’t think it’s a bad one. Nor do I think there differences are unimportant, either. But the more striking point of tension lies in what I take to be our shared commitment to the primacy of the Good. And let me be utterly clear on this one thing: your interventions on this front, whether in Gods, or That All Shall be Saved, or in other writings and lectures have been an incredible lifeline for me and many other people. You may not want to hear that, because in appraising what you perceive to be my error you may want to suggest that you’d rather not be thanked if where I’ve ended up is a wasteland of incoherence. But the expression of gratitude bears conveying as plainly as possible. The tension, then, is that I simply do not think that the Good’s ultimate primacy is preserved merely by saying that the Good will finally and wholly triumph and that on the way toward that conclusion we can preserve ‘classical theism’, left mostly unbaptized by the surprise of the Incarnation; rather, I think it matters that the Good has the capacity to bear within Itself the depth of creaturely finitude and desolation on the way toward and as the necessary means to such triumph, and that this, as with creating and deifying more generally, is simply intrinsic to who God is, in a way that the very person of Jesus Christ reveals and in a way that a symmetrical understanding of the hypostatic union articulates. Such uniting of radical and infinite distinctions is to me no mere waving of a magical wand to solve a logical puzzle but is instead the unavoidable ‘paradox’ of one who ‘suffers impassibly’, a paradox whose solution (or synthesis or sublation or whatever one wishes to call it) just is the God-Man.

      Finally, my apologies concerning n. 34 (per your later reply comment): you’re right that I ought not to have said that you ‘flatly’ charged Hegel with voluntarism. I knew better than that, and I confess I’m not sure why I put it that way, but it was an unjustified reading of those sections of _Gods_.

      Thank you, again, David. And apologies for ending up being right about my inability to be brief.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DBH says:

        Yes, I think all of that was clear from your review. And my answer to you would probably be a reprise of all I’ve already to which I would attach the suggestion that you are being led more by affective considerations than by solvent reasoning. Far from my classical reasoning being uninflected by the Incarnation, it is entirely saturated by its logic. It is nothing but the metaphysics of God becoming human that humans might become God. I would submit rather that you are in danger of erasing the Incarnation in favor of a different kind of mythic narrative altogether, one not about the kenosis of God in Christ but about the personal history of a god. And I think it is self-refuting at the philosophical level. I would also say you have failed to understand what I mean when I say the Logos does not have a “psychology” except by condescension, again (I believe) because of the nebulous quasi-psychological subjectivity you are associating with the idea of personal hypostasis.

        But this isn’t the place for the conversation. Life is too short. But on some other occasion we can discuss the Christology of the book of Hebrews.

        Liked by 2 people

        • DBH says:

          “…all I’ve already said, to which…”

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          • DBH says:

            Oh, I forgot:
            You write: “rather, I think it matters that the Good has the capacity to bear within Itself the depth of creaturely finitude and desolation on the way toward and as the necessary means to such triumph…”

            Again, this is affective rhetoric, not an argument. No one denies God’s “capacity” for anything. Why does everyone in this quasi-Hegelian faction mistake the language of supereminence for a language about privation and incapacity–as if, for instance, divine “impassibility” were an inability to feel, rather than an infinite ability to feel? Precisely because God does it as an action rather than as a passion, and therefore not as limited to the modality of the affect? I beg you–the whole lot of you Boston-College-School Young Turks–to master the metaphysical tradition you’re wrestling with before you presume to reject it. The God you’re describing is not God. He’s really not that far removed from the fundamentalist “big being” you would otherwise hold in scorn.

            Liked by 3 people

          • Ty Monroe says:

            Thank you, David. I’m grateful that at least I’ve understood and perhaps even represented your position (and, therefore, our differences) sufficiently for the time being.

            There is, as always, more to say here, but I’ll only note the following: I suppose I don’t see as strong a bifurcation between affectivity and cogent reasoning, or, better, that I don’t see affectivity as anything other than one aspect of reasoning among many. But that would be a longer inquiry to pursue in dialogue/debate. To my mind it’s precisely that kind of holistic account of reasoning that informed the controversies surrounding Christ’s experiences, especially the monothelite controversy, which, even if it cannot be considered a distinctively modern attentiveness to ‘psychology’ is nonetheless something fundamentally ‘human.’ And these differences of ours, in turn, shape how we think differently about ‘hypostaticity,’ to the point wherein I simply don’t see it as ambiguous and vacuous a concept as you take it to mean in my perspective. Again, one issue leads into the other, but all revolve around the question of who and what we take the person of Christ to be and how we appraise the significance of his identity by reference to his deeds and experiences.

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          • DBH says:

            Ty,

            Look, please take this as I mean it, which is amiably: There is no essential division between affectivity and reason; but that does not mean that an argument that is wholly affective deserves to be treated as reasonable. The arguments you made simply did not rise to the level of logical coherency. It was all about taking seriously the sufferings of Jesus, etc,; and it is insulting to suggest that the account I defend does anything other than take those sufferings seriously. You simply have not yet mastered the metaphysical terminology you think you’ve gotten beyond. Until you have, we’re not really engaged in debate.

            I know you’re deeply invested in this “Neo’Neo’Chalcedonian” vogue, with its hostility to analogical ontology and its reliance on a use of the concept (or term) “hypostasis” that is meant to accomplish just about everything (and that, to that end, has to remain conceptually vapid). To me it’s just a Lutheran variant of Barthianism, but so be it. Whatever the case, your arguments simply do not work, and cannot. You have embraced a language of “God” that can never rise above the mythical–which is all right if myth is your aim. And none of you in this school has ever adequately answered the philosophical objections to your project, apart from vague gestures in the direction of Kant’s prohibition on metaphysics (which are flawed to begin with, and which address only the attributive metaphysics of Wolffian tradition, not the simple modal logic of the absolute and contingent). I find the project historically, logically, theologically, and morally absurd. You say in your review that I fail to take the “further” step of embracing the views you unfortunately advocate. It would not be a further step, but a retrogression toward a school of Protestant thought that flourished in the last century in some quarters, and against which I have struggled my entire theological career. I invite you to take a real step forward toward the far more rigorously Christologically monist metaphysics I advocate, which has the advantage of being modally coherent, of being genuinely trinitarian (rather than, as your theology is, accidentally tritheist), and of not relying on some persona ex machina to hide its inadequacies.

            That said, I have great regard for Jordan Wood’s book on Maximus. Otherwise I would not have provided an endorsement. I think half of it positively brilliant. The other half I regard as deeply misguided, but it is still possible to admire something one regards as wrong. You are right that it’s still much better than Thomism. Even so, stop deluding yourselves that you have discovered a yet more radical and coherent picture of the God-world relation than I have, and that I need to catch up with you. The reality is quite, quite the reverse.

            Immerse yourself in Bulgakov for two years and then let’s revisit the issue over coffee. I’ll send you the complete text of my Fribourg lecture when I have a chance to put it in publishable form.

            God bless you,
            David

            Liked by 3 people

  8. John H says:

    I daresay that Dr. Hart might approve of the following radically monistic series of seemingly contradictory propositions from the Advaita Vedanta:

    1. Brahman alone is real.

    2. The world is not real.

    3. The world is not other than Brahman.

    2 and 3 appear to be contradictory until one realizes that 2 is speaking of the world as shrouded in the veils of Maya and Ignorance, what Christianity refers to as the fallen world of metronomic spacetime. 3, on the other hand, speaks of the world as it is first generated in the eternal Brahman and as it will be at the end of the current kalpa when Maya is dissolved, ignorance is completely dispelled and all sentient beings have realized that Tat Tvam asi–that thou art.

    Jesus Christ is the Avatar par excellence because he does not experience ignorance and is always able to penetrate the veil of Maya, what the Gospel of John refers to as being One with the Father. Every moment of his human life exemplifies the fact that He is perfectly one with the eternal Father. His humanity is perfect humanity because it also happens to be an expression of divinity. It is not possible to separate the human nature of Jesus from the Divine Nature of the Logos/Atman. Jesus is always the perfect man who knows and simply is unity with his divine nature. The human nature of Jesus is not other than his divine nature and that divinity is perfectly expressed in his humanity and so will it be for all sentient beings in the eschaton.

    Liked by 4 people

    • DBH says:

      For the most part, you’ve sussed me. I would have some christological claims to make that would qualify it, but otherwise it’s a fair summary of what I’d say in an Indic grammar.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

        I have an incredibly sophomoric question that you may not even want to respond to for its elementary nature but I thought I might throw a dart at the board, and someone beat me to the punch about the Vedanta. Knowing that you have a penchant and love for Vedanta, as I look at Aurobindo’s interpretation of it, doesn’t this whole conversation kind of circle around a discussion he has in “The seven chord” essay. There, he discusses descent and ascent are equalized in the character of what he calls the “Supermind” as the midpoint of the actual 8th chord? So that the act of Kenosis must be fully met by the act of ascension as the veil of ignorance falls away as Matter begins its ascent to Sat, the real existence as such? The Logos, as the creative force must descend fully all the way down to be able to ascend within the fullness of creation so that all things are submitted to Satchidananda in itself as itself. So in a sense, all is fully Brahman but also fully created and can only ever be such in its fullness when we all return. Kind of harkens even back to Anaximander in a way. It is what justice truly is…to return to the source of delight and accounting for what has occurred in our growth and development towards what He already is and wants us to be.

        And to follow up with another hopeful question Dr. Hart, it appears that with the Vedic thought there truly is the same notion of how you described history working above, creation not fully realized but being as delight unveiling itself as itself in and through itself, yet it also ties into a “becoming” for the witness of those acts as agents within the sphere of the created order. What we become, we become because it is the “process” (I know you will probably bristle at that) that it takes for us to be fully whole. In the Vedanta, that may span worlds and existences but the notion is the same even if we pull those out (now what the next phase looks like, who knows, it could be correct). Is that a correct reading of it? There are sections of that essay where I felt like I was reading you in a couple different essays/books you’ve penned, and if I’m off base I apologize for the misunderstanding.

        Just hoping for some clarity through the tie-in. I’m still fascinated how much the Rig-Veda anticipates a lot of what will come with more clarity in Christianity, and as a fan of Schelling, I also think that was his own enamoring as well.

        Thank you, if you choose to respond.

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        • DBH says:

          Oh, that would take hours of “Yes, but…” discourse. I’ll say this: where I am entirely in agreement with Wood’s reading of Maximus–or one of the places–is his taking seriously Maximus’s language of the deified becoming uncreated as the fruit of God becoming created. But one must also insist that this uncreatedness is always already there (the spirit or neshamah or Atman of God breathed into the living soul) just as God has always “created himself” in the world. At the ground of identity there is only the one personal ground–the I AM–of the divine life, upon which the limited empirical or psychological identity of any person is wholly dependent. To say that Christ is God incarnate is to say that in him the human psychological personality is so absolutely transparent to that divine personal ground that there is a full identity between them. But God became incarnate to conduct every soul to the same height of transparency, until we know even as we are known, and are like him, co-heirs of the Kingdom. Then, being thus transparent before that ground, the glory revealed in the children of glory will also be the transfiguration of all things.

          Exotic as that sounds, I’m not sure how that differs in the least respect from what Maximus says.

          Liked by 5 people

          • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

            I’m glad I was at least on the right track enough to get a “yes, but.” I’ll take it. Fruitful steps from an amateur over here. It reminds me of earlier in moments of Aurobindo’s excursus where the Mind, Body, and Soul all are meeting their higher orders by the refusal of improper sense. It takes time, and focus, but in the end, all is fully revealed as One into a Many that defies the distinction precisely because it is always ever One from the jump. And I don’t think that is that exotic. Maximus is pretty clear on that front. It’s why I always ask about the psychological moment to Maximus….Is the fall wrapped up in the same ignorance of the mind from the beginning because sensation causes us to lean into the consequences of Matter as such. Matter isn’t wrong, it is a facet of the All as much as anything else, but it is the most susceptible to the pull of selfish will and division (at least as Aurobindo seems to understand it)

            Thank you for the tangent. I didn’t mean to pull it away but I am utterly fascinated by the tie-ins.

            Liked by 1 person

      • John H says:

        Thanks, Dr. Hart. It is quite remarkable how so many religious traditions have a non-dualistic core of ontology; perhaps one might call that the mystical heart of religion in general. Examples would of course include Vedanta, Mahayana Buddhism, Neoplatonism–both its pagan and Christian forms, Sufism, the Kabbalah and the Shamanic traditions of various indigenous peoples.

        My favorite happens to be the Vajrayana, the great diamond vehicle of Tibetan Buddhism. I particularly like the initial scene from the Book of the Dead where the deceased soul is confronted at the moment of death with the clear light of the dharmakaya, the Suchness of the Void which is none other than his own Buddha Nature. The nobly born deceased is repeatedly enjoined to recognize this Truth as none other than his nature, and, if he succeeds, immediately enters into the eternal peace of Nirvana.

        One of the greatest, if forgotten, tragedies of the mid twentieth century was the genocide of the ancient monastic Tibetan Buddhist culture by the Chinese communist government. Countless monks were killed, monasteries were destroyed, and a small remnant, including the Dalai Lama, were sent into permanent exile.

        As you may have guessed by now, I believe that the Chinese communist government is one of the most flagrant violators of basic human rights in the world today. I applaud Nancy Pelosi for having the chutzpah to defy Xi Jinping and his cronies as well as Biden and his national security advisors. The US should surely be showing more support for Taiwan in its battle against Chinese communist aggression. Simply stated, Xi is a thug just like Putin and Trump. And poetic justice would be nothing less than one day the three of them sharing a prison cell at a federal correctional institution, or, better, sunny Siberia. Never happen, you say? Well, history has repeatedly shown that very remote possibilities manifest all the time. But unlikely for sure. Still, one can always hope, no?

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  9. Tom says:

    DBH: …the whole lot of you Boston-College-School Young Turks…

    Tom: And to think I don’t have to pay admission to be here! Love it. ;o)

    ;o)

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Pingback: David Bentley Hart’s Questions about Jordan Wood’s Christology – Jesus and the Ancient Paths

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