Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Holy Change, B'atman!

I want to expand upon what was said yesterday about creativity, individuality, and the discontinuity of time, which must all be functions of one another.

Even though parts of this post may seem tediously pedantic, I am going to try to make it as painfully clear as possible. Still, you may want to read it slowly, and make sure you digest one sentence before gradueating to the next.

Hartshorne mentions the same passage from Kierkegaard that I independently discovered back when, to the effect that "Everything that comes into being proves precisely by coming into being that it is not necessary."

In this context, remember what was said a few posts back about the implicit relationship between necessity and eternity -- that the "unconditionally necessary" and the "always" are essentially synonymous.

This is because to say that something must be (i.e., is necessary) is the same as saying that it cannot possibly not-be (i.e., always is).

Therefore, "a thing is eternal if its 'being' is necessary; and if it is eternal its 'being' is necessary." A corollary is that "no eternal thing exists potentially," again, since an eternal thing must be unconditionally necessary, whereas potentiality means that something may or may not come into existence.

Thus, becoming is never necessary; or, to be perfectly accurate, it is necessary that becoming exist, but its specific contours are left open. In other words, to say that things can only become in one particular way is to be a determinist, and to therefore reduce becoming to necessity.

Now, "Coming into existence is the change of actuality brought about by freedom." Freedom -- if it is really free -- must be indeterminate, right? If it is determined, then we are once again back in the world of necessity and therefore eternity.

This is one reason why predestination must be "vigorously opposed," because it obviously robs man of his freedom and dignity, but more subtly, renders him eternal because necessary.

Frankly, it shouldn't even be necessary to say this, since the whole doctrine of determinism is absurd on its face. Nevertheless, there are people who believe it, both religious and secular (e.g., neurologists who claim free will to be an illusion).

Let's simply follow this line of reasoning where it leads. Everyone has their favorite Bible passages. Bearing in mind that the devil and even Cousin Dupree can quote scripture, one of mine is 2 Corinthians 3:17, "Now the Lord is the Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

Indeed, for a Jew, it seems to me that the dominant theme of the Hebrew Bible is exodus and freedom. The same themes obviously infuse Christianity, only presented in a novel and surprising way that no one could have guessed -- and indeed, even had difficulty comprehending retrospectively. In other words, a man nailed to a cross doesn't look like anyone's idea of freedom -- nor escape, for that martyr.

Both God and human beings are persons, which is to say, subjects. God, being the very principle of freedom, must be "wholly free," whereas man, a reflection of the principle, is only "partly so."

In other words, we are a mixture of chance and necessity, of contingency and determinacy. In fact, I prefer to say that we are the adventure of freedom and constraint. The tension between these two sort of creates the drama of life, does it not?

For Hartshorne, "where necessity does not hold, freedom decides." This is consistent with Polanyi's emphasis on how the boundary conditions of a lower level allow for the emergence of the higher (e.g., how the stability of an alphabet allows for the novel emergence of words, words for sentences, sentences for paragraphs, etc., all the way up to Ultimate Meaning).

Here is where things get a little ticklish, but one must not be afraid of the guffah-HA! experience. To be free is to make decisions. This is axiomatic, since freedom shows us an array of potential paths, and we must choose one.

Hartshorne notes that "the merely necessary does not decide, it simply is." Therefore, to the extent that God "decides," then this implies noneternal qualities in God. In other words, he can choose this, or he can choose that. Conversely, if he has no choice, than he simply "is," and is not free.

Hartshorne references Karl Barth, who, according to wikipedia, is considered by many to be "the greatest Protestant theologian of the twentieth century." I can't say I've read much of him, and I don't mention this as an appeal to authority, only to show that there is mainstream precedent for the views we are exploring. And for Barth, "There is a kind of holy change [as well as holy constancy] in God."

This is not paradox, but necessity. We have to invert the traditional understanding, and affirm that to deny God the capacity for "holy change" is to limit him in an all-too-human way.


Magister said...


Was it CS Lewis who said something like God's delight is that of a child who, upon seeing the sunrise, raises his hands toward it, laughs, and shouts with delight at the goodness of His creation, saying, again! Again!

Other than that, I got nothing today. Good stuff, Bob! Pushes on a real edge for me.

julie said...

In other words, to say that things can only become in one particular way is to be a determinist, and to therefore reduce becoming to necessity.

I just finished reading the Sultan's piece on hyenas (via Vanderleun). He makes the compelling case that hyenas will always be with us - mainly, because we are foolish enough to invite them in and feed them.

Anyway, in this context it made me think of tribalism, or rather of the sort of culture that seems virtually changeless, and not in a good way. I seem to recall a Bobservation about how people from certain cultures seem more like caricatures (if that's the right word) than fully-developed individuals. The point being, a culture of determinism (inasmuch as there is an almost complete lack of options about the path people's lives will take) is one that stagnates, and ultimately seems devoid of hope. True both of drug-addicted Somali gangsters and the bleeding-heart idiots who feed them, whilst excusing their depravity on account of their deprivaty.

mushroom said...

That's powerful stuff. The tension between holy change and holy constancy brings to mind several passages in Scripture. One, I think, hits pretty close to the relationship in the Trinity as well as change/constancy:

When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
(1 Corinthians 15:28)

Rick said...

This post reminds of this:

"And it was precisely his detachment from the four great temptations that enabled him to walk that walk. What he loved and what he despised were in a strange balance on the cross. Poor in spirit, meek, mourning, and persecuted, he was able to be pure of heart, to seek righteousness utterly, to become the ultimate peacemaker, and to be the perfect conduit of the divine mercy to the world. Though it is supremely paradoxical to say so, the crucified Jesus is the man of beatitude, a truly happy man. And if we recall our discussion of freedom, we can say that Jesus nailed to the cross is the very icon of liberty, for he is free from those attachments that would prevent him from attaining the true good, which is doing the will of the Father.

One of the most brutally realistic and spiritually powerful depictions of the crucifixion is the central panel of the Isenheim Altarpiece painted in the late fifteenth century by the German artist Matthias Grunewald. Jesus's body is covered with sores and wounds, his head is surrounded by a particularly brutal crown of thorns, his hands and feet are pierced, not with tiny nails, but with enormous spikes, and, perhaps most terribly, his mouth is agape in wordless agony. The viewer is spared none of the horror of this most horrible of deaths. To the right of the figure of Jesus, Grunewald has painted, in an eloquent anachronism, John the Baptist, the herald and forerunner of the Messiah. John is indicating Jesus as the Lamb of God, but he does so in the most peculiar way. Instead of pointing directly at the Lord, John's arm and hand are oddly twisted, as though he had to contort himself in order to perform this task. One wonders whether Grunewald was suggesting that our distorted expectations of what constitutes a joyful and free life have to be twisted out of shape (and hence back into proper shape) in order for us to grasp the strange truth revealed in the crucified Christ."

Borrowed from Fr Barron

Van Harvey said...

I could say more, but it's not necessary.

ge said...

for other interp. of the Isenheim Altarpiece

R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz's Interpretation:

The twentieth century alchemist R. A. Schwaller de Lubicz in his book entitled Sacred Science (pages 120-125), makes the following observations concerning the Isenheim Altarpiece as an example of "symbolique" art:

This definition can be illustrated in many ways by Pharaonic images and figurations, stories and legends, but might be more comprehensible at first if exemplified by a work based on the teachings of the Gospels. The purely symbolic Isenheim altarpiece, now in the Museum of Colmar in Alsace, is a splendid example, and a unique and affecting work. The painting is attributed to Matthias Grünewald,’ but it is the adept who inspired this painting, probably Guido Guerci, preceptor of the Antonins of Isenheim, who here commands our deep respect.

When a painter faithfully represents a scene or gesture described in the Holy Scriptures, this is but a transcription and not a symbol, even if the moment is rendered according to the artist’s personal interpretations (as with a descent from the cross by Rembrandt, for example).

The Isenheim altarpiece shows the crucifixion surrounded by scenes and gestures which make sense individually but are purposely anachronistic or illogical in their function and in relation to normal tradition. Thus it is John the Baptist, historically long dead by the time of the crucifixion, who points at Christ on the cross. Mary Magdalene, the sinner, is posed as a supplicant before the crucified man whom she prepared for burial by anointing him with precious unguent; yet the vase or crucible still containing this precious balm is placed in front of the cross. This ointment is, in fact, the central and essential object of this entire symbolique. The painter has not neglected to give the sinner golden hair and a robe of reddish gold, an unusual color which only an adept can be supposed to have inspired. At the feet of John the Baptist, a lamb holds a small short cross in its right front leg, an anomaly because this cross, symbol of John the Baptist, is usually raised on a high staff and held by the left foot. Moreover, from the lamb’s left (heart) side, a stream of blood flows into a chalice, an image of very specific symbolic value.

Next to Mary Magdalene, this masterpiece depicts Mary, mother of Jesus, collapsing in anguish, pale and dressed in dazzling white. She is supported by John, Christ’s favorite disciple, curiously garbed in bright red: the red supporting the white, reminiscent of the white Pharaonic crown placed in front of the red crown.

The crucified Christ, of abnormally large size in relation to the other personages, has a body marked by that hideous disease, unknown in our time, which was known as “Saint Anthony’s Fire” or “Mal des Ardents” which the Antonins of Isenheim knew how to cure. The Charitable Order of the Antonins claimed the protection of Saint Anthony, fourth-century hermit of the Egyptian desert. This Order was widespread in Europe and had houses in Alsace, at Isenheim and Strasbourg...

continued here:

Rick said...

Thanks, ge.

"...scenes and gestures which make sense individually but are purposely anachronistic..."

...which reminds of Michelangelo's Pietà; where (when) Mary mother of Christ is depicted quite youthful on the day of Christ's crucifixion. Some interpret this to mean that Michelangelo chose to depict her at the time of the Annunciation receiving the vision of what was to take place 33 years later.