One of the most fundamental distinctions in traditional philosophy -- by which I mean the Aristotelian-Thomist stream leading to us -- is that between act and potency, which are as opposite as opposites can be, conditioning the distinctions (in my opinion) between change and permanence, many and one, time and eternity, necessary and possible, whole and part. At least from our standpoint, all of being is a division of these two rascals.
One purpose of the distinction is to account for change, for it is by no means obvious how and why it exists. But it does, which means it must ultimately be relative to something changeless -- to the ultimate cause of all change, but which does not itself change. That would be pure act, AKA God.
Conversely, potency is the potential for change. In order for that change to occur, it needs to be actualized by some other cause, since things can't cause themselves.
Let me just remind the reader that I have no actual training in this sort of thing. Rather, my only training is in psychoanalysis. Philosophy has just been picked up along the way. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing, because it has allowed me to cross-reference certain home truths.
For example, I regard the act/potency distinction as one of those home truths. What would be its equivalent in my psychoanalytic bag of tricks? Well, one rough equivalent -- or at least prolongation -- would be that between ego and self, the latter being the much more expansive of the two.
In this context, you could say that a purpose of life is to become one's self, or in other words, to actualize one's potential. Being that we are in the image of God, the self is analogous (a distant analogy to be sure) to God: specifically, it shares something of God, who is pure act.
It can only be expressed orthoparadoxically: compared to God, who is pure act, we are indeed potency. But compared to the potency of the ego, the self is like act. Which, in a way, it is; recall what the Meister says about it, that "there is something in the soul which is above the soul, divine, simple." It is "higher than knowledge, higher than love, higher than grace, for in all these there is still a distinction." For me, it can be conveyed visually by the symbols O and ʘ. If God is the circle of being, we are like a circular fractal of that primordial circle.
Put it this way: God is necessary. Everything else, including us, is possible. And yet -- miracle of miracles! -- we are given a share in God's necessity. How do we know this? Well, for starters, because we know it.
No, that is not a just a cute comeback. Rather, as Schuon takes pains to elucidate -- and this is one of those principles that one either sees or doesn't see -- "The worth of man lies in his consciousness of the Absolute." You could say that in all of creation we are the only potency that knows of act. For
Man is made for what he is able to conceive; the very ideas of absoluteness and transcendence prove both his spiritual nature and the supra-terrestrial character of his destiny.
In this regard, our "destiny" can be none other than our source, in an inspiraling adventure from potency to act -- or of actualizing our divine-human potential. And if I'm wrong about this, then to hell with it. Life isn't worth the hassle of living. Here's is some further explanation by Schuon:
"Our deformity implies that our spirit is made of absoluteness" and "our will of freedom." In case you were wondering, that is how all this otherwise inexplicable truth and freedom get into the cosmos. They get in here because they share in God's eternal act.
We needed that little review in order to understand what Hanby means when he says that "The universe is an inherently metaphysical idea because the unity of the universe is a unity of being-as-act." Its presumptive unity is derivative of the transcendent unity of its creator, who is at once infinitely beyond the creation and within it; his immanence is a function of his transcendence, which is why everything is what it is, and yet, transcends what it is, most pointedly in the case of man.
Which is why we can know all about, say, an ant, and yet, never have complete knowledge of so much as an ant. The world is radically contingent, but traces of absoluteness are everywhere. All true knowledge is really a vapor trail of God.
This is all by way of trying to understand what Hanby means when he says that
The Incarnation of Christ disclosed a God at once nearer and more remote than that of the Greeks and was indeed both for the same reason: being no part of any cosmic monism, this God was so wholly other as to be able to become "non-other" in Christ without diminution of his divinity or negation of his humanity.
The universe, which is radically contingent, is paid a visit by its ultimate principle. Which makes one wonder: how did the cosmos not simply explode on impact? Well, maybe it did. How else do you explain that giant hole in history, the divine asteroid that ripped the space-time continuum such that we continue to mark time relative to its appearance?
In a way, creation is the "first book" of revelation. Adam must be the second. On the most abstract level these are subject and object, intelligence and intelligibility, which ultimately reduce to the logos that permeates everything. That's the logos that was with God from before the beginning, and with whom he made everything that was made.
Before Christ, the logos is implicit. With Christ, logos is made explicit. God first has to nurture a culture in which such an event is possible before it is made actual. Pregnancy precedes birth, even though birth is the point of pregnancy. Likewise, Mary precedes Jesus, but before Mary was, He Is.
Now, perhaps the most consequential error of scientism is to revert to a cosmos that, as it were, becomes pure act, or its own cause and explanation. It is no longer a contingency that depends upon something necessary, but becomes a kind of self-sufficient absolute. As a result, the scientistic philosopher who "knows" this is granted (by himself) a kind of sham omniscience. Science not only explains everything, but explains everything that can be explained. If it is not reducible to scientific categories, then it doesn't exist.
So, it's an inverted image of the truth:
In the beginning was Matter, and Matter was with the Facts, and Matter was the Fact. It was factual in the beginning. Through Matter all facts were made; without Matter nothing was factual that was factual.