Saturday, September 09, 2023

One Cosmos and Trailer Thomism

I recently read a book called Systematic Theology: A Roman Catholic Approach, by a Thomas Rausch. Yes, it's rather basic, but sometimes that's just what a lowdown trailer Thomist like me needs, i.e., a map of the territory I find myself lost in. 

This is the problem of the autodidactic (p)layman diving into a subject with no preparation or guidance: you might find yourself at the end before the beginning, or peaks before the foothills. You might find yourself refighting battles that have long since been settled, or supposing there is agreement where there is deep division and controversy. You can even think you're a "Thomist," but come to find out that this means very different things to different schools.

Near as I can tell, we fall in with the Transcendental Thomists, who, among other things, "sought to enter a dialogue with modern philosophy." More importantly, instead of -- or in addition to -- beginning with the senses, this approach turns "to the human subject and the transcendental reach of consciousness," and to "the dynamism of human understanding as disclosing far more than the object known."

Again, traditional Thomism begins with objects of the senses and from there proceeds to concepts and essences. Transcendental Thomism begins at the other end of the teloscope, with what Schuon would call the miracle of the human subject:

The first ascertainment which should impose itself upon man when he reflects on the nature of the Universe is the primacy of that miracle that is intelligence -- or consciousness or subjectivity -- and consequently the incommensurability between these and material objects, be it a question of a grain of sand or of the sun, or of any creature whatever as an object of the senses.

Interestingly, one of the main spokesmen for this perspective is Karl Rahner, whom records indicate I studied way back in 2012. But that's a perfect example of how the unguided amateur can dive in at the wrong end and not know which way is up. The main thing I remember from his books is that they were unnecessarily obscure and convoluted -- you know, German. It seems I may have to revisit those books.

There is additional commonality with Schuon, in that these thinkers distinguish "between intellect and reason. While discursive reason [is] important, giving us knowledge of the world, concepts, science, and symbols," the intellect is regarded "as an intuitive faculty inclined toward the 'First Truth'":  

The dynamism of human understanding [shows] a desire to move beyond the objects known, beyond finite existence, to unlimited Being as such, the existence of which [is] the a priori condition of the possibility for every speculative judgement.

We are finite but always oriented toward infinitude, always moving beyond what we know, "toward the infinite being of God in his incomprehensibility," which is the very "ground of all knowing":

the infinite is disclosed as the horizon against which every act of human knowledge takes place.... Without experiencing in some way the infinite, we would never grasp the finite.

 Thus, mystery proceeds in both directions, as it were:

both the natural world as well as the experience of transcendence revealed in human knowing testify to God's existence, even if the divine nature remains unknown, for God remains incomprehensible mystery.

This reminds me of Voegelin's conception of living in the dynamic space between the twin mysteries of immanence and transcendence. 

For man qua man is "spirit-in-the-world, open to the absolute" (Rausch). Or, in the words of Rahner, man is "absolute openness to being in general." 

Which leads to the subject of grace, what it is and where it comes from. For a Trailer Thomist such as myself, it seems to be in the nature of things, hence my pneumaticon (↓), which comes down to meet our transcendental striving (↑) toward the Absolute (O). Rahner says something quite similar, that

While still gratuitous, grace is revealed in the constitution of the human person as openness [o] to the absolute. Grace is God's free self-communication... (ibid.)

Rahner maintains that "a purely graceless world has never existed." He "sees the structures of human subjectivity as informed by grace a priori," such that -- and this is big -- "Anthropology is theology and conversely, theology is anthropology" (Rausch).

For me, this is just drawing out the implications of our being made in the image and likeness of the Absolute: we can start at either end, but especially with the Incarnation, we see that man and God are like two mirrors held up to one another. I suppose that fallenness means a disruption in this dynamism, but Christ represents its restoration. 

As it so happens, the very next section in the book goes into the meaning of the fall, and here again I find myself relating to Rahner's approach, whereby 

grace is understood as God's self-communication, God's gracious, enabling, salvific presence, offering to each a participation in the divine life, though of course God's free offer must also be freely accepted.

And the Incarnation "realizes perfectly what every person is potentially," which leads to the subject of divinization or theosis. Rahner sees a "fundamental unity of spirit and matter," and regards the Incarnation as "a moment toward the divinization of the world as a whole."

Or, as a multi-undiscplinary Trailer Thomist would put it, One Cosmos Under God.

All I got this morning.

Thursday, September 07, 2023

In the Beginning and End is the Weird

We're still toying with the idea that Being could be a derivation of something deeper or higher, i.e., Beyond Being, or whether this constitutes a contradiction -- or possibly just a nominal difference (basically a name for the unknown and unknowable God of orthodox apophatic theology, not a separate reality). 

Garrigou-Lagrange writes that "The attributes which relate to God's very being" first include unity, truth, and "goodness or perfection." Next comes "infinity which excludes any limitation of essence," then  "immensity and omnipresence which exclude spatial limitation," and "eternity which excludes all time limitation." 

It is unclear from the context why he seems to place infinitude in a second tier of attributes, as if to imply that it is derived from one of the top three (unity, truth, goodness). Either way, when he says that infinitude "excludes any limitation of essence," he means that every being is composed of essence and existence, whereas only in God -- AKA necessary being -- are essence and existence one, in that God's essence is to exist.

Here again, what could be higher than necessary and self-subsisting being? If it is necessary, then it cannot be a possibility, virtuality, or entailment of something else. Nor is there any division in being, neither within itself nor from something else. Rather, the only thing from which it would be divided is non-being, or nothing, which cannot be. 

Again, from the standpoint of apophatic theology, God is of course nothing, but that is due simply to the limitations of finite language to comprehend infinitude. It doesn't necessarily imply a God beyond God, since -- in a manner of speaking, God (in reality) is always and already beyond God (as we conceive him). 

Let's review our cosmic flow chart from a couple posts ago:

Again, we see that the divine essence and supra-personal God is situated above the personal, who is part of relativity and maya. 

However, G-L writes that the "attributes thus derived from Being itself enable us to say of God that He is personal," which is the principle of our own consciousness, intelligence, and liberty. 

Okay, but what's He like, beyond the abstract attributes? This will take us into trinitarian theology, which is over 100 pages into the future. Suffice it to say, Necessary Being turns out to be relative after all, not to Beyond Being, but within itself, nor does this relation "posit in God an evident imperfection." 

Now interestingly, here is some convergence with Schuon, who often speaks of the intellect which is both uncreated and uncreatable. Likewise, G-L writes that  "The human intellect is not merely human, it is also an intellect." And "Inasmuch as it is an intellect, its object, like that of every intellect, is Being itself."

We might say that God is the eternal intellection of his own Being, only in an undivided manner; conversely, for us there is always a partition between being and knowing. Some would say the partition is erased in nondual realization of the divine essence, but I would be content with the beatific vision, which amounts to the same thing, only with me still there to enjoy it. Different yokes for different folks.

Being itself is uncaused; but again, a glance at the chart suggests that Being is in fact caused by Beyond Being. Is this coherent? In a way, yes, in the sense that Being itself is already "without limitations" and "incomprehensible." It is already infinite, and "nothing can be added to the infinite." 

Therefore Infinite Being + Beyond Being doesn't seem to add anything to the equation: "infinity plus one is still infinity." Divine Being is "completely present to itself in one permanent instant." 

Still, I wonder if the revelation of the Trinity helps us to handle some of the same metaphysical problems which the positing of Beyond Being is intended to resolve, so let's flip on ahead to the section covering this, and see if we can reconcile these two perspectives.

First of all, "Reason alone suffices to make known to us God's existence and His principle attributes." And 

It would seem that an infinite being must have infinite fecundity, which cannot but be manifested by the creation of beings that are necessarily finite.... He generates because of the superabundance of his infinite fecundity.


Even before God had created, it would have been true to say of Him, that the divine goodness is infinitely communicative.

"Revelation tells us"

that in God there is an eternal and unique Word, generated once and forever by the divine intellect of the Father.

In an analogous way, this could correspond to the antinomy of Beyond Being and Being, in that

The Father's intellect sees in the Word the final answer to the problems that philosophy and theology do not even succeed in positing.

This is a kind of supreme intersubjectivity that grounds our own personal intersubjectivity, both horizontally (with other persons) and vertically (with God), for the very life of the Godhead "is not one of solitude but of communicativeness in the highest degree."

Our own spiritual birth "bears a faint resemblance to the eternal generation of the Son," and "is in its supernatural reality a reflection of the sonship of the Word." 

Which is plenty weird enough for me, since it is always already way beyond my own being.

Wednesday, September 06, 2023

Beyond-Being and Absolute Relativity

A reader asks:

If "infinity is a mode of each of the divine attributes and not a principle from which they are derived," does that not imply that the divine attributes themselves are somehow other than infinite? If so, what could conceivably be antecedent to that which is infinite?

Here I must attempt to read Garrigou-Lagrange's mind, and it's challenging enough to read his writing. However, it seems this touches on the two meanings of infinite mentioned in yesterday's post: yes, the divine attributes are "infinite perfections," but Schuon often uses infinite as synonymous with "All-possibility," that is, with the "radiation" of the Absolute into manifestation:

that is infinite which is not determined by any limiting factor and therefore does not end at any boundary; it is in the first place Potentiality or Possibility as such, and ipso facto the Possibility of things, hence Virtuality. Without All-Possibility, there would be neither Creator nor creation, neither Maya nor Samsara. 

Conversely, G-L very much wants to preserve the absolute freedom of the Absolute to create, whereas Schuon's quasi-emanationism makes it appear almost determined. 

G-L is in agreement with Schuon that "Goodness is essentially communicative; good is diffusive of itself," but he disagrees that God must necessarily create. However, it's unclear if he rejects this for metaphysical or for dogmatic reasons, for he writes that it is the Church that

rejects this doctrine which fails to recognize the absolute freedom of God's creative love and the gratuitous nature of the gifts we have received.

While not strictly necessary, G-L calls it fitting for God to have created us and the world. 

Me? I take an in-between stance, that the Creator must create, but not necessarily this creation, thus preserving both his essential freedom and essential creativity.

The same reader writes that

I’m not sure that Schuon considers Beyond Being to be a ‘separate reality’; rather, it is the highest dimension of the Absolute itself (of which Being is its first ‘auto-determination’, so to speak, and thus already ‘relative’ but not another reality altogether).

This "auto-determination" may go to the same issue just mentioned, i.e., the divine freedom. For example, G-L writes that

A free gift is the more precious according as it is more gratuitous and might as well not have been given. It demands the more gratitude in proportion as it is less due. 

If the creation is a free gift, then it makes no sense that being itself is a kind of compulsory emanation from Beyond-Being. 

As for what goes on beyond being, it seems this goes to the sufficient reason for revelation, for it

supplies what reason could never ascertain. In God [i.e., within the Trinity] there is a supreme and necessary outpouring of Himself. It is the impenetrable mystery of His intimate life and of His interior fecundity...

Note that there is "necessity" within the Godhead, the necessary outpouring of the Son from the Father; but putting it this way doesn't sound quite right, because the necessity must be a consequence of "absolute love," or something, so it's somehow both free and necessary. 

Schuon often compares infinitude to the rays of the sun, but G-L specifically uses that analogy to say what God is not like: 

The supreme Good does not communicate Himself outwardly by a sort of internal necessity, after the manner of the sun which illumines things. His loving goodness is absolutely free.  

What does Bob think? As they say, a philosophy is generally true in what it affirms but false in what it denies. Just because the Church disavows emanationism, this doesn't mean that there is no truth in emanationism. Being, for example, is "necessarily" good, but it doesn't mean this or that good is necessary, so we must still cultivate gratitude.

More from our reader: 

I think Schuon would agree with you that Being and Beyond Being are simply twin aspects of the Supreme Reality. It’s unfortunate that Schuon often uses the word ‘impersonal’ to characterize the latter, when he actually means ‘supra-personal’. As you’ve correctly pointed out on more than one occasion, the greater cannot derive from the lesser!

I guess it's okay for one to say "supra-personal" so long as one defines what it means. Problem is, we can conceive of nothing higher or prior to personhood -- something from which persons would be a mere entailment or potentiality. This is a Big Difference between Christianity and eastern philosophies, since (as seen in yesterday's chart) personhood belongs to maya, which is to say, appearances. 

It also belongs to relativity, which opens another can of wormholes, because I agree with Schuon that the principle of relativity must somehow be situated in divinas, I just disagree on exactly how. For Schuon, it is grounded in the principle that Being (and Person) is relative to Beyond Being.

However, I would anchor relativity in the Trinity, as in the Son being relative to the Father, and vice versa. Here I would even venture the orthoparadox that relativity is absolute. Indeed, for me, this is the ultimate principle of the Trinity, and why it must be revealed. 

We can easily arrive at the principle of God -- of the One -- by the light of natural reason. But the same reason could not arrive at the orthoparadoxical idea that God is substance-in-relation, such that relation is irreducible to anything more fundamental; although 3 is 1+1+1, there is no 1 prior to the relations between them. This idea is wild but definitely not wooly, and we'll be getting more deeply into it as we proceed. 

Seems like a logical place to stop and catch our breath. I try to keep it under 1,000 words...

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

Being, Intelligence, Freedom, and the Two Meanings of Infinite

Let's undergo a critical examination of this helpful cosmic matrix (drawn up by perennialist Harry Oldmeadow and emailed to me by a One Cosmos stalker). It shows the various levels of being and the different ways of considering them (click to expand):

For example, the dimensions of Being and Beyond-Being are said to compose the Divine, even though only Beyond-Being is properly called Absolute, and in fact, this is the primary claim I want to examine and compare with Thomas. We're not choosing sides, just calling balls & strikes or strikes & gutters.

Note also that the graph places the Supra-personal God above the Personal God, the latter demoted to relativity, although still uncreated. 

On the face of it, supposing the greater cannot come from the lesser, how does the personal come from the impersonal? Schuon acknowledged that Advaita -- which is to say, nondual -- Vedanta was the most adequate expression of his perspective, but.... That's all, just but. The rest of this post is about the but.  

First of all, as alluded to in a recent post, we have to determine whether the distinction between Being and Beyond-Being is truly ontological, i.e., real, or just nominal, that is, a name. I say this because if we understand Being rightly, it is already way beyond being, in other words, at once infinitely knowable and infinitely incomprehensible.

Which goes to two meanings of the word "infinite." Let me add at this juncture that I've been wrestling with a book that is somewhat above my praygrade or right at the cusp of it, Volume II of Garrigou-Lagrange's God, His Existence and His Nature. He's a strict Thomist, so we're essentially trying to determine if Thomas can be reconciled with Schuon.

The answer is "no" if it means that Christian personalism must be subordinated to a Hindu or Buddhist nondualism. This would be a nonstarter for exoteric Christianity, but perennialist authors imply that there is a Christian esoterism as represented by someone like Eckhart that is essentially nondual and ascending all the way to Beyond-Being.

G-L acknowledges at the outset that "the formal principle of Deity as to what properly constitutes it as such, cannot be known by our natural powers," and quotes Dionysius to the effect that "The divine reality is prior to being and to all its differences: it is above being and above the one." 

Again, this implies that Being is already Beyond-Being; no need to posit a separate reality: "The Deity contains formally the notes of being, unity, and goodness, but it is above these." 

But "We have no grounds for conceiving a divine perfection" as "determined by another perfection extrinsic to it." However, in the chart above, the perfection of Being would be a first (and therefore relative) determination of Beyond-Being. 

Precisely because the divine Being is already -- from the human perspective -- beyond any intimate knowledge on our part, revelation is necessary: since "it is impossible for us to know, by the power of natural reason, what formally constitutes the divine nature as it is in itself," "there must be a supernatural revelation."

Now, Schuon maintains that the intellect itself is a revelation, i.e., that it is to the microcosm what revelation (as we typically think of it) is to the macrocosm, but if this is true, Bob is thinking to himself, it's hard to imagine an intellect without a person attached, and vice versa. We'll no doubt return to this subject.

Right now, in fact, because G-L goes into the metaphysical degrees of intelligence; at the bottom are lifeless creatures that have only being (but are nevertheless intelligible), while "intelligence belongs to the higher form of life." 

Of course, Schuon draws a distinction between mere intelligence and the Intellect as such, but I wonder if this is a necessary distinction; for as far as I'm concerned, to say intelligence is already to say God, otherwise it's not intelligence, just your opinion, man.

Can anything be prior to intelligence, bearing in mind that the greater cannot come from the lesser? G-L writes that liberty, for example, cannot possibly be prior to intelligence; rather, "the free being is intelligent. It is useless to dwell on this point." "First comes the intellect," and "liberty is derived from it."

What about the personal God being caused by something beyond itself? This seems impossible if God is defined as the uncaused cause; nor can God be the cause of himself, "for nothing can be a sufficient cause of its own existence, if existence is caused." God can only be "His own sufficient reason," such that the very principle of causality is derived from God's own intrinsic sufficient reason.

For G-L, Being is prior to everything, including infinitude. He writes, for example, that "infinity is a mode of each of the divine attributes and not a principle from which they are derived" (emphasis mine). 

Again, Schuon often seems to equate Absolute + Infinite, whereas G-L is saying that infinitude is a mode of Absolute Being, and it is this mode that carries the other properties of Being into creation, i.e., goodness, unity, truth, beauty, etc.

As to the two meanings of infinite, one is negative, as in merely not-finite, whereas another must be positive, as in maxed out to the max, as with, say, God's goodness. 

There's also the matter of God's Big Hint as to what and who he is, for "God Himself has told us His name," that is, I am who I am. Similarly, in the NT, "I am Alpha and Omega," "who was, who is, and who is to come," meaning outside time and space as we conceive them. He is "not only capable of existing," but rather, existence is His very Being (in Him existence and essence are one, or His essence is existence).

Unless there's something above Being, but if so, it either is or isn't, and from nothing nothing comes. 

Having said that, we appreciate the fact that from our perspective God is certainly nothing, or no-thing. Just yesterday I was thumbing through a book of wise cracks by the Catholic mystic Angelus Silesius, and he says many things along these lines, for example, 

God is an utter No-thingness, / Beyond the touch of Time and Place: / The more thou graspest after Him, / The more he fleeeth thy embrace.  

What Cherubs know sufficeth not: beyond their zone / I would fain to take my flight into where no-thing's known. 

And "Naught can ever be known in God": 

The more thou knowest God, the more thou wilt confess / That what He truly is, thou knowest less and less.

This is a radical apophaticism, but does this imply conformity to a separate realm of Beyond-Being, or is Being itself weird enough to cover it?

To be continued.  

Sunday, September 03, 2023

Man in Search of God in Search of Man

I'm reading a book called Principles of Catholic Theology by Thomas Joseph White, the first of a projected four volumes that will seek 

to underscore the harmony of divine revelation and natural human reason, and acknowledge faith's deep unity with reason...

So, right up our alley. I was especially arrested by the following passages, since they go to one of our enduring preoccupations. White speaks of the two-way, "descending and ascendent wisdom" that must inform theology. Beginning at the top,

Theological wisdom by its very nature depends upon divine revelation and is therefore a descending form of wisdom, originating from above and outside the sphere of human intellectual accomplishment... 

So, (). Starting at the other end, "Philosophical wisdom is 'ascendent' in relation to divine revelation,"

insofar as it is the natural intellectual medium by virtue of which human beings may arrive rationally at posing ultimate questions regarding the origins and purpose of existence, the physical cosmos, living things, and human rational animals in particular.

Which sounds like ():

It is this ascendent sphere of inquiry that allows human beings to ask, and even answer in natural forms of reasoning, questions pertaining to the existence of God, the nature of the human person, the dignity of the spiritual soul, and the question of our human destiny in the face of death. 

Now, these two movements can never be separated, but nor should they be conflated, for 

The two forms of wisdom are distinct but complementary and potentially interactive.

Also, although they are complementary, as in all primordial complementarities one must be ontologically prior, and in this case it must obviously be (), for no amount of unalloyed () can result in (). For it is written: No man can pull himself up by his own buddhastraps

Having said that, if we pull back for a wider perspective... Well, first of all, everything originates at the top, which we symbolize O. Therefore, () is a kind of emanation from O, as () is ordered to O. In short, () is not just random, but rather, has its telos in O, which is why we call it the "divine attractor." 

Looked at this way, we might say that () is already a form of (), and at the very least must be considered a Big Hint, since there is no drive or instinct without its proper object. Eyes are for seeing, wings are for flying, hunger is for food, minds are for knowing, and () is for unknowing O.

That's as far as I've gotten in the book, but it implies somewhat of a simplification of the five-storey cosmos we were discussing in the previous post: there is the natural and the supernatural, linked by (). But what if there are more storeys to the story? 

Oldmeadow has a handy chart I wish I could reproduce, but you'll have to visualize it. At the top is Beyond-Being (i.e., the Godhead or O), followed by Being (the Creator or personal God), and that right there is going to be controversial from within an orthodox exoteric Christian perspective. For if this is an ontological and not just nominal distinction (i.e., between God and Godhead), then... we've got to do something about it!

Certainly I don't anticipate White going into this distinction, unless it's in the merely nominal sense of apophatic vs. cataphatic theologies. In other words, even -- or especially -- the most orthodox among us respect this human distinction and limitation, for example, Thomas:

This is the final human knowledge of God: to know that we do not know God.

On the one hand, "we can know him in as many ways as created things represent him," but if God can be known in his essence, only he could do so, for "Created things are not sufficient to represent the creator," and "Whatever is comprehended by a finite being is itself finite."

Hmm. Where does this leave us? Is there a loophole, or a way to penetrate this mystery a little more deeply?

Let's go back to Schuon's distinction in divinas between Being and Beyond-Being. If we are the terrestrial image and likeness, then perhaps this goes to the distinction in us between higher and lower modalities, i.e., between spirit/intellect and soul/psychic, which I symbolize (¶) and (•), respectively.  

This being the case, then (¶) would be ordered more directly to the unknowable and unspecifiable O. 

Schuon writes that 

In metaphysics, it is necessary to start from the idea that the Supreme Reality is absolute [O], and that being absolute it is infinite.... And that is infinite which is not determined by any limiting factor and therefore does not end at any boundary; it is in the first place Potentiality or Possibility as such... Without All-Possibility, there would be neither Creator nor creation...

Here we run into a problem, and a big one, even though for us it resolves an even bigger problem. But in the traditional Thomistic view, God is pure act, and therefore, absolutely devoid of potential. You could even say that if God has potential then he can't be God, because potency implies a lack of something, a privation which is yet to be actualized.

Last week I read something by Garrigou-Lagrange that may leave us a little wiggle room: that God is

immobile, not with the immobility of inertia, but with the immobility of supreme activity.

And what is that supposed to mean, i.e., the immobility of supreme activity? For it almost seems like an oxymoronic way to sneak potential in through the side door. It almost seems a way to speak implicitly of what Schuon characterizes more explicitly, again, that "God is the Absolute, and being the Absolute, He is equally the Infinite" (infinitude being All-Possibility, the very principle of creativity).

Oldmeadow goes on to explain that 

the theological language of exoteric monotheism tends to stop short at the fourth degree, which is to say that the two highest degrees [Being and Beyond-Being] are often assimilated in the notion of the Personal Creator God.


within esoteric Christianity -- in Eckhart, for instance -- the distinction between God and Godhead remains intact.

Except that Eckhart would never characterize himself as "esoteric," rather, fully orthodox, only more so, i.e., as following the implications all the way up. 

That's all I got this morning. 

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