Saturday, March 02, 2024

Sympathy for the Deity, or The Source of Deep Comedy

Metaphor supposes a universe in which each object mysteriously contains the others. --Dávila

And a good thing, because otherwise nothing could tell us about anything else. But in this cosmos, anything tells us a bit about everything

Whitehead's fallacy of simple location rests on the outdated assumption that an entity

is where it is, in a definite region of space, and throughout a definite finite duration of time, apart from any reference of the relations of that bit of matter to other regions of space and to other durations of time.

Nothing is righthere rightnow, for "each volume of space, each lapse of time, includes in its essence aspects of all volumes of space, or all lapses of time."

in a certain sense, everything is everywhere at all times. For every location involves an aspect of itself in every other location. Thus, every spatio-temporal standpoint mirrors the world (Whitehead, emphasis mine).

Oh. That explains a lot. 

Along these lines, Leithart writes that "the Trinity is the ground of metaphor," insofar as it reflects the "is/is not" structure, the metacosmic notshall discussed in yesterday's post: the Father can't be the Son, and yet, we have it on good authority that If you have seen me, you have seen the Father

"And this positive-negative"

is reflected in every feature of the creation. Creation contains objects that are really distinct and separate from one another.... At the same time, Scripture indicates that one thing can stand for, represent, or symbolize other things. Things in creation indwell other things (Leithart).

Especially human things, who are intersubjective right down (and up) to the ground. Show me a human who isn't, and I'll show you a sociopath or an autistic person exiled from intersubjectivity, precisely.

I just saw a movie last night with a brilliant depiction of sociopathy by Jake Gyllenhaal, called Nightcrawler. In it, he looks like someone who learned how to imitate human beings from a pamphlet. He knows the words but not the music. The facsimile is awkward and creepy, much like when a politician such as Brandon, Schiff, Warren, or Newsom take a stab at appearing quasi-human. 

At any rate, "This perichoretic 'is/is not'... structure is inherent in God and the very source of metaphor." And again, 

it is the shape of time and history as well. Time is divided into past, present and future, and yet these are not wholly distinct.

Much like music, as discussed in the previous two posts: "the trinitarian life is a rhythm of self-giving and return within the life of God." Play it again, I AM.

So, God is a musician. Is he also a divine comedian? "Is the life of the Trinity comic?," asks Leithart in the book Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, & Hope In Western Literature. Well,

for Greek philosophy tragedy was woven into the fabric of existence, and... these tragic obsessions are common elements of modern and postmodern thought as well.

As we know, pagan time is cyclical and degenerative instead of linear and teleological. To the extent that there is a "happy ending," it is the result of a return to the Origin, the golden age prior to the "fall" into time. "For Platonic and Neoplatonic metaphysics," the later is worser, thus history is "essentially tragic": "the world" is

bound to degenerate and decline until it sputter[s] to a halt... If it is cyclical, history merely repeats the story of decline again and again.... the ancient world, and the classical world in particular, knew nothing of eschatology... the view that history moves toward an end that is greater than the beginning. The classical world knew nothing of "deep comedy" (emphasis mine).

All because the Resurrection is the eschatological guffah-HA! experience. Conversely, "The cyclic theory is most often found in the service of pessimism. The last state is always worse then the first," AKA the eschatological d'oh! The latter is Murphy's Law elevated to metaphysical principle.

The question is, how to we get the joke and see to it that the cosmos isn't laughing at us but with us? Well, a good start is the doctrine of creation, which provides a ground "for real newness and invention" instead of the same old same old. 

This is why Christendom has been so creative compared to all other civilizations. It is certainly why we had the best comedians, and why comedy has become increasingly unfunny in our post-Christian world. Why is the Babylon Bee -- run by Christians -- so much funnier than our late nite anti-comedians?   

Death and resurrection, of course, is the comic theme, the comic theme of history, and there is thus a "comic" structure to the triune life...

What did Eckhart say?

In the core of the Trinity the Father laughs and gives birth to the Son. The Son laughs back at the Father and gives birth to the Spirit. The whole Trinity laughs and gives birth to us.

Comedy is a serious business. We know that a true theory of reality will be beautiful. Will it also be funny?

"Laughter has a deep philosophical meaning; it is one of the essential forms of the truth concerning the world as a whole.... Certain essential aspects of the world are accessible only to laughter" (in Leithart). 

We suggested in the previous post that we love music because it reveals the form of time. Perhaps we love comedy because it too reveals something essential about reality. We think of both of these -- music and comedy -- as subjective, but key aspects of the world are completely inaccessible to mere objectivity, which can't get the joke.

In order to be receptive to the full range of evidence, we must adopt an attitude of intersubjective receptivity, which we symbolize (o), which is a kind of sympathy for the deity:

we are all familiar with regions of intelligible fact which are only perceptible in the sunlight of a favourable attitude. Sympathy does not create the personal facts it desires, it reveals them; and there are many true facts sympathy appreciates, to which suspicion closes our eyes (Farrer).

Paranoia is just one of the attitudes that closes off empathy. Other modes and mechanisms include projection, autism, cynicism, mistrust, envy, victimolatry, ideology, and schizoid defenses, all serving to enclose the person in what amounts to a "pseudo-subjectivity" that is only about itself, not about properly intersubjective reality.  

Turns out that the same empathy we have for our fellow humans "is required for any recognition of God," and that "Religion is more like response to a friend, than it is like obedience to an expert." Conversely,

The blind eye of suspicion may reduce our neighbour to a cunning beast; it can utterly shut out the being of God (ibid.).

And that's not funny.

Friday, March 01, 2024

The Trinity in a Notshall

Another cold opening: 

The Son and Spirit must be "something different" from the Father, and the Father/Principle would not be perfect "if it did not, of itself, produce the terms that as terms are different from it" (Leithart).

 In a notshall,

"not" is essential to the life of God and our speaking of it, for the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, and the Spirit is not the Father. "Not" marks the "interval," the nonspatial but absolute distance between person and person" (emboldenment mine).

The Absolute includes this "absolute distance"? YES, and this distance facilitates the absolute relationship between the Persons, or the eternally en-thusiastic YES they share with one another:

This absolute difference is simultaneously an absolute intimacy of mutual perichoretic indwelling, but the perichoretic communion depends on the absolute difference, since an undifferentiated God is merely a union and not a com-union at all.

Not even a union, just a monistic blob with no possibility of blabbing between personsThree's company but one's a cloud. Of eternally silent unknowability.

Monism is an attitude that violates half of the experience.

Or, two thirds, to be precise. But even then, it seems to me that experience has to be "of" something -- or someone -- that is not itself.

And as we said yesterday about the principle of time being found in the Trinity,

God begins as Father, moves as Son, completes as Spirit; God exists as "past," as "present," as "future" (Leithart, emphasis mine).

This is the eternal pattern, the AlphOmega of temporal creation; and why, as the Aphorist says,

Creation is the nexus between eternity and history.

Leithart continues:

For just this reason and this reason only, the Creator is capable of creating while remaining entirely and utterly himself.... 
Just as the Father eternally gives himself wholly to the Son, so the Trinity eternally gives up having an exclusive hold on the divine property of existence, calling creatures to exist.

 And Here We Are. "Creation's history is"

"nothing other than the created image, extended in space and time, of that nothing/all of the love which in God the Trinity is the Word/Son of the Father..." (Piero Coda, in Leithart). 

 Nothing/All? We've gone this far. Why not?

nothing because he [the Son] receives his being from the love of the Father; all because the infinite fullness of the Father is fully reflected and expressed in him (ibid.).

 Expressed in another orthoparadoxical notshall,

The nothingness of love is the trinitarian grammar with which the book of creation is written (ibid.).

 That smells fumiliar:

The universe is a useless dictionary for someone who does not provide its proper syntax.
Let's sink into the abstract Now. What is it without a concrete relation to past and future?

The life of the triune God is not a "sheer point of presence" but "a life among persons" that is "constituted in a structure of relations" (ibid.).

Not a lifeless blob but endless blab. And to threepeat,

in God is a "'past and 'future,' which is identical with the distinction between the Father and the Spirit" (ibid.).

The teleological structure of time is built into the cake of being, and I am tempted to ask this guy if I can buy some pot from him.

We, of course, are "stretched between memory and desire" -- d'oh! -- or "between past and future on the knife-edge 'nothing' of the present moment.... Time is a dimension of our experiencing anything at all." It is

an objective, "architectural" feature of the world because it is the distension of the eternal Trinity in time.

With all due respect, Plato is wrong: "Time is not a moving image of motionless eternity," rather

Created time is a moving image of the dynamic, structured, infinitely mobile life of the Father who begets the Son, from whom the Spirit proceeds. It moves because it shares the infinitely mobile life of God (emphasis mine).

It is irreversible because it hurtles higgledy piggledy toward its own eternal fulfillment in God, or "is enclosed within the irreversible eternal ordered life of the Trinity." As Petey once whimsically put it in plain unglish,

light plunges an undying fire into its own shadow and fallin love with the productions of time. And thank-you, we said, thanking the man for this undertaking of mortality, for our daily lessons in evanescence, for this manifestivus for the restavus! 

Or in plain English, 

We live, move, and have being in time because we live, move, and have our being in the God who is Beginning, Middle, and End.... All that moves in time dances in the steps of the temporally ordered communion of Father, Son, and Spirit..., as the whence and wither of created time mirror and share the eternal life of God. 

And we're back to music. Leithart writes of the "music of spacetime," and  of how in Genesis "time is radically anti-presentist: "the Creator is to the creation as singer to a song. And there is no ongoing song except as the singer continues to sing.... the rhythm of created time is the rhythm of triune life."

Rhythm and Deus? In another book by Leithart called Deep Comedy: Trinity, Tragedy, & Hope In Western Literature, he writes of how

the present moment, like a musical note, is what it is because of what has gone before and is in turn shaped by what comes after, so that every present contains within itself traces of the past and seeds of the future.

A voice in my head is singing: There once was a note pure and easy / Playing so free like a breath rippling by. Play us out, Petey:

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy

Cold opening:

the Bible, never, for even a single clause, teaches a strict, monadic monotheism. The Bible never teaches that God is simply one, without simultaneously hinting at, however teasingly, plurality within the divine life (Leithart).


Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.

Recall that there is natural theology (↗O) and supernatural revelation (O), and the complementary relationship between them (). 

But perhaps there is also an () between revelation and its subsequent development? Certainly we need to revisit Genesis 1 with our later revelation of the Trinity, but Leihart maintains that it was there implicitly from the start.

He's not wrong. But is he right? 

The sequence of revelation is not from monotheism to trinitarian monotheism because Genesis 1 is already nascently trinitarianism. 

There are some obvious clues, for example, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness. Some people say that's just the royal we, even though that convention didn't exist for another millennium or so. Others say God is talking to the angels, even though we are not made in the image of angels.

Later, with the events of Genesis 3, "the Lord warns that Adam has 'become like one of Us.'" Or pretends to have, anyway. Big. Mistake. There's also Babel, when God says "Come, let Us go down" and check this thing out.  

Genesis does not depict a "frozen... block of absolute essence," because such a being "would be 'impotent to create,' incapable of communicating himself because he is enclosed within himself." 

Say what you want, but this Creator "is supremely self-diffusive." He can scarcely contain himself. Full of en-thusiasm you might say, which means literally entheos, veritably brimming with the spirit of God. 

The Spirit is the passion, the source and center of the emotional life of the Creator.

Emotion? Isn't that a human -- even neurobiological -- thing? Yes, but what is its principle? "The Creator's yearning is not like our yearning. He does not long for what he lacks." Well, that's a relief. What is it, then?

One doesn't want to put words in his mouth or emotions in his heart, but -- perhaps? --

His longing is the longing of infinite fullness, undiluted joy, sheer bliss, not the longing to have what is absent but longing to share what is superabundantly present.

Unlike our yearning for what we lack, the Father yearns for what he always already has in the Son? And vice versa?

The One and the Many. Problem solved:

Trinitarian Christianity disturbs the simple contrast of one and many by redefining unity as a harmony of difference and difference as the dynamic of unity. Unity is only manifest and realized in multiplicity.

I'll buy that. We've said before that music mimics the form of reality, and is maybe even why man loves music:

The "harmony of the Trinity is... not the harmony of a finished totality but a 'musical' harmony of infinity."

Infinite harmony. I'll buy that too. Time out for some heavenly harmonies: 

Elsewhere in Scripture, the Spirit is the source of sound, including the sound of music.


'Elohim the Creator, creating by and through his Spirit, is God most musical... he joyfully sings a creation that can, and will, join to harmonize on his eternal song. 

Too fruity, or not fruity enough? It reminds me of something I wrote in the book about "the polyphonic score that surrounds and abides within us," and how we may "harmonize existence in our own beautiful way, and thereby hear the vespered strains of the song supreme." Nah, too fruity.

The time of Genesis is the layered, multiply rhythmic, multi-melody time of polyphony.

Recall what we were saying -- if you could tolerate the pedantry -- about the complementary categories of abstract and concrete. In all Primordial Complementarities, one must be prior, and in this case -- somewhat surprisingly -- it is the Concrete. 

Which led us to the coonclusion that the abstract has no independent existence outside the concrete: "it is the divine Person that contains the Absolute, not vice versa." In Hartshorne's words, "Any concrete case contains the entire unlimited form," therefore "God as merely absolute is nonactual, whereas God-as-relative is concrete person."

Which is why we agree wholeheadedly with the Aphorist that

Truth is a person.

And this person is a musician? Well, let's say that music is the concrete expression of time. This being the case, it is more real than any purely abstract notion of time.

Creation has no immutable dance floor. It is nothing but [concrete] dancing, all the way down and all the way up (Leithart).

Again, "We are tempted to think technical measures of time are more basic, fundamental, and true than everyday natural or cultural rhythms," but nah, "Time is, most fundamentally, personal time," which is "composed by the Word of a tryhypostatic person." 

If this is the case, then we have to rethink our metaphysic, because Eternity would an utterly unthinkable abstraction from concrete time. This is for both Petey and Pascal, 

Not the God of the philosophers, not the God of the scholars! (p. 261).

Cards on the table: I've suggested before that time is a distant reflection of the "time" it takes for the Father to generate the Son. This, of course, is a quintessentially timeless *process* that takes place in eternity, because there was never a time when the Son did not exist.

To which we say: oh?

Leithart alludes to what he calls the "metaphysical temptation," which for me connotes a flight into the pure abstraction alluded to above. But if the real is the Concrete, then we have to resist this temptation, for "of a non-Creator's relation to time we know nothing because there is literally nothing to know." 

For again: the (concrete) Creator creates (concretely). Ultimately,

Time's order is determined by persons, above all by the ordered life of the triune persons. Hence, the movement of time through past, present, and future mirrors the eternal, and eternally realized, becoming and unfolding of the triune Source, Radiance, and Diffusion.

Hey, that's what I think! But it sure is nice to find someone else who thinks it.

I try not to burden readers with more than 1,000 words a day, so, to be continued. Sun Ra, play us out, whatever that means.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Absolute Relative and the Merely Absolute

If God is the Absolute Relative, does this make man the relative absolute? Maybe -- especially post-Incarnation -- but even the world isn't the relative relative, because that would reduce to the absolute nihilism of the left, AKA the tyranny of relativism. Creation is only possible because 

The Creator is internally related, a speaking communion capable of internal address, a God who says "us" (Leithart).

Emphasis mine: "This internal relationship is the condition of possibility for creation."

I've been saying this for twenty years, so it is a relief to find someone else saying it so clearly. 

Insofar as the principle of creation is concerned, it is grounded in the God who "is always already related to what is other than himself."

Granted, I believe we can take this doctrine too far and make the Creator dependent upon the creation. This is what Whitehead, Hartshorne, and other process philosophers do: too much () contaminating th(O), ultimately reducing to pantheism. Ask a process philosopher if God exists and the answer is Yes, but not yet. 

Oops. Next sentence: "Creator and creation are joined in mutual relation, a relation we must finally describe as mutually dependent." Given that the first principle is (in Norris Clarke's formulation and now mine) substance-in-relation, it is not a wholly unreasonable assertion. So how do we tweak it, and what do we put in its place? 

More problematically, are we defying our own statement from yesterday about the principle of noncontradiction? Bob wondered to himself. 

We will put that in the cosmic hopper and hope for an answer by the end of the post. 

Leithart qualifies the mutual dependence, calling it "radically asymmetrical," being that "Creation need not have existed." However, once creation exists, God -- it would seem -- places himself in a position of "dependence." He is related to his cosmos. He cares about it. 

Analogously, I didn't have to create a dependent. But once I did... Am I dependent on my dependent? Yes, very much so, but again, not only is there asymmetry, but as any parent can tell you, I'll bet I care about him more than he cares about me. 

Not to say that he doesn't care, but back when he was a little guy, we would tell him that he won't know how much we love him until he has a little guy of his own.

Does this analogy tell us anything about God? Create your own cosmos, then you'll know how much I love this one!

As alluded to above, I can't agree with everything Hartshorne says, but I do agree with him that God is omnipathoshere is something from an old post, and let's see how it holds up:

One thing that Hartshorne highlights is the "omnipathos" of God. This is a very useful word, because it means that, in addition to being all-knowing and all-powerful, he is all-feeling. 
Right there we see an interesting Trinity consisting of truth, love, and power, each conditioned by the other. More to the point, if we deny God's omnipathos, there is no way for him to meaningfully relate to us -- to put himself in our shoes. But isn't this what the Incarnation is all about?

Hartshorne makes the intriguing point that God is not only the cause of all effects (the First Cause), but also the effect of all causes: the First Effect. This would be the metaphysical basis of his all-feeling omnipathos, as it means that he is supremely receptive to his own creation (or better, perpetual creativity).

This leads to one of Hartshorne's most controversial ideas, that God "changes." Quite simply, he changes because he is truly receptive to his creation -- hence also the "suffering with." Hartshorne believes that the overemphasis on the notion of Unchanging Absolute -- as we've discussed in the past -- is a Greek import, not truly biblical (not to mention incoherent and ultimately absurd). 
In the Greek conception, time is completely devalued in favor of eternity. Time is change, and change is bad because it cannot disclose unchanging truth.

But there is change and there is change. For example, there is decadence, deterioration, corruption, degradation, dissolution, decline -- you know, Obama style change.

But there is also growth, development, maturation, perfection, etc. These are very different things. For Hartshorne, God possesses super-eminent relativity, meaning that his omnipathos is to our empathy as his omniscience is to our knowing. But it is certainly not to be thought of as a deficit. Rather, it is a kind of perfect attunement.

Like the perfect parent. 

On a purely logical basis, how could God even have knowledge unless that knowledge is related to a known? No, we don't want to simply anthropomorphize him, but nor should we say that God has knowledge if we mean something totally different by the word. As Hartshorne writes, if

the divine knowledge is purely absolute, hence involves no relation to things known, what analogy can it have to what is commonly meant by knowledge, which seems to be nothing without such a relation?
Yes, he is the cause of this world, but here again, what is a cause without an effect? To say that in God cause and effect are absolutely one is to simply deny cause and effect, and to enclose him in a static monad.

The same applies to free will. If being omnipotent -- all-powerful -- means that we humans have no power, then that ends the discussion. But if omnipotence is bound up with omniscience (bearing in mind that to know is to relate) and omnipathos, then this changes the equation.

As Hartshorne writes, "Power to cause someone to perform by his own choice an act precisely defined by the cause is meaningless." Again, if God's omnipotence excludes our limited potency, then he is as pointlessly enclosed in his own circuitous locution as any deconstructionist.

If we consider the creation, we see that it is woven of chance and necessity, of freedom and constraint, of boundary conditions and emergent phenomena, of order and surprise. Perhaps this tells us something about its creator. Too much order equates to absolute omnipotence in the traditional sense, but a world of pure chance is inconceivable.

Even leaving all the specifics to the side, life makes no sense without this oddly "perfect" cosmic complementarity of design and freedom (which I would say is the very essence of creativity). Furthermore, "the reality of chance is the very thing that makes providence significant," because otherwise any intervention by God is just necessity in deusguise.

Running out of time here, but perhaps "maximizing relativity as well as absoluteness in God enables us to conceive him as supreme person." Unless by "personhood" we mean something totally alien to us.

For if God is "in all aspects absolute, then literally it is 'all the same' to him, a matter of utter indifference, whether we do this or do that, whether we live or die, whether we joy or suffer." In short, if this is "personal," then we aren't.

End of excerpt. I see that I dealt with objections in the next post, and let me extract any useful nuggets. It gets a little technical, but here goes:

For Hartshorne, God is both absolute and relative: absolute in the abstract but relative in the concrete. In short, absolute/relative is an irreducible complementarity, something which I believe is a fundamental lesson of the Trinity.

The Trinity cannot be further reduced to something less (or more) than itself (i.e., an impersonal monad) without thereby losing its identifying features of love, relationship, knowledge, creation, etc. Behind or before the Father is not an ontological bachelor; we might even say that the Trinity is just as much an effect as a cause of eternal love-in-relation. Certainly it is a way to conceptualize, frame, and think about this eternal love.

For me, one of Hartshorne's most helpful ideas -- and it can be used in many contexts -- is that when faced with a complementarity, the more concrete of the two complements is the more fundamental. 
Thus, for example, the unchanging God is the abstract form of "the supreme personality as such." It is like saying Joe is Joe. Without ever actually meeting him in the flesh, we can affirm that Joe is Joe, has always been Joe, and will always be Joe. In that sense, Joe is unchanging, for Joe = Joe.

But there is also the concrete state of "God as person caring for the creatures he has created." This is the real Joe, not just the idea of Joe. For Hartshorne, "The abstract does not act, only the concrete acts or is a person." Furthermore -- and this is the (for me) revolutionary part -- "it is the divine Person that contains the Absolute, not vice versa" -- just as "the man contains his character, not the character the man." 
"Any concrete case," writes Hartshorne, "contains the entire unlimited form." For example, consistent with Aristotle, there is no abstract realm of disembodied ideas.

Rather, the idea is in its concrete expression: any man is an instance of man-as-such. Thus, the abstract form appears "unlimited, not because it has all possible cases in actualized form, but because it has no actual case within it, being the common form of all actuality, and no actuality whatever."

In short, abstract possibility "is unlimited because it is not actualized at all. It is everything in the form of possibility, nothing whatever in the form of actuality."

Therefore -- and I realize this is a Big Leap for many people, "God as merely absolute is nonactual," whereas God-as-relative is concrete person.

I love that merely absolute. For example, if someone were to try to sell me on Islam, the first thing I might say is: "Allah? He is merely absolute. He can't be the real thing. He can't even be actual. He's just an abstraction, not a concrete person."

Perhaps this is why the only way to relate to the abstract Father is through the concrete Son, always and forever. God is our eternal relative, and we his.

[A]s absolute, God is 'simple,' has no constituents. But this only shows once more that it is God as relative that is the inclusive conception.... A wholly absolute God is power divorced from responsiveness or sensitivity... --Hartshorne 

And here we are. Back to Leithart:

"Once we have baked in this asymmetrical reciprocity, we can say without hesitation or qualm that God is responsive to creation." We just need a bigger -- and more omnipathos -- God, AKA the Absolute Relative. 

The only God who is is the related God, the God who has created a world that is other than himself and who, in that very act, has related himself to a world other than himself. The quest for an unrelated non-Creator is quixotic, for an unrelated God has nothing to do with us.

"God is actualized as Creator"; and "We have to do only with the Absolute-relative, never with the Absolute" (Leithart).

I guess that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Motion in the Ocean of Being

A bold claim about the Angelic Doctor: "His doctrine of God is partially but not fully baptized." I don't even like to go there, and I don't know if I would put it that way, but if the principle of noncontradiction holds -- which it must -- then God is either immutable or he isn't, and that's all there is to it. No fudging.

By the way, the principle of noncontradiction isn't spelled out in scripture. Rather, it's an example of something we work out from our side -- one of those self-evident truths without which there could be no truth. Must it apply to O? Can't God violate it if he wants and do whatever he feels like doing? Isn't he the God of pure Napoleonism, doing

No, because that would be the voluntaristic God of Calvin or Mohammed, one of pure will if not willfulness, impervious to reason, and eating all our steak.  

I doubt if readers are as enthusiastic about my symbols as I am, but let's review: there is natural theology (↗O) and there is supernatural revelation (O), but also a complementary relationship between them (). 

Someone like Luther would say that (↗O) is worthless if not diabolical, and that all we can know of God is what he reveals to us: to say sola scriptura and sola fide is to say sola (O), even if it makes no sense to us and cannot be reconciled with reason.

For us this is a nonstarter. For we have to have some conception of O or we could never speak or know of it at all, even if it were hand delivered to us from God himself. 

But man qua man is always seeking God, or in other words, man has the dynamic form of (↗O), which is why when the shepherd calls, the sheep know his voice; it must sound like God or we couldn't distinguish it from spam.

To put it another way, man is not only the image and likeness of O, but is conformed to it. Nevertheless conformity takes time. I want to say that the time it takes is the timelessness it takes for the Father to generate the Son, but that's getting ahead of ourpost.  

Here at One Cosmos we are all about... one cosmos. What I mean is that we insist that there is a harmonious and fruitful relationship () between (↗O)  and  (O). Once we receive the latter then we can apply it to the former and adjust it accordingly.

A classic example of this comes from Thomas himself. Natural theology cannot prove whether or not the universe had a beginning or is eternal. But Thomas accepts from revelation that it did have a beginning. Therefore he adjusts his metaphysic accordingly.

Now, the first thing revelation reveals about God is that he is a Creator, and this too is full of implications. In fact, the next chapter of the book we're looking at is called Creator, and let the flipping commence. Speaking of eternity,

If God-as-Creator is identical to God-as-God, perhaps creation is eternal. On the other hand, if creation is not eternal, it seems God "becomes" Creator...

Leithart asks, "is the doctrine of creation compatible with the belief that God is absolutely simple and unchangeable?" (as maintained by Thomas). More to the point, "Could a simple God create in the way Genesis 1 says God created?"

Here again, this is an example of how we must harmonize our metaphysic via (). 

Either a creator is always creating, in which case he will be an actual creator, or he is merely a potential creator until he begins to create. 

Now, scripture tells us nothing about any potential creator. Rather, only about the Creator who creates. It is not as if we can seek some extra-scriptural entity who is the real God behind and above the one revealed to us in scripture.

I suppose we could do that, but that would be an unauthorized use of (↗O) -- as if we can override God with our own conception of him.

In short, idolatry, which is to say, Genesis 3 All Over Again. Back to the critique of Thomas,  

If the Creator is fully actualized in every respect, without any form of potency, and if the Creator is incapable of change, then it seems the world must be eternal and the Creator must create.

But how can this be reconciled with the doctrine that God freely creates -- in other words, that the world is a contingent gift that need not have been given? "In my view, Thomas's efforts to reconcile absolute simplicity and free creation fail." This is what we might call illegitimate (), which is to say, forcing God into our own conception of how he must roll.

Let's reverse imagineer this cosmos: God wills to create it. But "Can a simple God create?" For a "simple God is always already fully actualized, whether or not creation exists." Thus,

Thomas's doctrine of God cannot get past the first verse of the Bible before slamming into incoherence. Something has gone wrong.

But what?


Thaaaat's right, Petey, that is the orthoparadoxical answer to all our existential questions and ontological conundrums. In fact, it is the subtitle of the next section. Let us dive in.

"God" is a relational term, describing the relation of the Absolute to the world.... it is not enough for God to be Absolute, "self-enclosed and all-exclusive."

Again, how would it be "possible for an absolute, simple, self-contained, immutable God to create?" 

For Leithart, the Absolute "is no more than a conventional placeholder," much like our symbol O. But "the Absolute-relative is the only God with whom we have to do," and "Who God is inevitably follows from the fact that he created." And Genesis "begins with God establishing that relation in the act of creating a world that is other than himself." 

In Scripture, there is no God without interplay with creatures, without a created playground.

Scripture knows nothing at all about a God who might-or-might-not create. Scripture reveals only the God who has in fact created.

Penultimate line: 

A non-Creator is, in the strictest possible sense, a nonentity. God-without creation is an idol. No such God exists, because the only God who is is the God who created... 


"Creator" is an inherently relative term. If "Creator" is the first name of God, then our theology must be, from top to bottom, a theology of the related God.

Bottom line, at least for this morning: the Creator himself -- or selves, rather -- "is internally related," and "This internal relationality is the condition of the possibility for creation.... this God is always already related to what is other than himself."

So, not only does God move, he never stops moving. Loose ends will be tied up in the next post.

Monday, February 26, 2024

Big Verb: The Event of God

How else to put it if we are to maintain a trinitarian metaphysic, or one that is true to scripture? For scripture

is full of ordinary "composite" statements about God that cannot, in any obvious way, be reduced to "to be God is to be'" (emphasis mine). 

Who says Being must be Big Noun instead of Big Verb? Why not both -- or both/and? Maybe we're a bit naive, but in the Bible, 

To be God is to be God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; to be God is to be God of Exodus; to be God is to be Creator of heaven and earth...

Etc. That's a whole lotta doing, and one need hardly be a biblical literalist to see that any such actions cannot easily be reconciled with a simple, static, timeless, immutable, and unrelated God. Why assume all of these characteristics, especially after the revelation of the triune Godhead? 

Again, once we have received the revelation (O), we need to engage in a little () in order to tweak our metaphysic (O). And yet, it seems that Thomas allows certain prejudices against Big Verb to reduce it to Big Noun:

The question is whether Thomas's initial account of simplicity is compatible with the modifications he later makes under pressure of the Christian creed. Does he build trinitarian modifications into his understanding of simplicity [], or does he initially assume a non- (or anti-) trinitarian account of simplicity []?    

In other words -- or symbols rather -- too much () and not enough ()? Granted, there must be a mutual influence -- () -- but some things are nonnegotiable, because Trinity means Trinity. Which, at a minimum, means what?

Well, we know from our (O) that God is the Unmoved Mover, which is to say that he is not moved by an other. But who says he can't be moved by, or in, himselves? This lifts us out of so many metaphysical nul-de-slacks that one scarcely knows where to begin. According to (O), i.e., revelation, 

the Son is "from another," and therefore his necessary existence as eternal Son is derived from and dependent on the Father's act of begetting. We speak rightly of the Son only with passive locutions: He is begotten of the Father; as Word, he is spoken. "Patiency" is a feature of triune being and existence. 

Note that such a view reconciles what is otherwise an insoluble mystery -- the mysteries of Big Noun and Big Verb. 

The trinitarian argument assumes a kind of "movement" in God that the argument from motion denies.

Not only does this this denial render God inexplicable, it also renders our existence inexplicable -- especially if we are the image and likeness. But with a little (), we see that the

motions of created things point to the infinitely mobile triune God. Indeed, precisely the partial and intermittent acts and motions of creatures constitute their likeness to the Father who generates the Son and breathes forth the Spirit.

Looked at this way, God must be something like perfect change, while we are imperfect change. Which is why we are strongly advised to pray that Thy will be done. For his part, Thomas denies that 

the procession is a motion. Grant the point. Yet, if a trinitarian ontology is assumed, we may say: There is that in God of which the simultaneity of cause and effect is a resemblance.

Or as Galileo murmured in a different context, And yet it moves.

Besides, if God is absolute immobility, full stop, "how can he create a world in motion? If God lacks potency, where does the potency and patiency of creation come from?" At the very least, 

the fact of a mobile universe leads just as plausibly to an ineffably mobile first cause as to an ineffably immobile one. 

I say, why not take  () all the way to our (O) and alter it accordingly? Why hold on to immobility? Why give priority to the non-trinitarian paradigm? What's the prayoff? 

Natural reason [O] leads to an immobile, simple God, without internal "motions," reception, or relations. 

But "by disclosing the Trinity [O↘], revelation trumps reason." Or rather, reason transcends its own limits, a la Gödel, and discovers its source and goround. 

Now, "What would it look like to begin from an ontology fully baptized in the triune name?" -- which is to say, to fully () our (O)?

It would mean that God is the "ever-actual event";

And the eventfulness of God, his liveliness, is the foundation of "the possibility of all creaturely becoming." God does not become; but there is that in God of which becoming is an image. There is a source in God's own life for the created distinction between potency and actuality, between action and contemplation, between male and female....

At risk of belaboring the point,

The argument from motion points to a first mover, but a mover eternally in "motion," moved with inconceivable motion that infinitely exceeds the movements of creation, yet moved and moving.

This is not "what everybody understands by God" (O), rather, "what we Christians understand by God" (O↘). Suffice it to say, the eternal event of God implies that he is indeed Big Verb, but much more to follow. 

(All quotes taken from Creator: A Theological Interpretation of Genesis 1, by Peter Leithart.)

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Time for a Change in God

To review: the philosophical ascent to God is (O), while God's descent to us is (O). But these two arrows -- of natural and revealed theology, respectively -- have a mutual influence, such that the whole durn cosmic mountain must look like (O), but with an (↔) of mutual influence at the bottom. Like one giant loop. 

Now, the last word in () is obviously the Incarnation whereby God literally has skin in the game. However, there are many other hints short of this, for again, the Universe speaks, such that the existence of O is clearly seen by its effects, which include the total intelligibility of being. If there were no () of any kind, we would be plunged into an unintelligible world of non-being.

Total chaos and formless darkness, much like that which the Spirit of God hovers over In the Beginning. That right there -- "Spirit of God" -- tells us that there is more to God than an absolute monistic oneness, much less the fact that there's a lot of speaking going on in Genesis 1, and speaking is always from and to. Later we are told that

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.

In short, the With goes all the way up and down: this is an irreducibly relational God. This being the case, we should find traces of relationality everywhere and in every thing, and this is indeed exactly what we do find. 

The revelation of relationality is an example of what I mean by the mutual influence of (↔). In this case, we have to rethink the (O) from our side via (). What we call natural theology is now supplemented by what we have received from God, ().  

This is why a Christian natural theology is so different from the Greek or any other natural theology. 

Now, some might say that this is no longer natural theology at all, since it has become contaminated by the supernatural. To which we would reply that nature is already supernatural, unless you're just not paying attention: natural and supernatural always and everywhere constitute a benign complementarity, not a vicious dualism.

Again, hints are everywhere, and revelation provides the reason why the hints are here to begin with. Through purely natural theology (O) we are indeed able to reason our way up to the Absolute, but revelation, among other things, tells us why the ascent is even possible. 

As we discussed a few post ago, the purest form of (O) is described by Plotinus (or Buddha or Shankara in the East), who ascends to the point of total absorption into, and union with, the One:

Since we are multiple, composite beings, striving toward union with the One means undoing our specific forms of existence.... To save our life we must lose it (Leithart).

Plotinus can ascend to O, but in so doing must leave Plotinus behind and below:

To approach the origin, we must abandon discursive thought, which means that philosophy comes to an end just at the moment it attains its end (ibid.).

Just when it was getting interesting! Bestwecando? Yes, absent the (O) from Godside.

Skin in the game. As it so happens, Plotinus detested his own skin, and quite literally. His crony Porphyry said that he appeared "ashamed to have a body."  

So deeply rooted was this feeling that he could never be induced to tell of his ancestry, his parentage, or his birthplace.

He showed, too, an unconquerable reluctance to sit for a painter or a sculptor, and when Amelius persisted in urging him to allow of a portrait being made he asked him, "Is it not enough to carry about this image in which nature has enclosed us?"

Probably the most unlikely concept Plotinus could imagine would be the idea that God would willingly subject himself to one of these shameful meatbags.

Above we spoke of the contamination of pure metaphysics by Christianity, but what if, somewhere along the line, pure Christianity has been contaminated by the metaphysics of Greece? Again, that arrow at the bottom of O (↔) is a two-way street. 

Plotinus' One is radically simple, meaning it can have no parts or distinctions whatsoever: it is timeless, immutable, immobile, utterly self-sufficient, and certainly doesn't care about anything outside itself. But if this is the case, then how can this One

exist in three distinct persons? How can there be processions in God if "in God, nothing can be moved or be outside"[?] There is no place for processions in an immobile, simple God.

Here we have a problem of the excluded middle, for God cannot be both simple and three; nor do I believe we can just defer to "mystery" when our metaphysic becomes tricksy, because there can be no right to absurdity, much less for God. 

Cards on the table: of course God changes, except we have to stop thinking of change as a privation, rather, as an eminent perfection. For me this is the whole point of the revelation of Trinity, and once revealed to us, we must take it back to our metaphysic () and rethink the whole (O) from the goround up.

In the sidebar you will see a quote by Bishop Robert Barron:

No, the perfect, unchanging God of whom Thomas speaks must be a gyroscope of energy and activity and at the same time a stable rock.

Which comes close but may not be quite radical enough for what we are proposing. Leithart writes that

To say there are processions is to say that there is something analogous to "movement" within the Godhead, a "whither" and a "whence." 

And I say movement is movement, and cannot be reduced to simplicity. In short, you can maintain simplicity, but then you are no longer talking about the God revealed to us. Leithart is somewhat disorganized and repetitive, but the following passage will do: 

the Trinity is not a sheer mystery of revelation, but an eminent original of which created being is a resemblance.... 

The act of creation reveals the inner life of the Trinity; the generation of the Son is the eternal and necessary root of the Father's free act of creating, and the Son's reception of being is the uncreated model of the receptive existence of creatures.

This post is getting long, but I've said before that the principles of creation, change, movement, relation, life, love, beauty, and even time may be situated in this "difference," this "space" between Father and Son, but we'll flesh it out in the next post.  

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