Grace is God so far as he is the believer’s own possession.



-Person is a substance. The Porphyrian tree thus has substance at both ends.

-Among real things, the order of logic is the inverse of the order of being. Descent down the Porphyrian tree is an approach toward the light of existence, ascent is toward the shadow.

-The tree leading down to the person is the shadow cast by the person.

-The person generates the nature, i.e. its intelligible aspect.

-Among created things, the nature is not the perfect image of the individual substance that generates it. This is why individual substances are unknowable to us by their natures.

-Hypothesis: the Hellenic-Medieval attempts to make nature or the communicable primary failed. They could never quite keep the story straight. Aristotle’s system never came to terms with the contradiction of making both form and the individual primary.

-Substance : nature :: The One : Mind

-Nature in created things is the primary duality; in the creator it is, in different ways, The Second Person and divinity.


-Substance is nature in its absolute consideration.

-Substance is not the logical atom, but that which generates both the atom and the most general category. Substance is no more particular than it is universal. The sense of “is” I just used is logical.

-The particular can be used as a placeholder for a substance we cannot know, but so can the universal. Used the second way, we speak of the individual so far as it is intelligible to us, spoken of in the first way, so far as it is the unapproachable limit of understanding.

-Particular : Universal :: Substance as unreachable limit of intelligibility : substance as approachable limit of intelligibility. Note that the same limit is approachable and unreachable.

-Reality limits logic at two extremes. The limits are not homogeneous with the limited. Our logic cannot think reality into existence.

-We cannot think reality into existence, but we can approach it infinitely. In this sense our thought does give rise to the real. So far as thus us the case the Copernican turn is justified, and nature just is dialectical.


-Dreams teach us that we must separate the substance of things from any analyzable element in them. This is that familiar dream experience of any thing being anything else.

-We can distinguish substance from appearance, but appearance must be understood as both the revealing and veiling of substance.

-One of the most common critiques of Kant is that he could not decide whether the phenomena revealed substance or veiled it. But it’s obvious that the only reason to call it an appearance is because it does both.

-Substance : appearance :: the wedding cake we’ll make : everything one can observe happening in the bakery.

– Note carefully the “we’ll make”. Future tense said of something just as much in a present tense. Substance acts on bakers, ingredients, delivery trucks, farmers growing wheat and sugar cane, etc. From an entire world, it manages to congeal into that single drop that is itself, ready to be shipped to the wedding.

-Science rejects teleology because it wants the analyzable order. This rejection is an unattainable ideal.

-Substance writes itself backwards into the present and the past. It causes mixing ingredients, delivering them, growing them, tilling land for them, clearing forests for them, giving us the idea of agriculture for them, generating humans for them…

-The whole world is being backwritten from the substance of the eschaton. So far as this is true, Leibniz was right

-But the further one falls back from any one substance, the more that substance must combine with others to cause itself. A wedding cake might suffice to explain the baker’s actions, but we need more than this to explain deliveries, more than that to explain the clearing of land, more than that to explain the idea of agriculture. No one result, no one substance, is of itself necessary in the sweep of things. Contingency – both negatively in indeterminism and positively in freedom – are both elements of this retrodiction of substance.

-We call this “an idea” of the wedding cake only as a metaphor. Ideas depend on us to exist. Here we are gesturing at what our ideas depend on. The recipe does not depend on us the way our child’s name depended on us. My child’s name is “an idea” simpliciter, the recipe is a discerning something latent in the world of possibility.

Spiritual body

Robert George claimed that the whole basis of his sexual theory is that we are not personal spirits dwelling within and using impersonal bodies. Thomists agree with this, though it is admittedly a point where STA admits of difficulties of interpretation and perhaps a small number of competing commitments.

George’s claim allows one to explain what was traditionally called sexual deviancy as a desire for a fuller life, i.e. as the life of an angel or god. If the body is simply a tool or a resource that I use as I see fit, then my “I” is a pure spirit.

I have to confess being extremely attracted to the doctrine of the I as pure spirit. I’m saddened by the thought that George’s theory is true, and I would much prefer to live in a world where it wasn’t. I’d prefer this world to be a pure object set in front of me as opposed to entering into my very subjectivity. I’m scandalized by a world that lives in the face of death. I don’t belong in this place where nothing else – dogs, trees, meadow grass, the sun, whatever –  is bothered by death or the reality of its non-existence. Let the body live there, have no business with things that exist like that.

I can get so worked up about this as to suspect George is a nihilist – what is the insistence on the bodily nature of the human person if not an insistence on the annihilation of persons? Give me sodomy! Contraception is our only hope of life!

But when you hit the point of arguing that the good of masturbation grounds your hope of eternity, you’ve made a wrong turn somewhere. But to look back at your other option shows it with all the downsides and disgust that it ever had. So what now?

Christianity seeks to transcend both options with a doctrine of spiritual bodies, though one suspects we no more have a category for “spiritual body” than we have for category for a noun with a single meaning that is both abstract and concrete. The gospels seem to testify to such a thing being out of joint with experience – hence we find John saying of the resurrected Christ that “no one asked if it was him, for they knew that it was he”. Imagine having any experience of recognition for which this would be the appropriate description! Again, Christians have puzzled over the chronology of the Easter story for a very long time, and it is usually exhibit A for any critical scholar seeking to show the incoherence of the Gospel. My own sense is that it reflects the actual confusion of where Christ was and what he was doing. Existing among his disciples seems like an option for Christ, as though space-time was just something he checked-in on, whenever, wherever, and in as many places as he felt like.

Analogous to the Vestigial

Edward Feser has a fantastic defense of the perverted faculty argument. He intentionally leaves off a defense of his underlying metaphysics, so here’s my attempt to frame what I take as the central objection to that underlying metaphysics.

Consider vestigial organs. For us moderns, these organs are relatively easy to account for: maybe they were made as a genetic fluke, maybe they went along as free riders on a reproductive advantage, but more likely they were once useful adaptations to an environment now gone. Aristotle had no sense of vestigial organs, or if he did it didn’t make much of an impression on his thought, but had he recognized their existence, he would have had no problem impeding their function or removing them altogether.

Thus a partial objection to the perverted faculty argument is to claim that our reproductive system is relevantly analogous to a vestigial organ. I say “relevantly analogous” since it is nonsense to claim that the organs themselves are vestigial. The analogy seems to be that they were adapted to conditions that no longer exist, that is, to a world where human middle age started at about 20 and the replacement fertility rate was around six children per woman. Note we’re assuming (as Feser does also) that our sexual function is more than just the power to reproduce but also the intensity and continuance of the desire and our age on its first onset. Outside the context in which we lived for almost all of our evolutionary history, human sexual functions lose their orientation to the good of survival and can even become contrary to it. Therefore (and this is the point on which the whole objection stands or falls) sexual function can lose its orientation to the practical good of the animal and so cease to be “natural” in the relevant sense in which functions count as natural in the perverted faculty argument.

Another way to put the argument is as a variant of the principle of totality. Just as we would impede the natural function of any organ which would threaten to destroy an individual if we did not impede it, so too we can impede and frustrate natural functions of organs so far as they threaten to destroy us as a species. This seems to be exactly the sort of argument that Paul Ehrlich was making for contraception back in the late 70’s. That said, the irony of arguing that we have to frustrate the very thing that allows for our continuance as a species in order to ensure it is not lost on anyone.

The heart of the objection is the claim that nature does all sorts of things in vain, i.e. we can have all sorts of natural functions (things with an intrinsic teleology) that are nevertheless unconnected to the practical good of the animal. Evolutionary psychology insists on thousands of them, contemporary psychologists have a voluminous literature on them (Stuart Sutherland did a lit review of them in his book Irrationality) and the possibility that functions can be maladaptive follows a priori out of the basic principles of evolutionary thought.


Agnosticism is inadequately defined as being uncertain whether God exists. Unless one is uncertain whether God is really possible, he can’t be uncertain whether God exists.

Logos and the sensible

The proper sensibles can neither be verified nor reasoned from. We can analyze a quantity into parts and use it to give rise to theorems (what else are geometry and physics?) but tastes, scents, and colors don’t give rise to any science of themselves.

The proper sensibles have no logos, that is, none can give rise to a –logy. We can study color only after we have turned it into a quantity or motion, or after we’ve made a study of how it affects something other than itself, or studied how the organ that detects it has such-and-such a structure. The scent, color, taste, pain, sound (who knows how many proper sensibles there are?). all arise from nowhere and lead to no further conclusions.

And so if the proper sensibles are real, then not every reality can give rise to a science or discourse. One can take this as a reason why the proper sensibles are not real, which seems to be the dominant opinion today. We’re strongly convinced of a system of everything (even after modifying this after Godel), and you can’t very well have this if some things cannot be parts of a larger system or –logy. This is probably a mistake, based on an overconfidence in logos. After all, any argument that, say, color is subjective will apply just as much to motion as actually sensed* in classical and contemporary physics (for whether something is in motion is just as observer-relative as whether it is red, sweet, or hot) but we’d be fools to say that this makes motion “subjective”.

*italic clause inserted since classical physics introduced absolute space to deal with this, but absolute space cannot be sensed. You might just as well stipulate “absolute color” to make color absolute, or stipulate that there was an absolute taste relative to which all differing tastes are measured.

Knowledge and algorithm

Our accounts of knowledge and truth have reasons to try to explain knowledge by logic, then logic by formal structures, then formal structures by algorithms and symbols. This is all fine, and it’s hard to see how any other approach to knowledge will be able to develop similar degrees of subtlety, precision, and progress. But one limitation of the method is that it cannot account for the difference between knowledge and prejudice, since it can give no account of insight.

Modern vs. Medieval

The Medievals did not succeed in giving a positive account of substantial differences and so made them unknown. But then did they seriously consider the possibilities of what substance could be? This now-unknowable foundation of things could could be a subsistent idea of God’s mind (Berkeley), an unknowable substratum that is molded into human categories (Kant) a sui-generis monadic entity (Leibniz); it could be a fundamentally living thing (hylozoism), or a thing not merely alive but even conscious (panpsychism); it might be purely mathematical (Galileo, Tegmark, Jeans), or a subjective projection of psychic forces, a computer program/heat engine/clockwork/Turing machine/information etc.

Death and meaning

Heidegger is the most well-known name to insist that meaning in life relates essentially to death, but Borges insists on it too, as does a subset of Contemporary philosophers. Nussbaum argues for an equivalent point in her interpretation of why Odysseus leaves the isle of Calypso – immortality destroys striving, and there can be no meaning without striving. In our own time it might be easier to get the point through an examination of eros – we can’t help seeing our sexuality as inseparable from our existence as persons, but (regardless of the silly things we say about it) the energy behind the desire for copulation is the desire to leave some part of ourselves in the world and so to escape death. An immortal life would thus be a sexless one, but the idea of living without our sexuality is all but unintelligible to us. The same is true of authorship or writing – it becomes clearer as you get older that a crucial part of the activity is to leave something of your mind after you’ve gone – so why write or even produce anything without the threat of death?

But to make death a condition for excellence doesn’t make death good. After all the arguments above have been given they all seem too clever by half – we still find it impossible not to flee from death and find it repugnant. Sure, any meaning might have death as a condition, but it obviously has a desire to live as an equally strong condition. Suicides live toward death more emphatically than any of us, but they are not the ones to look to for accounts of life’s meaning.

It’s in the way that life and death are so implicated in one another that I feel the strongest sense of the fall of man. I can imagine myself without lust and death, but the fall wounded us more deeply than this. Death became implicated in the very meaning of our lives. We could tolerate the idea that we have to endure suffering, but it is intolerable that we’re codependent on it; that our lives become meaningless and unintelligible without it.

I’ve wondered in the past about the Ascension of Christ. My thoughts were skeptical and cynical: ” Oh, how convenient  that you conquer death, rise again to live forever, but just happen to have to go away!” But the whole basis of this thought is intolerably shallow. A resurrected life couldn’t make any sense in the world we find ourselves in. It was a miracle that he managed to stay among us as long as he did. The resurrected Christ gave an (unrecorded) sermon about how Scripture pointed to his death, but he gave no sermons on the resurrected life. What could he say? Our sense of meaning is too implicated in death for his words to tell us anything. We could have kept him around only as a caged animal on display, and even then people wouldn’t know quite what to make of him. Many people wouldn’t recognize him (like his own friends didn’t) while others would be falling down in adoration.

Ex nihilo

Fr. Kimel quotes Thomas Jay Oord as representative of a current in Contemporary theology:

The Bible does not affirm creatio ex nihilo. Instead biblical authors consistently say that God creates out of something. When exploring options for how Christians might best think about God as creator, it’s difficult to overemphasize this biblical point: According to Scripture, God creates from something.

Biblical writers offer various descriptions of the “something” out of which God creates. In Genesis, the Spirit works with tohu wabohu (formless void), or what is often translated “primordial chaos” or “shapeless mass” (1:2). God creatively transforms chaos and shapelessness into something new: the heavens and the earth (1:1). God creates out of something, even if the “something” is initially vague, disordered, or messy.

Genesis also speaks of the tehom, the “face of the deep,” over which God hovers when creating (1:2). The “deep” is a something, not literally nothing. Many biblical scholars believe tehom signifies the presence of primeval waters as God creates the heavens and the earth. The New Testament’s most explicit theory of initial creation, 2 Peter 3:5, supports this view: “Long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water.” Water, of course, is something not nothing. … In sum, we search Scripture in vain for passages supporting creatio ex nihilo. Biblical writers say that God initially (and continually) creates from something.

Two claims:

1.) The Bible gives no support for Creation from nothing

2.) The Bible supports creation from something.

I think both fail.

Oord speaks as though Genesis said “in the beginning there was a formless void, and God created the heaven and earth from it”. But the text clearly doesn’t say that. God creates heaven and earth (presumably, all there is) and within this there is a void or deep. I think Oord is right to see Genesis as asserting that the void is non-created or somehow “just there” (more on that in my conclusion) but he is wrong to take it as some sort of material that God initially worked with. If one takes “heaven and earth” as being everything (and what else is there?) then Scripture gives no indication there was any matter from which they were made, and this is exactly what creation ex nihilo means.

Just to stress the point: God doesn’t make things out of water as a material (except for the sea, but more on that in a moment). He doesn’t pick up a lump of watery chaos and then roll it between his palms to make a snake, or scatter the water into the sky to make stars.

But then what do we say about the sea which is separated from the land, or the waters of heaven and the waters of the earth? These are described as separated, which seems to imply that the waters, at least, are a sort of matter God worked with in forming things. An initial response is just the one given in the first paragraph: God works with them only after creating heaven and earth. But a deeper response has to identify the mythic role that the waters are playing in this account. Specifically, I think Oord thinks this passage is talking about material when in fact it is speaking about privation and a failure to exist.

The Genesis account makes the analogy of light : darkness :: earth : waters by separating each from the other. Following Augustine, we note  that God does not call the darkness good or bless it, which indicates that the light and darkness in question are metaphors for moral and ontological goodness, like privation and existence, evil and good. But doesn’t this sort of analysis break down in the opposition between earth and sea? After all, the sea brings forth life, just as the earth does, and it seems to be called “good” for doing so. But this proves false on a closer reading, for two reasons (1) when God commands the earth to bring forth, it brings forth life of itself, but when he commands the sea to bring forth, God himself creates (cf. Genesis 1: 11 with 1:21) the implication is that the earth will bring forth good things from a goodness it has of its own while the sea will only bring forth good by someone acting against what the sea is of itself. Furthermore, (2) when God blesses the earth he blesses it, but when he has the sea bring forth animals he blesses them. And so both the light/darkness and land/ sea parallels are in fact ways of speaking about moral and ontological categories: the first divides the blessed from the cursed, the second shows that God imposes an order on evil and goodness such that the former will always end up giving rise to the latter. Evil (and indeed, any failure to exist) is not just divided from goodness, but forced to be an instrument for bringing it forth.

In other words, I’d level three objections to Oord’s claim: (1) his argument arises as though from a text that says “in the beginning, there was the waters”; (2) it fails to see the significance of God not using the water or chaos as a material, which is a support for the idea of creation ex nihilo; and, (3) by seeing chaos as somehow material, one can’t do justice to the ways in which Genesis uses darkness and water to speak of moral and ontological categories. Water isn’t material: it’s the privation and the failure to exist that is a necessary consequence of giving rise to something other than God – and this is why Scripture seems to speak of them as uncreated. In fact, a further analysis of the use of “the waters” in Scripture and the Church will point to it as a symbol of the death that life in Christ arises from.

Some might point to 2 Peter 3 as a text that speaks of water as a material, “Long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water [LXX “ek”] and by [dia] water.” but it’s clear from the above that a material account of “out of” is not necessary. “Out of” does not need to indicate a material cause, and might even indicate the opposite of one. “A man being out of prison” does not indicate the prison entering into some man’s being, but his separation and division from it; and making “through” or “by” water is perfectly consistent with the account we gave above of evil being a sort of instrument by which God brings forth good. Further, this interpretation is more consistent with the text of 2 Peter, since the author immediately proceeds to say that these waters overwhelmed and destroyed the earth in the flood.

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