The bad news of the Gospel

The bad news of the Gospel is that Christ will not rule on earth now or ever. Christ’s rule will occur only after the final judgment; and so the kingdom of righteousness, ruled by the saints and with justice for all, is put off indefinitely. No matter what we do, we’ll all die before we see it.

This bad news is so awful that the Apostle’s hadn’t learned to accept it even after they came to accept the Resurrection. Literally, the last thing the Apostles ask Christ before the ascension is when he will return to set up his Messianic kingdom in Israel. One wonders if the correct answer to the question would have sent some of the Apostles running, since Christ would have had to say that he would not return for over twenty centuries, that Israel would continue under Roman domination for as long as Rome existed, that the last tribes would be scattered and see Jerusalem left in ruins, and that their descendants would see the temple of an alien religion standing on the temple mount for over a thousand years.

And if Israel will not be ruled by God or escape from the yolk of its oppressors, a fortiori no other nation will be. This bites particularly hard when I consider how much of religious faith is bound up with the desire for political justice: those on the American Right pray for the success of life-issues or relief from the narrative imposed on them by the popular media; those on the Left pray for relief from economic oppression and from the narrative imposed on them by wealthy businessmen and corporate interests, but this is, in the end exactly what the Psalmists and prophets have anticipated and prayed for from time out of mind. And this is what will continue.

This state of affair, furthermore, reverberates outside purely political realities. The unjust draw to themselves the cream of the civilization: the poets and artists all praise them and depict the world as those in power see it; the brightest intellects, the ones who can tie their opponents in knots and dice up their arguments beyond all hope of plausibility, are also drawn to doing the same thing. The Church us sentenced not just to be weak, but to seem weird, intellectually disreputable, based on the crudest sophistry, and loved only by unsophisticated, unattractive half-wits.

It is not clear exactly how we are supposed to respond to this, though doing nothing and/or fleeing from the problem are not presented as possible options. In the face of the sort of injustice, it’s natural to burn with anger, and so to see violence as a remedy. Christianity however, while not ruling out violence altogether, has thoroughly problemitized it as an acceptable response. After all, the patient, non-violent acceptance of gross injustice is the defining act of Christianity and its professed basis of salvation. Thus, what we here call the bad news of the Gospel is inseparably fixed to the Good news as a means to its proper end. But why? Why choose this means?

Christianity seems to want to destroy injustice and suffering by redefining them though a subordination to other purposes. By making suffering and death the means of glorification, they are deprived of their ability to be tools of subjugation and alienation. God appeared to not be content to simply prohibit or wipe out the wicked, he appears to want to render their very existence vain and meaningless by vacating their activity of any final power.

Ancient and modern accounts of nature

Aristotle defined nature as a source of motion and change, and so divided it into two aspects: every X had a source by which it performed activities proper to itself, and by which it could change into something other than X. A cow had something in it that digested and mooed, but also something by which it could become burgers and baseball mitts. The first source of motion was taken on the side of form, the second on the side of matter. Subsequent philosophers (later called scientists) lost interest in the sort of change that matter explained, and decided instead to focus on the way in which one form interacted with another, for example, the way in which an animal exploited the energy in its environment, or the way a stone was affected by gravity.  This can be seen as a shift in interest away from nature as what is peculiar and proper towards what is total and interactive. This has always been the two senses of nature, and in either case nature remains the primary and per se source of motion and change.

First Way: objection and response

One objection to the First Way is that it only proves the existence of a being that is actual with respect to its causal series, and not something that is altogether without potency. Maybe the first mover has other potencies, just not ones actualized in whatever causal chain one chose to consider.

Feser response to this by reducing the causal series to its act of its existence, and so to a mover that has no potency to non-existence. The argument seems to work, though there are other options. Though we can’t know exactly what STA was targeting, we could read this as a summary of some of the basic scientific concepts, namely that natures are sources of motion which, being intrinsic to things, therefore move along with them. On this account, the proof must conclude to a moving actuality above some nature, and to make this actuality itself a nature would be an instance of exactly the sort of infinite regress that the proof rules out. So the First Way can be read as establishing that any natural motion is a participation in the action of a supernatural being. This seems to exceed the minimum requirements for what we call a god: it certainly is more exalted and more involved in the universe than Zeus.

Godding

-Before creation, a father, of himself, gives birth to a son. Ex patre natum ante omnia saecula. Moreover, the Father was not something before he was a Father.

Though it is certainly not the first reality we know, the Christian claim is that it is the first reality simply. What would an ontology look like that placed this reality first?

-This adds a dimension to the Greek account of birth. For Plato, birth was a substitute for immortality; for Aristotle it was the way in which a perishable reality took part in the eternal; but for both it was a testimony to division from eternal things.

-Overlooked in the ontology of act and potency is the fact that it leads to a doctrine of creation where the Creator is targeting activity: God wants virtue, and so creates human beings to perform it; he wants universing, and so makes a universe to perform it. But what is universing?

-The existence of God is necessary because godding is necessary. But what is godding? As Aristotle tells it, it is to be blessed and think about one’s own blessedness. As Nicea tells it, it is to give birth.

-At the upper limit of act and power, we find the identity of power and activity: it is not just that God’s essentia is his esse but – which is more startling – his power is his activity, or his can do is his doing. This does not mean that all that can be done is done, but that the source of activity does not find further development in a state different from itself. The reason for this identity is given from the point above: powers are divided from activities because the creator targets the latter and subordinately makes the former. But this sort of ontological division cannot exist in the creator himself – even if we posit birth within him.

-In God, activity and power are identical in being; in the angels, they are definitive; in men, they are vocational; in animals and plants, instinctual; in the inanimate, merely relative.

The Trinity understood through typical male-female corruptions

One way to understand the way in which God unifies the perfections of masculinity and femininity would be to look at the characteristic corruptions of the self in the different sexes. We appeal to the corruptions because they are more familiar and than the perfections they are perverting.

Masculinity corrupts the self by seeking to subordinate everything to itself: the male self is the one that seeks to be utterly set apart with all beneath him, gazing upward in admiration. There is, however, a contrary corruption of the self that is more typical of the feminine: namely to so identify with the expectations and beliefs of the group that any personal desire is altogether lost. One of the dark sides of the feminine traits we praise is that, when pushed to an extreme, they all lead to a dissolution of the self through an identity with others. Empathy with others carries to the extent of loss of the self; tenderness of affection leads to an ontological softness that blurs any distinction between self and other.

So what if we took these corruptions as desires for a sort of transcendent perfection that finite persons cannot attain? We would then see the unity of male and female as a reflection of a personal perfection which is simultaneously utterly separate and set apart, which each person totally distinct and set off by ordered divisions, while at the same time these persons would be utterly undifferentiated from each other in a unity where all distinctions of self were lost. On this account, the feminine would express the unity of nature in the Trinity and the masculine would capture the distinction of persons.

 

The invisibility of truth

The hermenutic is invisible because it is true: the 21st century exegete gets the same plain, literal sense of scripture when he applies historical insights and critical methods as the 5th century exegete  got when he applied Platonic metaphysics.

No, we think, we should say that the 5th century exegete thought he was getting the same thing that we think we are getting. But this is simply to lay claim to another invisible truth different from these two. We want to render both methods opaque and so in some sense false or at least suspect. We might even adopt skepticism as our invisible hermeneutic from which we see the relativity of all methods. In this sense, skepticism arises from the desire for absolute transcendence. It is the cheapest version of a method containing all methods; the simplest perspective on all perspectives, namely that the perspective on all perspective is itself a perspective. But if this is incoherent, what is the only truth left to us?

Form, Act, and the causality of the whole

-[W]hen any one of the parts or structures is under discussion, it must not be supposed that it is its material composition to which attention is being directed or which is the object of the discussion, but the relation of such part to the total form. Similarly, the true object of architecture is not bricks, mortar, or timber, but the house; and so the principal object of natural philosophy is not the material elements, but their composition, and the totality of the form, independently of which they have no existence.

Parts of Animals, Book 1 c. 5

-Formal causality in three words: wholes are causes. Since this involves the idea of the individual whole co-ordinating parts by a process of assembly, there is an implied teleology as well.

– It is nonsense to deny the scientific value of the idea: this was the guiding light of the solar-system model of the atom. More generally, it is equivalent to the desire to preserve existence. Even if one places this drive in the gene, the gene is still a composite of parts.

-Without allowing real causality to wholes, it becomes difficult to explain the stability of things. Stability becomes merely a logjam in the flux or a clog in the drainflow. But then these metaphors would need to be unpacked too: what is this bottleneck or sink-structure in nature, and doesn’t it appear to be a structured totality? It certainly counts as an immobile container of the spatio-temporal.

-Plato’s “theory of forms/ideas” lends itself to an imaginative account that amounts to parody: i.e. it becomes a theory of the gasseous, crystalline shapes of things. But it is more a theory that the reality that defines an X cannot be exhausted by any particular X, and so is at once present in it while not being limited to it. One can refine this idea by a doctrine of hylemorphism or a theory of positive natural law without changing the basic insight.

-STA: parts are in the material order, forms in the order of the whole. Consider how we might apply this sort of division as an account of prime matter. If parts are defined by wholes, prime matter is that which has no account whatsoever apart from the whole: i.e. it is a part which is in no way at all a whole. There is nothing within it that co-ordinates and draws together disparate realitites into itself; no idea that attracts parts into a stable structure. It has no hands to pull together things underneath it, only the pure openness to be drawn up into another.

On this account, prime matter means that there is an aspect of nature which is nothing but a pure being-lifted-up, nothing but a total elevation or offering of itself to that-which-is-higher. This thing at once is entirely separate from it, and yet makes it what it is, since it is entirely other from the thing while at the same time the entire definition of any thing is to be its likeness. This is one way to understand St. Albert’s fundamental preinciple in cosmological arguments: wherever things are composed, the elements are found simply; i.e. the composite character of nature testifies to its being a reflection of the divine face upon something which, unless it were a reflection, would be nothing at all.

-Two senses of “unless it reflected, it would be nothing at all” (1) creation and (2) the second Person of the Trinity. Without this division, we fall prey to an objection to the cosmological argument, which (put too briefly and roughly) would be something like:

The necessary being explains contingent being

Creation reduces creation to the decision to create

The decision to create is contingent.

Thus, God either creates of necessity or to posit a necessary being does not explain contingency.

But the objection can be taken as driving towards the fact that creation does not proceed from the necessary being in the same way as the Logos or Word of the necessary being proceeds. There are two senses of creation, one “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and the other “The Lord created me as the first of his works, before his works of old; I was set up from everlasting, from the beginning, or ever the earth was, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no watery depths, I was given birth (Proverbs 8:22-24)”

Premise for cosmological argument in all known Physics

The mobile is known/ is moved by the immobile. 

It was Aristotle’s idea, and it’s borne out in all subsequent physics: whether it is Aristotle’s terrestrial change explained by unchanging heavens made of different elements; Newtons mobile objects explained in relation to the unchanging backdrop of absolute space and time, or Einstein’s relating all things to the velocity of light, which of itself neither moves nor has temporal duration.  In a more general sense, all physics explains changeable things in relation to an unchangeable structure that at once transcends them and yet is entirely constitutive of them.

In fact, the perfection of physics seems to involve progressing towards something more and more immobile in its own nature: the heavenly bodies may have been thought incorruptible, but they still moved in a purely relative way; absolute space was immobile, but absolute time “flowed equably” in more or less the same way all time did; but light in its own nature and in its own reference frame has neither duration nor a spacial world in which it exists.

One difficulty in defining the physical is that it is essentially two-storied: there is the phenomenal, spatio-temporal component, and then another component that is divided from this and causative of it. There is an essential proportionality or analogy in nature which simultaneously mediates and illuminates the analogy of nature to the supernatural.

Trinitarian distinctions

1.) The division between the absolute and the relative.

2.) The distinction between the absolute and substance; that to speak of something absolutely is not the same as to speak of its substance. The first is opposed to relation; the second is opposed to accident.

3.) The ambivalence of the accident of relation: materially, it is opposed to substance as an accident; formally it is neither opposed nor identified. This is one reason why it is intelligible to consider the absolute as different from the substantial – because the not every way of considering a relation (which is opposed to the absolute) is an accident (which is opposed to substance)

4.) What is accidental in creatures is substantial in God.

5.) There are relations in God.

6.) From 3, we can understand these relations as substantial; given that the relations have divided terms, we must coin the word “consubstantial” or co-substantial.

7.) From 1 and 2, this consubstantiality does not effect what we say about God absolutely.

8.) God is thus one absolutely; consubstantial when considered substantially.

 

 

In irritation

This is someone trying to attain a goal that I would want them to have, but which would be better achieved by other means. 

« Older entries Newer entries »