Transcendence as opposed to interaction

Both mind and body and God and his creation share a single action: the first makes a human with human acts and the second is either the creature or act of creation. Both are communicated acts.

Natural things have communicated acts too, but the difference is that (so far as they are agents and patients) they form a single system by way of interaction.  This interaction is peculiar to the natural and can be used to define it.

The mind-body or God-world communication of act is not by interaction but by way of transcendence, in the way a friendship of virtue transcends the friendship of pleasure. Just as friendships of virtue incorporate pleasure while still being distinct from the friendship of pleasure, both soul and God incorporate body and the creature into their action while being distinct from them.

While we often stress the separate character of God and mind when we stress their spirituality as opposed to the physical, this separation is such that elevates and incorporates the lower into itself. The friendship of virtue is more pleasant than the friendship of pleasure, and so the separation of God from the physical makes him more physical than the physical – the physical is that which is present in space but God is present entirely at every point in space by the entirety of his essence and power while no physical thing can be. Again, God, in being eternal, is more temporal than any temporal thing since the entirety of past fixedness, present existence, and future possibility are entirely present in him “at once”; though they clearly cannot be to any merely temporal thing.

Notice that, on this account, the Incarnation is a break with the “God of the philosophers” only by being a limit case of that same God. By reason, we see that the transcendence of God consists in a separation that ennobles that which is inferior to it. The Incarnation is clearly the ne plus ultra of such a state of affairs.




  1. Paulo said,

    June 11, 2014 at 8:44 pm

    Dr. Chastek,

    Bit unrelated, but I was hoping you could help me make some progress with regards to a concept that seems straightforward in some ways, yet difficult to grasp in others, especially as it pertains to the world as a whole. I’m speaking of the concept of order. You see, I’m working on developing an argument for the existence of God based primarily on the following pasasge by Minucius Felix (218-315AD):

    “If upon entering some home you saw that everything there was well-tended, neat and decorative, you would believe that some master was in charge of it, and that he was himself much superior to those good things. So too in the home of this world, when you see providence, order, and law in the heavens and on earth, believe that there is a Lord and author of the universe, more beautiful than the stars themselves and…the whole world.” – Minucius Felix

    I take the argument to proceed from the order and regularity of the world. By “regularity” I mean precisely what Aquinas would understand by the term, and so I will be drawing heavily from him. As far as “order” goes, however, I take Minucius to refer to the arrangement of things, and the unity the world exhibits in all its multiplicity. I feel that I can adequately explain what is meant by “regularity”, but I’m having a really difficult time explaining the concept of order in a way that will be generally appreciated. I take the order of the world to be expressed in the arrangement and interrelatedness of things, as they cooperate, each according to their nature, to bring about some end beyond themselves. In other words, the multiplicity of things in the world work together in such a way as to reflect a certain unity, call it a principle, or whatever. Would you agree with this? If not, just how would you describe what is meant by the concept of “order” as it applies to the universe?

    • June 11, 2014 at 11:29 pm

      “Order” in the simplest sense is providing for the needs of things. In this context, it means creating ecosystems, used in a broad sense to include, say, the sun, the tides, etc and so to include in some way the whole universe. Felix could see that he could explain chickens by natural causes (roosters and eggs); and he could explain worms by natural causes (asexual reproduction, spontaneous generation, whatever); but what accounted for the fact that the worms were there for the chicken to eat? Something had to arrange this system of natural things and provide for things, and so there is an order of providence over the natural things of the world.

      This naive sense of God as arranger-of-ecosystems died with Darwin. Earthworms didn’t have to be put there to provide for chickens, and in this sense the co=operation of things is not something one invokes providence to explain. A random mutation allowed some animal to exploit earthworms as an energy source and thereby survive. The order between things – the ‘home of the world” in the quotation – is not providential but adaptive.

      This kills off a real inference from order, and perhaps the easiest one to understand, but never one given by St. Thomas or Aristotle. First, there are other similar arguments comparing the world to a well-ordered domain. Your quotation is similar to Aristotle’s cave analogy from his On philosophy which Cicero quotes at length in in De natura deorum.

      Aristotle’s best account of nature in his account of teleology in Physics II is that it is an art inside of things, like a doctor healing himself or a barber shaving himself (St. Thoams says this outright in his commentary, cf. II Physics, lect. 14). Nature is thus a sort of skill or intelligence in things and given to things, and this is a deeper sense of seeing order in nature. Nature is itself a source of order, that is, of a structured and intelligible development that executes things according to an intelligible plan. Seen from this angle, the intelligiblity of the universe presupposes that it is ordered.

      A more radical claim is that order is intelligible arrangement, and the whole universe has such an arrangement. If we want to explain any outcome or result, we either have to say either that it was intended, that is, given in some way from the beginning (whether contingently or necessarily) or that it was not, but that the result was in no way given in advance. But this second option makes the result ipso facto completely unpredicable. All we can do is wait for it to happen. There are things in nature like this, to be sure, but many things are not like this – certainly nothing described by physical law. Even chance is not like this taken over multiple repetitions. Patterns emerge to make things intelligible. So since we have to choose between chance and intelligence, but chance cannot explain how anything could have order in the sense of intelligibility, it must reduce to some sort of intentional arrangement.

      Another option is to point to the transcendental unity of being and goodness. To be at all is to be something that a potency strove for as somehow desirable, and so to be the ordering principle for something.

      The way on which the whole universe works together is very different for any of us than it would have been for others: no neat division between the earthy and celestial, no clear teleological relations between, say, galaxy X and any significant event on earth. But nature still has clear goals: selection seems to have a structural goal of increasing the number of species that will have existed over the whole of time (not at any one time), and there are very good – to my mind definitive – arguments to show the order of the inanimate to the animate.

  2. Paulo said,

    June 12, 2014 at 12:11 am

    Thank you, Dr. Chastek, this is quite helpful and challenging. I should probably strive to consider the different senses in which order may be used with respect to the universe, instead of laboring to produce one neat and tidy definition. I take your point with respect to the sort of arrangement Minucius Felix had in mind (shame, I was quite enamored with that passage!) but, if I understand you correctly, you concede that there are *some* lines of argument from seeing the world as a well-ordered domain which are cogent for the purposes of natural theology (take Aristotle’s cave allegory, for example)? I do accept the Aristotelian-Thomistic account of teleology (finality), though I take such a feature to place a greater focus on “regularity” than “order”.

  3. Paulo said,

    June 14, 2014 at 6:41 pm

    Dr. Chastek,

    You’ve made the point that order, when understood as mere “arrangement” and “complexity”, can be explained in Darwinian terms, and therefore this naive sense of order should be understood as adaptive, and not providential. But this seems to me to be premature, since the evolutionary process itself *presupposes* an underlying order in the laws of nature. That is to say, it presupposes a greater level of order. So this naive sense of “order” could still be understood as both providential, and as a basis (albeit not the strongest basis) for a design argument. What say you?

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