The primacy of the immanent to the transitive

Naturalism believes that immanent acts like knowledge or consciousness bottom out causally in the sort of transitive acts describes and measured by physics. In fact, all things have their foundation in these transitive actions or the substances that act in these ways. So the order of transitive action is prior to immanent action not just in some way or another but fundamentally and absolutely.

At Met. 9.1048b 20 Aristotle argues this is impossible, since transitive action has a good and telos only in virtue of something extrinsic to the motion or action (e.g. the good of the arrow is hitting the target, the good of racing is the prize) while immanent action has good intrinsically and as such (the goal of knowing is to know, of living is to live.) This is why, as Aristotle will explain at b30, energia divides into kinesis (motion) and energia (immanence) not because it energia is its own species but because immanence is energia simpliciter. The Naturalist primacy of kinesis – of “physics” to “consciousness” in such a matter as to deny supernatural consciousness – conflates the simpliciter and secundum quid. Approached from another angle, making the transitive the foundation for the immanent is to make potential or imperfection the ontological foundation for act even while potential is only intelligible from presupposed act.

All physics from Aristotle till now rests finite actions on infinite ones. In our own time, this axiom is fleshed out in the reduction of motions to conserved quantities. Aristotle simply takes the axiom to its conclusion by noticing that even infinite kinesis is still finite qua motion so far as motion is unintelligible except from the term of motion or at least from something that would serve as a term. Even local motion is to another place, regardless of whether the motion ceases at that place or not. The motion has its definition from something extrinsic to the motion and outside of it in a way that immanent activity does not.

It should go without saying that not every consciousness is prior in time or prior in every causal sense to every transitive action. There is a clear sense in which consciousness arose in history from physical forces. But this is again another consideration secundum quid that leaves the absolute question of the order between the transitive and immanent untouched, which is only coherently resolved in some sort of cosmological argument.

The more perfect pre-existence in causes

One of the key causal principles in natural theology is that forms exist in a more noble way in their causes than in effects, which itself arises from the claim that forms of effects pre-exist in causes. Anthony Kenny objects:

The principle that only what is actually F will make something else become F does not seem universally true: a kingmaker need not himself be king, and it is not dead men who commit murders.

The objection belies its own conclusion. Murders (the effect and act) are caused by murderers (the cause and agent) and give rise to dead men (the effect.*) The act must pre-exist in the cause as specifying his action since otherwise he would kill accidentally and so not be a murderer at all, and the act of murder is more perfectly in the one who murders than one who is killed. If you could display the entirety of the cause – not just in its visible but its unobservable intentional states – you would have a better and clearer idea of a murder than if you displayed all the same features of the man who is killed. All this is true mutatis mutandis of kingmakers though the example also proves another point: kingmaking is influence with respect to an appointment, and is clearly seen as strongest in whoever influences the appointment to his own ends.

If effects are not in causes then the outcome arises accidentally, i.e. the cause is not even a cause except per accidens; and the form educed is more perfectly in the cause than in the effect since causes as such are taken as having some form in themselves and simply while effects have it by another and only with some qualification, and to have some specifying form of oneself and simplicter is to have it more perfectly than to have it by another and secundum quid.

Most of the qualifications one has to make are clarifications aimed sloppy thought. We can clarify that the axiom is speaking about causes as causes and not in some other way, i.e. man can generate a man but it does not follow that a father is more perfectly human than a son but only that to have some species in se (as ever cause does) is to have it more perfectly than to have it by another (as every effect does.) Likewise we have to specify that we are speaking not of instrumental or secondary causes but of principal ones.

Murders give rise to dead men necessarily but derivatively, i.e. the men are dead because they are murdered. Were they dead for some other reason then, of course, no murder would have been committed.

Two senses of 1 Tim 2: 4 (2)

Another non-universalist reading of 1 tim 2:4 traces back to John Damascene who divided the antecedent from consequent will. This corresponds to the two things we might mean by we want all students to get passing grades, sc.

(a) therefore we will forbid teachers from giving Fs.

(b) therefore we will provide tutoring.

(a) rules out all circumstances that would make failure possible while (b) does not. So far as Hell is a failure, this is true mutatis mutandis of 1 Tim. 2:4.

The two senses of 1 Tim. 2 :4

The paradigm universalist text is I Tim. 2:4 God wills all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. DB Hart makes it the title of his defense of universalism, and in a book length attack of universalism Lawrence Farley claims that to all appearances the text supports universalism even if biblical teaching as a whole does not. We’ve known since St. Augustine, however, that the text can be read in two ways, which correspond to the two ways you can take a statement like Lisa sold all the candy at the store, i.e.

(a) there is no candy left at the store and /or

(b) Only Lisa sold candy (no matter how much was sold.)

The universalist needs Paul to be saying that God saves all men in sense (a) whereas non-universalists deny this. On an (a) reading, Paul is claiming that none will not be saved while on a (b) reading he is saying that God alone saves. Can the context decide the question? I’ll include everything connected to v. 4 as either cause or effect:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

I Tim 2 : 1-7

So Paul is seeking to live in peace and so he asks prayer be made for all persons and especially for those in authority. Such prayer pleases God since God wills all men to be saved. Read as (b), Paul’s point is that when we pray for peace we pray to God who alone sanctifies. The reading (a) means that Paul thinks that the reason we should pray for peace is that all persons will eventually be saved irrespective of how they live out their days. The (b) reading has the straightforward meaning that perfect peace between two persons comes when both are sanctified and God alone sanctifies while the (a) reading is harder to discern: why would an intercessory prayer to live at peace be motivated by the salvation of all at the end of time? Perhaps the sense would be “Pray for everyone now because you’ll be with everyone later in heaven” but this makes for a jarring return in v. 5 which does not occur in the (b) reading. On the (b) reading Paul can be taken as clarifying (4) by (5), sc. that Christ is the sole mediator (5) for the God who alone saves (4), whereas the (a) reading is saying that God will save everyone at the end of time (4) because Christ is the sole mediator (5). I don’t know that v. 6 helps either the (a) or (b) reading since it just seems to be a statement of universal atonement, which might do some work as a critique of Calvinism but doesn’t do much work in deciding the disagreements between universalists and non-universalists. Most of the theologians I read, for example, are neither universalist or Calvinist. If we set aside the atonement question (6) suggests the (b) reading so far as it clarifies that Paul is making a point about God’s sanctifying power at work now and not as it will manifest itself eschatologically at the close of the age with the salvation of all.

There is the additional problem of the collective and distributive senses of all, sc. that by “all men” Paul can mean (i) all individuals without exception or (ii) all groups without exception. Those who believe (i) will a fortiori believe (ii), but those who believe (ii) will not necessarily believe (i). But v. 7 gives some evidence for the (ii) reading so far as Paul identifies himself as one who is preaching to a group and, moreover, to a group which together with Paul’s own group of the Jews constitutes all groups without exception. So while this itself wouldn’t rule out a (i) reading it also does not entail it, and if this is the best one can say about the best case text for universalism then universalism has some textual problems.

Possible Worlds theism vs. classical theism

Axiom: God the creator is the first cause of creation and in no way a secondary cause. This is common to rationalist and analytic theologians like Leibniz or William Lane Craig and to Classical theists like Thomas. It follows from this that divine wisdom is antecedently causal of created goodness, and so at least one strand of rationalist and analytic theology is absurd. Here’s my argument for that conditional, and clarification about the strand I’m thinking of:

An antecedent cause does not take an alternative as good but makes it good. This is simply what antecedent causality (or just causality) means. God does all things in wisdom, and all wisdom is objective, but divine wisdom differs from ours in its stance to its object. A wise man is not wise qua man but as caused to be such by his habitual possession of certain objects of thought and choice. God too is wise by the same objective possession, but the causal arrow runs from him to the object and not the reverse. Approached from another direction, while good is the intrinsic feature of an object as perfective of an appetite, created things only have such a feature given the causal priority of divine goodness since (a) God loves things other than himself for the sake of his goodness and (b) the object perfective of the created will simpliciter is God himself while all else is good so far as one specifies that he is talking about the desire of will under some limitation or qualification (like ignorance or desiring warmth.)

So while God certainly created and it was fitting that he did, under the supposition he did not create it would be just as fitting that he not do so. Said another way, the fittingness of creation cannot prescind from its existence. As Thomas puts it in De potentia Q. 1 a. 5 ad 7, if God had done something other than what was right (or fitting) then by his very act of doing it, it would be right and fitting (cf. also ST 1.25.5 esp. ad. 2 or II SCG XXIII-XXVII)

If we begin with the actual existence or motion or causality etc of the universe we can conclude to the necessity of God and proceed to determine his attributes, but if we prescind from the actual existence of the universe and try to adopt a stace where the existence and non-existence of the universe are equipossible or features of different possible worlds we are compelled to say that there is absolutely no reason at all for one state of affairs over another, even given the existence of God. Note the crucial distinction between Thomistic theology starting from the contingency or possibility of the world given its actual existence and the rationalist/analytic theology that seeks to start from the possibility of the world as such, whether by way of a possible worlds ontological argument or a criticism of divine simplicity from a divine free choice among different possible worlds. In the first, God and his action are a real and necessary explanans of given explananda, in the second he is no longer an explanans of anything since there is absolutely no reason at all for him to choose one state of affairs over another. Positing God before two possible worlds is positing Buridan’s ass in excelsis between two bales of hay.

There are times in Classical theology when we posit God as acting “by simple will.” Creation would be such a case, as would the decision to predestine this man. The difference is that if we make the divine will antecedent to the possibilities then his choice is both truly good and truly wise for reasons laid out in ¶2 whereas if we make his choice consequent to given possibilities it is necessarily arbitrary or even irrational. This is why I say that such a theology must be of something fundamentally absurd or irrational.

The Novus Ordo’s explanation of itself

Liturgical debates are passionate even though (or perhaps because) they are fought in an aesthetic mode. The arguments, in other words, rarely have the rigor we’d expect even of Star Trek enthusiasts ranking different series but there is clearly a greater good at stake in liturgical differences. Liturgical discussions invariably begin with some attempt to diffuse emotional responses, and where they don’t lean heavily on aesthetic experience and caricature they give dubious historical arguments, whether it be for Second Century versus populum liturgies with no known rubrics or post hoc arguments about causal connections between liturgical change and declining Mass attendance in North Atlantic countries (but not Africa or the global south.)

One place to start making a more informed debate on both sides is to answer basic questions about the Novus Ordo that from the official text of instruction with commentary for the Mass itself. The questions I have in mind are the end-of-the-chapter textbook-style questions we should all be familiar with, and which call for mostly just cut and pasting answers from the text, like

1.) How does the Novus Ordo explain the importance and dignity of the Mass and what conclusions about reforms were drawn from this definition?

2.) Name three ways in which the Novus Ordo claims to reform and improve the Mass.

3.) What does “Pastoral Liturgy” mean and what is its significance to the new order of the Mass?

Poor in spirit

If Hell exists God is no less glorified by my dwelling with him than by my eternal loss, and the saints will not utter one less hallelujah at my loss than at my salvation. In the face of God and his saints I have strong desires (and first of all when I see them as the only alternative to hellfire) but I can’t threaten them with any loss if my desires aren’t met. This is the eschatological sense of being poor in spirit.

But not quite. All are in fact poor in spirit in this way, but the sense of the beatitude requires knowing this in lived experience and peace of soul. My poverty must be lived out in the face of God with the knowledge that I have no leverage against him nor can I relate to his benefits in the impersonal manner that is sometimes possible for acts of justice, like buying from vendors or reading out the words of a contract. I can’t make demands of God even when these are the sorts of demands that subjects make of sovereigns by appeals to his interest or his obligations to his laws. God must be loved as a friend.

Two faiths and philosophy

1.) Faith is trust in the knowledge of another: getting instructions, directions, having something explained, looking up an answer.

1b.) So defined, anyone who learns needs faith and all of us know by learning both individually and socially.

2.) Who has faith is not in a position to know the whole of what he wants to know. Many things are stipulated, postulated, or made with an agreement to bracket or table their difficult or controversial elements.

3.) Where faith is a significant part of a discourse, we cannot know how that discourse will turn out in controversial points. In science this means, as Eddington put it, we’re working on a puzzle where the boat we are trying to flesh out turns into a shoe, and when we flesh out the shoe it turns out to be an umbrella, ad infinitum.

4.) The scientific community differs from the philosophical community in the former making faith a significant part of its discourse. Scientists are content to trust that someone else did the experiment, they’re happy to bracket difficult or controversial questions for the sake of getting on with work, they’re happy to “shut up and calculate” (i.e. to ignore what things are and focus on other things.) and they’re happy to not revisit the basis of their belief so long as the beliefs still work (atomic theory, evolution, kinetic theory of matter, etc.) In science argumentation about controversies is an armchair activity one does when he’s not working, in philosophy it is the work. Philosophers won’t just trust you that the argument works out: they need to see it for themselves; they won’t take the foundation of the system for granted but dig it up and look at it every time they talk about it. Because of this it is relatively harder to build or maintain a philosophical community without some sort of extrinsic authority, and because of this philosophical progress is much slower and achieves consensus with much more difficulty.

5.) What I here call science and philosophy is probably closer, respectively, to science and wisdom, or perhaps art and science in Aristotle’s sense.

6.) The role of faith in science contrasts well to the role of faith in theology or the Christian religion. Both are univocally faith in (1) but they have to split over the role of (3) so far as faith in theology has to have the character of an Aristotelian science or episteme, or body of systematic belief about some subject matter that is not open to revision. What we now call science can’t rule out the possibility of refuting evidence since its faith is in a fallible corporate knowledge base. The knowledge base of Christian religion is not fallible and can’t be treated as such: to believe in it at all is to take its principles and their necessary inferences as irreformable and known ab initio. There can be nothing in what we now call science that corresponds to Christianities “Consensus of the Fathers,” and if anything our science repudiates the idea that would be analogous in it.

7.) But Christianity is not just faith in the sense of (1) but in the sense of mystery and openness to the Holy Spirit. This allows for a development and progressivism too, but it is not the progressivism of science described in (3.)

Divine freedom

A: If God is free he must be contingent.

B: Why?

A: That’s just what free means – the ability to act or not act.

B: So we have to consider a free agent as indifferent to his action?

A: Right.

B: So then God needs advice or counsel or some sort of reasoning to figure out what to do?

A: That seems wrong. God doesn’t need to figure things out. He certainly doesn’t need anyone’s help.

B: So where is the indifference of his will coming from?

A: Maybe to know all options isn’t of itself to will them.

B: By “options” you mean something that the mind is indifferent to?

A: Right.

B: But we just said that the divine mind isn’t indifferent to things. So it can’t have “options” as you’re defining them.

A: No, I said that for the mind to know what it will do is not to will it. But then again, I don’t think that God would know what he will do and then still be indifferent about doing it. So I guess I’m abandoning that idea.

B: But we don’t want to make God’s perfect knowledge a principle for railroading his will or making it forced or automatic.

A: Why not?

B: For a will to follow reason is always voluntary and never violent.

A: That’s my experience. Nothing is more voluntary then a clear vision of exactly what you should do along with the energy to will it.

B: But even if God’s will is voluntary, how is it free? If the world is, in the last analysis, what God will choose, then even if it comes about voluntarily it can’t fail to be. So the world is necessary.

A: Assume that God willed X, but X God could achieve X equally well by making a world or not making it, like a pianist who could play what he wants just as well on this piano or that one. This would be an indifference of a sort, but not an indifference of ignorance.

B: So you’re saying there’s no reason for God to make the world as opposed to not making it?

A: If by “reason” you mean “a good that God would lack by not creating” then yes, since God is an infinite good whether the universe exists or not.

B: I suppose that the created world can have no good it can hold God hostage with, nor is our love of him based on the good he needs us for.

A: Something about all this is frightening.

B: We’re definitely more comfortable with a love that is backed up by need, like our love of food. This makes divine love seem unreliable if he could just as easily be happy with us as without us. It’s hard for us to imagine someone loving us if they wouldn’t lose something by losing us. But now we’ve shifted from freedom to love.


1.) Sacrifice is every work which is done in order that we might unite to God in a holy common purpose, namely relating to that end (finem boni) in whom we can be truly blessed.

uerum sacrificium est omne opus, quo agitur, ut sancta societate inhaereamus Deo, relatum scilicet ad illum finem boni, quo ueraciter beati esse possimus.

City of God Bk. X c. 6

2.) The violence of sacrifice has a tendency to dominate its meaning, either the spilling blood of animals or the pain of self-denial, but what was formal to the offering of the animal was a public act pleasing to God.

3.) Sacrifice begins with Cain and Abel, the first who offered what was pleasing and the second who did not. It’s clear from Cain’s story that the reason his was not accepted is that his sins were contrary to what is formal to the sacrifice. Cain offered with the sort of heart that was willing to lie to his brother and murder him if he didn’t get what he wanted. The point of the story is not that God prefers lamb to vegetables, although the frequency with which students tend to draw that conclusion illustrates the difficulty we all have in seeing what is formal to sacrifice.

3.) Sacrifice and sanctification are more or less identical words in different modes, and both cause each other in different ways. One is sanctified to offer sacrifice (cf. Ex. 40 :13; Lev. 21 : 8 and 23; 1 Sa 16:5) and the fruit of sacrifice is the sanctification of both man and society by its ordering to the removal of sin, which in turn is ordered to more sacrifice. Once sanctification begins, it leads of itself to sacrifice, increased sanctification, increased sanctification, etc until death.

4.) The paradigm of sacrifice is the Mass, by which the whole mystical body publically unites itself to God in a holy common purpose together with that good without which man cannot be blessed. All else is sacrificial by participation. I take the distinction between Mass and Calvary as modal.

5.) The active participation of the laity is the exercise of their common priesthood by an interior union to the Mass. The clerical priesthood transcends the common priesthood while still containing the common demand that one offer all his life in participation with the act of Calvary and the Mass.

« Older entries