Multilocation and presence

The bilocation – really multilocation – of some saints and the more frequent multilocation of Christ’s sacramental premise reveal how the elevation of grace elevates presence to another.

The mediation of Christ, supplemented by the action of his Mother and the intercession of the saints, each demand the whole presence of Christ, his mother, and all the saints at every part of the world. The clear analogy here is the life or soul of an organism that is wholly present in all parts in a matter that includes its ordering presence in the whole. As with the soul, Christ’s complete attention and substance is wholly present in all persons, but not to the exclusion of his presence to the whole mystical body, so that in his saving action toward us and in our prayer to him we not only relate to him person-to-person but also corporately, in a paradigmatic way through the liturgy but also in all communal prayer.

Multilocation is in keeping with the truth that actuality is by nature communicatio – a sharing or imparting or broadcasting. Things as actual are good, and so as they are more actual they are more common by superabounding the proper or particular good. The elevation by grace involves a certain divine decoupling from matter. Left at this it suggests a Neoplatonic half-truth, but the full truth is that the decoupling from matter is for the sake of a greater and more diffused presence to all things, including all things in the material cosmos. This would be obvious in the hypostatic union, but more in how the ascension of Christ is a separation done to facilitate greater presence: Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell among them (Ps. 68: 18) Christ ascends only that he might send the promise of my Father upon you… until ye be endued with power from on high (Lk. 24:49). This power is at the same time the Holy Spirit and the Church, revealing at its summit the physical presence of Christ himself.

Formal and material errors

Faith is reading the words of scripture as God’s own words, making it irrational for the faithful to take the words as errors. One simply has to decide whether he’s going to take some statement as divine or erroneous.

Error in general is any failure to hit a standard. Scripture however is a text, and so error is formally the author’s failure to compose the work he intended to write or tell the story he wanted to tell. This still allows failures relative to standards outside the author’s intention, which are errors materially. 

Take the account of the temptations in Matthew and Luke. Luke ends with the Jesus’s temptation to throw himself off the temple parapet, Matthew ends with the temptation to worship the devil. Relevant to the standard of chronological order there is obviously and error somewhere. For those of us reading the scripture with faith, it is therefore necessary to say that Matthew and/or Luke did not intend to hit the standard of chronological order in their narration of the temptations, making the error material and not formal.

Sometimes the division between formal and material error is no big deal, or even the most reasonable way to read a text. I tell my wife how my day went all the time in ways that sound chronological but are often less so, and since I’m not even trying for perfect chronological order the error is material-but-not-formal error exactly like the order of temptations. Said another way, I could easily judge that the temptations involve a material and not formal error even if I read the text with no faith, and this might even be the most reasonable reading. At other times it is only reasonable to judge an error as material and not formal because I am reading with faith. So whether Jesus’s paternal grandfather was Heli or Jacob, or whether the washing of the feet was on Saturday or Wednesday, or whether Judas hanged himself or fell headlong are the sorts of things where the presence or absence of faith changes whether it is reasonable to take the error as just material or also as formal. Certainly if Bart Ehrman takes these as formal errors he’s being reasonable, i.e. his conclusions follow reasonably from presuppositions widely accepted by smart and credentialed persons. That said, I deny he’s reasonable in the sense of participating in the highest good of reason.

We read the Bible as inerrant because we read it as the ultimate masterwork, but any masterwork is extraordinarily rare, and so if we start from the postulate that we should read the Bible like any other text it is irrational to read it as a masterwork. Reading the Bible as any other text is the same as to read it as randomly selected, and it is vanishingly implausible for a randomly selected text to be a masterwork (for that matter, it’s not even likely the title would be an English one, and there are waaay more English books than masterworks.) By anyone’s numbering of the great books the odds of blindly pointing at one in a list all titles is practically zero. That said, we usually don’t pick out titles like this, and as soon as we seek out a masterwork it is no longer reasonable to judge it has formal errors as quickly as we would make that judgment about a randomly selected text, and as soon as we believe the author of the masterwork is God, it is no longer reasonable to judge that an error in the text is formal at all.

Hermeneutics of faith

The foundational claim of modern biblical theology is that one has to read the bible like any other text, since

a.) Anything else is special pleading

b.) Truth comes only after one eliminates bias, and failure to read the bible like any other text is bias

c.) The bible can only be known by historical method, and historical method demands we read all texts in this manner.

Here’s a problematic parallel case, which I choose in part because it actually happened. About a year ago I found out that De falliciis went from being of doubtfully written by Thomas to being probably written by him. Before this proof the text held no interest to me, but now I read it very carefully, translated long sections, dug around in the secondary literature (Dominic of Flanders was of particular value) etc. So does this prove my reading of Thomas is hopelessly corrupt and unmethodical? After all, if we build Thomism on the same sturdy foundation as biblical studies then I should read Thomas like any other Medieval Aristotelian commentator, but the story makes it obvious that I don’t. This difference is particularly pronounced by the speed at which I move from spotting apparent inconsistencies to judging that they are actual consistencies. For Thomas, the process is extraordinarily slow and blocked by all sorts of very high criteria – for other authors the move from apparent to actual contradiction is practically immediate.

The truth is that a hermeneutic is proportioned to the faith we put in the author, and to do otherwise is irrational.

The experience of evil (2)

Again, evil is experienced as outside explanation, even given an account of how the evil came about. The distinctive manner in which one asks “why did this happen?” after a loved one dies is not asking for an autopsy report. Evil is outside the causal order, not in the sense that it has no antecedents or that nothing is responsible for it, but in the sense that it lacks order to a good, which alone gives a reason for why things happen. Causality just is being proportioned to or ordered to a good.

To be sure, judges and juries seeks to find the causes of evil in one sense and medical researchers seek them in another, but all such involve detachment from the experience of the evil, and would not even dream of giving satisfactory accounts of the experience one suffers as such.

This gives evil several peculiar features:

1.) Alienation from the normal course of life. Periods of mourning, intense sorrow, war, etc. are outside mundane experience. They break from the flow of life and surprise us even when the sorrow is somehow expected. Death after a long illness is not a moment in continuity with the sickness but a break from it, and the dropping of bombs on the city is not apiece with the growth of hostilities or the breakdown of peace talks. After committing an extraordinary evil it is difficult to see oneself as having done it.

2.) Repeated searches for explanation. We seek causes like we seek air, so evil is a sort of suffocation in which we continually try to breathe but are unable. To come up with one cause immediately opens up a new question, not in the sense of a progressive advance of understanding but a continual inability to attain it.

3.) It opens to both the transcendent good and evil. What cannot make sense within the mundane (cf. #1) lends itself to being taken as causing the mundane. Integrating evil into life is either experienced as insight into the absence of causal order at the bottom of things, or as not ultimate, but standing somehow beside normal experience and capable of integration into it only by a higher-order experience.

4.) As suffered, evil is a sort of question that each person must answer for himself. The openness of evil to both good and evil cannot be resolved by telling someone how to take it, except where our telling is subordinate to their search. Suffering gives a sort of authority to one suffering that can’t be contradicted by someone outside the experience. It should go without saying that this does not make every answer to the question true.

The experience of evil (1)

To explain any action is to relate it to a good, so to the degree that we are captivated by the evil all explanations recede from view. The experience of death, extraordinary cruelty or war are like this. Even where we give explanations they seem to belong in a different order from the experience. The clichéd “why?” or “how can this happen?” asked in the face of evil might start as a search for a reason, but it quickly becomes apparent that the explanations can’t explain. This is the domain of alogos, which can have no order to goodness in itself. Thomas gets a clear view on this when he rebukes a theodicy that imagines that it good for an evil to be done since providence orders it to goodness:

Some have said that although God does not will evil, yet He wills that evil should be or be done, because, although evil is not a good, yet it is good that evil should be or be done. This they said because things evil in themselves are ordered to some good end; and this order they thought was expressed in the words “that evil should be or be done.” This, however, is not correct; since evil is not of itself ordered to good, but accidentally. For it is beside the intention of the sinner, that any good should follow from his sin; as it was beside the intention of tyrants that the patience of the martyrs should shine forth from all their persecutions. It cannot therefore be said that such an ordering to good is implied in the statement that it is a good thing that evil should be or be done, since nothing is judged of by that which appertains to it accidentally, but by that which belongs to it essentially.

Eschatology and the Aevum

Even where the distinction between time and aeviternity is essential it is relatively undeveloped, leaving us with a tendency to tacitly temporalize everything. The problems that arise from this are particularly acute in eschatology.

Fallen angels and separated souls outside of beatitude exist in aeviternity (the blessed have a higher duration in participated eternity.) After the resurrection, the damned get a body proportioned to their soul and which thus continues to exist in the aevum and not in time.

Thomas’s account of the division between time and the aevum in the Sentences deserves a careful reading:

One actuality has potency under it but the act still completely fills out the potential, and such things are in the aevum. Another actuality has potential underneath it but the potency is mixed into it constituting an act that is complete [only] by a succession receiving additional perfections, and such things are in time.

Est alius actus cui substat potentia quaedam; sed tamen est actus completus acquisitus in potentia illa; et huic respondet aevum. Est autem alius cui substernitur potentia, et admiscetur sibi potentia ad actum completum secundum successionem, additionem perfectionis recipiens; et huic respondet tempus.

Scriptum super Sententiae Lib. 1 d. 19 q. 2 a. 1 

So temporal beings are divided from the aevum by successively receiving new perfections. Because of this, the more time we punish something for the greater the punishment. However we understand the severity of the punishment of the damned, it can’t be like this. There is an infinite punishment from the loss of the infinite good of beatitude, but not from continual deprivation through successive moments without end. The duration of the aevum is not measured by number, and so when we understand it in this way, as when David Bentley Hart wonders what the point would be in the 15 quintillionth year of infernal torment or when spiritual writers draw on examples of a bird brushing its wing on a mountain every year until the mountain is rubbed away, there is at least something off in the example, and perhaps even something grotesquely off. Words fail me in trying to make this precise, and this seems to be the common condition. We’ve got a lot of study left to do.

Though much of his point is tangential to what I’m discussing here, this passage from the conclusion of an article by David Bradshaw opens up other possibilities for an investigation into the eschatological consequences of a fuller understanding of the aevum:

This is a point of some importance for the perennial debate over universalism. The patristic authors who deal with Christ’s descent to Hades seem to take for granted that he preached only to those who were in Hades at the time (that is, upon his death in 33 A.D.). They do not address whether his audience might somehow include all in Hades, including those who died (or will die) long after the time of Christ. It might seem that simple chronology would rule this out. However, time itself is not a simple matter in patristic thought. Basil holds that, whereas earthly time is the interval “coextensive with the existence of the cosmos”, there exists also a kind of “hypertime” (ἡ υπέρχρονος) of the angels. He does not attempt to define its character precisely, except to note that it existed prior to the creation of the physical world. His brother Gregory of Nyssa takes this subject a bit further. He speculates that the angels are not subject to the loss of the past as we are, but instead live in a kind of “ever-present good” that is constantly growing through their own growth in goodness. For both authors, although the angels can enter into human time, they exist also in their own quasi-temporal order that is independent of and superior to our own. Similarly, nothing prevents Hades from having its own quasi-temporal order that is very different from ours. Precisely what it is like is unknown to us. As Creator, however, Christ could surely preach to all the dead from all times in a way that occurs, from an earthly standpoint, upon his death in 33 A.D.

A mistake about analogy

From David Bentley Hart’sThat All Shall be Saved: 

“The golden thread of analogy can stretch across as vast an apophatic abyss as the modal disjunction between infinite and finite or the ontological disproportion between absolute and contingent can open before us; but it cannot span a total antithesis”

The claim is, to use Hart’s own minor premise, that if something is antithetical to the notion of finite justice it must be antithetical to the notion of justice in God, and since any human being who sentenced someone to eternal torment would be monstrous, so too would be God. 

This isn’t how analogy works. A body is healthy and cabbage is healthy, and it is antithetical to the health of a body that it be dead, but every healthy cabbage I’ve ever eaten was dead. Analogy is likeness, and likeness doesn’t rule out unlikeness. 

This mistake also popped up in Joseph Schmid’s criticism of classical theism which starts from a claim about God’s intentional action:

1. God’s act of creation is an intentional action (if only analogously so).
2. Intentional actions are dependent on one or more reasons.

3. So, God’s act of creation is dependent on one or more reasons.

So even if God’s intention is analogous to human intentions, it must be dependent since, as anyone can see, it is utterly antithetical to a human intention to lack dependence.

Both Schmid and Hart seem to think that if analogy is likeness (which it is) then essential unlikeness destroys analogy. This looks like modus tollens but in fact is the fallacy of the accident: essential unlikeness in one respect is completely compatible with likeness in another respect, and this compatibility is essential to analogous naming. We can posit both intentions/ justice in God and describe them as having many things things absolutely antithetical and even impossible to human intention and justice as a virtue of the soul and, in fact, to specify that they belong to both creator and creature is already to have done so.


1.) The nature of actuality is communicatio

2.) In the order of natural causality, this first happens when, by first existing in the manner appropriate to a terminus ad quem or good, it produces potency as its effect. This is nothing other than bonum est diffusum sui or final causality.

3.) Once potency exists, efficient causality is a further communicatio of act. By this actuality belongs in a new way to the potencies which themselves arose only through act. This further imparting is motion. 

4.) If we visualize a terminus ad quem coming to be this presupposes a previous terminus or good, but such presupposition cannot belong to the nature of the terminus or good. So what is the terminus ad quem or good by nature is simply actual and so capable of the supreme communicatio.

5.) The supreme good is its own good and is therefore volitional.

6.) The good gives rise to love and so to union, indwelling (perichoresis), and ecstasy. So pure actuality is the maximal and limit case of union, the mutual indwelling of diverse things, and a self-forgetfulness or going-out-of-oneself.

7.) Pure actuality accomplishes this by transcending the opposition between absolute and relative being. As absolute, there is total unity with no diversity whatsoever, as relative a real diversity arises that allows for the diversity in union of mutually indwelling, and for an other-than-self necessary for ecstasy. Pure actuality itself, however, transcends the opposition between the absolute and relative.

8.) The three realities of union, mutual indwelling, and ecstasy coalesce in the reality of pure actuality as gift. The gift is both entirely and permanently handed over to another – it is not a loan, after all – and yet always keeps its nature as somehow belonging to the giver – as sign of this is that, for us, the gift always generates some sort of debt to the giver. So it is the nature of pure actuality to give itself and so to be a principle of union, perichoresis and ecstasy.

9.) Pure act as gift is the Holy Spirit, unintelligible except as one with and dwelling with the Father and Son.

10.) Pure act as gift has both an intrinsic terminus and an extrinsic terminus in the blessed. This is one and the same operation understood as flowing into two termini, like a voice heard both by the singer and the audience.

Time in different physics

-Time is the order in which potential being is prior. Any per se sequence 1,2,3 will have be from more to less potential (corruption is per accidens.) Classical physics sees time in this sense as less important than a fully actual absolute time.

-Times are the numbers or measures of motions, but these numbers are themselves measured by the most uniform and causal motion. For Aristotle and his tradition, this last motion was the last sidereal sphere; for Newton it was absolute, subsistent, mathematical time; for us it is the speed of unobstructed light. The difference between these itself points to the different senses of causality and uniformity in ancient, classical, and contemporary physics.

-Newton had a cosmological argument for absolute space (Newton’s Bucket) so we could take absolute time as simply the duration of its being.

-Both ancient and classical physics involve cosmological arguments for fundamental beings.

-The sidereal sphere for the ancients was the fastest possible physical motion even if not the fastest imaginable one. The speed of light for us has the same description.

-For Aristotle, the temporal order as such was secondary to a more fundamental teleological order in nature and a supernatural causal order; for Newton the relative temporal order of nature was secondary to the absolute order of space and time that was somehow a divine sensorium; for Einstein it is not clear how the order of relative motions and times stands to the absolute description we can give them through the translations of various equations.

Thomistic epistemology

-Thomist theories of knowledge are grounded on De veritate 2.2. Though the article deals formally with God’s knowledge of himself Thomas answers the problem from an account of knowledge as such.

-The account starts from the perfectio rei or actuality as opposed to potency.

-Our first notion of actuality is what constitutes a thing in act and so gives it a species. This is basic hylomorphic theory.

-The theory of knowledge begins with Thomas’s claim that (hylomorphic) perfection considered in itself is imperfect, since it is only a part of the universe. Thomas calls “the remedy” of this that the actuality itself perfects both what it gives specific existence to and another. This remedy is not something bolted on top of actuality but is just another dimension of actuality itself.

-Note that by Thomas’s premises the actuality A as known must perfect some other B so far as A is part of the universe, i.e. A must come to B along with the whole plurality of the universe. Before it is anything else, knowledge is the known object existing as part-of-the-universe for another. The order of causality is not first a knower then the known, but first the known, which is nothing other than the actuality of a thing existing in a whole, and that whole exists for another. Just as there is not first the radio then the broadcast, but the broadcast goes forth whether there are radios to receive it or not, so too actuality broadcasts itself, though not according to the existence it has as separate from other things, but according to the existence it has as a part of the universe, and therefore along with the universe.

-Let’s hammer that last point home: Following Aristotle in 1 De anima 1 and 2, Thomas’s account of knowledge starts from the object.  We moderns want it to start from the knower, but for Thomas this is the futile attempt to make potency the absolute principle of act. “The object” in a cognitive sense is simply actuality’s self-broadcast going forth whether there is a knower there to receive it or not. A knower is simply one that has found a way to tap into or harness or be perfected by “the object” that actuality has been broadcasting from the beginning, and that it would continue to broadcast even to a cosmos that, whether through its underdevelopment or a catastrophic calamity, had nothing yet sentient or intellective within it. This is also the first meaning of “intentional being” or esse intentionale. It is not first of all being in the mind, but being as broadcast from the world, together with the whole universe, for the reception by another (in fact, a radio wave carrying a signal or an arrow flyign to a target is literally intentional being.) This allows for a certain sense in which the knower is prior to the known, i.e. the way in which a target is prior to the flight of the arrow, but we know now that the broadcast goes forth whether there are knowers to receive it or not. The cosmos first shot the arrow and then made the target.

-Actuality or perfection founds distinct orders of being and knowing, but this distinction arises precisely as actuality is made finite. Actuality as such is infinite and perfect apart from its union to potency (cf. ST 7. a. 1.) It is the same actuality that gives hylomorphic existence and overflows to constitute the order of knowing in its unity with all other actuality: the first unity makes the hylomorphic composite and the makes the universe. Why say it “makes the universe”? Obviously not in some Berkelean sense of projecting it noetically but in the sense that the universe in itself is only one per accidens but it is one per se within knowledge, since knowledge unifies diverse actualities into one world. The sky, a bug and a tree are not one per se, but qua the umwelt of the bird they are.

-So the umwelt of sensation is inherently finite even while including the totality of the universe. Vision is not of being as being but being as broadcast though EM fields. The medium of touch is even more localized. The medium of the sensible, in fact, is always a mix of the world and the body of the animal, and so the objectivity of sense is always conditioned by its subjectivity and the exigencies of what evolved as necessary for survival. The division of primary and secondary sensibles was an attempt to neatly divide the objective and subjective polarities of sensation, but they are nonetheless different ends of an objective-subjective continuum. So sure, the shape of a fruit is probably more objective than its taste, but even shape is conditioned by the disposition of the organ.

-The umwelt of intellect is being, which is to name it according to the very minimal way in which we are intellectual. We know with absolute objectivity that things are but what they are is obscure to us. This obscurity is so profound that we can wonder even whether they are nothing but relations, which would be their only objective character if we lived in a Cartesian theater or a Parmenidean or Einsteinian universe where all motion, becoming, or separation of one thing from another in spacetime is only subjective.

-Cartesian theaters and Einsteinian block-worlds involve logical problems, but the logical problems are subtle and easily missed, allowing for an easy ignorance that makes theaters or block world conceivable (as what is conceivable or not is a function of how many contradictions of which we are aware.) Descartes himself also thought there was a contradiction in a Cartesian theater, as it requires a wicked divinity, but I claim the problem is more basic though more subtle.

-When Thomas defines even sensitive knowledge as non-material the material is only the potency that is informed by act to make finite being. Clearly sensation is non-material in this manner simply because an actuality is not taken as in matter but as a part of the sum of actualities constituting a universe or umwelt. The form of a bug in the order of being is the bug, but in the order of (a bird’s) knowing it is one part within an unbroken umwelt including trees, stars, rivers, the magnetic field of the earth, etc.

-Though Thomas does sometimes speak of the spirituality of sensation the non-materiality of knowledge becomes properly spiritual when the actuality of the object informs another precisely as act. Again, for us this is only in a very indistinct and vague way, so much so that it is to our benefit to have access to sensations that can be used as guides to what distinction, precision, and definiteness look like. Nevertheless, sensation can only be an imitation of what is more perfect in a higher order, and the exitus we exercise in gaining precision about the sensitive world through physical science, poetic creation or the development of prudence must be balanced by the reditus that sees these in their imitation of an order in which all the diverse perfections of sensation are unified in a higher synthesis.

-As said above, actuality as finite gives rise to distinct orders of knowing and being. Where actuality is not finite, therefore, knowing and being are one. We can say they are one in being but it has clearly shifted its sense as it is being no longer used as opposed to knowing but as transcending the opposition between the distinct orders. Note that this transcendent being is on the one hand simply actuality as such, and on the other hand it is not a being since it is not an actuality as opposed to knowledge. We thus have reasons both to call it a being and not a being, and this tension in naming is what gets called analogy, at least the theological analogy that interests Thomas.

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