Trinitarianism and simplicity (3)

1.) Real being first divides into the absolute (defined in itself) and the relative (defined with another.)

2.) God as pure act transcends all divisions in being so far as these involve imperfection.

3.) Real division is a perfection of relative being.

4.) Human intellects unite distinct things in a single concept only at the expense of a clear and explicit conception of their distinction. If we consider the generic unity of badger and possum in “mammal” we lose the distinction of species, if we consider the specific unity of two individuals we lose the division of the individuals.

5.) A human intellect understands a transcendent being with a concept that unites the lower-order things it transcends. Nevertheless, a genus or species  have only a logical unity whereas a transcendent being has real unity.

Trinitarianism and simplicity (2)

Take the standard trinitarian aporias: 

  • God is triune
  • The Father is not triune
  • The Father is God. 

Or, with part meaning what added to something distinct from it to make a whole 

  • Divine simplicity states God has no parts
  • The Father is a part of the trinity
  • The Father is God

The first has parallels for other divine attributes*

  • God is the divine omnipotence
  • The divine mercy is not the divine omnipotence.
  • The divine mercy is not God.

The second conflates different ways something can be added to another. Your complete idea of an apple adds your knowledge of its color to your knowledge of its taste, but this is a multiplicity generated by the limitation of different modes of knowing and not a real division arising ex parte the object.

Objection: But the division of the trinitarian persons is by real relations, and so requires real division before the act of a limited intellect.

Response: All the premises of the objection are true, but God in himself transcends the real division of relative terms as much as he transcends all non-relative or absolute terms like wisdom, omnipotence, mercy, etc.

Objection: You are affirming contradictories of the same subject! This is no different from affirming the impossibility of that subject!

Response: No. Transcendence simply is the unity in a higher order subject of what is diverse in lower-order subjects. Note also that the first principle of our thought is the principle of contradiction because we understand being only in its opposition to non-being, nevertheless, we can use that same principle to see how a subject that it supremely transcendent can only be known by us as subtending the opposition between the relative and the non-relative or absolute.

*”attribute” is a transliteration of the Latin. The sense is anything attributed to God, i.e. anything true about his substance.

Trinitarianism and simplicity

(a) The Son is not the Father, (b) so the reality that is the one is not the reality that is the other.

Trinitarianism denies the inference, saying that the distinction in (a) can’t be taken as ruling out (b.)

John of St. Thomas: the thing with contradictory names or terms adjoined to it is not said to have a distinction in the subject about which it is said, unless that subject be limited… but not if the subject be transcendent (eminens) and equivalent to many limited realities (aequivalens pluribus limitatis.)

Conditional necessity of acts, with grace and without

(1) Every time God permits sin, the man will sin

(2) Every time God does not permit sin but rather gives grace, man will not sin.

Thomas believes both conditionals are necessarily true, but that their necessity is only in the composed sense and not in the divided sense. The analysis is the same as if you are sitting, you cannot be standing, namely, given you are sitting it is impossible for you to be simultaneously standing; but the truth of the conditional is not a proof for your astasis, just as the truth of (1) or (2) is not a proof for your sins not being done freely.

The necessity of the composed sense in (1) is not the same as (2.) In (1) the antecedent is a sheer sine qua non for the consequent, while in the second the antecedent is an efficient cause. By a sheer sine qua non, moreover, we mean it does not enter into the proper account of why the consequent arose, like when one says if an angel did your homework, it would not be missing. The conditional is true, but it plays no role in the proper account of why the homework is missing, because the sufficient cause of the missing homework is something apart from the angels, just as a sufficient cause of sin is the fallibility of the creature.

The efficient causality of (2) is of a primary cause and not a secondary one, and so cannot be understood as a rival to the autonomy of its effect but as presupposed to it. This is simply how we find things: if there is created free act, by definition there is an creating efficient cause prior to the created free act. If a free act had no efficient causal antecedents, any free act would be a divine act, and any claim to free choice would be a claim to divinity.

Again, assume you had always understood the relation between God and freedom like this: “God makes persons exist, then persons make their acts exist.”  This is fine, but you don’t mean either that persons produce actions ex nihilo or that God does not. So exists is being said in analogous ways, first in the manner of a primary cause and next in the manner of a secondary one. Both act freely, and the freedom is an indetermination of alternatives, but the primary cause’s alternatives between being and non being simpliciter are not the same as the secondary cause’s alternatives between being and non being secundum quid. More to the point, “to act in the manner appropriate to a primary cause” is to act precisely as establishing a secondary cause in its being as autonomous.

Gerrigou on permission of sin vs. withholding of efficacious Grace

Gerrigou distinguishes four moments in the commission of sin:

1.) God allows a moral defect in a creature.

2.) The creature sins, or sets up some impediment to grace.

3.) God withholds efficacious grace.

4.) The creature sins.

The sequela of 1 and 3 are the same, but (3) is a punishment while (1) is not a punishment, and even seems necessary for moral creatures to exist at all.

(2) Is understood as thwarting the development of sufficient grace, or harming the proximate potential to receive efficacious grace.

O’Neill explains that (1) is not a cause of (2) but only a condition:

[I]f I do not give my beerless (and thus pitiable) neighbor the last beer in my refrigerator, this does not mean I have caused his beerlessness, although it is true that my not giving him my last beer is an indispensable condition of his not having beer. If I had given it to him he would not be in his sorry state of beerlessness.

Notice the causal hiatus between (1) and (2.) While NON permission of moral defect makes sin impossible, it does not follow that non-permission plays any role in the explanation of sin. If an angel did Johnny’s homework, it’s impossible that it be missing, but this doesn’t give Johnny any right to invoke the angels (still less to blame them) in his explanation for why he didn’t turn it in.

One element in all this is that we have to see humans as in some way as sufficient causes, and even first causes of sin. If sin had a god, it would be us. This is hyperbole, of course, since sin at least has exterior conditions while divine causality does not, and sin does not formally have causes, since causes confer being. Nevertheless, we have a radical sufficiency in the order of moral evil that we simply don’t have in the order of moral goodness, which latter involves a real dependency on the first cause. The complete causal story of the good we do needs to take into account our participation in supreme goodness, but the complete causal story of the evil we do need not invoke participation in anything outside ourselves. Nevertheless, we still need to cry out to God to not permit us to fall into sin.

Useful axioms in doctrines of divine causality, e.g. predestination.

1.) The autonomy of a secondary cause is proportioned to its separation from other secondary causes and to its union with the primary cause. 

The mature animal is the one that can live by itself apart from the help of a parent, and the parent himself is saddened by a child that can never live on its own. But separation from the primary cause is a curse and dissolution of the nature, and so a dissolution of the autonomy of the perfect nature. The measure in which a secondary cause separates from the primary is not an index of its autonomy, but of its having nothing as a terminus a quo of existence ex nihilo. 

2.) To do something in all the ways it can be done is a contradiction. 

Even where numerically one act is done, it is contradictory for one thing to do it in a created and uncreated manner; in the manner appropriate to a secondary cause and in the manner appropriate to a primary cause.

And so when some action – whether the fall of a meteorite or an angel’s free action – is seen as an effect of the primary cause then it must be seen as being done in a manner appropriate to the primary cause, and so is willed from eternity, entirely ordered to the glory of God in himself and in others, foreordained by an intelligence that is so absolute as to admit of no possible correction or ability to sin. When it is seen as done in a manner appropriate to the secondary cause, then it might have any possible characteristic of a secondary cause: it might be defective, even sinful, and it is certainly contingent and often free. But – and this is the crucial point – nothing coordinates these two different orders, and there is no need to harmonize them in the way that two coalescing or concurring secondary causes need to be harmonized whenever their effect does not occur by chance. There are simply two different measures/modes/manners/ways in which one thing exists, and it is impossible for there two be any unity of those two measures/modes/manners in some tertium quid, since this would require some nature that was created and uncreated, primary and secondary, omnipotent and limited, etc.

Said another way, the concurrence of secondary agents is in virtue of some third thing, but the concurrence of the primary and the secondary is not.  A cosmological argument begins with a cause that is, in fact, a thing in itself that has its own reality and autonomy and must ever remain so in order for the argument even to conclude; but the cosmological argument concludes with the vision of all natural things as ways in which a first a mobile thing is acting in itself, or of nature as an instrumental cause of a purely divine action working ad extra.

Suffering as teleological question

Suffering is always implicitly and often explicitly an experience of the question why is this happening? The question is the same as asking what good the suffering achieves, and for whom or what. The one obvious answer is that it’s not for our good, at least not now, and how could anyone else be better off for it?

Either suffering is for no good at all, or it must be for a mysterious good. The first option takes it as meaningless, and from a meaningless premise anything can follow. We can just as soon choose to tough it out as to give up, shrug it off or dive into deep thoughts, get angry or get sad, seek advice or avoid it altogether. All this contributes to the under noticed fact that suffering is confusing and therefore exhausting. All the normal signposts and habits of daily life seem to disappear. To take the second option and see suffering as for a mysterious good doesn’t entirely take away all the exhaustion and confusion, but whatever could be glorified by suffering is glorified by anything. We are not such a being. Our only conslation would be to have such a being as a friend.

Paul’s universalist texts (2)

God wills all men to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth. 

1 Tim 2:4

This is both title and epigram for Hart’s defense of universalism, and deservedly so. Paul, however, is not writing epigrams or treatises on universal salvation, but giving liturgical instructions to a bishop:

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. 

Paul is therefore using verse 4 as a premise in an argument for the goodness of petitionary prayer. But even if universalism were true, no one would use it as a reason for making intercessory prayers to change the hearts of rulers so that the faithful might live peacefully. To put it in Damascene’s terms, God’s consequently willing the salvation of everyone (i.e. universalism) would not be a reason for interceding on anyone’s behalf, but God’s antecedently willing it is very much a reason for intercessory prayer, since prayers of intercession are just the sort of circumstances that God takes into account, and are therefore exactly the sorts of things that feature in his consequent will. Scripture has extensive descriptions of intercessory prayers, like Abraham’s for Sodom, Moses’s for Israel, where both men stand in the breach of an antecedent decision forestalled by the circumstance of a patriarch’s prayers.

Paul’s universalist texts

Paul’s universalist texts say what they say, but that there is more than one sort of universalism. In general, universalism is opposed to particularism or limitation, and so is a denial of the restriction of something to a particular group. In Christian theology, the “particular group” of course means christians, but for Paul it meant Jews. So Paul’s whole mission is uncontroversially the universalist message of Yahweh no longer being just the God of Israel but the God of all nations, who has now fulfilled the promise made to Abraham to be Father of many nations, which Paul discusses in Romans 4.  Paul presses the point further in Romans 5, by insisting that the promise to save from death now extends as far as the curse of death extends, and the curse came not just to Jews, but to all humanity through Adam. So as in Adam all die, in Christ all are made alive. But the death coming from Adam was clearly antecedently willed since the Jewish patriarchs obviously were saved, including even Adam himself as Wisdom 10 : 1 makes clear: Wisdom protected the father of the world, the first man that was ever formed, when he alone had been created. She saved him from his own sinful act (This is one support for giving Adam his own liturgical feast.) So too, life in Christ is antecedently willed, which demands at least a universal call to holiness, and at least a recognition that the blessing of Israel now goes out to all nations for every person to claim as his own. But this is not a guarantee of salvation to all individuals any more than the death coming from Adam was a guarantee of reprobation to all individuals – or even a guarantee of Adam’s own damnation.

Put more optimistically, Paul’s universalist text in Romans 5 is not about what God will do in later ages, but about what he is doing now in this age. All have been brought into a covenant that they have been excluded from up until now, and the once particularist care of God for Israel has become a universalist care for all persons though the Church. This is why Paul’s universalism can’t be Christian universalism. One can universalize Judaism to the worldwide Church of Christ, but one can’t further universalize what is already worldwide.

Hell in time vs. Hell in aevum (2)

So the theory is that because the duration of Hell is above time it is (a) by definition eternal since this is the term for everything above time and (b) it does not go on and on with one anniversary after another to the fifty quintillionth and beyond. This explains some of the puzzles of Hell in scripture, which on the one hand speak Hellfire with various metaphors of destruction, and which have been taken as proof texts for annihilationism* on the other hand, other metaphors stress the ongoing or continuous nature of punishment (like Lazarus and dives, or the parity of the uses of αἰώνιοs in Matthew 25.) The apparent clash of the metaphors arises not because scripture can’t get its story straight, but because metaphors for Hell must balance the dual character of aeviternity.  The literal truth one can can gather from both metaphors is the definitive and irrevocable nature of the judgment dividing the saved and the damned, but this irrevocable punishment is not served in time, but in the matter of beings whose substance can be understood just as well by existence at a moment as by existence for endless seasons, which is to say that neither is the proper an appropriate way to understand it.

*cf. E.W. Fudge’s The Fire that Consumes. 

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