Wednesday, May 3, 2006

Simplicity is divine

[Posted this over at Pontifications. Looks to be a good thread. Have a looksee. Sts. Cyril and Methodius, pray for us! Ut unum sint!]

Likely to the relief of many, I have refrained for many months from making comments on issues as intricate as ADS, Palamism, etc. But I would like to express a thought that has nagged me almost from the instant I read/grasped (to name names) Perry/Photios' argument against ADS (call it PADS). Michael S's argument here (esp #12 and 13) triggered my memory enough to comment. As far as I can tell, PADS is so appealing to its promulgators because (no pun intended) it is so simple. The three crucial premises in it are, by my lights:

1) God is defined in Western theology as absolutely simple;
2) as such, His so to speak "attributes" (omniscience, volition, infinite and self-caused existence, goodness, etc.) are absolutely identical (since non-identity of any of them would "fracture" God's ADS into complexity);
2a) given that God's attributes are equally absolutely simple, then they also possess an equal measure of predicative necessity (ie., they are all equally and absolutely necessary)
3) because, for example, God's will to create is just as absolutely simple as/identical with His self-existence (or any other attribute), then His will to create is also just as necessary as His will to self-exist, omni-know, etc.
4) such necessity excludes freedom,
5) ergo, God as understood by ADS is not free, but a necessarily determined (even if self-determined "subject") of his own absolutely simple divine nature
5a) creation is therefore a necessary "emanation" of God and not really distinct from Him
6) such necessity cum pantheism is heretical according to orthodox Christianity

In other words, because all of God is all absolutely simple and necessary, so his decision to create is necessary, unfree – and this is a profoundly unorthodox claim. If memory serves, in a loooong reply to the Pontificator (when he argued against the necessity of the PADS construal of ADS as de fide for the Catholic Church), Perry pretty much boiled PADS down to a three line syllogism and asked if anyone could find the flaws in it.

But the problem I've always sensed (which is not to say understood!) with PADS is how it (paradoxically) both proves too much and doesn't claim enough. Maybe that's the wrong way to say it but my point is just this: if PADS claims all of God's ideas, as well as his will, are absolutely simply reducible/identical to his essence, then it must claim ALL of God's ideas are as necessarily realized as the actual creation.

Ie., if PADS is right and God necessarily creates "the Creation" (with all its many creatures, beings, etc.) then he also must of the same necessity actualize every idea known to him. The reason "the Creation" came to be, after all, is because the contents (rationes) within it were necessarily known to God and, based on ADS, necessarily known to exist (since there could be no complex bifurcation in God's knowledge of rationes and his will to created them).

It seems pointless to object, if any one would, that the ADS God actualizes what he knows are "actual" rationes but doesn't create what he knows are merely possibiliae. The whole thrust of PADS, after all, is to deny any such gap between what God knows and what God wills (and in turn creates). If PADS insists God MUST create what He knows (which we call created reality), then it should continue to say the ADS God in fact creates all known things. Hence, PADS seems to end up proving both that God, necessarily, knows all things, and necessarily so, and that, necessarily, he creates all things he knows, and necessarily so. At which point the PADS promulgators may say, "Well that's right – that's why we reject ADS!"

But certainly they can't imagine the Catholic Church has "unwittingly" taught for centuries and centuries a doctrine that so plainly teaches the actual created existence of all possible things. Clearly a doctrine that leads to such bizarre claims (ie,. Necessarily, God necessarily creates all things he knows, since his knowledge of all things is absolutely simply identical to his will to create them) can't be what the Church teaches about (or "means by") ADS.

Apropos the Ponty's demurral of PADS's power against the Catholic Church, he has time and again made the point that simply because PADS's construal of ADS shows such heretical consequences CANNOT be what the Church teaches, since things as basic as the creative freedom of God, the creator-creature distinction (ie, contra pantheism, contra panentheism, contra radical Plotinian emanationism, etc.) have never been taught or tolerated by the Church. In other words, even if PADS were valid, its consequences ipso facto entail its construal of ADS is not the Church's teaching. (Whatever that exact known-only-God teaching may in fact be, however, is a point for future generations to behold.) But Perry retorts the mere denial of a valid inference from ADS is not a denial or defense of ADS. It's damage control.

But I agree with the Pontificator to disagree with Perry. Orthodoxy is an organic "reasoned" (Rom 12:2) proclamation of the Gospel in its many dimensions. No dogma stands alone. Each is a check on the other. In which case I think it is perfectly valid for the Church and us Catholics to deny ADS means what PADS says it "must mean" precisely because contravening dogmas of the Church militate against such an understanding, the zeal and acumen of PADS's advocates notwithstanding. Specifically, the dogmas of God's creative freedom and his singular ontic "absolute transcendence" automatically and in themselves, as de fide dogmas of the Church, countermand the implications of PADS.

Pardon a perhaps confusing analogy, but:

It's like a patient telling his doctor he gets terrible pain when he bends his wrist a certain way. Unfortunately, however, the patient can't describe the angle or action that produces pain, so the doctor must have a hands-on diagnostic look. When the doctor bends and palpates the wrist and hand to find the trouble, he realizes certain positions of hand and wrist are simply impossible given the surrounding tendon and bone structures. It can't go ninety degrees right, since the wrist bone and arm bones prevent that. It can't go 120 degrees back since etc. Whatever pain the patient reports must lie from some other peculiar hand motion.

Likewise we have PADS people telling us the West has terrible pain (and in fact the west feels the same in many cases!) from a certain strange hand motion (ADS). But the doctor (the faithful and Magisterium in the Holy Spirit) realize the bend PADS insists ADS makes on the Church's teaching CAN'T be right, since the surrounding "dogmatic anatomy" simply and totally prevents such a move. PADS people may be right to say, "Physician heal thyself," but they can't blame anyone for refusing to allow a treatment that violates other key structures/anatomy.

Finally, more than a year ago, I pretty much stated my peace about Palamism, until I gained more insight and wisdom, on my blog. Allow me to quote (with some emendations) what I think are the crucial passages from that entry:

What's necessary for the Thomist goose [i.e., creation – EBB] is necessary for the Palamite gander [ie., the energetic divinity of God -- EBB]. The energies seem to me just as necessary in Palamism as creation allegedly is in Thomism. Certainly, creation is not God Himself in the way the energies are described to be God Himself. Nonetheless, one of the key points about the energies is that they are necessary to God's being. God is not God without them. [Let me now add also that I do understand, thanks to a reply Photios made to me on his blog, that "the energies *are* God", so they are also "not God" without God, ie., without his essence. But this is just my point: because the energies are God, and vice versa, they are so *necessarily*. --EBB] Further, they allegedly free God from any (Thomistic) necessity based on His [absolutely simple – EBB] essence. On account of his "enhypostatic" energies, God is not bound by His own essence but can *freely* extend Himself in creation and in man. The Palamite claim is that Thomism forces God to create (or to redeem) since His action and will [necessarily -- EBB] co-inhere in one absolutely simple essence.[2]

The fundamental problem for Palamism is that the energies are, like creation and redemption, inherently exterior acts of God -- they are "God for us" -- yet they also derive directly [and necessarily – EBB] from God’s pure [and simple -- EBB] essence. How then, after all, are they and their effects so free from the necessity of essence? Indeed, I’ve had a leading proponent of Palamism admit this is a huge bugbear of a problem, so decisive in fact that he says it would discredit all of Christian theology.


If PADS people can say God freely self-exists in his energies, but that these are necessarily "coterminous" with his essence as divinity, then clearly the Thomist can say creation is just as free a manifestation of God's will, even though that will is absolutely simply indistinct from his essence.

Not surprisingly, the "leading proponent" of Palamism was Perry; sometime later Jonathan Prejean similarly objected in an email that my objection also proved too much, since it was "a denial of God's freedom". But again, that just was and is my point! In effect, I was being told I couldn't say the energies entailed what I said they did, since that would deny the freedom of God, which is an outright heresy. How ironic: PADS people can say my reductio ad absurdum to essential energetic necessity in Palamism is "off limits" since God's freedom is a non-negotiable -- but we Catholics can't make the same rebuttal about ADS. The paradox is that PADS may be right about ADS (in its own syllogistic confines)… but this just proves PADS is actually wrong about ADS (in the ambit of Catholic truth)! If Perry or any energies-essence Christian can say my construal of the Palamite problem is unacceptable on automatically contravening dogmatic grounds, then any Thomist, or in this case, Scotist, can say just the same.

I haven't meant for this long post to be a self-made soapbox. I come full circle by saying Michael S's argument seems to help dissolve the illusory "impossibility" of ADS. I thank him for this fine contribution. (It's very refreshing to read thought philosophy, ie., philosophy not "supported" by scholars etc. but doing its own thing in the splendor of truth. Straight from his "own head" to ours.)

PS. It may sound like a cheap shot but I am genuinely looking for a lead as I explore the Fathers: Exodus 3 provides one of the cornerstones for the doctrine of God when he says "I AM WHO [or THAT] I AM". Since this is undeniably a use of an ontic verb – "to be" – how do the Fathers get around it by saying God is beyond being, and in fact without being? If God himself says, "I AM" (just as Jesus does in John 8), then what sense does it make to say the truth about God is that he "is" not. If God says, in other words, "I BE," how can one say he cannot "be" since he does not partake of "being"? By analogy, if God said, "I AM WHO HE WHO ACTS", how could we begin to say God is "beyond action"? Where should I go to find more…? The point of the Q is not to "mock" the Fathers as if they were idiots, but to seek guidance AND to suggest the outright incompatibility of Exodus 3 with the prima facie meaning of God's hyperousios must goad us to seek a better understanding (just like the absurd consequences of PADS and my objections to Palamism demand a different understanding in line with the fullness of the faith).

1 comment:

Ian said...

Until we hear from you again, God bless you and keep you.