Simplicity, Virtue and the Problem of Evil, Pt 2.

If it is possible to have libertarian freedom and never sin, then there are logically possible circumstances or “worlds” where people have libertarian freedom and yet never sin. More strongly, it is logically impossible for agents in some world to sin who also have libertarian freedom. Because this is so, appeals to libertarian freedom are not going to be enough to exculpate God from guilt with respect to actual evils or even the possibility of evil. Those logically possible worlds in which it is impossible for libertarianly free agents ever to sin seem accessible to God. By accessible I mean that God could have brought those circumstances about or created them. On the whole, those worlds where agents with libertarian freedom are impeccable seem morally superior to worlds in which agents have libertarian freedom but lack impeccability.

There is a separate question as to whether God always creates the best or if there is a best possible world or even if there are better possible worlds. I do not wish to tangle with that mess at the moment. But there seems to be something right about Aquinas’ insistence for example that some worlds will contain more evil than others but on the whole will be better than those worlds with less evil because the former will be better ordered. Even granting that though it seems to me that you can get as much of “better ordering” as you like with a combination of libertarian freedom with moral impeccability. That is, given worlds where both are equally ordered well but one has evil and free will, while the other has free will but impeccable agents, it seems obvious to me that the latter is on the whole the better world.

So adding free will to the mix doesn’t explain the possibility of evil since you can have free will and impeccable agents. Also, free will doesn’t explain why God creates this world where we have freedom and the possibility of evil as opposed to some other world because it seems as if you can have equally well ordered worlds with or without evil. In this way the possibility of evil is severed from free will and creation in general. The reason why evil is possible in God’s creation is not that creation is composite and therefore capable of dissolution. If that were true the only way to eliminate the possibility of evil would be to mitigate or eliminate creation’s creatureliness in some way, specifically their free will. Nor is the reason why evil is possible in creation because there are agents with free will. Why then does God create this world which has the possibility of evil and has free will since there seem to be other possible worlds that are much much better to select from?

The answer I think lies in the notion of virtue. Here I am following roughly Plato and Aristotle’s notion of a virtue as an excellence or arête of a thing. The excellence of a knife is its sharpness. The excellence of a human being is justice. Following Aristotle a virtue is a natural capacity which is guided by reason as a mean between two extremes attained by habit. The reason why one wants to be virtuous as opposed to akratic or weak willed is so that one doesn’t have to deliberate about what the good act is to perform on a specific occasion. A virtuous person just does out of habit the good act. Mother Theresa didn’t have to reflect about helping poor or sick people on her doorstep-she just did it. The goal of habituation is to become so fixed in virtue, in the Good as to just naturally do the good act. But more precisely to be fixed in virtue doesn’t imply that deliberation per se is the problem. The reason why deliberation is problematic is because we deliberate between real and apparent goods. We suffer from a kind of ignorance about the Good. If an agent were to only deliberate between real goods and not apparent goods deliberation per se would be harmless.

As something of a tangent it is important to notice that deliberation seems to imply alternative possibilities and to see this imagine the following “Frankfurt” like case. Imagine unbeknownst to me some malign agent seeks to control my actions by means of some scientific widget or some supernatural power. This widget or power permits the covert agent to monitor my mental states and acts and to manipulate them by means of manipulating my brain states. If the malign agent sees that I am going to choose X, he does nothing since that is the choice he wants me to make. If he sees that I am going to do Y then he intervenes in some way to neutralize that neurological state in my brain. And he sees this by virtue of viewing the decisions I have made. Prior to making a decision though all he sees is my deliberating between two options.

But notice that when I am deliberating I am deciding between two options, specifically to continue to deliberate or to make a decision. My power to deliberate between options is itself an instance of having alternative possibilities. It does not matter if my decision, should I decide on Y is nullified by this malign agent. By deliberating I am choosing between alternative possibilities. And these alternative possibilities will be as robust as anyone would like for ascriptions of moral responsibility. The only way to eliminate these alternative possibilities is for this malign agent to take away my power of deliberation. But given that deliberation seems plausibly necessarily tied to being free taking away my power to deliberate is just to take away my freedom. Deliberation then is a necessary condition for libertarian free will.

Now back to virtue. How is virtue going to help us explain why God created this world with freedom and evil as opposed to some other world with freedom and the impossibility of evil? One of the funny things about virtue is that it cannot be had by thinking about it. Being moral isn’t a matter of propositional knowledge alone.
Virtue requires praxis or action. Virtue is an attained state and so one cannot be created virtuous. One can be created good and innocent but not virtuous since virtue requires action. To become morally impeccable is to become immune to vice or sin. Moral impeccability then seems to be a kind of state in which an agent is so virtuous as to be immune from evil. To be virtuous in this way would to be like God because God is unmoved or affected by evil. It is not possible for God to do evil because just is the Good.

With a rough notion of virtue in hand we can connect it to the insights concerning free will set out earlier. Free will doesn’t require alternative possibilities of differing moral value just a plurality of options. But virtue does require the possibility of failure and here is why. Because virtue is a mean or proportion between two extremes and is attained by habit it takes practice to become virtuous. One has to have the “knack” for doing the good act in the appropriate way for the appropriate reasons and on the appropriate occasion. It is possible for some agent starting out on the trek of virtue to become so without failure but failure is still a possibility nonetheless because the acquisition of virtue takes practice. Moreover agents starting out on the road to virtue are ignorant concerning real and apparent goods which is why they have to deliberate between them.

Because virtue is attained by habit or action there is a kind of division in an agent who begins their trek on the road to virtue. Because they lack the requisite experience their employment of their faculties, their will specifically isn’t yet fixed in the Good. So suppose that God creates out first parents innocent and without blame. It will still be the case that they do not have any practice at being virtuous. It will also be the case that for them they are ignorant concerning real and apparent goods. God creates their faculties good in and of themselves. As faculties they are naturally directed towards that which is presented to them or taken to be good. But the person’s employment or use of these faculties is not yet fixed in the good.

So the nature is fixed in the Good so that human nature qua human nature is still good, even after the Fall. This is why evil is a possibility because on the road to the acquisition of virtue vice is a possibility. Vice or sin is not therefore tied to the composition of creation but to the distance between the natural faculties and the personal employment of them. Once this gulf is bridged through virtue then the possibility of evil is eliminated. When the real good that our faculty of will is naturally directed towards is “fused” with our personal employment of our will our willing or volitions are fixed in the Good. Our first parents then are given a very simply command to obey as they begin their journey to becoming virtuous. Through continued obedience they would have reached a state of moral impeccability and hence been “as gods.”

So it is virtue and free will together that explain why God selects this world to create as opposed to some other. Morally impeccable agents only come about through the acquisition of virtue and the acquisition of virtue requires the possibility of failure. Compared to other worlds where there is no virtue, a world with freedom and the possibility of virtue seems the better choice by far. This is why this world is the best way to the best possible world.

But what has all of this to do with divine simplicity? Well putting it all together we can revisit Origen and Augustine. Origen wished to preserve the doctrine of the Imagio Dei where humans have libertarian freedom. As a consequence it was impossible for Origen to conceive of humans (or angels for that matter) as completely fixed in the Good or morally impeccable. Augustine wished to preserve moral impeccability and the way to do that he thought was to eliminate libertarian freedom. Absolute simplicity motivated Augustine’s elimination of libertarian freedom in the eschaton because there was only one good option to select, namely God. Absolute simplicity motivated Origen’s view since for him being fixed in the Good would imply a annihilation of something essential to us as rational agents, specifically libertarian free will. Since God was absolute simple for Origen free will was essentially characterized as selecting between good and evil options, instead of good options. The only way to stave off the annihilation of human personhood was to have a series of falls and redemptions because sin is a clear individuating principle between good and evil.

But if we reject absolute simplicity then there is no motivation to eliminate libertarian freedom in the eschaton. If God is metaphysically “complex” so that there are infinite number of Goods in the Good that is God then there can be libertarian freedom in the eschaton without the possibility of evil. We can bring together Augustine’s wish to preserve the moral impeccability of the redeemed while also preserving Origen’s desire to preserve the libertarian freedom that goes along with the Imagio Dei. The possibility of sin isn’t tied to plurality but to the possibility of virtue. Once virtue is attained for an agent the possibility of evil is removed. This means that for the morally impeccable agents in heaven there are an infinite number of goods to choose from so that they are always active in the eschaton in their enjoyment of God.

Perry Robinson

23 Responses to Simplicity, Virtue and the Problem of Evil, Pt 2.

  1. Daniel:

    I agree with your last post. Thus, ‘filioque’ needs to be understand as a bare logical consequence of ‘dia Huiou’, consistently with the monarchy of the Father. That might be weaker than what some of the Carolingians had in mind, but I take it to conform with Florence’s claim that the Father and the Son are “one principle” of the Holy Spirit. The Father alone is the source of divinity, but the Holy Spirit proceeds from him through the Son who is begotten, not unoriginated.

    Perichoresis (circuminsessio) understood with that in mind is the faith of the Church, whether one identifies “the Church” with Catholicism or Orthodoxy or with some wounded amalgam of the two. At any rate, I don’t see any other way to state the difference, within the immanent Trinity, between begetting and procession. The alternative is to deny that the economic procession tells us anything about the immanent procession, which strikes me as mere foot-stamping.


  2. Daniel Jones says:

    I agree. I don’t think #2 is optional theology. Nor can you have the perichoresis without it. I think its not only the best way to make sense of the Eastern Fathers view of the phrase “dia Huiou” (through the Son)–independent of the economy–but the only way. It’s everywhere. Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril, Maximus, John of Damascus, Gregory Palamas, etc.


  3. Jonathan Prejean says:

    “So your understanding of say Florence doesn’t exclude Photius, since you seem to be interpreting it as #2. Now is #2 the intent of the Nicene Creed? I don’t think so; I think #1 clearly is.

    What is #2? Ontological or economical? It seems like it would be Ontological in some sense, even if it isn’t hypostatic existence.”

    EXACTLY! In my mind, #2 is clearly patristic, so I don’t think there is anything at all controversial about saying that this is dogmatic. It clearly has an orthodox (and Orthodox) sense, even if Latins almost always misapply it to #1. The real reason that the Filioque is not an illicit addition to Nicaea is that it doesn’t modify Nicaea at all, because the Filioque isn’t even talking about the same thing as Nicaea. Incidentally, that makes it a little inaccurate to call the modified statement “the Nicene creed!”

    The ontological aspect of #2 seems to be the “completion of the Trinity” by the Holy Spirit. That concept is all over the place, East and West. I understand the concept this way: by being the very person of the Trinitarian Love, the Holy Spirit both comes from the Father through the Son and *returns* through the Son to the Father. My impression is that this was absolutely essential for the patristic understanding of perichoresis, so it wouldn’t be “optional” theology (as far as I can tell), even if it hasn’t been formally dogmatized.

  4. Daniel Jones says:

    So let’s sketch out, what I think, are three types of processions of the Spirit:

    1) hypostatic existence: from the Father alone. εκπορεύεσθαι is the term that denotes origin of the Spirit. This was St. Photius concern and correct assessment, and this is the term used in the Nicene Creed.

    2) eternal energetic procession (eternal manifestation): from the Father through the Son.
    This one denotes the common substance or ουσία (ousia) which the Spirit in deriving from the Father alone as Person or υπόστασις (hypostasis) receives from the Son, too, as ουσιωδώς (ousiwdws) that is, with regard to the one ουσία (ousia) common to all three persons (Cyril of Alexandria, Maximus the Confessor, Gregory Palamas et al). On the basis of this distinction one might argue that there is a kind of Filioque on the level of ουσία (ousia), but not of υπόστασις (hypostasis).

    The Spirit of the Word is like a love of the Father for the mysteriously begotten Word, and it is the same love that the beloved Word and Son of the Father has for the one who begot him. That love comes from the Father at the same time as it is with the Son and it naturally rests on the Son.–St. Gregory Palamas, Chapters, 36 (PG 150:1144D-1145A).

    3) economic energetic procession: from the Father through the Son. This one denotes the same as the above but in acts of creation or sending a divine Person in time.

    It appears to me, Jonathan, that you agree to all 3 of these—which I take just IS the Orthodox view. Lossky I believe lays out all 3 of these which has influenced much of my thinking. So your understanding of say Florence doesn’t exclude Photius, since you seem to be interpreting it as #2. Now is #2 the intent of the Nicene Creed? I don’t think so; I think #1 clearly is. But the problem comes in with the Latin Creed and the use of procedere, which can denote both realities, and is not as sophisticated as the Greek terms above to make these proper distinctions. This is a problem since it can confuse the hypostatic properties with energetic or natural processions.

    #1 is obviously ontological.

    #3 is obviously economical.

    What is #2? Ontological or economical? It seems like it would be Ontological in some sense, even if it isn’t hypostatic existence.

    And we never thought that the Filioque was this cool?


  5. Daniel Jones says:


    Thank you very much for clarifying and answering those points. I appreciate it.


  6. Jonathan Prejean says:

    ” want to know how we are supposed to understand Florence and Lyons in your thinking then. The way I read it Photius’s Triadology excludes and is excluded by the dogmatic statement of the procession of the Holy Spirit at Florence. I think that’s why Mark of Ephesus and some of the other Orthodox there would not nil. So, let me ask, when you read the council when it says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, as from one principle and one spiration, are you going to interpret this as Economic only? Or do you think this statement embodies both the Economic and the Ontological, although not being the same, that is, when we say one principle we designate the Father alone as to the H.S.’s hypostatic existence (as Photius does) and that the statement ‘and the Son’ means only the Economic? Or does the dogma mean that the H.S. derives his hypostatic existence from the Father and the Son?”

    I think the wording rules out that it is purely economic, but I actually don’t think that it rules out exactly what we were discussing above, which is that there might be an order of eternal procession through the Son. Regardless, the language was used so that it does not rule out the Father as the sole origin or arche of the Trinity. I really think that the objections were twofold: (1) there is sufficient ambiguity in the statements to admit a wrong understanding as well as a right one, and (2) it’s entirely possible that the Latin fathers of the council had in mind the wrong understanding. I don’t think that the Latin understanding is heretical, because I don’t think that that understanding has been formally rejected yet (and Photius’s opinions or arguments, right or wrong, don’t actually count toward that end) nor has the wrong opinion been anywhere formally endorsed. It is mistaken, but not heretical.

    Re: the use of the word “opposition,” good point. The “relations of opposition” mean that each of the persons of the Trinity must be distinguished by a relation one from the other, so that for the Son and the Holy Spirit to be distinct, the Holy Spirit must have a relationship with the Son (which is asserted to be procession). That doesn’t necessarily relate to Origen’s dialectic, which involved choices between good and evil (St. Maximus ties the issue to the choice between pleasure and pain on the level of senses and passion).

  7. Daniel Jones says:

    “I think that there is some utility in the concept of the Holy Spirit proceeding through the Son in terms of the internal life of the Trinity, but that’s for reasons that have nothing to do with the historical filioque conflict.”

    I have the same feelings. There is an eternal aspect to the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father through the Son that is independent from economy. I think that we can think about it this way. Imagine for a moment that God did not create the world, in fact he did not create at all. Would there not be the expression and “eternal manifestation” of love between the persons? Love is an energy, so, the act would be one that is participated in by all the persons. As Maximus says, “God never ceases from the goods, BECAUSE he never began them.” Lossky also implies this idea in his work on the Trinity. I’ll send it to you if you don’t have it.

    I want to know how we are supposed to understand Florence and Lyons in your thinking then. The way I read it Photius’s Triadology excludes and is excluded by the dogmatic statement of the procession of the Holy Spirit at Florence. I think that’s why Mark of Ephesus and some of the other Orthodox there would not nil. So, let me ask, when you read the council when it says that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, as from one principle and one spiration, are you going to interpret this as Economic only? Or do you think this statement embodies both the Economic and the Ontological, although not being the same, that is, when we say one principle we designate the Father alone as to the H.S.’s hypostatic existence (as Photius does) and that the statement “and the Son” means only the Economic? Or does the dogma mean that the H.S. derives his hypostatic existence from the Father and the Son?

    Which do you think the Latin theologians had in mind? If they meant the last one, are you interpreting their intent?

    I realize that we are not obliged to believe the Latin view of the Trinity, because the Byzantine Catholics do not. The question is, is it a heretical view to believe that the H.S. derives his hypostatic existence from the Father and the Son? And secondly, is that what the Latin dogma means?

    BTW, as a side note, I don’t think you are doing this, but just for others that read. I don’t think the term “opposition” in the phrase ‘relations of opposition’ has anything to do with Origen’s dialectic. The term opposition in the former phrase , as far as I understand, is being used to denote the Persons’ distinction in relation to each other.


  8. Jonathan Prejean says:

    Then we agree that relations of opposition make no sense, at least as far as I can tell. And I also agree that “through the Son” cannot have anything to do with the Holy Spirit’s hypostatic existence. I think that there is some utility in the concept of the Holy Spirit proceeding through the Son in terms of the internal life of the Trinity, but that’s for reasons that have nothing to do with the historical filioque conflict (one of these days, I might even get around to discussing those reasons!). Regardless, I don’t think that it’s dogmatically required for Catholics to adopt the Latin understanding.

    “I think there is good reason to state that absolute simplicity under girds Catholic Ecclesiology AT LEAST in its Medieval and Vatican I form. From the Franks to the Gregorian Reforms up through the Middle Ages, the underlying worry is if you don’t have a principled head, you can’t keep things together.”

    Absolutely. I’ll go even farther and say that these are what *warped* the papacy from its historical understanding. Where we differ, I think, is that I don’t think that the faction that followed that reasoning (the ultramontanists) actually prevailed at Vatican I. I think that Vatican I did not dogmatize anything beyond what the pre-medieval understanding of the papacy was. But I think that there was both a pre-medieval dogma, and a theological reason for the dogma, that was there as well. Unfortunately, my explanation will require a drastically different apologetic (or not even really “apologetic” so much as “dialogue”) than what is out there now; I’m afraid I’ll have to invent it myself. There are some good beginnings in von Balthasar and Congar, but there is so much left to do from there. It’s not so much that present apologetics are wrong so much as that they aren’t progressing; they aren’t furthering the Vatican II goal of communication with the world. I think that there are even Orthodox Christians who want to talk about a papacy and who recognize the place for it, but until we can stop confusing our Catholic identity with pure theology (and more particularly, Latin theology), no conversation can take place.

    “For some reason, even if Leo saw himself as having authority over his brother bishops, I don’t think Leo’s statements even imply that the Roman See can never teach heresy and fall out of communion in the future.”

    I think he (and they) simply had a better concept of authority than we do today. *Everybody*, including the Orthodox, has become trapped in the notion of authority as a dialectic of opposition rather than a relationship (not excluding myself). Indeed, that may be the last truly enduring relic of the Origenist view of reality. It’s rooting out that idea that is going to be the hardest (and I think final) part of bringing Christianity to where it needs to be. I think that social and political theology is part of the process, and in that regard, classical realist philosophy isn’t adequate to the task, being unable to deal with structure and relation in an adequate way. And I agree with you: John Paul II has been a genius in that regard, both in setting the direction and in perceiving the perils (e.g., the risks of Marxism in liberation theology). That is the direction that needs to continue, the direction of progress, and I just hope we can contribute to it.

  9. Daniel Jones says:

    Here’s the rub on relations of opposition.

    Relations of opposition are under girded by absolute simplicity and not vice-versa. They are the BASIS for the distinction of the persons. Catholic theology starts with simplicity and then moves to plurality. The question becomes, when do we stop making relations of opposition (a principled reason from one’s natural theology)? The second thing to note is that the Eastern phrase “through the Son” has nothing to do with Holy Spirit’s hypostatic existence. It is only one of economy in time or in energetic procession and interpenetration of the Persons in eternity. In the Eastern model the basis for the distinction just is there absolute distinction up front, and the East starts with that model and moves to the essence by inference of the singular activity of all the Persons.

    Rome’s model says that in the Economy the Holy spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, that is correct and the East nods their heads. But for Rome, the Economic Trinity is identical to the Onotological Trinity. In the Holy Spirit’s Hypostatic Existence, if the Son participates in this act with the Father, the Holy Spirit MUST participate in his own procession as well. How can He not? Everything that is common between the Son and the Father, the Holy Spirit shares as well. This idea of hypostatic existence of the holy Spirit from the Father and the Son as from One Principle and One Spiration is a confusion between hypostatic properties and energy. Romes view of the trinity moves in a straight line as follows:

    [ Father 1 Son ] – 2 – Holy Spirit

    1 & 2 denote the relations of opposition.

    The Eastern view, on the ontological trinity, looks like an old scale with two arms with the Father as the fulcrum.

    Sometimes the question is asked by the Scholastics: How do you then distinguish between generation and procession?

    The Orthodox answer is usually mystery. This answer, I think, is when we have a principled reason to appeal to mystery. For to know what procession IS we’d need to know the essence of God, which just isn’t possible for creatures. We don’t need to construct a natural theology to tell us what the distinction is between generation and procession. This is why John of Damascus said: “We have learned that there is a difference between begetting and procession, but the nature of the difference we in no wise understand.” The question can then be turned back around: Why are you constructing relations of opposition to denote the distinction of the persons that end up confusing acts of nature with acts of will? Of course, I think this is exactly what absolute simplicity does in the first place.

    I think there is good reason to state that absolute simplicity under girds Catholic Ecclesiology AT LEAST in its Medieval and Vatican I form. From the Franks to the Gregorian Reforms up through the Middle Ages, the underlying worry is if you don’t have a principled head, you can’t keep things together. I mean this should be no surprise since ecclesiology is going to flow from one’s doctrine of God and Christology. You can find this type of thinking in all these apologists today: Armstrong, Akin, Sungenis, Shea, Matatics, et al. All of them think that if there is no principled head, the whole thing could come tumbling down; I think they have a reason for stating and thinking as much. It might have come down in the Middle Ages, given that they were only working from Augustine’s metaphysic. I don’t know. But from an Orthodox perspective, what needeth is an infallible singular head? Just to give them consistency with some statements from Leo the Great or others (as interpreted by Catholics)?

    For some reason, even if Leo saw himself as having authority over his brother bishops, I don’t think Leo’s statements even imply that the Roman See can never teach heresy and fall out of communion in the future. Claiming sedevacantism or that the Pope can be a heretic (as Sungenis does) seems ad hoc. Although, Sungenis appears to have the better explications of Honorius and company. If it can be recognized that Photius was right in his Triadology vs. the Carolingians, then not only should we try to understand these quotes differently, we MUST. I think the idea of the absolute permanency of the Roman See is a later development. We could do two things: say flat out that Leo was wrong or try and understand him from another view-point.

    Granted, alot of the high Papal rhetoric could fit and be read into a Vatican I ecclesiology. With regards to the Orthodox, what’s motivating such a reading in the first place? Authority? Why do those quotes necessarily exclude an Orthodox ecclesiology?

    Most of what I think about the papacy is geared more towards Pre-Vatican II understandings; although, I recognize there has hardly been a repudiation of Vatican I. I have my doubts about it being a free Council. I agree with you that Dulles and John Paul II are moving in a better direction, and their interpretations are far more ammenable. I still think it has a ways to go. Most Orthodox I know are pretty happy with John Paul II. I think you and I can agree right now that we can hope and pray that we have someone with his mindset in Rome again.

  10. Jonathan Prejean says:

    Definitely, it was very fulfilling. I’m having a bit of trouble comprehending why this is so difficult to reconcile with Catholicism though. I have a bit of a quirky understanding on infallibility, influenced by Cardinal Dulles, so it may be that I’m simply not comprehending things like “as from one principle” as ruling out the proper form of spiritual procession from the Father through the Son (IOW, I don’t think that the filioque rules out the Eastern understanding, although I can see where they wouldn’t want it in because of the ambiguity). Similarly, I don’t think that the admission of the possibility of oppositions of relation in the essence binds us to the Latin understanding of the divine persons. Nor do I think that, at least historically, the papacy was simply a result of an erroneous theology of divine simplicity (and on that point, I disagree considerably with several Eastern writers). My own inclination is to move to something like a Zubirian metaphysics, which seems to handle these issues (and social/relational issues) a good deal better than scholasticism did. And given that the Pope (along with many other Catholics) has openly endorsed the practice of hesychasm, I think it would be difficult to argue that Catholics can’t adopt the essence/energies distinction and the Eastern view of the Trinity. Granted, it’s a rough road communicating with other Catholics on this point, but I don’t think it’s a communion-breaker.

  11. Daniel Jones says:

    I’m glad you took the time to do all this. I don’t about you but for me it was hard work. But it was well worth it.


  12. Jonathan Prejean says:

    That’s what I was trying to say, although I’m not sure how well I did. 🙂 The logos in Adam was not covered up by sin (it was “pristine,” not requiring asceticism to uncover it), but Adam chose the gnomic use of his tropos against the logos, and hence, he “deliberated” in the negative sense. That probably would have been clearer in the context of my contrast on the “Perry’s Logical Argument” thread between Athanasius’s concept of deliberation (essentially, free choice) and the deliberation that St. Maximus considers gnomic.

    Anyway, I think we agree on the substance!

  13. Daniel Jones says:


    I don’t think Maximus would say that Adam had a pristine virtuous state in the Good, because he hasn’t used gnomie yet to attain the Good. In other words, his tropos (the personal employment) is not yet fused with logos (the natural principle). You are correct to notice that virtue is both natural and personal. Natural inasmuch as the faculty is always directed towards the good, but a consequence of being a created hypostasis is that tropos doesn’t start out virtuous (which is called gnomie). As I have just broke up virtue in the categories of logos and tropos, we can do the same with deliberation. Deliberation isn’t a bad thing per se, if it is not moved by those things in “the middle”: hesitancy, uncertainty, etc., which is gnomie. I don’t think in the Eschaton that you necessarily have to REMOVE deliberation as long as it doesn’t involve uncertainty of the objects of choice.

    Adam sins because he is uncertain about the end of the objects of willing–which is, as we have stated, a accidental condition of being created ex nihilo. If gnomie were essential to his nature, even after habit is maintained and virtue is attained (in tropos), he would still be uncertain about the good. I think that would be an absurd notion and incoherent. It would also make Christ deliberate and hesitate over the good. He could possibly sin too.


  14. Jonathan Prejean says:

    Q. for Perry:
    How do you view St. Maximus’s description of virtuous actions being natural and undeliberative when the “rust” of sin is cleaned off? Is, e.g., Adam’s sin a matter of voluntarily choosing to deliberate against one’s pristine natural inclination to do the right thing, potentially leading to sin (sort of a “he who hesitates is lost” deal)?

  15. Jonathan Prejean says:

    “Maximus talks about ever moving rest.”

    OK, add “asymptotically approaching completion” to my definition of final theosis. 🙂

  16. Perry Robinson aka Acolyte says:

    Maximus talks about ever moving rest. Given that the energies of God are infinite there is an eternal progression in God for the blessed even though they are static with respect to being integrated in the Good. This is akin to Lewis’ account in The Last Battle where the further up and in the children go the larger and larger the outwardly appearing small garden gets. I think there is more in Lewis’ description that most people realize.

    As an aside it is interesting that from what I hear at St. Vladimir’s Seminary they speak of Lewis as “Our Father among the Saints th venerable C.S. Lewis.” heh.

  17. Jonathan Prejean says:

    “Wouldn’t an intermediate state (for the saints) be explained because those not condemned to hell, but still working towards attaining virtue, would need it?”

    Not by this reasoning, as far as I can tell. If it were the case that someone were still working toward virtue, then he would also still be capable of falling by Perry’s argument. This is likely why the Eastern view has been one of “final theosis” (really, refinement of a virtue that is already there). But even in the West, sin is impossible in Purgatory, so that the redemption process is effectively passive not active (viz., it is not dependent on performance in which there might be success or failure).

  18. John Ballard says:

    Could this be used to extrapolate an understanding of the intermediate state, or purgatory (to use the Catholic Dogma)? Wouldn’t an intermediate state (for the saints) be explained because those not condemned to hell, but still working towards attaining virtue, would need it?

  19. Jonathan Prejean says:

    I’ll throw out a helpful concept from Xavier Zubiri: appropriation. According to Zubiri, man (in the relative image of God) has an “open essence” that extends beyond itself, in a kind of reaching for the real, through its decisions to make its own reality by living within reality. These voluntary decisions among real possibilities represent a kind of appropriation of reality in which man makes reality his own by his choices. Unlike animals, which simply respond to the reality that imposes itself on them, man actually makes decisions, making man the “reality animal” or “animal of realities.” That process of appropriation cannot be realized in any other way but living (and more particularly, living in the image of the Trinitarian life). In complete contrast with the “only the journey matters” attitude, man’s choices make reality his own, and thus, they define his own real being. I think this matches quite well with Perry’s notion that virtue is a property that must be appropriated by man through experience, but it would go even farther to say that being akratic, refusing to be in reality by living, is an actual violation of man’s nature, a denial of man’s very essence.

    Unsurprisingly, Zubiri rejects the Augustinian/Thomist notion of divine simplicity, and particularly of God as “being.”

  20. Perry Robinson says:


    There is a difference between a skill and a virtue. Skills are such that an agent can refrain from performing them on the appropriate occasion while with virtues this is not so. While “screw ups” occur necessarily with skills I am not so sure that this is true with virtues. Moreover, if “screw ups” do occur though something significant to notice is that they will not incur the kind of blame that an outright deliberate contramanding of the good, at least not for our first parents. What we need here or what I am trying to gesture at is some synthesis between the notions of sin and vice. Vice is something like a malfunction and sin seems to be that but something more.

    Virtue and free will seem tied together so that it is not possible to make virtue natural to us without our exercising our freedom. If it were our nature from the get-go would we really be moral? Morality and moral responsibility seem tied to free will and that is one reason why Libertarians and even Compatibilists want free will of some kind because it grounds our ascriptions of moral praise and blame.

    It is the exercise of freedom in the acquasition of virtue that explains why we were created innocent but not yet virtuous. This is why sin is personal but not natural. Our natures do not sin but our persons do which is why our natures are only corrupted but we as persons are to blame. We don’t blame natures.

    Does this help?

  21. Brad Davis says:

    Generally speaking, I think this view works fine — at least better than others I’ve heard. I’ll also (readily) concede that you are not alone in your claims about virtue theory. In part, that’s why I’m treating this as an apparent inconsistency that stems from my own ignorance about such things.

    That said, your reponse involves learning how to do something. To be a virtuous soccer player, one has to learn how to shoot a goal well. People have to learn to be moral to be virtuous people. Being moral, then, would be knowing the good, knowing how to achieve the good, and doing the good.

    For soccer, knowing how seems to require practice. I suppose you could read a book on kicking a soccer ball correctly, but you also have to train your foot to strike the ball a particular way or you’ll never score. When you screw up, we might think of it as accidental — you meant to score, but put the ball over the goal because you kicked it with your toe instead of your instep.

    I think the difficult part for me is knowing that and knowing how, for morality, seem relatively easy to obtain non-experientially. Adam and Eve knew what they weren’t supposed to do (don’t eat the fruit) and they knew how to not do it (just don’t eat the fruit). They screwed up when applying that knowledge (somehow or another), but that doesn’t seem like something accidental at all. I’m having difficulty seeing why virtue cannot be innate or necessary in this regard. Why is this something that cannot be programmed into us? What is it in the doing (praxis) that gets transferred or learned, insofar as morality is concerned?

    For a moment, I thought that creating someone who was necessarily virtuous would undermine free-will in some way, that maybe that would be a simple way out — not that you need one. But I don’t think this argument really jibs with the notion of free-will you propose because evil does not have to exist for free-will to exist (due to competing goods as alternate possibilities). And even if it did, it would then seem to require the existence of evil for free-will to exist, so it’s pretty much out.

    Maybe it has more to do with learning to resist desire successfully or discipline, but that concerns me because it seems to require a tempter. Without one, what is there to be disciplined against. So needless to say, I’m still a bit confused on this point.

  22. Perry Robinson aka Acolyte says:


    With the knife I was using an example similar to what Plato uses in the Republic. A virtue roughly speaking is a things excellence-the best way for that thing to be. So arete or virtue is going to be relative to the kind of thing that one is. Virtues for humans will not be the same thing as virtues for a knife. And some things may not have any virtues at all, say rocks.

    Virtues for humans are attained through praxis or activity because it is the perfecting of the faculties. The perfecting of those faculties requires their employment by those persons whose faculties they are. Why can’t God just zap and create someone with virtue? Because rational agents attain their excellences through the use of their wills-knifes don’t since knifes don’t have a will. This is the connection between free will and virtue. Granted that this is very rough, but I am only trying to sketch the view here. I think another feature of the view is that there is something in the doing that is attained only in that way. I am certainly not alone on this point either among Virtue Theorists or among various epistemologists since there is a difference between performance knowledge and propositional knowledge. Being moral isn’t just about knowing *that* but knowing how-having the knack.

    I don’t think that the acquasition of virtue is better than being virtuous, otherwise why would you want the goal? It seems plausible to me that being morally impeccable would be a great thing to be rather than just the ever striving after the goal. Consequently I don’t buy the “it is the journey that matters” crap. My account then is teleological and so the goal matters because it is the goal

    God is fixed in virtue without having to attain it. But why is this so? The idea is that for agents who begin to exist virtue is acquired. That is going to apply to everyone, angels included except God. From another angle, God never begins good acts which is in part why he never ceases from them. Moreover, God just IS the Good which is why he is fixed in it. Identity relationships are handy that way.

    My view is similar to John Hick’s view with this major exception. Hick thinks that not only is the possibility but actual evils are necessary for the attainment of virtue. He thus ties evil to creation. I think that if this is done you will never be rid of it. I tie the possibility of evil to a temporary state that is necessary to become impeccable. That goal seems alot more intuitive as a reason to choose a world with virtue than a world without, compared to a world with free will as a world without. What people like Bill Craig do is say, look, free will is such a good that it is better for God to create a world with it than without. Oh ok, but it doesn’t seem like that much of a good. Most ppl I wager would be willing to give up freedom for the elimination of evil. But would they be willing to give up free will and virtue/moral impeccability? A god-like status? I think this helps tip the balance and is more intuitive than an appeal to free will alone.

    Granted, this is a very very rough sketch and I want to get feedback to I can work out the kinks, if they can be worked out. I do think that my view is easier on the moral intuitions. God doesn’t have to screw with your spiritual innards to get you to believe and you aren’t left wondering why God doesn’t save all. Moreover, you aren’t left wondering why our first parents screwed up on such a simple command because you don’t start with the assumption that they were complete and perfect in every way. And you don’t have to give the same kind of answers to the question of why some angels fell and some did not. The standard Latin answer is that God witheld some grace from them. The appeal here is made to God’s justice. The idea being that God isn’t obligated to give good things to anyone. Granted, but it does make God out to be less than innocent with respect to the angelic fall. I mean doesn’t the reply, “You could have helped me, but you didn’t. And you did not to glorify yourself.” seems to implicate God in it. I mean shouldn’t you help someone if they need it? My moral intuitions want to cash out the fault with the person who fell and not with God. That is, I want a consistent account that views salvation and damnation that is cashed out in terms of God as love rather than God as love and God as justice. Something like this can be found in Kvanvig’s The Problem of Hell. I think he is on the right track.

  23. Brad Davis says:

    Good post. One thing that’s not coming out clearly for me — and this may be a bit off-topic — involves the notion of virtue that you employ. You make the analogy of virtue to a knife by saying that the virtue of a knife is its sharpness. Maybe it’s bad to give that analogy too much weight, but I think it sums up my confusion. It seems to me that God could create a virtuous knife — maybe even one that’s fixed in its sharpness. Aside from Aristotle’s definition of virtue including “attained by habit”, what prevents God from creating people who are already fixed in the virtue(s)? I guess, why is it necessary to acquire the virtue? Is the acquisition of virtue better than simply being virtuous? It seems to me that if God is fixed in virtue without having to attain it, other things could be as well.

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