Response to Blosser on Divine Simplicity

Fr. Kimel recently posted Perry’s paper Anglicans in Exile in PDF.

Dr. Blosser responded over on his blog in reaction to this essay.

Perry’s response to Blosser’s response as follows:

The problem that I have hung my hat on is hardly obscure. Perhaps it is obscure to those who do not run through the halls of philosophical theology or historical theology-fair enough, but so are such truths as the hypostatic union or homoousia so that nothing much of importance follows from that. While Orthodoxy is not monolithic that doesn’t imply that we are not unified since we eat together. (For the record I am in GOARCH and always have been.) The Palamite view doesn’t amount to “speculations” since it was dogmatized by a general council of the Church. It is true that there are Orthodox theologians who dispute what Palamitism amounts to or what Palamas specifically meant at a specific juncture but Palamas’ metaphysical distinction between essence and energies is not up for grabs since it professed by Athanasius and Maximus the Confessor far earlier than Palamas. Blosser seems to think that on this basis of being supposedly disputed or speculative they “can hardly to be taken as representing Orthodox dogma.” Well, I don’t know what else the Orthodox have to do than condemn Barlam as a heretic and dogmatize Palamas’ views. You can see this applied for example in the trouble that Sergei Bulgakov got into when his views implied a denial of Palamitism. Tomorrow is the Sunday of Orthodoxy and anyone can go listen or read the expressions themselves if you doubt me. It is quite true that some Orthodox are ignorant of Palamas’ views-yeah so? AND? The same can be said for Athanasius or Maximus but not much follows from that such “sectors” are ignorant. (I have no idea who Blosser has in mind here as to “sectors.”)

Mr. Blosser’s critique of my argument is thoughtful and well constructed but essentially mistaken as I have already dealt with this appeal to ex suppositione in the comments section of that blog. That appeal is also dispensed with or discussed in a variety of scholarly locations. (Begin with Scott MacDonald’s, Being and Goodness, and, Christopher Hughes, On a Complex Theory of a Simple God.) Moreover, my argument is aimed at the Thomistic account that argues that God has a plurality of ways to diffuse his goodness. This is the whole point of bringing to light the act of God’s will as being identical to God’s essence and with the type of necessity that God’s having the essence that he does possesses. This is why an ex suppositone appeal won’t work. I agree that if God were to will X then X would be necessary but that is not the question. The question is, is God’s act of will identical with God’s essence such that the type of necessity that is predicated of God having the essence that he does is also predicated of his acts of will? If they are not identical then this seems like a clear case of metaphysical plurality in God in which case the Roman view is flat out wrong. Also on the other hand it is identical with respect to necessity, then such acts of creation are just as necessary and necessary in the same way as God’s existence. Given that it is an identity relation I don’t see how it cannot be. The type of response that Blosser gives is pretty typical in the literature and my argument is constructed so as to preclude that avenue of escape. I have asked some of the foremost defenders of the Augustinian-Thomistic account either in grad seminar, at conferences or in personal conversation, if God’s act of willing is identical to his essence, will such an account work? All of them have admitted (so far) that if that were true, that God’s act was identical with his essence, then no it won’t and that this is the most serious objection to the Augustinian view. This gives me reason for thinking that Blosser simply hasn’t grasped the argument. Other thoughtful Catholics here like Jonathan Prejean and Daniel Jones have come to a similar judgment on the matter or at least agreed that the account that Blosser gives doesn’t work or in need of serious revision.

My argument is not a syllogism but rather employs the inference rule of Hypothetical syllogism. By necessary I mean the necessity (presumably de re necessity) that is meant in reference to God having his essence. So that it is the same kind of necessity that is meant with reference to it being impossible for God to fail to exist. This is not a necessity of the consequent which is why the ex suppositione (on the supposition that) tack won’t work. Unless of course Blosser thinks that considered absolutely with respect to God as the telos or end of his willing, that God wills himself ex suppositione with respect to his own existence and the essence he has, which would mean that God only has the essence he has contingently and with the necessity of the consequent. (P -> Q) [If P, then necessarily Q].

I also agree that Thomas in the Summa Theologia, Summa Contra Gentiles, and in the Disputed Questions on Truth 6-7 (which is his lengthiest discussion of the matter) affirms that God wills freely with a kind of libertarian freedom. Goodie for Thomas that he affirms the right view. Boo for Thomas that he doesn’t seem consistent.

The eternality of God’s willing is a red herring and irrelevant. The question is not if God’s willing is indexed to a time or to some simultaneous moment. Adding eternality to the mix adds nothing to the problem since the problem is concerning the identity relation between God’s acts of will and God’s essence. If they are identical in every way, then they are identical in every way, including the necessity with respect to the necessity of the divine essence or existence. This is why the full argument with (6) & (7) evades your criticism because the necessity in view here is not ex suppositione, but the necessity that is predicated of God with respect to his essence or existence. For your reading pleasure,

1. If God is absolutely simple (P), then his act of will to create is identical with his essence (R).
2. If God’s act of will to create is identical with his essence (R), then his act of will to create is necessary. (Q)
3. If God is absolutely simple (P), then his act of will to create is necessary. (Q) (From 1,2 by Hypothetical Syllogism)
4. God is absolutely simple. (Premise S)
5. Therefore, God’s act of will to create is necessary (R). (From 3,4 by Modus Ponens)
Support for (2) is given by the following argument.
6. If God’s essence is had by him necessarily, then if anything is identical with his essence it is necessary.
7. God’s essence is had by him necessarily. (Premise)
8. Therefore, anything identical with his essence is necessary. (From 6, 7 MP)

Seven (7) I take to be uncontroversial and by that I mean that any Christian should agree with it on its face.

(6) can be supported by Liebniz’s Law: (x) (y) [(x = y), then (P) (Px, ≡ Py)] For any x and any y, if x is identical to y, then if x has a property P then y must have that same property P and vice versa.

Now the kind of necessity that (6) and (7) have in mind clearly is not ex suppositione necessity or the necessity of the consequent of any kind. To read it in that way is to misconstrue my argument or to misunderstand traditional theological claims with respect to God being a necessary so that either way my argument evades the criticism proffered by Blosser. Here again is the basic problem. Does God exist necessarily? Does God have his essence necessarily? What kind of necessity is that exactly? Is that a hypothetical or conditional necessity? No. Then is the divine will in its activities identical with God’s essence? Yes. If so, then the same necessity that is predicated of God’s essence or existence is also predicated to the activities of the divine will.

Blosser’s comments regarding divine incomprehensibility are likewise mistaken. To appeal to divine incomprehensibility to help save absolute simplicity has things backwards. For Thomas and the Augustinian tradition generally God is incomprehensible because he is simple so that simplicity explains incomprehensibility so that in the order of explanation simplicity comes first and incomprehensibility comes second. The appeal to incomprehensibility has things backwards. For Thomas, the reason why we have no single concept of God depends on his account of simplicity and not the other way around. All of our terms are garnered from composite objects so that what we say of God in saying he is love, justice, etc. are true but since the mode of signification that they are suited to is with reference to composite objects they fail to reference God adequately. This in brief is Thomas’ view of analogical predication. Thomas view of essence is pretty much garnered from Plotinus and the Neo-Platonic tradition. If in doubt check out the Sixth Ennead, fourth through ninth tractates. For Plotinus and the Neo-Platonic tradition the eternality of the world falls out from their view of essence, which is why the adoption of that view of an essence by western Christian theologians has consistently given rise to that problem from Augustine to the Carolingians to Gundissalinus to Aquinas and the rest of the scholastics. Make no mistake here-my problem is not with the scholastic method per se or with the scholastics as theologians per se. I think they were by and large great Christian thinkers.

There is no irony here at all for this simple reason, that it is not in terms of a historical question clear that absolute simplicity is THE ground of divine incomprehensibility or that divine incomprehensibility is taken to be the very same thing across theological traditions. That is a view that has to be demonstrated rather than assumed.

It is quite true that this will not be the argument that brings people to Orthodoxy by the boat load, but I never claimed that it was. What I claimed was that this is in large measure the locus of difference and that there were good reasons for selecting Orthodoxy rather than Protestantism or Catholicism. Each person comes to the Church in their own unique way because they are a unique person. This argument and the surrounding issues were what moved me into Orthodoxy such that even if everything were peachy in Anglicanism I would never go back. I don’t think the issues and concepts here are any more difficult to sort out than the issues and concepts regarding the Papacy or Sola Scriptura. What people often notice that is rooted in the above issues is the idea of uniqueness and freedom that is so prevalent in Orthodox spirituality. They may not know or ever discover that this is because Orthodoxy takes there to be a plurality of real Goods in the Good and that God is fully both. Apart from their ignorance people often do intuitively grasp this emphasis lacking in other bodies whose doctrine of God, Christology, soteriology and eschatology seem to be a single pathway to assimilation to the absolute One.

My words:
Because of the identity relation, it can’t be possible to distinguish the will as the natural [rational] faculty and the will as the object of the will. This is why ex suppositione will not work, and can really only be an epistemic dinstinction, nothing more. (Likewise, any bonum diffusivum sui is going to be the essence because of the identity relation as well.) It would only function similar to the distinction between antecedent and consequent will, which is purely epistemic and not metaphysical. This manifests itself accordingly as well with Scholastic thinking on the Beatific Vision. Again, the rational faculty of the Saints, being singular, is directed only towards a singular object (the divine essence). This is why divine simplicity for Origen is both a divine and human problem.

Secondly, regarding Gregory Palamas, I don’t remember a reference to Palamas. Perry’s argument that God is not subsumable under the Categories of Being (i.e. Beyond Being), that the uncreate logoi are not identical to each other nor to God’s essence, NOR to the essences of created objects, is not a unique metaphysic to Palamas (He might be the most articulate but he is hardly original), but is fully in Saint Maximus the Confessor. I recommend that you take a look at Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Cosmic Liturgy, as this thinking is fully there in Maximus. And if Joseph Farrell analysis is correct in “Free Choice in Saint Maximus the Confessor,” all these ideas must be present to refute and avoid Monenergism.

Daniel Jones

2 Responses to Response to Blosser on Divine Simplicity

  1. Gentlemen:

    Fascinating. Please see my blog (mliccone.blogspot.com) for my reply to Perry on Blosser.

    Best,
    Mike

  2. Jonathan Prejean says:

    I’ll reproduce the following comment that I made on the other threads:

    Since I was mentioned specifically in Perry’s response, I’ll throw in my $0.02. I actually agree with Dr. Blosser’s criticism in terms of the necessity on creation, in that (per the comments on that thread) I still have yet to be convinced of the error in holding that God’s essence cannot be had by Him necessarily in two different ways. Someone suggested that this would amount to “modal polytheism,” but I don’t agree with that (Marius Victorinus’s “before being” formulation of God might even be a way around it). However, I do have serious objections to perceiving the Persons of the Trinity as being relations within an absolutely simple essence, so even if the “necessary creation” argument doesn’t stick, there would still be good reasons for rethinking Triadology and divine simplicity. But neither Daniel nor I consider that to be fatal to Catholicism; rather, it is exactly the kind of ressourcement that is the ongoing life of Catholicism. Because a Catholic can accept the Eastern understanding in this respect, Perry’s “knock down” philosophical objection to Catholicism per se is undercut. The remaining arguments are matters of judgment rather than necessity, and obviously, there is room for reasonable disagreement

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