Could a Maverick Go East?

Over at Bill Vallicella’s ever estimable blog, Maverick Philosopher, Bill has two  posts on divine simplicity and free will. Bill does a fine job of showing why the former as understood in the Augustinian/Thomistic tradition is not compatible with libertarian free will. They in the main represent my own thinking on the matter. There are a number of things here that are interesting. First is that simplicity pars down all objects of choice to one.  This presents just as much a problem for creaturely freedom as it does for divine freedom as well as freedom for Christ’s human will.

Second, in the conversation there, it is apparent that the problem is recognized but there still remains a desire to maintain some form of simplicity and libertarian freedom. I’ve seen something like this before in the work of Thomas Morris in his exchange with William Mann some time back. Morris comes very close to in a number of ways to Maximus’ distinction between essence and energy.  I think they are right, but the Christian tradition as they are familiar with it doesn’t give the any live options to work with. Part of what motivates Christians doing philosophy of religion to maintain the Augustinian/Thomistic view in face of these objections is not so much that they think such a view is true but rather that they would be giving up traditional theological ground. But if Maximus (and the Orthodox tradition) is right, one can maintain traditional theological positions, its just that the traditional ground is wider than was previously thought pace Augustinian/Thomistic philosophical hegemony.

As for contingent knowledge, it seems that what most people who reject simplicity a la Thomas in philosophy of religion do is move God further down the metaphysical spectrum. (The same is done with the doctrine of divine timelessness a la simultaneity.) I don’t think this is the way to go. The way is not down, but up and so far “up” that we get off the spectrum entirely. If we combine the e/e distinction with the doctrine of huperousia there is another way out of the problem, or at least a plausible line of philosophical development for one.  Part of the problem is change and error. Roughly, if God’s knowledge were to change, then it seems God in fact didn’t know and was in error. Given divine perfection, this isn’t possible and not welcome either. But what if the kind of  “change” that entails substantial alteration via motion/activity is limited to things that “be?”  If God is huperousia, or as Plato remarked concerning the Good, “on the other side of being” then the kind of problematic change envisioned is in principle precluded and cannot be attributed to God. Personal activities could be true of God without implying a defect or a loss of freedom in creatures whose acts God foreknows. (This has parallels to issues in Agent Causation.) Second, the actualization of different truths across logically possible worlds would not entail accidental change in God either, since accidents inhere in substances that be.  Whatever the thing it is, it isn’t substantial and it isn’t an accident, but something else, a specific kind of potency akin to the possessing of a power that is brought to act by the agent whose power it is. Now Thomists worry that if there is something brought to act in God, then there is something antecedent to God moving in terms of actualizing the divine essence. But if what we are talking about is deity, but not the divine essence and is in turn brought about by the divine persons, then such a worry seems mistaken since the kind of actualization entails no alteration in the divine essence and no pure passive potency either.

In any case, Vallicella’s entries are worthwhile reading.

28 Responses to Could a Maverick Go East?

  1. Tap says:

    Link to section that Fr Dcn Patrick is referrin;

  2. @ Perry Robinson: Thank you for your further clarification. I would generally agree with your position on the contemporary attempt of Analytic Philosophers to appropriate Thomas. There seems, in my mind, to be an intrinsic problem with their approach. I have not pinpointed the problem but I have a feeling it has more to do with their lack of a robust (if any) metaphysics. This causes them to have problems with their epistemological framework and in particular their understanding of causality and intentional objects.

    @ Perry Robinson & Fr. Dcn Patrick: The distinction seems to be one that is addressing the notion of freedom from the position of efficient causality in the notion of God being outside of time. Thomas usually makes a distinction between what is willed as such and what is given procession in time.

    This notion helps with the problem that God wills all things that he wills eternally but those things that he wills do not find an actual procession until the time that he appoints. Otherwise, if we are to take efficient causality seriously then each thing that God wills would come into procession eternally “in re.”

  3. I am reading the Treatise on Creation Questions 44-49 found in the first volume and part one of ST (as named in the PDF versions that I have. In particular the first quote is found in Question 46 “Of the beginning of the duration of Creatures” and in the first part of the question “Whether the universe of creatures always existed?”, (referenced as P(1)-Q(46)-A(1)-RO(6)), the second quote is found in the same question at P(1)-Q(46)-A(1)-RO(10). The second quote is the response to an objection at P(1)-Q(46)-A(1)-O(10) which argued that: “Further, eternal action postulates an eternal effect. But the action of God is His substance, which is eternal. Therefore the world is eternal.”

  4. Fr. Patrick,

    What sections of ST are you reading exactly?

  5. If Thomas is thinking of a willing in eternity rather than an eternal willing then why the need to distinguish it from an eternal effect? How can you practically distinguish between eternally willing and willing in eternity without introducing some concept of time?

  6. I am looking at a text of the Summa Theologica, the treatise on creation.

  7. I think what Thomas means is a willing in eternity or from eternity rather than an eternal or unceasing emanation.

    What text are you looking at from Thomas?

  8. Perry,

    I am not sure which way he could be interpreted from the material that I have, although I am inclined to “eternal willing”, so here are the quotes from my translation for you to see yourself:

    “And although He had the eternal will to produce some effect, yet He did not produce an eternal effect.”

    “Therefore from the eternal action of God an eternal effect did not follow; but such an effect as God willed, an effect, to wit, which has being after not being.”

  9. Fr. Patrick,

    Do you mean an eternal willing or a willing in eternity?

  10. Br Gabriel,

    Let me clarify what I mean when I speak of people temporalizing God. I do not mean to pick out commentators on Thomas but rather contemporary figures in analytic philosophy of religion. The prime target would be someone like Wolterstorff or Van Inwagen. Wolterstorff for example takes criticisms simultaneity to leave the only option to go down into temporarlity. I think this creates more problems than it solves and goes against the grain of the Christian tradition. Consequently, I think a better move is to go “up” in thinking about God’s timelessness for example. God exists at no “present.” Timelessness is timelessness-no future, no past and no present.

    Yes, depending on what I mean by zero point and your gloss is what I agree with as being what Thomas has in mind. I also agree that his view is more in keeping with Late Platonism. Though I don’t see the great distance between Aristotle and Plato that most popularly do. Its more of an academic myth.

    I don’t think the analogical predication can help here. This is a consequence of simplicity so if simplicity is false or incoherent or absurd, then analogical predication can’t transmute it into something better.

    Erugena, like Maximus deny not that angels or anyone else sees the divine essence in terms of degrees of vision, but rather altogether. Thomas is sufficiently clear that this is what he takes Erugena to mean and he thinks its heretical. There is no beatific vision and no intentional union. Such a union would leave matter in a very bad spot.

  11. Perry,

    What do you make of Aquinas’ position that one can have an eternal will or action but that doesn’t necessitate an eternal effect?

  12. @Perry Robinson: You are correct I did misunderstand what you were saying. I would agree that some of the Commentators and neo-Thomists end of temporalizing God at least implicitly. However, that is their problem, not Thomas’ problem.

    Depending on what you mean by a “zero point” I may agree with you. But, only if this “zero point” was more like the One or the Good than like the Prime Mover. The Thomistic view of being and God is more like neo-platonism than Aristotelianism. This is evident by his doctrines of participationism, self-diffusiveness of being, plenitude, communicatablity, and God as pure act. All of these are neo-platonic notions in opposition to the Aristotelian view.

    I have not done a close read of the commentary on the divine names but I have done a close read of the pertinent areas in the QD de veritate and the Summa Theologiae. Based on these sources which represent a more mature thought than his commentaries I would have to say that your response is too simplistic. Keeping in mind the Thomistic principle of analogy the name being applied to God is only analogous and hence the reason why Thomas never makes the statement “Deus est/sit essum” or any variant. Rather, every defining name that Thomas gives to God indicates a hesitance to use the term being as such but rather only in such a way that it speaks about God possessing existence as such and hence the definition of Deus sit ipsum esse subsistans.

    Thank you for the citations. I would have to read the sources via Albert. However, Thomas rarely takes the thought of Albert wholesale but usually modifies it in light of his own assimilation. But, I’ll take a look at the article of the Thomist. I also agree that Latins do not read the major Orthodox theologians honestly – my interest in intellectual honesty.

    Concerning Erugena I would have to look at the commentary closely. However, my read of the Summa Theologiae would indicate to me that Angelic Beings possess the Beatific Vision but not in the same way that Man does in his glorified state. What that means is unclear to me but it is not the same as saying that Angles do not see the Divine Essence.

  13. Don,

    I don’t think I could say all. I haven’t looked at a number of figures, Wesley for example. But most of the major scholastics certainly seem to endorse some version of it. The Classical Reformation traditions certainly do. I don’t know about the Anabaptists though. Most moderns fall into it or if they don’tlike Barth, they accept its principles and affirm that Christ had a gnomic will. Later this year I’ll do a detailed post on the scholastics.

  14. Don Bradley says:


    Are you truly accusing all of Western theology of monenergism?

  15. Fr. Patrick,

    I realise this but Maximus and others speak this way that God is both being and non-being. So yes, I am saying what your last line picks out.

  16. Perry,

    When you say that “I do not mean that God is superessential being, but rather no being at all whatsoever in any sense” it could be read as a statement of atheism and that God does not exist in any sense. The Fathers do refer to God as Being, so how can it be said that God is “no being at all whatsoever in any sense”? What meaning is there to the statement that God exists? Are you saying more than that “God is not a being among other beings in any way whatsoever, even as an unlimited being”?

  17. Christopher,

    That much is true for any great thinker, Maximus and Palamas included. It is not as if there is some great surplus of Catholic theologians who are familiar with either of the two figures. One could read Summas and contemporary secondary literature on Catholic Christology for decades and never manage to get Maximus’ teaching on Christ’s two energies right, let alone hear of it. I have yet to see a major Catholic theologian exposit it without falling into the usual monoenergist position of saying that Christ’s willing to save his life in the passion was a mere appetative motion and not a genuine choice, since the divine will moved the human will at all times. Uhm, thats just monoenergism.

  18. Br. Gabriel,

    I think you misunderstood my statement. When I said that people go down the metaphysical spectrum I meant two things. First, they make God temporal. And second, that for Thomas, God is something like the zero point of the spectrum, that is, God isn’t on the spectrum of being. Consequently I don’t misread Thomas as a Scotus where God’s being is differentiated form ours in terms of the intensity of being.

    As for the proper name, I mean in his commentary on Dionysius, how does Thomas read Ex 3:14? The term most appropriate for God in Thomas’ thinking is being.
    When I say with John of Damascus, Maixmus, et al that God is absolutely beyond being, I do not mean that God is superessential being, but rather no being at all whatsoever in any sense. This is what Dionysius has in mind, not unlimited being.

    As for secondary literature, try starting with an article in the Thomist about two years ago or so by John D. Jones on Dionysius and the essence energies distinction. Jones demonstrates that Thomas’ reading of Dionysius comes through Albert and Albert’s reading demonstrated from the texts is wrong.
    Since I’ve read almost nothing from Zizioulas, your remarks here are not relevant. I worked my way through texts of Thomas and a mess of secondary literature largely before I became Orthodox. As for flagrant misreadings, that of course is a two way street. There seems to be no shortage of Catholics who can’t seem to properly read Maximus’s dyoenergist Christology or Gregory Palamas deification of matter without making the most rudimentary mistakes. It’d be appropriate then to just stick with the arguments and not poison the well with insults.

    As for Erugena, I believe I wrote that Thomas thinks Erugena’s position that not even the angels see the divine essence is heterodox. This is found I believe in Thomas’ commentary on Hebrews. Of course what Thomas did not seem to know was that Eugena was following Maximus’s teaching as representative of the patristic tradition. That is laid out in Bradshaw’s, Aristotle: East and West, along with other works by Moran or O’Merea on Erugena. Plenty of scholars in Late Antiquity seem to be aware of the cleavage here between Erugena and later scholastic theology.

  19. Christopher A says:

    Br. Gabriel,
    I would have to agree with you. Most Eastern Orthodox opponents of Thomas tend to read him in a very simplistic fashion which often leads them to attack staw men rather than the true substance of Thomistic thought.

  20. @ Perry Robinson: The statement that caused me to question your understanding of Thomas’ answer to the question Quid est Deus was “As for contingent knowledge, it seems that what most people who reject simplicity a la Thomas in philosophy of religion do is move God further down the metaphysical spectrum.” Granted, you did not say Thomas specifically and I would admit that the Commentators did this but I would not affirm that Thomas is doing it. Rather, Thomas’ assimilation of Neo-Platonic thought precludes the possibility of such a reductionism.

    Re: proper name – This is a difficult issue because I would need to know what you mean by ‘name’ since naming something could imply defining something or it could just imply a name simply. However, if you mean a name that defines (in so far as God can be defined) I have already provided it. Thomas calls called hesitantly (evidenced by the lingusitic formulation) “Deus sit ipsum esse subsitans.” This is not from Pseudo-Dionysius but I believe it is derived, in part, from the treaties on the Divine Name by that author.

    What do you mean by the word “absolutely” when referring to to Thomas’ position on God being beyond being. This word can make all the difference in what Thomas says.

    Who and what are these secondary sources? I’m curious since I have neither heard of this nor of the critique that Thomas is following Erugena by way of appropriation – retrieval perhaps, but appropriation I’m not too sure.

    His understanding is far from having been demonstrated to be mistaken. Usually such a position is taken by those who fragrantly misread Thomas such as Zizioulas, who’s read of Thomas is simplistic at best.

  21. ioannis says:

    Perry Robinson,

    Agreed. And because He knew the world, the world came into existence. But why do you say that there are things that “God knows that could have been, but aren’t”.

  22. I do not think I glossed Thomas as saying that God is a being or even ens commune. In fact I have denied it. What is the proper name for God for Aquinas? Would Dionysious say the same? I don’t think so. I do not think that Thomas has in mind what John of D does or Dionysius do. Thomas for example takes the idea that God is beyond being absolutely as found in John Scotus Erugena as already condemned as heretical. Of course, Erugena gets it from Maximus and Dionysius. Thomas is following a misreading from Albertus Magnus and this has been documented in the secondary literature.

    Thomas draws from the Cappadocians and Damascus as he understands them through the lens of previous Augustinian commentators and that understanding has been demonstrated to be mistaken.

  23. I would like to note that I think you misapprehend the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas but in the usual way in which he is misunderstood even by the Commentators. If we are to take the “analogy of being” seriously then we must conclude that for Aquinas God is not ” a Being” but infinitely transcends Being. This is similar to your quote from Plato cf. the Good. I think that if you readjust your notion about the theology of Aquinas with this corrective then you may see that one cannot simply speak of a Thomistic/Augustinian notion. Rather, the corrective that Thomas constantly makes of Augustinian thought begins to take on a new meaning – in particular with the added Thomistic notions of divine plenitude and participation.

    Concerning the notions of truth there is a complete misunderstanding of what Thomas is doing. I would suggest a close read of at least the first book of the QD de veritate. Simply put, when Thomas hesitantly describes God as “Deus sit ipsum esse subsistans” in combination with God being pure act he derives a notion of God’s knowledge that encompasses all things without recourse to an explanation of divine knowledge of singulars and contingents that os apart from participationism. This is very complex in its details but seems to work well with the Cappadocians and Damascene from whom he draws heavily.

  24. Ioannis,

    God knew the world logically and causally prior the world existing. It was created from nothing. It existed at best only as an idea.

  25. ioannis says:

    What do you mean by saying that God knows something which does not and is not going to exist? Is there anything to know about a nonexistent thing? If God knew something about it wouldn’t that mean that it is a being? Any help?

  26. Perry,

    Thanks for the comments.

    I would say that the grounds of knowledge in God would be his own life. That is in his energies. Also, I lean to the thought that all knowledge of creation is part of the creative act derived from the knowledge of himself but the distinct knowledge of each created thing is not necessarily eternally existing as that thing in God. That is a lion may not necessarily exist as a lion thought but its logoi is from the eternal Logos. The lion thought and actuality comes as God freely decides that will be the manifestation of that/those logoi. Thus, creation is both derived from God and yet a free product of his will.

    Is not the difference between knowing things that are and things that could be a limit of human knowledge? What if God’s life transcends any particular existence and participates in all possible existences? Thus, he would not exist or be in the sense that we do in a particular existence but exists in a manner transcends all actual and potential existences?

    My take on the damned is the day of judgement is the end of linear time. All creation moves to participate in eternity in a sense becoming both endless and beginningless. Thus, there is no chance of repentance and no chance of another fall because we no longer live in a linear time system that allows a change of thought from one moment to the next in a linear fashion.

  27. Fr. Patrick,

    Here are some things to consider on your gloss. When you write of God’s knowledge of potential actions, what grounds that knowledge in God? If it is the divine essence and the divine essence is being in terms of unlimited being then we have the same problem-either creation becomes necessary or God changes at the level of essence.

    It doesn’t seem to follow that a lack of entailment of change in God from potential creaturely acts flattens out the difference between knowing potential acts and knowing actual acts. Moreover, we still have a difference between things God knows that could have been, but aren’t, and things God knows and wills and so are. Some of this turns on the difference between the A and B theories of time.

    As for the freedom of the damned, I think they lose the option to repent at some point due to their own self determining and character solidification. Their freedom still meets the necessary and sufficient conditions for LFW even without that option. If this wasn’t the case then the No Exit thesis on hell would have to be scrapped.

  28. Perry,

    Some thoughts. All created knowledge is derived from the Logos and exists because God wills and knows it to be because there can be no other source of knowledge without limiting God. The free act of a creature does not generate new knowledge because God would know any and every possible free act of any creature because the act could only come to pass with his providence. His knowledge of all possible or potential acts would be equivalent to His knowledge of an actual act. The actual act itself would only change the knowledge of a creature not God’s knowledge. Even if God’s foreknowledge is limited to the choices that man actually makes and not possible or potential choices there would still not be change in the knowledge of God because the choice would only be within a framework which God himself created and sustains by his knowledge and word. A free choice is not creating a different reality but operates in the reality that God has created and is only exercised in the context of God’s providence. True freedom only exists as far as it freely participates in God’s freedom; that is it shares/unites with God’s will through obedience. So, a creature has libertarian freedom but this is only fully realised when it obeys God’s will and shares His freedom. Separate from God’s freedom it becomes bound to sin and ceases to be completely libertarian free in action even though it maintains the libertarian freedom to repent and choose to obey God and participate in full freedom.

    I think it is important to get ones head around this quote from Dionysios in terms of understanding simplicity:
    Yea, being One and communicating of His Unity both unto every part of the world and also unto the whole, both unto that which is one and unto that which is many, He is One in an unchangeable and super-essential manner, being neither an unit in the multiplicity of things nor yet the sum total of such units. Indeed, He is not an unity in this sense, and doth not participate in unity nor possess it; but He is an Unity in a manner far different from this, above all unity which is in the world; yea, He is an Indivisible Plurality, insatiable yet brim-full, producing, perfecting, and maintaining all unity and plurality.

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