Freedom of being/existence and us

April 12, 2011

A number of years ago having completed a course on Philosophy of Religion being exposed to western arguments for the existence of God, I was of the opinion that even if these arguments were only true at a theoretical level and not at an ontological level it was better to believe in God who was theoretically necessary than only in a system without God and without any reason to be. However, since then my opinion has evolved to realise that God does not exist by any necessity because such a necessity must preexist, or at least coexist with God, whether it be a greater God or some logical principle and thus limit God. Here are some thoughts regarding the existence of God, freedom and our existence.

God is all existence and all life. This statement must not be understood as pantheism, our existence is truly other than his existence, but that everything about us is an image of who He is, or more specifically we are a created, ex nihilo, image as the Son is the uncreated image of God; as the Fathers say all our logoi are in the Logos. (This idea sets orthodox Christian thought apart from those who conceive God, or gods, in man’s image as “other” in human terms such as the pagan Greeks, Mormons or some Protestants tend to inadvertently do and from those who see man as God, even if only partially, yet not as truly “other” such as in Buddhism or Platonism.) There is no truly independent existence apart from God in any form, such as matter, energy or even principle, logic or space/emptiness. So nothing could be said to cause God’s existence other than himself. Thus, God is completely free from any necessity upon himself; His existence and life is truly free.

Does God’s nature necessitate his existence? This can only happen if one can say that God necessitates himself otherwise one must put God’s nature prior to himself to be effectively a prior external principle, which would contradict it being God’s nature. God necessitating himself would mean that God causes his own existence, yet because God is free then his causing of himself must also be free. Thus, one cannot say that God’s nature necessitates his existence; nature is also free and does not necessitate.

To say that God freely causes himself seems to imply that God exists before himself. This would be true if cause and effect where purely sequential but if the cause and effect are simultaneous and eternal then there is no logical contradiction. Also, this understanding of God’s existence means there must be a priority of person over essence, as only a person can be said to freely cause his own existence.

If God freely exists then one could say that God exists because he wants to exist, else it would not be free, and because he knows himself to exist; if he is ignorant of his existence then he can’t be said to cause his existence. If he knows himself then this process must eternally generate an exact living image of himself that is enhypostasised distinct from himself. Without an image there would be no knowledge and hence no knowing. The knowing is not merely conceptual but experiential and so the image is not merely an abstract but a living image; a distinct hypostasis/person. This person is properly called the Son of God as being generated and caused by and out of God, who thus is the Father, and yet is also with God, in God and is God being everything that God is. It is inconceivable to consider that God was ever without the Son, else God would not be, yet because God freely exists the Son is also freely generated. The Son is both out of God and yet in God. This seems to be a contradiction as being out and in at once would require two contradictory states and raise the questions of how can he be out of and yet not divided or in and yet not confused there being nothing to distinguish the Son from the Father other than being generated? These problems cease to exist once it is understood that there is a third person, the Spirit. The Spirit both unites and distinguishes the Son so that the Son can be understood to be both out of and in God without contradiction, division or confusion. The Spirit shows that the Son is out of God by proceeding into him, thus ‘moving’ from God, the Father, to the Son. This procession is only possible should the Son truly be out of the Father, which means having his own hypostasis because there is no possibility of being spatially outside God. Yet, the Spirit also shows that the Son is in God and united to God because he shares the same Spirit as the Father, he does not have another Spirit of his own. The Spirit must also be God, else his procession to rest in the Son could not be said to show that the Son is in God; God cannot be divided into parts and connect only in part, He is simple and is always present completely. Also, the Spirit must have a distinct hypostasis, else he could not be truly said to proceed distinctly into the Son from, or out of, the Father. Thus, one cannot conceive of the generation of the Son without the procession of the Spirit nor the procession of the Spirit without the generation of the Son. Nor can one conceive of the Father without the Son and Spirit. Nor can one consider the three without returning to the One and the ‘monarchy’ of the Father, because the Son is the image of the Father; the manifested Word of the thought of God about himself.

Does the logic expressed above necessitate God’s existence in some way? Because logic “demands” that God has a Son and Spirit and yet freely causes himself, does this not mean that the logic is external to God? Couldn’t God just be anything? Firstly, the logic we use exists only because God exists in a particular way. Thus, if God was not true or truth then there could be no logic to validate truth. If God did not know himself then we could not know ourselves, let alone anything at all about him. Because he knows himself then we have a possibility to know him, although only so far as our limited created being allows. Although God is free to exist without any logic necessitating his existence, this does not mean that God can exist in any way whatsoever. This is because God cannot deny himself, else he would cease to exist. If God was to exist in a form that couldn’t exist in and of itself, such as a banana, then he would effectively deny himself. We can quickly see that he couldn’t exist as any other created thing, material or immaterial. If God was to deny anything about himself then he would deny himself because although we can speak of many distinct energies or operations of God they cannot be divided and denied independently from each other else He would not be simple. God cannot exist of parts else it must be said that the parts existed prior to God for him to be composed of them and/or one must imply space/time to God to separate the parts from each other. Neither is God absolutely simple else he couldn’t exist because existing must be distinguishable from creating and from willing and also if God is equated to existence then we would come to a meaningless situation of saying that existence exists without there being something to exist which is no different than saying nothing exists; the something must be distinct from its act of existence to truly speak of it existing. Also, because there is distinction without division in God we can have logic and truth. If the distinct are contradictory then they could not be united without denying themselves. Nor could they be divided without denying their being of God. Thus, it is because God freely wants to be that we can have logic and truth, with all other things, and can use the logic to confirm who God is. These things don’t exist apart or above him of their own right. (Note: the logic about God and his existence is not knowing God. Knowing God is experiential not merely conceptual. Knowing God is only possible by experiencing his life from within, that is in practicing the virtues and in prayer, which only pertains to knowing his energies/operations and not his essence, which is impossible to know/experience without eternally being God.)

If we are to share in the existence and life of God, then we too must share in the freedom of this existence. Thus, our existence cannot be necessitated by external power but must be free. This freedom is expressed most clearly in our free will. We are to exist united God only if we freely want to exist united to him. If our existence is not free then it would not be the image and likeness of God’s existence and incapable of being united to him and of sharing his existence. Yet, we too must exist as God exists, that is in his energies/operations. We are not free to exist as we want to exist because this would imply that there is sustainable existence apart from God, which would imply that this existence would have its energy from a source other than God implying another god or eternally self-existing something. While we have a certain amount of energy given to us by God, of itself, because it is limited, it cannot sustain us eternally and so we must necessarily spiral into non-existence or death apart from God. We end up denying ourselves as God would deny himself if he were to exist other than he does.

Also, without the Son we could not exist because without the generation of the eternal image of God there could be no created image of God. If the image of God was only conceptual and not generated ‘out of’ God then creation could only be conceptual and not created other than God. If there was no Spirit then creation, being other than God, could have no means of coming into God; it would remain estranged from God and fall into non-existence; rather it could never exist because there can be no existence totally apart from God. We can only come to God in the Son because all knowledge/experience of God is in the Son else we would deny the Son is God, divide God, or say that God does not know/experience himself and hence deny God. Without the Spirit is it impossible to be a son of God because one cannot exist as son without the Spirit. God must be all in all for us to exist eternally and yet we do not lose our unique personal existence as both other and in God due to the reality of the tri-hypostatic/personal God.

Finally, we do not revere, bless, and praise God because of some external standard of meetness and rightness but because God is worthy and just in himself of our reverence, blessing and praise and this is correct for us because we are in his image and likeness.


The Heresy of Calvinism. I

July 10, 2010

About a year ago, his Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah addressed the meeting of the ACNA at which he delineated a number of things that must be jettisoned were real ecumenical dialogue to occur between the Orthodox and this newest iteration of Anglicanism. Among the eschewed was what his Beatitude called “the heresy of Calvinism.” That very weekend, while attending a reception for my nephew John and his new bride Becca, her father, a minster of the Reformed Episcopal Church, and a friend of mine from some years back (more than twenty: we had attended seminary together, we both served as clergy in the PCA parish in Allentown, PA), accosted me wanting to know what was heretical about Calvinism. The following post(s) is my reply.

This, like any essay on some historical ism, immediately demands an explanation of what exactly that ism entails. The matter becomes more urgent when certain people wish to rearrange categories at one time more-or-less settled, and with these disputes I shall have little to say. By “these” I mean the suppliants of the erstwhile Bishop Thomas Durham (aka N. T. Wright) and his putative new readings of Paul, and the tentacles of such readings that have ensnared contemporary Reformed circles under the sobriquet of Federal Vision. To be just, federal vision predates N. T. Durham’s musings by decades, many tracing it back to the disquiet surrounding Norm Shepherd at Westminster Seminary in the early 80s. I remember at the time thinking Shepherd’s stance odd, and later in the decade, having fallen in with a circle sympathetic to Shepherd (the aforementioned PCA parish in Allentown) due to some sacramental and ecclesiological affectations on my part, I found Shepherd more to my newly acquired taste. It is all now too easy to see such readings’ incoherence and inconsistency, both with the Westminster Standards, and with Calvin (though I do not equate the two), and like the Finns with Luther, all seemingly suffering from a case of ‘deification envy’. Thus for them, claims to be “Calvinist” at best must come with the obscene caveat “Calvinism better-informed.” All the arguments about Federal Vision and its accouterments I shall leave to one side, for they do not concern the basic Orthodox critiques: perhaps they are of great weight, but not to the basic problems as the Orthodox see them, for they concern matters “after the fact”. That is, they don’t address the questions of predestination, satisfaction theories of the atonement, and human union with Christ based upon human nature’s redemption through union with the Incarnate Logos. Thus, whether one wishes to sail on R. C. Sproul’s end of the Reformed boat, or on Jim Jordan’s, it is all of apiece for the Orthodox.

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De Deo Uno in Calvin

February 22, 2010

“At the same time, in spite of these laudable efforts, [Paul Jacobs and Richard Muller] it is difficult to avoid the impresison that at a crucial level Calvin has failed to integrate his doctrine of election thoroughly with the broader trinitarian theology of revelation, redemption, and human response that we are highlighting here.  For example, in Comm. John 17:9, Calvin asserts that Christ ‘commends to the Father only those whom the Father himself willingly loves.’  Here, as at many other points, the will of the Father is understood as something omniously arbitrary, rather than as being intrinsically and perichoretically related to the divine manifestation of grace in the Son.  Examples could be multiplied. It appears that in spite of the helpful trinitarian direction Calvin has taken in formulating his undersanding of the divine-human relationship, at the point of the doctrine of election his normal emphasis on the thorough perichoresis of Father, Son and Spirit in the divine operations has been effectively and inexplicably suspended.”

Philip Walker Butin, Revelation, Redemption and Response: Calvin’s Trinitarian Understanding of the Divine-Human Relationship, Oxford, 1995, 168, ednt. 6.

“It may be taken as further evidence of his committment to the perichoresis of the trinitarian hypostaseis in God’s economic work that Calvin consistently qualifies the statement that ‘God is the proper object of faith’ with the immediate affirmation that access to God is only through Christ (1159 Institutes II.6.2,4; cf. III.2.6), which appears to turn the relationship around, asserting that the Father offers Christ to us ‘as the goal of our faith’). However, as we have suggested earlier, Calvin is not entirely consistent in focusing faith on God’s benevolence as expressed in ChristHis commitment to the doctrine of the ‘double decree’ (cf. 1559 Institutes III.21.1ff.) leads to the a priori exclusion of the reprobate from this Christological access to God by faith.  This results at certain points in severe tension between his otherwise trinitarian paradigm of revelation, redemption, and human response and his doctrine of election. For example, in the1159 Institutes III.2.9-12, he appears to theologically justify the concept of the ‘double decree’  by making a deliberate exception to his normally characteristic insistence that the work of the Son and the Spirit be held together in the exonomy of redemption.  Thus-in the attempt to explain why some who appear to believe are not ultimately saved (vf. Hebrews 6:4-6)-he can speak of a ‘lower working of the Spirit…in the reprobate.’ This stirs in them a sense that God is merciful toward them and allows them to ‘recognize his grace,’ but apparently operates apart from the effectual grace that God offers in the Son, and hence does not lead to saving faith (1559 Institutes III.2.11).  It seems that Calvin never faced the omnious theological implicaitons of this move for a doctrine of the Trinity that otherwise wants to hold that God’s immanent trinitarian relations are consistently reflected in the ad extra activity of the hypostaseis.  In addition, at this point he seems inexplicably to suspend his otherwise rigorous insistence on the thoroughgoing perichoresis for the doctrine of the divine decrees. Rather, he applies that paradigm only to the issue of the elect believer’s assurance of election, while the operation of election itself is apparently excempted from the consistency with God’s otherwise trinitarian nature, and left to an inscrutable divine will.”

Ibid., 189., ednt. 81.

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Divine Simplicity in Aetius’ Neo-Arianism

October 1, 2009

 “4.  If God remains endlessly in ungenerated essence and the generate is endlessly generate, then the perverse doctrine of the homoousion and the homoiousion will be destroyed. And incomparability in essence is established when each of the two natures remains unceasingly in its proper rank of nature.

5. If God is ungenerated with respect to essence, what was generated was not generated by partition of essence, but he has made it to exist as a hypostasis by his power. For no pious reasoning permits the same essence to be generated and ungenerated.

6.  If the ungenerated has been generated, what prevents the genrerated from having become generated? For every nature shuns what is improper to it for what is proper to it.

7. If God is not entirely ungenerated, nothing hinders him from having generated essentially. But if he is entirely ungenerated, he was not partioned essentially in generation, but he made the generate to exist as a hypostasis by his power.

8. If the ungenerated God is entirely generative, what was generated was not generated essentially, since his entire essence is able to generate but not to be generated.  If the essence of God, having been transformed, is said to be generate, his essence is not unchangeable, since the change effected the formation of the Son. If the essence of God be unchangeableand superior to generation, relationship with the Son will be confessed to be a mere mode of address.”

10. If the generate was complete within the ungenerated,it is generate as a result of the things from which the ungenerrated generated it. This is false, for it is not possible that a generated nature be within an ungenerated essence.  For the same thing is not able both to be an not to be. For a generate thing is not able to be ungenerated, and being ungenerated could not have been a generate thing, since to say that God consists of unlike parts presents to him the height of blasphemy of hybris.

The Syntagmation

“We have seen from our discussion of syllogisms #5 and #6 that Aetius based at least part of his argument against homoousion on the expectation that his opponents would agree to the axiom of God’s essential unity or simplicity. Certainly syllogisms #7 and #8 depend on this axiom.  If God is admitted to be essentially compound, argued #7, then part of God’s essence could remin ungenerated while the other part  would be able to become generated-or, as syllogism #8b put it ‘transformed’ into that which is generated. But since God is admitted not to be compound, if he is ungenerated, he must be entirely ungenerated (#7).  On the other hand, the Christian tradiiton was unanimous in believing that he in some way caused the Son to exist as a separate entity. With partition ruled out, the only alternative left, reiterated Aetius, is that God’s essence created the Son, that ‘he made the generate to exist as a hypostasis by his power.’ (#7). Moreover, given God’s simplicity, the entire essence of God must have been involved in the creation of the son and, in that sense, to have been ‘entirely generative” (#8). The implicaiton was that God’s essence could have been generated in no sense whatsoever. Homoousion of the entirely generative one with the generated one is impossible. We see how crucial the assumption of God’s unity or simplicity was to Aetius arguments; this will become apparent once again when we consider syllogism #10.”

Thomas A. Kopecek, A History of Neo-Arianism, vol. 1, 231-232, 236.


Saint Cyril on Divine Simplicity

July 16, 2009

Bekkos over at De Unione Ecclesiarum has posted some citations from Saint Cyril of Alexandria. Since he has the Greek text there I won’t bother reproducing it here. Peter seems to think that Cyril’s position on simplicity, particularly with respect to the divine will and being are isomorphic with that of Aquinas rather than say Palamas. I don’t think that’s the case, but let’s take a look at the passages.

Hermias. And how, they say, is the divine simple if, in existence on the one hand and in will on the other, it is conceived of separately? For then it would be composite and as though it existed, in a way, out of parts that had come together into a closer unity.

Cyril. Therefore, since, in your view, the divine is simple and exists above all composition (and this view of yours is correct), his will is nothing other than he himself. And if someone says “will,” he indicates the nature of God the Father.

 Hermias. So it would appear.

St. Cyril of Alexandria, Dialogues on the Trinity (Ad Hermiam), book V; SC 237 (de Durand, ed.), p. 290; PG 75, 945 C.

 With the first citation here I’d like to call your attention to a few things. First, the Palamite position doesn’t deny that God is simple, but rather denies a specific understanding of divine simplicity so that references employing terms such as those above will be inadequate until a demonstration is forthcoming showing what concept is picked out by said terms.

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