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.


Saint Gregory Palamas: Time Traveller Extraordinaire

August 10, 2010

“Then they asked, ‘Is it altogether necessary to speak of wills and energies on the subject of Christ?’ He answered, ‘Altogether necessary if we want to worship in truth, for no being exists without natural activity. Indeed, the holy Fathers say plainly that it is impossible for any nature at all to be or to be known apart from its essential activity. And if there is no such thing as a nature to be or to be known without its essential characteristic activity, how is it possible for Christ to be or be known as truely God and man by nature without the divine and human activities? For according to the Fathers, the lion who loses his roaring ability is no lion at all, and a dog without the power to bark is not a dog.  And any other thing which has lost something naturally constiuative of it is not any more what it was.'”

The Trial of Maximus the Confessor, 23


The Heresy of Calvinism II

August 2, 2010

Calvinism, as was said previously, is a very elastic term. Broadly, it is a movement that has its origins in Zurich, and refined through Geneva. Often it is seen as flowering in the Puritan and Presbyterian movements in England, though much of the Puritan mind was drawn from Zurich from Heinrich Bullinger and Peter Martyr Vermigli, among others. But Bullinger, Martyr and Calvin were largely of one mind on most issues, the Eucharist excepted. The origin of the term seems to have come from its Catholic interlocutors, most notably Thomas Stapleton, though the word generally used was Calvinian. This helps us little in defining what it is. It is one of those words like liberal or conservative, though I don’t think quite so. Here, and especially here, I will give it the meaning of those who believe in forensic justification, effected in the Christian through the decree of God without reference to any faith, or faith foreseen. This definition would certainly take in not only Calvin, but also Martyr and Bullinger, and as well Melanchthon (though Luther is problematic, but not for the reasons the new Finnish interpretation of Luther teaches). Read the rest of this entry »


When It Sucks To Be You

June 24, 2010

 (Musical Accompaniment- A- Road To Nowhere)

“But the angels who, though created good, are yet evil now, became so by their own will.  And this will was not made evil by their good nature, unless by its voluntary defection from good; for good is not the cause of evil, but a defection from good is.  These angels, therefore, either received less of the grace of the divine love than those who persevered in the same; or if both were created equally good, then, while the one fell by their evil will, the others were more abundantly assisted, and attained to that pitch of blessedness at which they became certain they should never fall from it…”

Augustine, The City of God, 12, 9.

“Now there is no distinction between what flows from free will, and what is of predestination; as there is no distinction between what flows from a secondary cause and from a first cause. For the providence of God produces effects through the operation of secondary causes, as was above shown (Question 22, Art. 3). Wherefore, that which flows from free-will is also of predestination.”

Thomas Aquinas, ST, Ia. Q. 23, a.5.

Read the rest of this entry »


Free Will in Saint John Chrysostom

March 24, 2010

“All these things did that fall effect, and whereas before that he attributes all to himself, saying, “Though all men shall be offended, yet will I not be offended;” and, “If I should die, I will not deny Thee” (when he should have said, If I receive the assistance from Thee);—yet after these things altogether the contrary, “Why do ye give heed to us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made him to walk?” (Acts 3:12) Hence we learn a great doctrine, that a man’s willingness is not sufficient, unless any one receive the succor from above; and that again we shall gain nothing by the succor from above, if there be not a willingness. And both these things do Judas and Peter show; for the one, though he had received much help, was profited nothing, because he was not willing, neither contributed his part; but this one, though he was ready in mind, because he received no assistance, fell. For indeed of these two things is virtue’s web woven. Wherefore I entreat you neither (when you have cast all upon God) to sleep yourselves, nor, when laboring earnestly, to think to accomplish all by your own toils. For neither is it God’s will that we should be supine ourselves, therefore He worketh it not all Himself; nor yet boasters, therefore He did not give all to us; but having removed what was hurtful in either way, left that which is useful for us. Therefore He suffered even the chief apostle to fall, both rendering him more humbled in mind, and training him thenceforth to greater love. “For to whom more is forgiven,” it is said, “he loveth more.” (Luke 7:47)

Homilies on Matthew 82.4

“Beloved, God being loving towards man and beneficent, does and contrives all things in order that we may shine in virtue, and as desiring that we be well approved by Him. And to this end He draws no one by force or compulsion: but by persuasion and benefits He draws all that will, and wins them to Himself. Wherefore when He came, some received Him, and others received Him not. For He will have no unwilling, no forced domestic, but all of their own will and choice, and grateful to Him for their service. Men, as needing the ministry of servants, keep many in that state even against their will, by the law of ownership; but God, being without wants, and not standing in need of anything of ours, but doing all only for our salvation makes us absolute [κυριος]in this matter, and therefore lays neither force nor compulsion on any of those who are unwilling. For He looks only to our advantage: and to be drawn unwilling to a service like this is the same as not serving at all.”

Homilies on John 10.1


Limited Atonement in Saint John Cassian

March 15, 2010

“For the purpose of God whereby He made man not to perish but to live for ever, stands immovable. And when His goodness sees in us even the very smallest spark of good will shining forth, which He Himself has struck as it were out of the hard flints of our hearts, He fans and fosters it and nurses it with His breath, as He “willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” for as He says, “it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish,” and again it says: “Neither will God have a soul to perish, but recalleth,” meaning that he that is cast off should not altogether perish. (1 Tim 2:4, Matt 18:14, 2 Sam 14:14) For He is true, and lieth not when He lays down with an oath: “As I live, saith the Lord God, for I will not the death of a sinner, but that he should turn from his way and live.” Ezek 33:11) For if He willeth not that one of His little ones should perish, how can we imagine without grievous blasphemy that He does not generally will all men, but only some instead of all to be saved? Those then who perish, perish against His will, as He testifies against each one of them day by day: “Turn from your evil ways, and why will ye die, O house of Israel?” And again: “How often would I have gathered thy children together as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not;” and: “Wherefore is this people in Jerusalem turned away with a stubborn revolting? They have hardened their faces and refused to return.” (Matt 23:37, Jer 8:5) The grace of Christ then is at hand every day, which, while it “willeth all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” calleth all without any exception, saying: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matt11:28) But if He calls not all generally but only some, it follows that not all are heavy laden either with original or actual sin, and that this saying is not a true one: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God;” nor can we believe that “death passed on all men.” (Rom 3:23, 5:12) And so far do all who perish, perish against the will of God, that God cannot be said to have made death, as Scripture itself testifies: “For God made not death, neither rejoiceth in the destruction of the living.” (Wisdom 1:13) And hence it comes that for the most part when instead of good things we ask for the opposite, our prayer is either heard but tardily or not at all; and again the Lord vouchsafes to bring upon us even against our will, like some most beneficent physician, for our good what we think is opposed to it, and sometimes He delays and hinders our injurious purposes and deadly attempts from having their horrible effects, and, while we are rushing headlong towards death, draws us back to salvation, and rescues us without our knowing it from the jaws of hell.”

The Conferences 13:7


Could a Maverick Go East?

March 7, 2010

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.