Meaningful God-talk

I’ve been through the Desert Fathers on an Ousia with No Name. It felt good to get out of the Reign (of Rationalism) with the help of the Cappadocians.

Many concepts, taken ahistorically, to me, have often seemed to converge syntactically, semantically & contextually. But, I slowly came to realize that, unless studied historically, it’s seldom going to be readily discernible which such concepts authors have
• clearly derived from others,
• formulated after being merely influenced by others, or
• otherwise developed quite independently of others.

It was back when I was trying to unscramble epistemic-ontic omelets (puzzles such as presented when I was casually reading about quantum interpretations, cosmogonies, philosophies of mind, or life & language origins) that I got introduced to the essentialism-nominalism conundrum. And my first exposure to a solution was Peirce’s semiotic, pragmatic realism. I didn’t use it as a metaphysic to unscramble any epistemic-ontic omelets or to disabuse me of my metaphysical agnosticismJoseph O’Leary. (although I certainly have sneaking suspicions that variously incline me, ontologically). I did, however, find that Peirce’s categories provided a helpful architectonic heuristic, a vague meta-ontological phenomenology, within which I could bracket ontological root metaphors (e.g. substance, process, relations, experience, persons), while framing up questions via
• linguistics (e.g. icon, index, symbol & syntactical, semantical, contextual),
• speculative grammar (e.g. per first principles, PNC, PEM),
• probability theory (e.g. in/determinacies),
• critical logic (abductive, inductive, deductive) and
• speculative rhetoric (pragmatic principle & modality of 1ns, 2ns, 3ns).

Questions regarding a/historical conceptual convergences have most often presented regarding the essentialist-nominalist & realist-idealist conundra, unity-multiplicity & necessity-contingency distinctions, the natures of divine & human freedom, all which especially arose in various forms, for example, when I began reading about the Doctrine of Divine Simplicity.

Using my Peircean lenses, every trinitological problem and/or solution that I’d encounter, suspiciously, would look like a question and/or answer that had been framed in terms of a pragmatic semiotic realism. That obviously not being the case, explicitly, suggested to me that, nevertheless, implicitly, as long as various schools of thought were realist, i.e. moderately not naively, both their epistemes as well as their theotics would tend to largely converge. It has certainly seemed that way to me when considering Neoplatonic, Dionysian, Augustinian, Cappadocian, Palamitic, Bonaventurean, Scotistic, Thomist & Peircean approaches to various conceptual distinctions pertaining to essences, existents & relations, whether nondeterminate, self-determinate or determinate. Prominent examples include distinctions like created grace, habitus, Peirce’s thirdness, Scotus’ formal distinction, real metaphysical (vs physical) distinction of some Thomists, Palamas’ energies, Rahner’s quasi-formal cause, Basil’s hypostatic idiomata & essential propria and such.

Diverse in many ways, then, most theological schools that have remained moderately realist, historically, have naturally tended to otherwise converge in both their epistemic & theotic approaches.

Many who’ve exaggerated the differences between Neoplatonists, Cappadocians, Augustinians, Scotists, Thomists & Palamites, or have charged them w/incoherence re the Trinity, have often eisegetically projected onto those schools either their own naive realism or nominalism. Such fundamentalists have ignored the metaphysical subtlety & theological nuance of those schools (e.g. such as in their predications of essences, existents & relations – nondeterminate vs self-determinate vs determinate).

From revelation, contextually, we can take away certain essential meta-ontological implications from the non-metaphysical, quidditative God-talk of its Scriptural narratives & liturgical Traditions.

We can even argue those take-aways syllogistically, employing vague phenomenological categories, which articulate a rough syntactical mapping of divine & human beings, realities & relations (ad intra & ad extra) and which employ a modicum of semantical univocity.

This meta-ontological mapping of syntactical, semantical & contextual categories is precisely what renders our analogical God-talk meaningful.

We can also argue syllogistically when engaging in ontological God-talk, whether onto-theologically or theo-ontologically, but can only employ apophatic predications, which afford us successful references but not robust descriptions.

Most of our God-talk is otherwise kataphatic, analogical, metaphorical, non-metaphysical, common-sensical, dispositional, theopoetic & theopoietic, as found in the forms of our Scriptures & Traditions, our dogma, doctrines & disciplines, the theotic efficacies of all which supply the norms by which we can gauge the degrees of meaningfulness that we aspire to derive from any novel distinctions that we put forth in our speculative systematic theology, meta-ontologically or ontologically.
In other words, how might any given distinction better foster our ongoing participation in divine activities & incorporation into the Body of Christ?

For example, if one might suggest:

Hypostatical identities are derived relationally (from status & activity/passivity) and not ontologically (from being), thus not mereologically (as parts). e.g. Father’s unbegotten, an identity derived from no cause; Son’s id derived from generation & Spirit’s from procession.

We can draw a distinction between the Trinity’s unoriginate, noncomposite being (what) & its un/originate persons (un/begotten hypostases or who).

Mereological distinctions don’t apply to noncomposite being, so questions re fallacies of composition and/or division don’t arise.

Then, how might we evaluate that?

To avoid category errors of God-talk, for any given discussion, one must clarify precisely what’s under consideration:

1) normatively & syntactically – incl modal phenomenological categories (e.g. first principles)



relations (ad intra & extra)

2) descriptively & referentially – incl predications (e.g. semantically & methodologically)





informal & common-sensical

formal & syllogistic
(root analog or metaphor?)

3) interpretively – incl meta-ontological aporia




theological – incl theopoetic, theo-ontological & onto-theological

4) evaluatively & liberatively -theopoietic



Analytical Theology?

I’m all for analytical theology as long as it properly attends to all of Lonergan’s methodological categories, including Biblical, exegetical, historical, dogmatic & systematic approaches.

And as long as it tends to all distinctions that make a difference before employing its syllogisms, which can otherwise devolve into facile, sylly argumentation that engages mere caricatures of classical theology.

For example:

How do we distinguish those attributions we predicate of determinate acts & relations from those we predicate
• of determinate being (existents)?
• or of nondeterminate acts & relations?
• or of nondeterminate and/or self-determinate being?
• much less acts w/nondeterminate and/or self-determinate being as source but w/a temporal or determinate terminus?
• aspiring to successful referentiality vs description
• or to intelligibility vs comprehensibility?

For example, Robert Neville’s ontology specifies how God can be referred to both as unchanging, as in the eternal act of creating, as well as dynamic, as inclusive of the life of creation. The divine includes the nondeterminate source of the creative act, its determinate terminus & the creative activity that mediates the source-terminus relation. God’s intelligibility resides in our knowledge of these determinate effects. That a metaphysical model might captures only those determinate dynamics & termini but not their nondeterminate source displays epistemic virtue not vice.

For the hypostases of the Trinity, a person refers to a subsisting relation, as they are constituted by a relation. Ad intra relations are thus attributed “of” the divine persons not “between” them, hence, as a pure act of relating. For nondeterminate and/or self-determinate divine persons, divine simplicity thus entails no constitutive distinction between -not only essence & subsistence as self-subsisting esse, or quiddity & haecceity, or ousia & hypostases, but – the acts of being & relating.

For Peircean accounts, nondeterminate analogs of firstness, secondness & thirdness would lack temporal modality. For Aristotelian accounts, they would lack act-potency relations such as between efficient & material causations or formal & final causations.

These are strictly meta-ontological implications, apophatically predicated of divine being, reality & relations to increase referential accuracy, employing an heuristic that logically models divinity without metaphysically explaining it (i.e. increasing descriptive accuracy). Such heuristics are employed for other metaphysical aporia of emergent realities, e.g. quantum origins, cosmic origins, life origins, sentience origins, language origins. Such aporetic approaches don’t reflect mysterian sensibilities, only a suitable metaphysical fallibilism grounded in a proper epistemic humility.

Over against, on one hand, any radical apophaticism (e.g. an excessively speculative encratism or affective quietism), or, otoh, radical kataphaticism (e.g. excessively speculative rationalism or affective pietism), all which too narrowly conceive knowledge in terms of either successful descriptions, speculatively, or relational encounters, affectively —

A great many human values of deep meaning & profound existential significance are realized from a knowledge grounded in successful references, speculatively, mediated by our shared aesthetic, ethical & logical norms and experiences.

For example, I conceive of epinoia in terms of an epinoetic epistemic method, which employs propria, substantially, and idiomata, hypostatically, to successfully refer to nondeterminate divine relations ad intra, while an ananoetic epistemic method employs the energies, substantially, and the economy, hypostatically, to successfully refer to determinate divine relations ad extra.

Epinoia vs propria or idiômata are discussed in Andrew Radde-Gallwitz’s _Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa and the Transformation of Divine Simplicity_ (Oxford University Press, 2009) as reviewed by David Bradshaw and by Joseph O’Leary.

The best trinitological articulations of classical theism exemplify all of the epistemic virtues of both our best metaphysics & best speculative sciences. So a trinitarian ignosticism’s main methodological objections to these trinitologies can’t reasonably be such as adhocery, mysterianism & doxastic irresponsibility or it will self-subvert from parody as, in it’s anxiety to annihilate trinitarianism, it will also vanquish – not only metaphysics, but – our theoretical sciences.

Those who object to trinitarianism must ground their objections elsewhere, e.g. history, Biblical exegesis, systematics. Good luck with that.

Integral Human Episteme

descriptive & exploratory
• perinoetic|empirical,
• epinoetic|apophatic

normative & evaluative
• dianoetic|aesthetical, ethical & logical

interpretive & explanatory
• diastemic|aporetic
• ananoetic |metaphysical

liberative & transformative
• kinetic|dynamical (strivings for actualization)
• metanoetic|transformative

For future development:

Trinitarian Distinctions of Systematic Theology for Interreligious Dialogue

  • Ousia signify common nouns, propria
  • Hypostases indicate proper nouns, idiomat
  • Dynamis & God refer via idiomata hypostatically not substantially
  • Dynameis include Energeia (ad extra) of the Ousia (ad intra) and Economy (ad extra) of the Hypostases (ad intra)
  • Epinoia as epinoetic process, abductive inference, wherein propria & idiomata descriptively constitute – not definitions of, but – successful references to, respectively, ousia & hypostases (ergo, not nominalist but fallibilist realist re both propria & idiomata, normed by infallible special revelation).
  • • being, reality & relations
  • • substantial, hypostatic & energetic-economic
  • • ad intra & extra relations
  • • esse naturale & intentionale
  • • essential & relational
  • • singular energies & economy
  • • logical (e.g. dogma) & ontic (latitude) explanations
  • • gratuity of creation & grace
  • • universalized & particularized hypostatic presence
  • • creative-imitative & diffusive-substrative
  • • efficient causality, e.g. creation & trans-formal causality, e.g. grace
  • • temporal & eternal authenticity
  • • status (relations of origin) & proper roles (e.g. missions)
  • • Paterological – Cappadocian monarchia & Augustinian principium
  • • inseparable operations, appropriations & missions
  • • Inseparable in what they are, the divine persons are also inseparable in what they do. But within the single divine operation each shows forth what is proper to him in the Trinity, especially in the divine missions of the Son’s Incarnation and the gift of the Holy Spirit
  • • Economy w/activities or roles (temporal)
  • • missions of Word & Spirit (mutually related & nonsubordinate)
  • • appropriated via theophanic, theopoetic mediations, discerned by exegetical-historical encounters of general (vestigia) & special revelations (scriptures, traditions, prayers, liturgies)
  • • obediential potencies of secular conversions & prevenient union of religious conversion
  • • created & uncreated grace
  • • participation & incorporation
  • • analogical claims of systematic theology must be sufficiently demonstrable
  • • the economic trinity, epistemologically, models the immanent trinity (no vice versa of the grundaxiom)
  • • Yong examines the act of creation from a Trinitarian perspective using a metaphor developed by the 3rd century theologian Irenaeus who described the Trinitarian missions of the divine Word and Spirit as the “Two hands of the Father”
  • • vestigia Trinitatis of general revelation
  • • real-hypostatic distinctions (that aren’t otherwise substantial) afford successful references not descriptions
  • • appropriation, an epistemic method, selectively employs references to various essential attributes, otherwise substantially common to all hypostases, only to help distinguish the hypostatic roles, missions or activities of each in the divine operation & economy
  • • To imagine we can make relational distinctions between hypostases, successfully describing them (in some ontological sense), i.e. non-appropriated or proper attributions, rather than merely successfully (real-ly) referring to them & their ontic implications (in only an epistemic sense), i.e. appropriated attributions, seems to be proving too much, saying more than we could possibly know.
  • • ground – nondeterminate
  • • ad intra relationality
  • • eternal creative act production
  • • ad extra relationality
  • • temporal creative act terminus 1
  • • determinate being
  • • temporal creative act production
  • • temporal creative act terminus 2
  • • economic trinity – the HOW of the nondeterminate ground as it becomes determinate
  • • father = source
  • • son = product or end point or terminus
  • • spirit = creative act
  • • nondeterminate
  • • self-determinate – necessary
  • • determinate – contingent

Draw on these Thinkers:
• Dionysius
• Augustine
• Hugh of St Victor
• Richard of St Victor
• Bonaventure
• Ruusbroec
• Julian of Norwich
• Scotus
• Charles Sanders Peirce
• von Balthasar
• Cappadocians
• St Basil
• Palamas
• Vladimir Lossky
• Robert C. Neville
• Amos Yong

For further study:
The Logical Problem of the Trinity
Metaphysically, synergy predicates hypostases. Semantically, “is God” predicates actus & dynamis, e.g. divine power, energies & economy or act-ivity (not ousia or nature) and the number of token energeia done numerically predicate God (not the number of hypostases, i.e. as source, terminus & mediating activity).

Apart from creation, divine energeia tokens have no individuating idiomata.
Divine Mutualities – ad intra: substantial (purus as singular type – weaker Cappadocian claim- dynamis-actus) & relational-dynamical (singular token – stronger Nyssen claim – power) & ad extra: energies & economy (singular token – stronger Nyssen claim – action), where singular token invokes synergy of hypostatic source, terminus & activity

3 thoughts on “Meaningful God-talk

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