Ur-kenosis & Ur-analogy in a Trinitarian, Kenotic Panentheism – Bracken’s Peircean approach can bring Hegel, Bulgakov & others together

One might appropriate Hegel & Bulgakov through Peircean lenses, using, for example, Joe Bracken’s panentheism.

One can thereby also avoid any apparent (Hegel) or latent (Bulgakov) nominalist tendencies (thick in Whitehead, thin in Hartshorne) and affirm a robustly Trinitarian & kenotic panentheism.

Hegel (too deterministic? I’m not so sure. See thought experiment, below.), perhaps, needs an appropriation of Peirce (no nominalism) & Schelling (personalist, more freedom) for his panentheism to be distinguished from Aurobindo’s, and to conform more to Bracken’s panentheism, which is more consistent with Classical Theism.

The following makes sense within such a stance:

Clayton cites Hegel’s recognition that the logic of the infinite requires the inclusion of the finite in the infinite and points towards the presence of the world in God (Clayton 2004b, 78–79). Clayton, along with Joseph Bracken (1974; 2004), identifies his understanding of panentheism as Trinitarian and kenotic (Clayton 2005, 255). It is Trinitarian because the world participates in God in a manner analogous to the way that members of the trinity participate in each other although the world is not and does not become God. God freely decides to limit God’s infinite power in an act of kenosis in order to allow for the existence of non-divine reality. The divine kenotic decision results in the actuality of the world that is taken into God.

It seems that, as long as we don’t misconceive Logos & logoi (e g. of Maximus, Neo-platonists, etc) as universals, thoughts or ideas, i.e. abstractly, in essential or formal terms, but think of them in concrete terms of a freely acting Person with intentions or wills, reasons or purposes, to Whom some end is “fitting,” —

Then, we can apply the Anselmian principle, potuit, decuit, ergo fecit: ‘twas possible & “fitting,” ergo accomplished – to all Trinitarian missio ad extra, both vestigia of the gratuity of creation and oikonomia of soteriology & theosis of the gratuity of grace, without attributing such contingent effects to a *necessity* as would be grounded in God’s nature, divine esse naturale, but, instead attributing same to an *inevitability* grounded in God’s Will, divine esse intentionale.

As a thought experiment, how might Hegel’s determinism be cast in (or reconciled to) Maximian terms of logoi, Peircean realist (not nominalist) terms & a Scotist libertarian will, all in defense of a strong apocatastasis, e.g. consistent with Hart, perhaps.

If one conceives of both Scotus & Maximus as libertarians, for whom the intellect’s necessarily operative but not wholly determinative in volition, where self-determinative volitional acts remain limited in potency to the logoi of being, well-being, and eternal being, then, the creature self-determines – not its depth, but – its breadth of being.

The creature self-determines the kenotic scope of its theotic participation (perhaps even choosing to annihilate much of it), while God, alone, determines the kenotic intensity of that participation (in an aesthetic teleology).

Whatever one’s eschatological anthropology, any irreversibility could only refer to one’s self-determination of scope, i.e. in terms of foregoing superabundant being. Existence, itself, abundantly & gratuitously, partakes of being over against nonbeing, limited in potency to divine logoi (rather than, e.g. merely uncreated essences or universals).

If appetitive movements cease in some instance, e.g. due to closure of a creaturely epistemic distance, at some moment like a particular judgment, then, per the determinative Maximian logoi, this could not entail a cessation of ardor vis a vis the depth of one’s desires & loves, i.e. the very fact that one desires & loves per an intrinsic orientation, but only could refer to a self-determination regarding the breadth of those ardors.

Some may call this eternal ill-being, if they must, but ill*being* would strike me as a paragon of oxymorons, i.e. once considering the intrinsic goodness of any and all participation in Being, itself, beyond all being.

The thought that some of us might populate the firmament like a tiny votive candle, while others might shine forth like a blazing helios, would not likely be off-putting to anyone, who’s ever been a parent, whose love for each child knows no bounds, no limits, and differs in neither depth nor breadth, intensity nor scope, from one to the next, however much they participate or reciprocate in family-being, however differently abled regarding, or disposed toward, same.

So, as parents, we’ll always pray: That our children & grandchildren may become holier than us, provided that we may become as holy as we should, Jesus, grant us the grace to desire it.

At any rate, that’s where I was headed, when suggesting:

I conceive the afterlife as a state wherein the will remains, eternally, in relation to an extrinsic aesthetic scope, however otherwise unsurpassable the realization of one’s intrinsic aesthetic intensity. (This is an imago Dei riff on the divine esse intentionale.) This requires a conception of volition, whereby one, while only ever freely willing that which is suited both to one’s advantage & justice (& never freely pursuing privatio boni or evil for evil), also enjoys the radical freedom to choose – from among the infinity of aesthetic options as they’ll lay before us in eternity, none, in any way, suboptimal (an eternal Pareto Frontier). This requires my Scotist conception of quasi-libertarian freedom, which would include the power to refrain from willing one optimal choice, while willing another (equally optimal), both choices self-interested & both just.

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved…
From the desire of being extolled …
From the desire of being honored …
From the desire of being praised …
From the desire of being preferred to others…
From the desire of being consulted …
From the desire of being approved …
From the fear of being humiliated …
From the fear of being despised…
From the fear of suffering rebukes …
From the fear of being calumniated …
From the fear of being forgotten …
From the fear of being ridiculed …
From the fear of being wronged …
From the fear of being suspected …
That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I …
That, in the opinion of the world,
others may increase and I may decrease …
That others may be chosen and I set aside …
That others may be praised and I unnoticed …
That others may be preferred to me in everything…
That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…

Litany of Humility
Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),
Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

A Further Defense of my Eschatological Anthropology

In further defense of this apocatastatic hypothesis, let me further defend its eschatological anthropology, which employs an analogy of divine and determinate esse naturale & intentionale, the determinate as imago Dei.

By aesthetic depth or intensity, I refer to the ontological density of the human person’s essential nature, which, in the great chain of being, transcends (but includes) all teleo-potent, teleo-matic, teleo-nomic & teleo-qualic realities as a teleo-logic reality, as the symbolic species.

From the anthropological account of a Peircean axiological epistemology, this entails an holistic epistemic suite, marked by an aesthetic primacy (no more voluntarist than the Scotist’s primacy of will). As such, we distinguish the determinate esse naturale and intentionale only formally, as integrally related, inseparable aspects of the human person.

God gifts this reality, an imago Dei, an absolute, intrinsic value, the perfection of which cannot be enhanced or diminished by extrinsic changes in the aesthetic scope of its esse intentionale.

Aside from the gifts of its existence & redemption, where this makes some sense, what are we to make of theotic realizations, of Lonergan’s secular & religious conversions, of our journeys to Authenticity & Sustained Authenticity, of mystical theology’s Ways of Perfection, of Ascetic Theology’s path from the false to True Self, where this makes less sense?

In other words, to what does Transformation refer in terms of any reality’s movement from vestige to image to likeness?

Transformative movements, in my view, refer to all manner of self-transcendence, a by-product of which is self-actualization.

Such movements, per Bernardian love, move us from

  • love of self for sake of self,
  • love of God for sake of self,
  • love of God for sake of God, to
  • love of self for sake of God.

Ignatius similarly gives account of this journey in his Degrees of Humility.

More simply put, we move from imperfect to perfect contrition, from the eros of self-enlightenment to the agape of Gospel love.

Imperfect contrition is necessary and sufficient, however, for increased beatitude!

Even love of self for sake of self, that most basic of desires, the storge’ & eros of Lewis’ Four Loves, remains both necessary & sufficient in a human reality that’s already essentially & absolutely, intrinsically valuable to God, as an imago Dei, which comprises a perfection, which cannot be enhanced or diminished by such extrinsic changes as could never increase its dignity or worth, only its beatitude.

We might, therefore, introduce a distinction between more perfect redemptions & salvations (as Scotus introduced for the Immaculate Conception, which I, then, analogously applied to post-mortem, eschatological anthropology) and more perfect creatures, in and of themselves, ontologically. The former apply, beatitudinally, while the latter would apply, essentially & existentially, except for the fact that it does not, since the intrinsic value of persons is already & ever absolute.

Transformation, therefore, refers to sanctification & glorification, growing as holy as He would desire & passing from glory to glory in eternal beatitude, as one’s will might self-determine vis a vis its desired aesthetic scope.

Does this trivialize mortal sin? Does it sanction quietism? Does it amount to an insidious indifferentism? Does it obviate soteriological discourse?

Let’s foreground the distinctions I’ve introduced above.

As St John of the Cross pointed out, God’s creatio continua holds the soul in existence even in mortal sin. What’s placed in jeopardy is never the absolute intrinsic value of the person’s existence, only its own extrinsic realizations of other values (that are also of absolute intrinsic value, in and of themselves, i.e. Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Love & Freedom, the pursuits of which are their own rewards).

Here, the quest, itself, becomes one’s grail, the journey – one’s destination, the sitting – one’s consolation.

This is because, naked personal existence, itself, only ever pursues any values, via transformative value pursuits, because, in and of itself, it already constitutively & necessarily possesses them in goodly measure, precisely by already abundantly participating in that & Whom it would to possess, but is already possessed by. Thus it’s really only aspiring to be (and do) who it abundantly is already, only ever more fully, i.e. superabundantly.

A person, eternally being, could never be annihilated through self-determination & wouldn’t so be since the divine fiat, which has deemed it intrinsically good, has already deemed its existence fitting per divine esse intentionale. In so doing, such a personal act of existence was limited by divine logoi, one of which mirrors, via its determinate esse intentionale, a radical freedom – not of ontological density or aesthetic depth or intensity, but – of aesthetic breadth or scope.

Whether or not, after having crossed a sufficient (or even closed an essential) epistemic distance, this aesthetic scope remains irrevocably intact (a Maximian hypothesis) or irreversibly frozen (a Thomist hypothesis), the naked personal existent nevertheless “enjoys” its constitutive & abundant possession of and participation in Truth, Beauty, Goodness, Love & Freedom, by virtue of an essential (naturale) participation, always journeying (intentionale) in Being, itself, beyond all being, because it’s never self-determined in its esse naturale, whether or not it happens to also be self-determined in its intentionale (via irrevocability or irreversibility).

It would seem exceptional, when anyone would forego (or appear, somehow, indifferent to) superabundance, settling into a quietistic stance. At the same time, a nevertheless abundant life would be sustained precisely by the soteriological efficacies that reach all, for all have been redeemed. Some do enjoy, via a self-determined aesthetic scope (limited in potency only by divine logoi) a superabundant beatitude.

What, then, of mortal sin? Even if that state somehow irreversibly freezes one’s determinate esse intentionale (foreclosing the possibility of any expansion of an essential, minimalist aesthetic scope), such as via an epistemic closure in a particular judgment, it cannot annihilate one’s essential existence or its absolute intrinsic value, personal dignity & extrinsic worth, as eternally loved by God & others, all expecting absolutely nothing in return.

Primal ur-kenosis, ad extra kenosis and the kenotic self-emptying of parents & lovers has always been this way?

We even recoil at every insidious form of ableism, which would value our children based on developmental milestones or setbacks, whether due to genetic, perinatal or accidental dis-ease, whether from deformative influences or the pangs of addiction, whether due simply to age or through their unfathomable dispositions & puzzling personality differences.

Who values a child at 20 more than one at 2?

Who loves a child, who’s a model of social grace, athletic grace or academic grace, more than one who’s on some spectrum, physically awkward or mentally struggling?

It’s all grace!

Who tells a child, if you don’t come to Thanksgiving Dinner, I will hire a hit man to take you out? Well, yeah, right. I guess that has been done, in so many ways, but it was with the best of intentions and highly nuanced.

No, I can buy that some will be votive candles in eternity, on fire with the same flame, ontologically, as others, who’ll outshine the sun. After all, life seems very much like that here and now. A lot of us quite rather be votive candles, truth be told. And I imagine that some earthly luminaries, who compete with the stars, themselves, may well be but votive candles in eternity, once their dross burns off.

What I can’t imagine is that any fire, whomsoever, will be extinguished, by one’s self or Another’s determination.

See ya on the other side.

Exploring the Other Side (well, one part, anyway)

Scotus locates the will in efficient causation. For many, this represents a conceptual relocation from the formal.
Conceiving the free will as efficient cause (in limited potency to material) implicates a volition that determines only WHETHER one exercises (or refrains therefrom) one’s will but not to WHAT it chooses, i.e. it must not refer to why this or that is chosen but only to why the will wills at all, because it does remain free not to act.

As such, the will refers to the sole rational potency, never acting without the intellect, which is co-causally operative (in bringing the Maximian logoi to bear) even though not finally determinative.

The will determines neither the act of existence in potency to essence nor the formal generically determinative act in potency to one’s final cause, which makes a human existent what one truly is, e.g. a human person, the symbolic species, an imago Dei, a beloved child of God, a sister of Jesus, a brother of the Cosmos.

Taken seriously, this has enormous soteriological and sophiological implications, which is to say, regarding redemption, justification & sanctification, i.e. intiation into communion, adoption into the Kingdom, on one hand, and, on the other, beatitude & glorification, i.e. ascetically & mystically or theotically, further establishing the Kingdom via communal collaboration.

In my view, Scotus would worry about the risk of any full blown liberty of indifference [1], i.e. including not just one’s aesthetic scope or efficient acts in limited potency to divine logoi, materially, but also, vis a vis aesthetic intensity (ontological density), existential acts (self-annihilation) in limited potency to divine logoi, essentially, as well as formal acts (generic self-determination) in limited potency to divine logoi, finally (as if we could become other than what we already are, what C.S. Lewis might call a “dismantling of humanity”). This amounts to what M. M. Adams would call a low doctrine of human agency [2], although I am not wholly familiar with her precise formulation and how it might comport with my own, above.

Any such exercise and actualization of rationality makes one’s efficient acts good and increases the being of the Kingdom, ecclesiologically, both proleptically & eschatologically. But does that also increase one’s own being, intrinsically, as per a Thomistic metaethic, per se changing one’s esse naturale per a generic determination? [3]

Or does it only change, per an agential extrinsic denomination, one’s esse intentionale?

Does moral evil frustrate an increase in the being of one’s esse naturale, even to the point of its full diminishment, so to speak undoing one’s intiation into communion and adoption into the Kingdom, denying one’s very aesthetic intensity & ontological density?

Rather, might it frustrate an increase in being only vis a vis one’s esse intentionale, foregoing further communal collaboration in the Kingdom, restricting one’s aesthetic scope, limiting one’s ecclesiological participation, as one neglects spiritual exercises and practices of presence? [4]

I’m not suggesting my anthropological categories & applications measure up with anthropological rigor or even capture the points of disagreement between, for example, Eleonore Stump & Marilyn M. Adams. Even if they amount to an ahistorical, eisegetic account of Aquinas & Scotus, though, perhaps they still have some normative integrity all their own?

If stable dispositions, derived from habitual spiritual exercices and practices of presence, to act in accordance with or contrary to one’s nature, i.e. virtues or vice, do produce second natures, whether virtuous or vicious, do those ontologically negate or just phenomenologically mask our primal human nature, hide the imago Dei?

In my view, our primal being and goodness is both unalienable, due to divine esse intentionale, & inalienable, not a capacity of determinate esse intentionale.

Eternally, are we dealt with in accordance with both or either of our natures, primary &/or secondary, however one conceives these volitional loci, as esse naturale or intentionale?

If the goodness of our being is thus light, will our existence in Hell thereby be unbearable?

Let’s consider Hart:
[T]he wrathful soul experiences the transfiguring and deifying fire of love not as bliss but as chastisement and despair. [5]

Does not this refer to the transformative & theotic dynamisms that I addressed, above. Will not those dynamisms cease post-mortem or in some eschatological closure of epistemic distance, such as in a particular judgment & life review? Hart doesn’t take this into account, when describing the tortures of hell, but only because he otherwise ultimately rejects an infernalist stance, not inconsistent with Bulgakov’s surmise that those dynamisms might continue post-mortem, finally rejecting eternal torment as a moral absurdity.

So, if those dynamisms terminate post-mortem, wouldn’t we necessarily only be dealt with in accordance with our primary nature, which would comport with Maximian being, eternal being and well-being?

Might ill-being only ever be a transitory, purgative state? Or even a misconstrual of an eternal esse intentionale, which remains volitionally indifferent to any aesthetic scope, beyond its original endowment, not inconsistent with a Scotistic free will, located in efficient not telic causes?

Bishop Barron [6] writes: If there are any people in Hell (and the church has never obliged us to believe that any human is in that state), they are there, not because God capriciously “sent” them, but because they absolutely insist on not joining in the party.

This isn’t wholly inconsistent with the view of volitional indifference to a self-constrained aesthetic scope, but, again, what of my point that human volition is not otherwise constituted by self-constraints regarding aesthetic intensity (ontological density), existentially or generically, regarding THAT one is or WHAT one primally is (whatever one believes regarding self-constructed secondary natures)?

How, then, would we psychologize that eternal disposition? I’m asking for a friend, who’s a social wallflower, who prefers to watch the mirrorball & swirling dervishes beneath, who doesn’t mind others coming over to sit in silent presence (90% is showing up, only 10% is dancing, perichoretically or otherwise?), while they keep the finger sandwiches & beers coming. One person’s modus ponens is another’s modus tollens?

As John O’Brien observers: Concerning the detailed specific nature of hell … the Catholic Church has defined nothing. … It is useless to speculate about its true nature, and more sensible to confess our ignorance in a question that evidently exceeds human understanding. [7]

Fr Richard Rohr writes: To be frank, I think that perhaps no single belief has done more to undercut the spiritual journey of more Western people than the belief that God could be an eternal torturer of people who do not like him or disobey him. And this after Jesus exemplified and taught us to love our enemies and forgive offenses 70 x 7 times! The very idea of Hell (with a capital ‘H’), as Jon Sweeney explains in this magnificent book, constructs a very toxic and fear-based universe, starting at its very center and ground. Hatred, exclusion, and mistreatment of enemies is legitimated all the way down the chain of command.” [8]

Jon Sweeney writes: “Ultimately, I choose not Dante’s vengeful, predatory God who is anxious to tally faults, to reward and to punish. Instead I choose the God who creates and sustains us, who is incarnate and wants to be among us, and the God who inspires and comforts us. That God is the real one, the one I have come to know and understand, and that God has nothing to do with the medieval Hell.” [9]


Following Scotus, I intuit that no eternally self-constrained aesthetic intensity is possible, neither existentially (THAT) nor generically (WHAT).

And with Rohr & Sweeney, I’ll simply insist, apophatically, on what an eternally self-constrained aesthetic scope simply must NOT be like.

Then, with O’Brien, I’ll confess ignorance, kataphatically.


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