Types of Causal & Explanatory Eliminativisms per Aristotelian Causes & Lonerganian Imperatives

Types of Causal & Explanatory Eliminativisms per Aristotelian Causes & Lonerganian Imperatives

Eliminative Nihilism is ignostic regarding existential causes & any explanatory that. It violates the imperative to be & denies transcendent being. Lord, give me only your love

Eliminative Nominalism is ignostic regarding essential causes & any explanatory what vis a vis attending, descriptively. It violates the imperative to be attentive & denies transcendent truth. Lord, give me your grace

Eliminative Voluntarism is ignostic regarding efficient causes & any explanatory who vis a vis intelligence, self-transcendently. It violates the imperative to be intelligent & denies transcendent freedom. Take, Lord, receive my entire will

Eliminative Relativism is ignostic regarding material causes & any constraints on (explanatory *) when or where vis a vis responsibility, normatively. It violates the imperative to be responsible & denies transcendent goodness (in terms of ordinacy, ie lesser & greater). Take, Lord, receive all my liberty

Eliminative Materialism is ignostic regarding formal causes & any explanatory how vis a vis reasonableness, evaluatively. It violates the imperative to be reasonable & denies transcendent beauty. Take, Lord, receive my memory

Eliminative Pragmatism is ignostic regarding final causes & any explanatory why vis a vis relationships, interpretively. It violates the imperative to be in love & denies transcendent unity. Take, Lord, receive my understanding

  • One can substitute “constraints on” for explanatory.
  • the material is that which takes up space-time

Final Word

The above is intended as an informal heuristic to foster reflection and unavoidably includes some rather facile, although not wholly indefensible, conceptual mappings.

The major practical upshot, consistent with all of my musings, is that metaphysical ignosticisms enjoy no epistemic warrant. One adopts any of these eliminativisms at the peril of self-subverting their own stance via parody.

One problem faced by every type of eliminativism – nihilism, nominalism, voluntarism, relativism, eliminative materialism or vulgar pragmatism – is that, taken as a system, it will self-subvert through parody.

Contra Wittgenstein – He should’ve said: It’s not “only” how things are but that & Who things are, which is the mystical.

For reality’s enchantments pertain to the reduction of – not only essences by existential acts, but – final & material potencies by formal & efficient acts.

This is to say that, among other epistemic [methodological] limitations & ontic [putative in-principle] occultations, that reality’s shot through with Godel-like constraints & infinite semiosis vis a vis all axiomatizing aspirations & [inescapably informal] interpretations.

This applies to explanations of – not just putative primal realities that lend themselves, undecidably so, to competing alternative axiomatic accounts of initial, boundary & limit conditions, but – EVERY instance & set of samenesses & differences that participate in relationship.

By “undecidable” we refer to a strictly logical undecidability vis a vis competing accounts, which otherwise get adjudicated pragmatically in terms of existential actionability & relationship enhancement, ie via an equiplausibility principle & not per some vulgar pragmatism.

Modally, the essential samenesses are rooted as possibilities from the past (primary natures), the materially individuated (& or haecceity-like) differences as present actualities (hypostatic natures), which formally participate, relationally, toward a future finality (secondary natures).

Retreblement – A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology a Neo-Chalcedonian Cosmotheandrism


The Vestigia, Imagines & Similitudines Dei per Universalism & Apokatastasis

Human reality fully transcends the teleo-potent, -matic, -nomic, -qualic as teleo-logic

beyond the essential, dynamical human being/becoming (acting per existential, material & final human potencies), as vestigia Dei (autopoietic, but as more determined, less indetermined)

w/a distinctively human abduction as it transcends abductive instinct w/abductive inference, fostering a more versatile, plastic behavioral repertoire, aesthetically, i.e. vis a vis choosing among divine teloi & logoi w/an enlightened self-interest (erotically & proto-ethically), e.g. Bernardian love, Ignatian degrees of humility, Kohlberg’s stages, imperfect contrition, etc, of human persons as imagines Dei … every distinctively personal act constitutes a volitional disposition re both what to freely will (among divine logoi) and whether to (freely) will at all (i.e. choosing not just instinctively but inferentially), so as less determined, more indetermined

next (at age of reason) realizing a more versatile, plastic behavioral repertoire, ethically, i.e. vis a vis choosing among even more divine teloi & logoi by transcending self-interests (agapically & ethically), e.g. Bernardian love, Ignatian degrees of humility, Kohlberg’s stages, perfect contrition, etc, of a person becoming (virtuous and/or vicious 2nd natures), thereby with a more expansive aesthetic scope, too, as similitudines Dei, as much more indetermined

Considerations of human volition, a freely willing human, must avoid absolute notions of in/determinism, for the personal freedom of humans presents only in terms of degrees, whereby we are free-enough to truly enjoy meaningful (good-enough, beautiful-enough, dayenu) value-realizations.

It seems to me that human persons are determined enough so as to be radically unable to thwart the divine logoi ordered toward our personal being (essential nature as imagines Dei) but are indetermined enough so as to be radically able to thwart those divine logoi ordered toward our personal becoming (secondary nature as similitudines Dei).

All other conceptions of human freedom are facile & simplistic, and fall prey to tautological nonsense and analytical paradox, anthropologically, either indeterministically reducing to all sorts of ridiculous voluntarisms & libertarianisms or deterministically yielding silly intellectualisms & compatibilisms.

Neither Thomist nor Scotist nor Molinist theological anthropologies, properly approached, fall prey to such anthropological nonsense, essentially, because their explicit/implicit “theories of everything” embrace a priniciple of “sufficient” reason, which is neither the idealist monist PSR of Spinoza, which reduces to pantheism, nor a materialist monist PSR, which reduces to nihilism. There are various physicalist & naturalist approaches that vary in their interpretations of necessity & in/determinacy, but they go beyond the heuristic of a suitably nuanced Aristotelian hylemorphism to prove too much, in my view.

How one conceives human freedom vis a vis ultimate realities will always boil down to one’s stipulations re mereological (whole-part conception), metaphysical (root metaphor) and teleological (PSR version) primal realities.

Below are some reflections evoked by:

Despairing into Gehenna: Manis, Kierkegaard, and the Choice Model

One upshot of divine simplicity [DDS] and actus purus, when understood in terms of apophatic negation, would be that one way determinate being differs from divine being is that the former can act only in relationship to limited potencies.

The human being, constitutively, enjoys a freedom that phylogenetically (in its evolutionary lineage) presented with the emergence of symbolic language. Prior to the age of reason, where new freedoms (moral & spiritual) will emerge, ontogenetically (in its individual development), a human child already enjoys a freedom of choosing among equally optimal self-interested choices with a behavioral plasticity that differs – not only quantitatively, but – qualitatively from other primates.

Specifically, as a child matures, its (aesthetic) scope of self-interested choices is not limited to mere abductive instincts, which many animals exhibit, but is expanded by abductive inference, an if-then calculus driven by an early imagination that’s growing exponentially. This exponential expansion of behavioral plasticity precisely results from an unmooring of the nonarbitrary range of instinctive responses by the child’s growing repertoire of arbitrary symbol conventions.

I emphasize this constitutive freedom of choosing among equally optimal goods per a young human’s first order desires (what they want) to note its relationship to human eros, what St Bernard distinguished in terms of love of self for sake of self and love of God and/or others for sake of self. From this eros, young (and old) humans experience imperfect contrition, i.e. expressing sorrow due to our just punishment and growing in enlightened self-interest (choosing being over nonbeing). I mention this in the context of reminding all that such an imperfect contrition is all that’s ever been required “to be saved” and to observe that I was taught that it would be heretical to suggest otherwise.

Thus, it seems to me that, soteriologically, human beings are intrinsically constituted by all that’s both necessary and sufficient to be saved?

Furthermore, this elemental human freedom possesses a distinct proto-moral and proto-spiritual character, which means that it can potentially progress beyond its constitutive & soteriological essential nature to realize a more robustly elective & sophiological secondary nature, which might determine – not its eschatological destiny, but – its beatitudinal scope. By that, I mean to suggest that it could progress in Bernardian love, beyond the erotic to the agapic, i.e. love of God & others for their own sake, thus expanding its original frontier of equally optimal choices (what some would call a Pareto front), thus enjoying an expanded aesthetic scope of choosing among even more goods, albeit always acting within limited potencies.

Thus we can parse human freedom, constitutively & electively, soteriologically and sophiologically, erotically & agapically, in terms of aesthetic scope expansion, moral progress & growth in intimacy (theosis).

Thus we can distinguish between 1) willing among equally optimal goods, aesthetically; 2) whether we will or not, morally & spiritually; and 3) what we will. Our “willing among” goods and volitional option “between” willing or not (choosing between being & nonbeing, good & evil) refer to human freedoms. “What we will” has been determined by divine logoi, teloi, intentionale, etc.

Coming full circle to the DDS & Actus Purus, might this portrait of the imago Dei not illuminate our understanding of divine being? If we properly distinguish between the divine nature and will, esse naturale and intentionale, might we not glimpse a thin divine passibility, where the divine will chooses – never between good and evil, being and nonbeing, but – along an eternal Pareto front of equally optimal “best” worlds, no such choices entailing either improvements or impairments of an ever-perfect divine nature’s aesthetic intensity but only “affecting” a divine aesthetic scope? Would this not account, exegetically & Christologically, for the distinction between Jesus’ natural will and the Father’s will as He prayed for the passing of that particular Cup? Would this not account for human second order desires, theotically, for example, such as when we grow with holy indifference in Ignatian degrees of humility, from image to likeness, praying for our transformation even in “what we want to want”? That’s to say – not only regarding second order desires pertaining to our choosing “between” being and nonbeing, but – our longing to please others and God in our choosing “among” equally optimal goods in holy submission to wills not our own?

Of course, we differ from Jesus in that our natural wills have a gnomic character due to our temporal epistemic distancing, which may even perdure in some manner post-mortem for some duration. If my apokatastatic intuitions are correct, our gnomic willing affects and effects – not soteriological realities of our essential natures vis a vis the imago Dei, but – our sophiological trajectories as we grow our secondary natures in intimacy and beatitude.

These implications of my universalism thus turn on this distinction:

A single will to raise up the image, but two to make the image into a likeness. ~ Lossky

This implicates another distinction – that between our essential & secondary natures. Human freedom determines only WHETHER one chooses to will at all & not WHAT one wills (in participating with divine logoi), incrementally forming a virtuous or vicious secondary nature or various degrees of both.

Vicious choices are privative of being, hence eternally self-annihilating as God honors human freedom. This is to suggest that, whatever reality they exhibit temporally, will not perdure eternally (much less be eternalized instantaneously & proleptically like our virtuous acts).

Virtuous natures are eternalized, both proleptically (i.e. harvested, instantaneously, is every trace of human goodness, every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities) & eschatologically, by virtue of necessarily being joined to divine intentionale.

Even if, hypothetically, a given person’s eternal being was, in the end, constituted only by their essential nature as an imago Dei, having developed no virtuous secondary nature whatsoever (even after all epistemic distancing has been closed, whether temporally or even post-mortem), there can be no talk of self-annihilation for an imago Dei’s not self-determined (cf Lossky’s one will). Neither would God’s perfect will annihilate such an imago Dei, for that would amount to a divine self-contradiction.

What’s at stake, then, would be the nature of one’s eternal beatitude, perhaps in terms of aesthetic scope, which would be self-determinedly wider for one who’s developed a virtuous secondary nature.

Dogmatic Presuppositions of my theological anthropology

In a way, the answers — to such questions as

1) “libertarianism or compatibilism?”

2) “intellectualism or voluntarism?” and

3) “will or intellect or character?” — aren’t even wrong (regarding either divine or human natures).

For human persons, this is because there are 3 indispensable acts, limited by potentialities, involved in every human choice. These include

1) existence in potency to being,

2) efficient to material (will) and

3) formal to final (intellect), each necessary, none alone sufficient. Of course, this part wouldn’t apply to Actus Purus.

Character (habitus) stands halfway between those acts and potentialities, like iron forged into

1) leg braces, facilitating and/or

2) a bear trap, crippling the potentialities,

although in the latter case, never able (either temporally or eschatologically) to kill them, as they’re, in principle, inherently realizable (both temporally and eternally).

God does not punish habits, only acts, ergo, God allows misery only as a punishment for acts.

Why Suffering in God’s Presence doesn’t make sense to me

I am grateful for these conversations. They make me scratch my head and help me process my muddled thoughts. If anyone catches my drift, that’s a blessing for me. If anyone challenges me to be more artful in expression, that helps me, too. Most of all, any challenges to the substance of my views has, eventually, brought me closer to the truth and our God. In that spirit, then:

Even once casting aside the classical libertarianism & compatibilism framings as nonsensical category errors (what I mean by saying such “answers aren’t even wrong” but are gibberishtic anthropological caricatures), I have strived, awkwardly, to more intuitively grasp how to avoid the notion that a human person’s eternal destiny isn’t wholly determined.

In other words, while it may be logically valid and internally consistent to argue, analytically, that humans are created as “freely willing the Godly-determined” by using definitions of freedom that, to many, sound paradoxical (but make perfect sense! In terms of virtu-osity!), I still want more than a syllogism.

I want a story in which I can participate, holistically and imaginatively. Good news? From the online lectures (youtube) of DBH, one can tell that he will be gifting nourishment for both head & heart in _That All May Be Saved_.

Still –

If the will is located in efficient causation, free in the sense of WHETHER one chooses to will at all, and also in the sense of choosing AMONG goods, that, in my view, offers an eminently satisfying account of freedom, not just cognitively but emotionally. In these senses, persons are manifestly self-determined, created as freely willing.

There is another sense of freedom, which imagines a person’s capacity to choose WHAT is good, in other words to self-determine and to define and to appropriate being & goodness as they imagine same. In this sense, then, some view freedom in terms of choosing BETWEEN good & evil (apparent good), being & nonbeing (apparent being), virtue & vice. This view falls into incoherence because WHAT is good and constitutes being has indeed already been wholly determined by God and we are not free to determine or define same.

What about the “freedom” to choose otherwise, though, to opt for evil or nonbeing? That’s nonsensical on the grounds that evil or nonbeing, as privation, doesn’t successfully refer, ontologically. That definition of freedom lacks an ontic reference and entails an epistemic error, propositionally.

Nevertheless, dispositionally, our choices can, indeed, be culpable & such habits, clearly, vicious.

Under the true definition of freedom, to refrain from choosing among goods when acting, i.e. giving no “consideration” to what God has determined, is intuitively recognized by most as “inconsiderate” behavior. While such can be just a plain mistake rooted in finitude, it can also be culpable (sinful refusal). Such a willful and culpable blindness, in my view, constitutes a self-determined behavior, “freely” chosen in the “whether & among sense” even though not the “what & between” sense. And it can habitually accrete into a vicious nature. I just believe that God honors such free choices through eternal annihilation, which we can self-determine vis a vis our “second nature” or acquired dispositions.

And I doubt anyone wholly lacks some measure of a virtuous nature, which will indeed be eternalized.

Even a person’s essential imago Dei — if largely bereft of any significant growth (2nd nature) from that particular image to likeness, if primarily wholly determined, if self-determined to the most meager degree conceivable and if not even discernibly responsive to some post-mortem epistemic-closure & beatific illumination — would not experience the Presence in misery, precisely because God has wholly determined otherwise. In God’s governance, punishment ensues only from sin (moral choices).

1) Because our moral nature emerges as a second nature from our essential nature, and
2) because, eschatologically, there are no longer moral acts, and
3) because acts not natures are punished under any circumstances,
no such misery can be experienced.

However one approaches the reality of innocent suffering in a cosmos fallen into dis-order by sin, temporally, such a disorder will, by definition, be eschatologically repaired.

voluntarism, intellectualism, libertarianism & compatibilism – Oh my!

Any proper transcendence of the category errors of voluntarism, intellectualism, libertarianism & compatibilism won’t entail a dissolution of in/determinacies.

What we can will (among) has been determined, while whether we will at all has not, the former as formal acts in limited potency to final causes, the latter as efficient acts in potency to material. Halfway between such acts & potency, habitus presents as virtuous & vicious 2nd natures, able to facilitate or cripple, but never to kill, potentialities.

This is why Thomas Talbott can say: Personally, I seriously doubt that God causally determines every event that occurs, whether it be the change of state of a radium atom, a dog’s leaping this way rather than that while romping in the yard, or the free choice of an independent rational agent.


Why should such an irrational choice, even if not causally determined, be any more compatible with genuine moral freedom than a rigorous determinism would be? ~ Talbott

In our temporal affairs, we routinely impute guilt to those deemed willfully blind. In criminal law, we employ such terms as willful neglect, reasonable diligence, reckless indifference, knew or should have known, should reasonably have known, etc In our quotidian affairs we refer to willful blindness or ignorance and self-deception. Moral theologians distinguish in/vincible ignorance and nescience, more crass when deliberate than affected, blameworthy in either case, more gravely wrong for serious matters.

That all such behavior is irrational to various degrees, nevertheless, it retains its inculpating character. That’s why so many irrational choices, even if not causally determined, are universally deemed more compatible with genuine moral freedom than any rigorous determinism.

My rule of thumb in theological anthropology is to preserve, as far as practicable, our common sense & sensibilities, so as not to violate the integrity of the freely willing person. Therefore, tautologically concluding that all irrational behavior is, in principle, exculpating, does not sufficiently square with our ordinary moral intuitions. Our universalist apologetics, then, best appeal to infinite mercy & forgiveness rather than argue for a counterintuitive analytic, syllogistic innocence. Having deftly avoided the shoals of voluntarism, we must similarly steer clear of intellectualistic appeals, which ignore the vicious habitus that can impede the efficient cause of the will in realizing its potentialities.

Whether a vicious nature stands halfway between the acts & potentialities of the will or intellect, still, it can in no way, temporally or eternally, extinguish them, as they remain inherently realizable.

Pastor Tom Belt has persuasively argued a Maximian irrevocability thesis: “Hart’s view is an argument for the impossibility of the will foreclosing upon all possibility of Godward becoming. Such foreclosure would be teleological foreclosure.”

Again, invoking my rule of thumb in theological anthropology – to preserve, as far as practicable, our common sense & sensibilities, so as not to violate the integrity of the freely willing person – Belt’s Maximian irrevocability thesis squares better with our human experience than the overly speculative account of any putative irreversibility theses vis a vis avoiding such conceptual discontinuities between now & the eschaton as would render our anthropology unintelligible.

Now, if I may presume to paraphrase Talbott: Add to Belt’s Maximian irrevocability thesis the condition of minimal rationality and it seems impossible that anyone rational enough to qualify as a free moral agent would freely embrace an objective horror forever.

That’s as close as one can come to splitting the difference between a hopeful, practical universalism & an affirmation of a robustly theoretic universalism.

It seems to me that it’s quite possible a our viscious 2nd natures may not transist into the eschaton, especially if considered as privations of becoming. They may well thus be annihilated as God honors one’s choice for a self-determined non-becoming (refraining from growth in likeness). There can otherwise be no annihilation, in principle, for an imago Dei, as no one can freely self-determine non-being for an intrinsically good & absolutely valuable creation. The imago Dei plus any inklings of our virtuous 2nd natures (no one has none, whatsoever?) are eternalized, as God honors our self-determined choices for becoming (theotic realizations of divine & creaturely wills together).


Calvin, Luther, Aquinas & Scotus

The Antecedent and Consequent Will of God: Is This a Valid and Useful Distinction? by Andrew Hussman

Perhaps St. Anselm was on the right track when he classified the scriptural concepts under discussion here not as antecedens et consequens, but as misericordiae et iustitiae. This comes close to another distinction of God’s will, legalis et evangelicus. Law and gospel are found on every page of Scripture.

The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Biblical Interpretation edited by Paul M. Blowers, Peter W Martens

Bonaventure & Scotus on 1 Timothy 2:4


Gloria Frost: When the passages in which Aquinas and Scotus explicitly discuss the origin of contingency in creation are read in context with attention to the kind of contingency each is discussing, similarities between their views can be identified and the objections raised against their respective views can be solved.

In sum, for Aquinas the proximate reason for why an effect is contingently caused is the fact that it was produced by a contingently operating secondary cause. The ultimate reason, however, for why the effect was contingently caused is the efficacy of God’s will which willed for the effect to come about through a contingent mode of causation and thus, willed a contingent cause for it. Regarding the contingent mode of existence that belongs to all created effects, Aquinas says that the proximate reason for why every created effect is contingently existing is the fact that God freely causes every created effect.

In sum, when Scotus identified God’s contingent mode of causation as the source of the contingency of creatures, he was referring to the contingent mode of existence that belongs to all creatures. Like Aquinas, he thought that the capacity of the divine will to cause creatures contingently was founded on the fact that the divine will only necessarily wills the divine goodness, which is complete and self-sufficient.

Similarly, Scotus would have agreed with Aquinas’s position that effects are contingently caused by their proximate causes because of the efficacy of the divine will which chooses which kind of causes exist in creation.

Scotus, however, thinks that although the effects produced by God alone and those produced by both God and contingently operating secondary causes both follow from contingently operating proximate causes, they are fundamentally different in their modal features. The former effects have a single potency for non-existence, while the latter have double possibility for nonexistence. Thus, in Scotus’s view contingently operating secondary causes are a necessary condition for God to introduce into creation a secondary contingency, which adds an additional layer of indeterminacy to the contingent mode of existence which all creatures enjoy.

Scotus’s point is that God necessarily wills only those things that are necessary for what God loves in himself (i.e. his goodness). Thus, no creature is willed necessarily, since what is lovable in God does not require any creature for its existence. Like Aquinas, Scotus thought that God’s freedom not to create stemmed from the self-sufficiency and completeness of what is good, and therefore lovable, in God himself. If God’s contingent mode of causation with respect to creatures is traced to the self-sufficiency of the divine goodness, then the contingent mode of existence that belongs to creatures will similarly have this as its ultimate foundation.

Aquinas and Scotus on the Source of Contingency, Oxford Studies in Medieval Philosophy, 2014 by Gloria Frost

At Academia: Retreblement – A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology

At Scribd: Retreblement – A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology

More Eschatological Anthropology

I resonate with certain central elements of Dr Manis’ approach, e.g. that in *some* sense the divine will can be thwarted, that annihilation is incompatible with divine presence & that creaturely moral freedom’s a logically necessary condition of communion.

I also resonate with Fr Aidan’s recognition that no metaphysical necessity’s imposed on God. It is from both general & special revelations that we have been gifted with some knowledge of the logic that onto-logically inheres and theo-logically coheres in the divine’s relationship with determinate realities. That relationship, of course, has ensued from – not metaphysical necessity, but – a self-determinate, divine kenosis.

Our knowledge of same, at the same time, remains fallible & inchoate. Regarding the problem of evil, for example, I reject (even recoil from) theodicies re the *evidential* problem, instead opting for Job 38 (where were you???!!!), but I do embrace a divine presence solution to the *existential* problem, i.e. (Be not afraid! I AM with you!).

More directly bearing on this discussion, though, I personally experience much consolation from many of the defenses to the *logical* problem of evil, ranging across the theological spectrum (from classical to process approaches).

To be fully coherent, then, it seems we must aspire to pull together a solution that satisfies the problem of evil in a way that’s — not only *logically* consistent (and even the best atheistic philosophers now concede that accomplishment, which is why they focus on *evidential* theodicies), but — *existentially* satisfying.

Such a solution, then, must be neither evidentially pretentious (re: why God allowed this particular evil) nor soteriologically presumptuous (re: why God must do this) in addressing divine reality (e.g. suggesting definite metaphysical and/or moral divine necessities).

Thus it is that the more nuanced universalist stances will, in my view, aspire to reconcile the best classical defenses with the best existential intuitions, the latter grown — not propositionally from logical argumentations, but — dispositionally from theotic participations.

Beyond the arguments of Athens & energies of Athos, those participations will also include such quotidian realities as, for a prime example, the raising of children.

There is, then, in all authentic human loving, a trans-rational apophaticism, which, beyond all proposals of speculative affirmations & negations, disposes one via a movement of the will (e.g. including a will graced with a virtuous habitus)? Such a movement of the will, whether of parental, spousal or other communal loves, pretty much inevitably & in principle, will come up short in what it can articulate via its co-causal movement of the intellect, which falters in its effablings regarding life’s truly ineffable experiences.

It is from my experience as a parent & grandparent, then, coupled with my gratuitously gifted formation & sacramental participation in a healing, reconciling & loving community of faith, that I want to proclaim “THAT all may be saved,” even as I struggle to give a metaphysical or theological account of *why* or *how*.

Yet, I’m here to learn how to better defend that hope, which is indeed within me, that I and others might move more swiftly, with less hindrance & greater consolation on our temporal journeys into eternity.

Another of my feeble efforts to defend my hope follows, but I am more sure regarding why Fr Aidan’s and others’ intuitions truly matter, much less sure that I can convey my own in a sufficiently artful & accessible manner.

I use a lot of question marks, below, not to solicit answers but to indicate my own intellectual tentativeness. My hope is firm but my expression falters.

While I find it problematic to conceive how there could ever be a definitive teleological foreclosure (cf. Pastor Tom Belt), neither would I want to deny the necessity of a creaturely freedom to refrain from willing. Further, properly understood, both the Thomistic and Scotistic anthropologies, in my view, suitably avoid the libertarian, compatibilist, voluntarist & intellectualist incoherencies. Human acts can indeed, at the same time, be irrational & culpable or impassioned & culpable, because the reality of human freedom presents in degrees.

Admittedly, we find it hard to define & difficult to discern exactly how and precisely when such thresholds get crossed in terms of degrees of both affectivity & rationality as they impinge on various degrees of culpability.

Still, if we deny our common sense & sensibilities regarding our experiences of human freedom, whether temporally or eschatologically, we risk abandoning what little intelligibility we enjoy regarding same. We inescapably must rely on that same intelligibility that we must employ in our daily approach to the realities of our dynamical human transformation (including moral conversion, spiritual formation & theosis).

Therefore, what?

While creaturely moral freedom’s a logically necessary condition of communion, what if, like freedom, the reality of communion also presents in degrees?

Is there not a modicum of communion, even in that imago Dei, who’s not crossed the threshold into the human moral life, whether due to age, illnesses or deformative dynamics? Or, who enjoys little in the way of theotic participation in the human spiritual life, i.e. little or no growing in likeness? Or, who’s even culpably developed a vicious second nature, but undeniably remains divinely indwelled and teleologically oriented, eternally & inherently?

What *is* a vicious nature but a habit of refraining from whether one wills to will at all regarding — not *be-ing* per se, but — one’s *be-coming*? To refrain, that is, from whether one wills to will at all regarding — not one’s essential nature or very existence, but — one’s growing from image to likeness?

What if one could only self-determinedly choose — not to be or not to be, but — to become or not become?

What if, in the same way we mustn’t ontologize evil, perhaps, neither should we reify the concept of a vicious nature, which habitually chooses non-becoming?

What if we should otherwise also, in part, conceive of such an imago Dei in terms of what it has freely & definitively determined not to *become*, even though it would & must, nevertheless, thus persist in *being* for all eternity? Even that putatively definitive determination *not to become*, though, should be approaching the threshold of a practical inconceivability, at least for those of us who couple Belt’s irrevocability thesis with Talbott’s virtual impossibility thesis (my description of the latter)?

Even stipulating to such an eschatological anthropology, as would remain an essentially hopeful — not a theoretically necessary — universalism, there remains a question regarding how such an imago Dei, bereft of any robustly moral & spiritual becoming, might subjectively experience the Eschaton.

To what extent might its experience be tortuous, whether formatively, restoratively or retributively?

In my view, once determinate reality has been made whole, cosmically reconciled, in principle, creatures would not be susceptible to existential deprivations or depredations. An imago Dei, not grown into divine likeness beyond its irrevocable, essential nature, might, rather quietistically, enjoy a minimalist reverie of aesthetic scope, while others enjoy, in various degrees, more expansive scopes (as I’ve discussed elsewhere), continuing to exercise their freedom in an eternal fugue of choosing among divine goods.

So, perhaps, authentic freedom entails relational, just not existential, self-determination?
Perhaps one’s self-determined choice to refrain from becoming could, in principle, be exercised irrevocably & eternally, hence never definitively?

Perhaps such a choosing might best be conceived in terms similar to that of a sacred, precious imago Dei, as one who, prior to the age of reason, possesses the same absolute, intrinsic value as that shared by all innocent children?

Perhaps such a self-determined refraining (including post-mortem, even after all epistemic closures), eschatologically, no longer could involve a culpable refraining from the consideration or not of goods in one’s acts, in principle, since any such neediness as would have motivated such acts, temporally, will have been obviated, eschatologically, by the cosmic reconciliation?

In other words, such an eschatological reordering would be metaphysically incompatible with such deprivations & depredations as would’ve formerly been compatible with the old temporal, lapsarian dis-order?

Eschatological freedom would thus entail only whether one wills to will at all, i.e. one’s *choosing* or not (in & of itself) among eternal goods & becomings, as well as any choosing *among* such potentialities (that array of divinely determined goods & becomings)? It could not otherwise involve a choosing *between* divinely determined goods and reified evils (by disordered appetites or inordinate attachments), which would be ontologically nonsensical. Nor could it involve refraining from a choice from/for non/being, which has never been an existential prerogative of the imago Dei over against the divine will, anyway.

Eternal annihilation of any imago Dei remains off the table as conceptually incompatible with its essential nature and theologically incoherent, as it would constitute a reversal of the eternal divine intentionale?

I believe, therefore, that God honors the freedom of human persons by eternalizing all self-determined acts of human becoming (as synergetic divine participations) and by refraining from any eternalizations of our non-participatory acts (such as we refer to in terms of vicious 2nd natures) i.e. our choices “not to become.” As such, our virtuous 2nd natures transition into eternity along with our essential natures, while our vicious 2nd natures will self-determinedly perish (a virtual self-annihilation), which certainly remains, to an extent, and in *some* way, a lamentable thwarting of the divine will. What it would not amount to is an unmitigated loss. Such choices would (self-punitively & consequently) cost one tremendous but nonessential opportunities, but, in the end, no loss of an original & essential goodness. Such choices would amount to a gratuitous superabundance foregone, but with no loss of an abundant life redeemed, that’s to say, reoriented, saved, healed, sanctified & empowered, as a new creation.

Our participatory imaginations gift us, integrally & relationally, unity, beauty, goodness, freedom & truth, forming our dispositions (senses & sensibilities) toward various ways of belonging, desiring, behaving, transcending & believing, as expressed in our attitudes regarding & personal commitments to others, the cosmos, God & even our own selves, as told & retold in our stories.

One, who’s thus properly disposed & committed, can then imaginatively engage others thru inspired storytelling, thereby, in turn, fostering others’ healthy participations, dispositions & commitments.

Such storytelling may, more or less, lend itself to a more rigorous cognitive map-making, foundationally, which is to say, historically, exegetically, scientifically, philosophically & metaphysically. Theologically, such foundations can then systematically underwrite our ecclesiologies, soteriologies, sacramentologies, sophiologies & eschatologies.

There are countless pastors, homilists & spiritual directors from diverse faith traditions, who’ve articulated robustly pneumatological ecclesiologies, radically inclusive soteriologies, profusely incarnational sacramentologies, remarkably polydoxic sophiologies & universally efficacious eschatologies – as awakened & enlivened by human solidarity & compassion & retold in personal stories, thus implicitly grounded in their collective participatory imaginations.

Some are better than others, when it comes to explicitly mapping such dispositions, systematically & foundationally. Make no mistake, though, it can be done, especially, it seems to me, by those who recognize certain resonances between Franciscan, Scotist sensibilities & Eastern Orthodox sophiological approaches.

For example, however harshly one might wish to critique certain of Fr Richard Rohr’s explicit foundational apologetics, far more importantly & deserving of way more emphasis, implicit in the collective oeuvre of his lifetime’s ministry, is precisely such an ecclesiology, soteriology, sacramentology, sophiology & eschatology that I would to defend in my Retreblement: A Systematic Apocatastasis & Pneumatological Missiology.

This is to suggest that one shouldn’t ever miss the concrete, dispositional, participatory theophanic, theopoetic, theopoietic & theotic forests for the abstract, propositional, cognitive theological, metaphysical trees. As it is, robustly metaphysical descriptions & rigorous theological formulations necessarily elude us, in principle, while vaguely semantical references & broad heuristical contours guide us, in practice.

Following Ignatius, we must charitably presuppose the most orthodox interpretations of our theological interlocutors, not reflexively & habitually construing ambiguities & inadequate or inartful expressions against them.

Integrally, Fr. Rohr’s robustly pneumatological ecclesiology, radically inclusive soteriology, profusely incarnational sacramentology, remarkably polydoxic sophiology & universally efficacious eschatology are grounded in his Franciscan (common) sensibilities, Scotistic meta-heuristic (common) sensicalities & Eastern sympathies, both Orthodoxy’s sophiological tradition as well as the Orient’s nondual traditions. All of these presuppose, then, certain outlooks, theologically (i.e. paterological, Christological, pneumatological & Trinitological approaches) and anthropologically (as, continuous with all vestigia Dei & uniquely as imagines Dei, theotic intimacization invites each person to progress via similitudo Dei).

To wit:

A. implicatory trinitarian theology (of divine esse naturale):

  • 1) interpersonal propria
  • 2) intimate idiomata
  • 3) invitatory (ad intra ur-kenosis) relata

B. intertwined temporal missions of creation, conservation & consummation (mutually entailing acts of ad extra kenosis) via tri-personal presences (multi-form unitive revelations, i.e. mutual intimaci-zations not mani-fold encounters of separate exemplifications), where

C. inseparable “opera ad extra” are tri-personal while also especially revealing of particular exemplifications via their “proper roles” where the

D. immensity of the divine universal presence, which is variously im/mediate, in/visible & intense, the effects of which are tri-personally operative as well as personally appropriated in the theophanic operations of our creaturely “exitus” or production from God in divine creation, i.e. trinitologically & anthropologically … or as an

E. intensity of the particular divine presence via hypostatic extensions, the effects of which are – not only tri-personally operative & personally appropriated, but – personally “proper,” i.e. united to a given divine exemplification, in the theotic missions of our creaturely “reditus” or return to God in divine consummation, i.e. sophiologically & eschatologically … with the

F. immediacy (Emmanuel, God is with us!) of the divine mercy & urgency of its prompt succor, bringing about manifold & multiform proleptic creaturely realizations of the divine telos, as it’s entailed in these theotic missions. Such realizations anticipate & guarantee the divine missions’ universal efficacy, ecclesiologically & sacramentally, thereby effecting – in this eternal now – our creaturely salvation, redemption & reconciliation by God through divine conservation, i.e soteriologically.

G. implicated theological anthropology (of divine esse intentionale):

  • 1) indwelling vestigia
  • 2) imaginal uniqueness (essential nature of imago Dei)
  • 3) intentional & incremental theosis (dynamical & progressive intimaci-zation of secondary nature of kenotic similitudo Dei)

tags: interreligious dialogue, polydoxy, panentheism, pansemioentheism, retreblement, john sobert sylvest, richard rohr, universal christ, pneumatological missiology, apocatastasis, apokatastasis, david bentley hart, russian sophiology, joseph bracken, divine matrix, norris clarke, personalist thomism, charles sanders peirce, donald gelpi s.j., amos yong, palamas, duns scotus, logical problem of the trinity, richard rohr, michael morrell, perichoresis, universalism, universal salvation, free will, libertarian free will, cappadocians

To Be or Not, to Sophianize or Not our human secondary nature: The Unbearable Lightness of Being (eternally self-determined)

In Conclusion –

Not as a systematic conclusion, but per my vague heuristics, it seems quite plausible that there’s no inconsistency between a proper libertarian conception of the will (e.g. those of Maximus & Scotus) and universal salvation (apocatastasis).

As long as we draw the necessary distinction between choosing “between” good & evil (being & nonbeing) and choosing “among” goods (on a Pareto front of equally optimal choices), along with the further distinctions of our essential & secondary natures (Scotus) and natural & gnomic willing (Maximus), apocatastasis can be conceived as sufficiently self-determinative.

Gnomic willing is what our one will, the natural will, does when epistemically-axiologically distanced, as it chooses to act or refrain from acting in accord with divine logoi, i.e. choosing or refusing participation in goodness & being, thereby forming or deforming one’s secondary nature as, in varying degrees, virtuous and/or vicious.

If we conceive our epistemic-axiological distancing in theotic terms, as our temporal journeying from image to likeness, our gnomic willing constitutes our co-creative participation in Being, beyond being, in Goodness, itself, beyond goodness. Our self-determined secondary natures, ad majorem Dei gloriam, will thereby gift us such holiness & beatitude that some souls will, indeed, outshine the sun.

I have insisted, for decades, inspired by something, per my dim recollection, that Hans Kung once suggested regarding eschatological anthropology (though I can neither cite nor recite it): that every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities, every trace of human goodness, will be eternalized. Upon further reflection, consistent with those thoughts, it seems to me that every self-determined refusal to participate in goodness & being will be likewise respected, as any vicious aspects of our secondary natures transist into eternal nonbeing, as those temporal moments are essentially constituted by self-annihilations of our secondary natures.

I see no a priori reason that complete closures of each person’s epistemic-axiological distancing cannot be accomplished post-mortem, e.g. such as in instantaneous life reviews or via other such purgative vehicles, thereby eternally “fixing” our secondary natures and, definitionally, ending all gnomic willing.

If, in some unimaginable putative worst case scenario, a human person would transist into eternity with no measure of a virtuous secondary nature, no happy eternalizations, whatsoever, what might that entail?

There can be no eternal annihilation of a person’s essential nature, which will necessarily enjoy eternal being by virtue of its intrinsic goodness. That essential being can in no measure be diminished or demolished self-determinedly. No one conceives of a libertarian free will on such terms, especially those committed to the (theo)logical necessity of eternal fires & brimstone.

How, then, might we conceive this bare personal essence, bereft of a virtuous (and vicious) secondary nature? Well, following the conventional “age of reason” approach, which defines the threshold for the growth of rudimentary, self-determined secondary natures (moral & theotic), I conceive such an essential nature in terms of early childhood, as precious sacred faces, whose voices make such precious sacred sounds. And, in an eternal environs, no longer situated per an epistemic-axiological distancing, I envision those children of God & ourselves in pure delight & as wholly beloved. Now, if in holiness & beatitude, they present as tiny votive candles, thoroughly on fire with divine love, while others shine forth as this or that blazing helios, surely, that will not diminish their lovability? That others might be holier than us, O’ Lord, grant us the grace to desire it, provided we shall be as holy as you’d have us be!

What might constitute different degrees of beatitude? both of different measures of self-determined, virtuous secondary natures & of precious, sacred essential natures?

Different degrees of beatitude will be experienced commensurate with the self-determined ontological densities of each person, as measured in relative spiritual intensities (both moral & theotic) and experienced in degrees of expansive aesthetic scopes, that is in terms of the number of choices “among” eternal goods of which one has freely chosen to avail oneself. In this sense, the imago Dei will have grown in divine likeness, for, while the divine nature undergoes no change in perfection vis a vis aesthetic intensity, the divine will, esse intentionale, is ever “affected” in terms of aesthetic scope by our free, self-determined choices to participate in Being, in Goodness.

It is in this sense that I would suggest that the difference between our essential & secondary natures might roughly map to such distinctions as we’ve always recognized in terms of, for example, imperfect & perfect contrition, eros & agape, early vs later stages of Bernardian love, illuminative & unitive ways, Ignatian degrees of humility and so on.

It has always been accepted that imperfect contrition and love of self for sake of self & love of God for sake of self are sufficient. Such “enlightened” self-interest has always been sufficient for parents? I fully expect it will remain sufficient for our Heavenly Father and that it will obtain for all the requisite conditions necessary for our own eternal beatitude. For, as DBH has so compelling argued, who could enjoy an eternal existence separated from those we’ve always loved and will always love unconditionally?

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

continued from here

I could only ever conceive of a post-mortem annihilation of one’s vicious secondary nature, never of one’s essential nature (imago Dei), which would be held in existence b/c of its intrinsic goodness. I picture such a “mere” imago as a person of 7 or younger (not some horror!).

To be or not to be, who we really are, that is the question, as we freely choose to act in pursuit of options that we know to be good (all equally or each sufficiently so) or not to act in consideration of same.

One can act in an inconsiderate or thoughtless way, without considering the good, under some compulsion, hence exculpably, or after considering the good, sinfully, in both cases depriving one’s act and its effects of any distinctively human quality. One can, thereby, nihilate the very essence of one’s being in a de-privative act that can potentially render effects deprived of the good (privatio boni).

Habitual patterns of in/considerate acts yield our secondary natures, which can include varying degrees of both virtuous & vicious natures, hence degrees of likeness to our God, extrinsically, varying in moral & spiritual intensities, which proportionately gift expansions of freedom & aesthetic scope. Our essential nature, an imago Dei, though, remains intrinsically good.

It seems quite probable to me that every authentically free human act, participating in Goodness, itself, has an intrinsically eternal quality, that every trace of human goodness, every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities, are sophianized, gifted an eternal aesthetic scope. Other acts are self-nihilations, diminishing our secondary nature’s likeness to God in varying degrees, while, intrinsically & inviolably, our essential natures remain a precious, sacred imago Dei, a durable aesthetic intensity.

We thus self-determine, in every act, how much of our secondary nature gets eternalized (as virtuous) or self-nihilated (as vicious), what degree of authenticity we freely will to realize.

My Universalist Account

Therefore –

What if God honored all freely refused participations in eternal goods as ordered toward our contingent being?

What if God honored all freely accepted participations in eternal goods as ordered toward our contingent being?

What if that part of the nature of our contingent being, as it was formed by such refusals of eternal goods or being, was allowed to lapse into nonbeing, precisely respecting one’s free choice?

What if that part of the nature of our contingent being, as it was formed by freely accepted eternal goods or being, was eternalized (becoming virtually essential being), precisely respecting one’s free choice?

What would transist into eternity, then, whether proleptically and/or eschatologically, would therefore be our intrinsically good essential being, with its fixed aesthetic intensity, and extrinsically good (virtuous) secondary nature with its self-determined aesthetic scope, but never one’s vicious secondary nature, lacking sufficient moral intensity & self-determinedly ordered toward nonbeing, hence annihilation.


Concepts to be Expanded:

Emergence of probability

Via transmuted experience

In individuals as secondary nature, with a diversity of specific identities & uniformity of generals (Peircean)

In societies as culture, pluralistically, in particular religions & universal presence

Mediated or not, pneumatologically

Expressing or not, Maximian logoi

Further Discussion

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? Or, if also our secondary nature, only that level of goodness & being which emerged per Maximian logoi, never otherwise instantiating a privatio boni, which have no ontological reality?

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?

A post-mortem will that’s closed all epistemic & axiological distances and has been purged of any residual vicious secondary nature could only refrain from determining among the goods of an enhanced aesthetic scope, choosing not to grow one’s spiritual intensity. It would no longer be able to otherwise act inconsiderate of goods pertaining to temporal exigencies, due to having none, so, would no longer be able to sin, no longer able to vary its moral intensity.

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.


[1] MM Adams re Scotus’ concerns re liberty of indifference, as she cites Duns Scotus, God and Creatures: The Quodlibetal Questions, translated with introduction, notes and glossary by Felix Alluntis, O.F.M., and Allan B. Wolter, O.F.M. (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1975), q.16, art. Il, 377-79·

[2] ibid The Problem of Hell by Marilyn M. Adams

[3] Dante’s Hell, Aquinas’s Moral Theory, and Love of God, Eleonore Stump, Canadian Journal of Philosophy 16 (2):181-198 (1986)

[4] When God created us in the divine image, God intended us to be cocreators and participate in God’s plan. Hell may not be a literal burning fire, but does that mean it doesn’t exist?by Kevin P. Considine

[5] The Doors of the Sea: Where Was God in the Tsunami? By David B. Hart

[6] Bishop Barron

[7] John Anthony O’Brien, The Faith of Millions: The Credentials of the Catholic Religion, pp. 19–20

[8] from the Foreward to Dante, The Bible, and Eternal Torment by Jon M. Sweeney

[9] Sweeney ibid

The Trinity and Apocatastasis

Cardinal Dulles describes Balthasar’s stance toward universalism as leaving the question speculatively open, which has different practical implications than altogether refusing the question?

The former creates a right, conceivably a duty, to hope for universal salvation.

It seems Balthasar’s positive theology & pastoral strategy conspired to defend hope from either despair or presumption, either of which he considered a type of hope-less-ness.

Does that conclude our inquiry?

Hardly, for one must next argue whether a given proclamation of apocatastasis meets the criteria of presumption.

Our duty to hope & pray that all may be saved implicates the prohibition against proclaiming whether any or which are damned.

Indeed, after Balthasar’s exercise in positive theology, historically & exegetically, he reasonably inferred that the evidence for God’s desire to save all clearly outweighed any suggesting the factual damnation of some.

If one thereby chooses to either merely stipulate to or even clearly affirm apocatastasis as theologoumenon vis a vis belief, what adiaphora of praxis might that implicate?

Here we next encounter a question of theological anthropology:

How might we account for the way temporal human beings know & embrace the eternal order?

While there can be a fragility to any given hope that remains poised between despair & presumption, if we’ve successfully obviated presumption vis a vis apocatastasis, in particular, as mysterium, next we’ll encounter a polar relationship between tupos (figure, type) and aletheia (truth).

Semiotically, what figures or signs could make present any putative truth of a universal salvation?

How might such a sign participate in the efficacy of such a truth as it shapes – not only how we tell the story (cf Kimel), but – moves beyond a mere eschatological proclamation regarding what the future holds to a question of present praxis regarding how that future will necessarily shape our worship & theosis, i.e. liturgically & devotionally, formatively & pastorally.

What semiotic reality could make such a mystery, apocatastasis, proleptically present, thereby mediating a confident assurance in the object of our hope & via what form of temporal participation in our eschatological consummation?

Here, we recall the tripartite trinitological dynamism (ad intra processional & ad extra cosmic) of emanation, exemplarity & consummation, as well as the tripartite exemplars of vestige, image & likeness, as we present Origen’s tripartite division of shadow, image & truth as all signs of the Good News point to individual, ecclesial & cosmic conversions, transformatively (theotically), and a final consummation, apocatastatically.

I have borrowed the terminology of de Lubac’s “Corpus Mysticum” to frame up the questions above, wherein de Lubac explicated the underlying anagogy of his sacramental theology. For him, any knowledge of the Christian mystery requires a participatory approach, which transforms the believer by subjectively uniting her with the mystery’s objective content. Thus de Lubac provides an anthropological heuristic for spiritual understanding.

But, for a truly coherent accounting of an apocatastatic anagogy, we still need a more robustly detailed account of how we enjoy such proleptic tastes of any future perfections?

For that, we can turn to the Syrian, Isaac.

Unable to comprehend such mysteries through mere temporal reasoning & logic, according to Isaac, it’s a mind standing on eschatological thresholds in the state of astonishment, who’s further graced with wonder, who can embrace the ecstatic experience of the future world in the present, in a now moment.

For an account of Isaac’s sources, see Jason Scully’s Isaac of Nineveh’s Contribution to Syriac Theology: An Eschatological Reworking of Greek Anthropology

For an account of de Lubac’s anthropological heuristic for spiritual understanding, see Joseph Flipper’s Sacrament and Eschatological Fulfillment in Henri de Lubac’s Theology of History

Oh, did I forget to mention that de Lubac articulated his account of spiritual understanding and anagogy vis a vis the sacraments using Origen’s eschatological account and anagogia, i.e. how we might taste & see the truths regarding apocatastasis? Cf. Flipper

Prologue as Afterward

We must set aside the indefensible notion that the human will is either absolutely free or positively determined, whether scientifically, philosophically or theologically.

We can then ask “which aspects of human volition need to be free to what degree?” in order to be consistent with both our moral instincts & intuitions and common sense & sensibilities.

The answers to that question, by its very construction, will not be strictly formal & propositional (neither descriptively nor normatively deductive), but will be propositionally informal (abductively & inductively) and evaluatively dispositional.

Put more concretely, any answer to “which aspects of human volition need to be free to what degree?” will, in large measure, boil down to “how much constraint on human volition are you willing to acknowledge & accept?” before you would declare human moral obligations a dead letter?

Certainly, there’s an acceptable range & not just a jumping off point regarding what degree of human autonomy must be enjoyed if we are to be bound by moral obligation?

And the propositional views and evaluative dispositions of most of us, due to our shared moral instincts & intuitions and common sense & sensibilities, will fall safely within such a range.

However, some seem evaluatively disposed to assert the highest degree of autonomy conceivable (and in near absolutist libertarian terms) as being necessary in order to morally bind a human person to any meaningful degree.

BUT this begins to sound like something that would come from one who’s far more invested in his own WILLFULness than in growing her WILLINGness, for …

as Chris Green points out: Speaking of our freedom as absolute and supreme means (a) that freedom-from-God is itself the greatest good God can give us and/or (b) that our freedom is ultimately self-grounded and our destiny self- determined.

The Problem of Hell and Free Will
by Chris Green, Ph.D

Recent Musings:

Below are excerpts from “The Population of Hell,” First Things 133 (May 2003): 36-41.
In a reverie circulated among friends but not published until after he died, Maritain included what he called a conjectural essay on eschatology, in which he contemplates the possibility that the damned, though eternally in hell, may be able at some point to escape pain.
Karl Rahner held for the possibility that no one ever goes to hell. We have no clear revelation, he says, to the effect that some are actually lost. … Rahner therefore believed that universal salvation is a possibility.
The most sophisticated theological argument against the conviction that some human beings in fact go to hell was proposed by von Balthasar, who said we have a right & even a duty to hope for the salvation of all.
Edith Stein , now Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, defends a position very like Balthasar’s & finds it possible to hope that God’s omnipotent love finds ways of, so to speak, outwitting human resistance. Balthasar says that he agrees with Stein.
Avery Dulles : This position of Balthasar seems to me to be orthodox. It does not contradict any ecumenical councils or definitions of the faith.

Video of a 45 min lecture by Dulles in NY given Nov 20, 2002 & entitled The Population of Hell
Excellent responses to Dulles’ Population of Hell lecture / article.

From science & philosophy we know humans aren’t absolutely free but “adequately determined.” What about theologically? Freedom’s not absolute there either.

A single will to raise up the image, but two to make the image into a likeness. ~ Lossky

See: The Problem of Hell and Free Will at afkimel.wordpress.com

The practical takeaway is that modern categories (libertarianism & compatabilism) don’t measure up to Thomistic & Scotistic accounts. A human freedom constrained in some ways & degrees won’t obviate moral responsibility. Only absolutist conceptions need, in principle, reject universalism?
While I haven’t moved from my long & steadfast practical (Balthasarian) – to an in principle or necessary theoretic – universalism, I’ve been persuaded, by the collective cogency of many Orthodox approaches, that it can’t be a priori or in principle or necessarily ruled out.

The Thin Passibility of the Eternally Deliberative Human Will


Because comments are closed, above, to wit:

It recent reading regarding free will, both temporally & in the eschaton, a thought occurred to me.

Temporally, the issue of being equipoised deliberatively arises, raising a concern of arbitrariness.

Eschatologically, the nature of deliberation, itself, is questioned, presumably, because of a lack of dispositional potencies.

Now, in my view, our freedom necessarily derives precisely from both epistemic AND axiological distancing, both temporally & eternally.

Therefore, even when one realizes a given divine telos, precisely attaining its divinely specified epistemic-axiological intensity, whether that value-realization has gifted one a temporal equi-positioning (chocolate or vanilla?) or even an eternal dis-positioning (God or God?), that need neither, in the former case, implicate arbitrariness, nor, in the latter, obviate deliberative willing.


Because aesthetic intensity, alone, needn’t exhaust our notions of intentionality, whether temporally or eternally, whether of human volition or of the divine esse intentionale.

Integral to any coherent notion of intentionality, one must include the conception of an aesthetic scope, even if a relatively thin notion of post-mortem human enrichment, as one has thus happily moved from image to likeness (vis a vis our thin notion of divine passibility, as has been well articulated & defended by folks like Norris Clarke & Greg Boyd).

The human will thus perdures deliberatively, temporally & eternally, epistemically & axiologically distanced, varying aesthetically in scope even when not in intensity, appropriating novelty & enjoying diversity, moving from glory to glory to glory (hence nonarbitrarily choosing now vanilla, now chocolate, unless C.S. Lewis was correct regarding our heavenly desires for sex and ice cream).

Regarding those post-mortem, who’ve not thus closed their epistemic-axiological distance, haven’t been glorified, they, too, remain irrevocably deliberatively engaged, so to speak, on purgative & illuminative paths toward unitive beatitude.

Not to adopt Pastor Tom Belt’s irrevocability thesis but to instead embrace various irreversibility theses does violence to our common sense & sensibilities regarding personhood.

The Critical Importance of a Normative Account of Affective Conversion in the Authentication of any Doctrine of Apocatastasis

While pastoral concerns, as communications, do emerge last in the functional specialties (per their progressive nature), the theological task is not complete without a proper authentication of doctrines, which is where I locate Fr Kimel’s concerns.

In that context, a normative account of affective conversion matters greatly! All the more if his stance is a theolougemon in his tradition.

Don Gelpi, The Authentication of Doctrines: Hints from C. S. Peirce, Theological Studies 60:261-293 (1999)

The Trinity is a Mystery to be Lived & Not a Problem to be Solved

Something tells me that, if the Trinitarian accounts of Origen, Maximus, the Cappadocians, Thomists, Scotists & Palamites reconcile using the rubrics, below, as I’m confident they do, one shouldn’t approach the Mystery of the Trinity as a problem to be solved but as a divine reality to be lived, participatorily, via prayer & theosis.

If that approach does not suffice for one, existentially & speculatively, they could find themselves in real existential jeopardy of suffering the practical consequences of gravity, because they could very likely be among those withholding prudential judgments regarding same, while awaiting the speculative resolution of its mysterious relationship to quantum mechanics!

Here’s where the Trinitological Hullabaloo begins:

In a meta/ontology concerned with non/determinate realities, the equivocal predications of “is” must be disambiguated, because they can refer to logics of predication (properties), identity (objects) or temporality (relations).

Certain relational meanings of “is” specify realities as present (now), atemporal (timeless), omnitemporal (always), transtemporal (persistent in present period), nontemporal (now potentially temporal) or eternal (meta-temporal).

A couple of examples:

In physics, spatialized time could refer to a nontemporal reality, for example, if a given symmetric equation would suggest a potential temporalization of space (from 2-D to 3-D).

In personal identity theory, explanatory principles must ground both synchronic & diachronic individuation, often mapping the identities of non/determinate persons both eternally and temporally (including a-, omni-, trans- & presently), for example, regarding divine persons, in trinitology, human persons, in eschatology.

Neither reductionist (somatic or psychological) nor dualist (Cartesian) approaches can provide such principles without doing violence to our common sense & sensibilities and sacrificing narrative coherence & moral intuitions.

Why surrender those intelligibilities, sensibilities, coherencies & intuitions to such speculative ontologies, when more modest meta-heuristics can sustain them, while, at the same time, robustly fostering ongoing metaphysical explorations?
Such meta-heuristics include a variety of scholastic, pragmatic & analytical realisms, mostly consistent with Aristotelian-like syllogistics, which work rather well with determinate modes of being & formal modes of identity.

Those syllogistics can be derived from that logic of modal identity, which applies to nondeterminate realities (e.g. necessities, singularities, boundary & limit conditions, and other meta-nomicities).

While successful references to nondeterminate realities, in addition to formal modes of identity, include those of essences (e.g. properties) & existents (e.g. persons), those latter modes of identity are only analogous to essential & personal modes of being.

The exemplarist accounts of Scotus (e.g. immanent universal) & Origen (e.g. Platonic reversal), as well as the substantialist accounts, where the Godhead & persons relate like secondary & primary substances, function as meta-heuristics, which meta-ontologically gift us semantical & analogical intelligibility for realities, which cannot, in principle, be generically specified, ontologically.

Some label such approaches radically apophatic or mysterian. Others fail to note the analogical interval between essential & personal modes of identity & being, then mistakenly characterize them as modalist, tritheist, subordinationist, univocist, equivocist and so on. Either way, they’re critiquing caricatures.

The Mystery of the Trinity does not present a logical problem vis a vis consistency, as long as we properly attend to the equivocal predications of “is” and avoid conflations of determinate & nondeterminate realities, as they employ distinct, but related, syllogistics regarding their modes of being & identity.

The Mystery of the Trinity presents, rather, an ontological problem in that we cannot, in principle, successfully describe (via connotative-denotative generic specification) —

WHAT so loved the world THAT … … John 3:16 et cetera etc etc

Deo gratias, we do know Who!

A Glossary of Predications for Determinate & Nondeterminate Realities (not necessarily pertaining to divine realities but even pertaining to, for example, materially monist conceptions & other non/reductive metaphysical accounts)

An essential nature or esse naturale can be a non/composite nature w/ or w/o formal distinctions, where the 3 meanings of “Is” include:

  • Properties
  • Objects
  • Temporalities

Other predications made for realities concurrent with but not identical to a nature (esse naturale), which necessarily inhere, characterizing but not defining it, naming but not describing it, include univocal semantic references & analogical predications of meta-ontological & meta-nomological realities:

  • Propria – predicated essentially re: attributes
  • Idiomata – predicated personally re: exemplifications, hypostases
  • Epinoia – predicated relationally of kenoses, oikonomia, operations, energies, actions & apophatic attributes as non- & self-determinate sources (e.g. internal paterological ur-kenosis, external christological kenosis of incarnation & pneumatological kenosis of creating and trinitological transforming economy, whereby each creature’s resplendently transfigured & persons theotically so)

An esse intentionale via accidental properties can include volitional & intellectual relations to external realities, i.e. Cambridge properties that represent real but contingent relational changes, both:

  • External – via creation
  • Internal – via a thin passibility in aesthetic scope

as determinate effects (creative & theotic, i.e. vestigia, images & likenesses) ensue from transcendently non- & self-determinate sources

More Trinitarian Reflections:

DDS, MOF & Filioque

The filioque doesn’t, per se, implicate simplicity. It reconciles with the MOF & the formulation that the Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.

For irenic accounts, see:

from a Catholic take:
Mark J. Bonocore

from an Orthodox stance:
Peter Gilbert

For what’s at stake, see:

Cardinal Dulles

Maximus acknowledged the Latin introduction of the filioque was done “in order to manifest the Spirit’s coming-forth (προϊέναι) through him and, in this way, to make clear the unity and identity of the essence.

Some worried, however, that, when coupled w/an emanationist interpretation (precisely imputed to an Augustinian DDS), the filioque’s logic of processions would yield an infinite causal chain of persons (it doesn’t due to distinctions like mutually opposed relations, active & passive spiration, principium/aition & causa, etc) and would compromise divine freedom. They were further concerned that natural rather revealed theology grounded its conceptions of nature & persons.

The DDS turns out to be a much stickier theological widget than the MOF, which I receive as dogmatic, or the filioque, which I accept as theolougemon.

A good DDS could accomplish a great deal of heavy lifting, idiomatically, while a bad one would be a dead weight. What we need, therefore, is a Goldilocks DDS, a metaphysical gruel that’s not so thick that it nullifies divine freedom or trivializes divine personhood & love, but, not so thin that necessary distinctions between determinate & nondeterminate realities disappear.

I would insist w/ D. B. Hart that we need some DDS & w/Norris Clarke that a thin divine passibility’s defensible, agree w/W. L. Craig that Clarke’s approach threatens many commonly understood Thomistic notions of same, disagree w/Perry Robinson that Thomist approaches are as incompatible w/some Eastern approaches as he imagines but agree w/his depiction of the coherency of those Eastern approaches, and have especially enjoyed reading the online irenics/polemics re: DDS of Michael Liccione, Edward Feser & Thomas Hopko.

In the end, surely we’ll need distinctions like un/conditional necessity, esse naturale/intentionale, inentionale as aspect of naturale, change in intentionale as thin passibility.

Norris Clarke actually contends that, in order to make intelligible the belief that what happens in the world does make a significant, conscious difference to God, the Thomistic metaphysical doctrine of no real relations in God to the world should be quietly shelved because it is no longer illuminating. Norris Clarke explains that the term `real relations’ carries a narrow technical meaning for Aquinas, one implying intrinsic change in the real intrinsic, nonrelative perfection of the subject of relation and the independent existence of the other term. Since neither of these requirements can be applied to God, Aquinas allows ‘intentionality relations’, in the purely relational order of knowledge and love in God towards the world, but technically refuses to call these `real relations’. Whilst defensible on technical grounds, Norris Clarke believes this perspective to be so narrow and incomplete, so difficult to convey, that this point of conflict with Process thought should be dropped. Norris Clarke affirms that it should be unambiguously stated that God is truly, `really’, personally related to the world by relations of knowledge and mutual love and affected in consciousness, but not in abiding intrinsic perfection of nature, by what happens in the world. ~ Robert Connor

Below, in no particular order, are some of my favorite online reads re: DDS, MOF & Filioque:




















The Monarchy never entailed subordination

Nor Simplicity modalism

And a new filioque collaboration

Could end a thousand year schism!

What’s Athens to do with Jerusalem?

Or Rome with Constantinople?

Whether one reads Hart or Avery Dulles

She can be apokatastatically hopeful!

An “Axiological” Epistemology is a Redundancy

Per an axiological epistemology, each value-realization movement requires several epistemic moments, each necessary & none, alone, sufficient. Each epistemic moment is methodologically autonomous in its distinct probe of reality, but, together, they’re all axiologically integral.

For example, one might say that love happens when what’s good frees us to unitively recognize the true and realize the beautiful.

Recapitulated more technically, we could say that unitive goals are met when the normative liberatively mediates between the descriptive & interpretive to effect the evaluative, all of this in our crossing of epistemic distances & overcoming of ontic privations as our speculative & practical reasonings remain integrally intertwined.

In each of these methods, there have been long-standing formalistic tensions. To wit: Unitive goals (agapic vs erotic, rationalism vs fideism vs ignosticism) are met when the normative (absolutist vs relativist) liberatively mediates between the descriptive (essentialist vs nominalist) & interpretive (realist vs idealist) to effect the evaluative (intellectualist vs voluntarist).

Those dyadic tensions, however, represent a caricature of human epistemology, as if we must somehow consider ourselves either infallibilistic, naive realists, on one hand, or radically deconstructive postmodernists, on the other.

What seems to otherwise be going on with our shared common sense & sensibilities, instead, suggests that our unitive goals (Bernardian love per fides et ratio) are met when the normative (moral realism & probabilism) liberatively mediates between the descriptive (semiotic & critical realism) & interpretive (fallibilist realism) to effect the evaluative (intellectualist voluntarism).

We reject, too, therefore, any epistemology that overemphasizes the logical & ethical, while underemphasizing the aesthetic. Indeed, I subscribe to both Scotus’ primacy of the will and Peirce’s aesthetic primacy, wherein aesthetics precede ethics which precede logic. I also buy into Jack Haught’s aesthetic teleology, wherein novelty plays an integral role in amplifying beauty (although I don’t employ his metaphysic). Especially see chapters 8 thru 10 in Haught’s Cosmic Adventure.

Neither Scotus nor Peirce nor Haught flirt with a mere voluntarist approach. They’d all affirm an intellectualist moment even in a spontaneous, human co-creative appropriation of novelty in the pursuit of beauty, as they’d all recognize & affirm how an aesthetic teleology harmonically orders the true, the unitive, the good & the liberative.

The Most Common Deficiencies in Moral Philosophy & Theology -especially when applied to Politics

These are notes for a preliminary draft that will address some of the most common & egregious deficiencies that persist in moral philosophy, as often demonstrated by common folk & so-called experts alike.

1) Methodologically, the same old sterile scholasticism remains stuck in a nonvirtuous cycle of abductive moral hypothesizing & deductive moral clarifying, employing too many physicalistic, biologistic terms. This natural law approach needs to be complemented (its inferential cycling completed) by the inductive testing of a more robustly personalist approach. While some have made a personalist turn, eg JPII & New Natural Law school, they remain a prioristic, hence rather arbitrary, not having made a more robustly inductive turn. It is one thing to take one’s old natural law arguments and translate them into a personalist idiom, quite another to actually adopt an inductive, personalist method, which actually inquires into the putative value-realizations & value-frustrations it suggests will present in the concrete circumstances of person’s lives.

2) Too many reflexively charge differently minded others with moral relativism, nihilism, emotivism, voluntarism, vulgar pragmatism & a host of other philosophical pejoratives, as if a defensible ethical pluralism might not otherwise be grounded in the epistemic humility, metaphysical fallibilism & moral probabilism of our quotidian human common sense & sensibilities.

3) re: moral probabilism, too few draw a suitable distinction between empirical & theoretic doubts, between “is that?” & “what is?”

4) too few avoid category errors & logical missteps in navigating a hierarchy of truths & values along w/principles of cooperation & double effect, for example, re: act of voting, too much discourse moves too quickly from a ranking of causes to a double effect calculus, skipping or giving short shrift to a critical principle of cooperation analysis, which is to say that, as they proceed, for example, with a political cause ranking through a cooperation calculus (principle of cooperation) to calculate the effects (principle of double effect) of a vote or policy, they often ignore how very highly tenuous a given causal chain is – as would be in play regarding what are very highly contingent acts – … in other words, they adopt a moral & prudential calculus susceptible to the parody of rendering most remote material cooperation illicit in our public lives

5) re: evaluation of moral acts, re: moral objects (cluster concepts w/specifications beyond physical act), intentions & circumstances, too few recognize that moral objects are cluster concepts that have already specified the circumstances of physical acts, often further defining them enough to consider such as virtually exceptionless, but not with enough knowledge to justify considering them absolutely so, as we reason from general precepts to concrete norms

6) too few distinguish ontic from moral evil

7) too few distinguish formal from material innocence or harm

8) too few distinguish prudential from moral judgments

Regarding theological anthropology, then:

9) too many fail to recognize the Spirit’s presence in the secular, in the natural & in our temporal ends via the gratuity of creation, wrongly imagining that the Spirit is only ever present in the sacred, in the supernatural & in our eternal ends via the gratuity of grace

10) too many confuse the law of graduality with a gradualism of the law

11) too many give a primacy to coercive measures rather than, per subsidiarity principles, soft powers

See: https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/08/19/a-goldilocks-theological-anthropology-between-pessimism-optimism-natural-supernatural-nature-grace/


After I’d written the above, in general, I came across a reminder of where I’d so often seen such lapses, in particular:

+Chaput has always seemed sincere to me & his logic clear, but awash in category errors. As I think about this, his approach & writings over the years may well provide the best concrete example of so much that’s been wrong in Catholic moral theology & theological anthropology. Indeed, he often provides the perfect foil for how to otherwise philosophize & theologize properly in the secular age.


And I would imagine that the words of Michael Sean Winters, below, generally reflect what I more particularly specified above:

I admit that I find it tiresome to have to continually criticize Archbishop Chaput. I do so in sadness not in anger. But, it must be said: If I were writing a work of fiction and I wanted to create a caricature of a culture warrior bishop, I do not think I would have the courage to create one so reckless, so uncomplicated in his moral sensibilities (and not in a good way), and so quick to render judgment against others, so willing to ignore the pope, or to cite him, as it suits his own purposes, so intellectually thin and so edgily partisan, as Archbishop Chaput’s columns show him to be.


[Michael Sean Winters is NCR Washington columnist and a visiting fellow at Catholic University’s Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies.]

Humanity’s Growth is No Myth & its Declines are Greatly Exaggerated

Neither theocentric traditions, generally, nor Christianity, particularly, birthed any –isms of human economic & political orders, despite contrary claims. Their robustly & pervasively telic conceptions in every sphere of human concern have nurtured the growth of human reason, both speculative & practical, that has gifted the undeniable advance of human flourishing, both spiritual & material, as well as more refined conceptions of human dignity, itself.

The late Jesuit, Stanley Jaki, chronicled the growth of science, itself, from theocentric & Christian roots. Thomism, when properly & wholly appropriated, gives an anthropological account of the natural law as operative in all human virtues ordered to both temporal & ultimate teloi, even when its implicit theoretic principles are only inchoately explicated in various theocentric sociocultural milieu.

  • Jaki argued persuasively and profoundly that Enlightenment philosophes, thinkers and writers (on down to the present) have been mistaken about Christianity and science. For them, Christianity supposedly inhibited, and even oppressed, science. But Jaki, along with his great mentor Pierre Duhem, knew that the opposite had occurred. In The Savior of Science (2000), Jaki revealed the Christian foundations of modern science. He examined the failed attempts at a sustained science on the part of the ancient cultures of Greece, China, India, and the early Muslim empire. Christian monotheism alone provided epistemological underpinnings for scientific endeavour. In another booklet, Christ and Science, Jaki provided four reasons for the unique birth of modern science in Christian Western Europe. First, the Christian belief in the Creator provided a foundation-stone for thinking about nature. Only a truly transcendental Creator could be powerful enough to create a nature that incorporated autonomous laws without the Creator’s power over nature being diminished. Second, it put all material beings on the same level. There could be no divine bodies in the Christian cosmos (unlike the Greek cosmos). Third, humankind was created in the image of God, with a rationality that somehow shared in God’s own rationality. Fourth, humankind, created by God, cannot dictate to nature what it should be. Indeed, the rise of the experimental method owes much to this Christian matrix. The noted conservative thinker Russell Kirk stated, “Modern science, Father Jaki points humanity, generally, has progressed materially – not in spite of, but – precisely because of its overall moral & spiritual trajectories.out, rose from the natural theology of medieval Christian learning—a fact that philosophes and positivists sedulously ignore.” Father Jaki worked hard to refute those who asserted that Catholicism has been an enemy of science—has thwarted science. The opposite is the case, and Father Jaki worked boldly and strongly in order that the truth about this should come out and be known, as it must.

Various prudential approaches to human dignity, as proper to times & places, but not otherwise universally prescriptive, have allowed some sociological & ideological weeds to crop up among the spiritual wheat of the world’s otherwise pervasively theocentric societies & anthropologies.

Among those weeds are an Enlightenment fundamentalism, ideological liberalisms, practical nihilisms (even among so-called believers), militant secularisms & misconceptions of freedom. But to focus on the weeds when so much wheat has been harvested is wrong.

Neither various secularisms nor liberalisms, for example, logically follow as required ideologies for human flourishing. Rather, the essential philosophical takeaways are the principles of human dignity & conceptions of human freedom & its aretaically liberative dynamics. Secularity remains one of our tools, while secularism is for fools.

Over-against the apocalyptic doomsaying that we’re now living “after virtue,” advanced primarily by culture warriors, who are preoccupied with sex & gender issues, and by institutionalistic mindsets, who overidealize ecclesiocentric realities with an empirically unjustified nostalgia, the world has grown, materially & morally.

Christianity will be fine, especially if we don’t too narrowly construe it in institutional, hierarchical terms, just as the USA will be fine, especially if we don’t too narrowly conceive of it as a merely political reality.

Like the myth of the Post-Christian West, the decline of the Church and fall of the USA are as fanciful as the notion that God is Dead.

While I deemphasize institutional metrics, more broadly conceiving the Church in mystical, sacramental, herald & servant conceptions, still, even mere institutional metrics don’t reveal Christianity to be in decline per Gallup, Pew and other researchers.


US polling switches from denominations to unaffiliated reflect decreased stigmatization per Gallup:

“Now, it is normatively much easier for a person who doesn’t attend religious services to simply tell interviewer ‘none’ when asked his or her religion. In other words, no change underneath, but a big change in reporting.”

None of this is to deny the threat of asymmetric warfare, but the fact – that there could some day be a technological unleashing of unprecedented destructive potentials by crazed, demented groups – is not dispositive of the question regarding whether or not humanity, generally, has grown & advanced materially – not in spite of, but – precisely because of its overall moral & spiritual trajectories.

Steven Pinker (TED2018) describes this undeniable trajectory: Is the world getting better or worse? A look at the numbers

Pinker (TED2007) earlier described the surprising decline in world violence.

As with others, Pinker goes on to make incredibly facile interpretations of his otherwise indisputable facts. It’s not secularism or an abstracted Enlightenment that accounts for such material & moral advances. After all, the world’s peoples remain decisively theocentric in their concrete practices of daily living & dying, working & playing, loving & learning & leaving of legacies. Furthermore, there’s nothing inevitable about these advances.

Growth is no myth. Decline has been greatly exaggerated. And few have properly come to grips with the real reasons for either, offering, instead, facile tautological apologetics to proselytize their exclusivistic ecclesiocentrisms & arrogant naturalisms.

Augustinians & Thomists, Nature & Grace, Politics & Religion

The following notes are in continuity with & supplemental to:



For responses to Nouvelle Theologie, Feser lists:

1) Lawrence Feingold’s The Natural Desire to See God According to St. Thomas Aquinas & His Interpreters

2) Steven Long’s Natura Pura

3) Ralph McInerny’s Praeambula Fidei

4) Bernard Mulcahy’s Aquinas’s Notion of Pure Nature and the Christian Integralism of Henri de Lubac

5) Serge-Thomas Bonino’s edited volume Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought

I would add as a meta-critique of all the schools:

Don Gelpi’s The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship between Nature & Grace

He names fallacies of Christian thinkers that have in the past skewed theological understandings.

In The Gracing of Human Experience: Rethinking the Relationship between Nature and Grace, Gelpi argues that Charles Sanders Peirce’s philosophy avoided those fallacies & provides a novel frame of reference for rethinking the theology of grace. While he eschews any artificial extrinsicism, he doesn’t underestimate secular conversions in the gratuity of creation.

In my (eisegetic?) take, Gelpi’s view is consonant w/both a faithful Augustinianism, the best of Existential Thomism & sympathetic to Nouvelle’s Communio, rejecting transcendentalist anthropologies (e.g. Whig Thomism) or those flirting w/depravist tendencies, as do some integralists (e.g. Political Augustinianism) & Augustinian radicalisms (Radical Orthodoxy & Benedict Option).

Per Thaddeus Kozinski: Both classical & new traditions neglect four realities:

1) mutually dependent relation of speculative & practical reason

2) subjectivity-shaping role of social practices

3) tradition-constituted-&-constitutive character of practical rationality

4) indispensability of divine revelation in ethical inquiry & practice. <<< end of Kozinski critique from Brandon Watson

While some may be justly criticized re 1-3, many feel caricatured.

Regarding #4, it mustn’t be coupled w/an ecclesiocentric exclusivism at odds with Nostra Aetate.

Elsewhere, Kozinski presses his critique vis a vis #4 against Maritain (& Rawls).

Among those claiming caricaturization, Feser responded to Kozinski.

Re: Macintyre’s criticism of Maritain, Ralph McInerny well notes that, even inadequate & false justifications have embedded in them an implicit recognition of the true ends of human nature & thus of the true basis for practical precepts.

We can thus distinguish between the natural law as operative in a plurality of largely theocentric societies (functionally personalist & communalist) & its theoretic grounding, both implicit & explicit. The operative is ontological, the theoretic — gnoseological.

Over against Alasdair MacIntyre’s social philosophy, Bryan Turner suggests its pessimistic view of the collapse of a common moral vocabulary is unfounded.

For one thing, MacIntyre creates a nostalgic picture of the coherence of past communities, & for another, MacIntyre neglects the growth of human rights & international law as instances of a shared moral system that is not based on emotivism.

Alasdair MacIntyre on morality, community & natural law, Journal of Classical Sociology 13(2) 239–253, 2013

We mustn’t overestimate natural law accessibility as we descend from the more general precepts to increasingly specific concrete norms, or underestimate its operative efficacies in, at least, provisioning a modicum of public peace, order, justice & morality.

So, there’s no reason that our world’s largely theocentric vision can’t explicitly, even if sometimes inchoately, affirm that freedom’s inherent duties are objectively & communally ordered to realize the aretaic & deontological ends (teloi) of eternal & natural laws.

Or that we grow in freedom through a formative & liberative process of learning, which will necessarily include the increasingly habitual practice of these duties.

While I am sympathetic to the rhetorical strategy regarding exaggerated “rights talk,” in & of itself, it’s not philosophically bankrupt as some suggest, for freedom’s rights remain correlative with & inseparable from its duties to be/come who & do what we ought. They are, therefore, rather precisely implicated.

Natural Theology & Natural Law -however otherwise weak, at least- defeat Nihilism

In science, faith & quotidian life, epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can normatively adjudicate any competing responses using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty.

The hermeneutical spiral, above, recapitulates Lonergan’s transcendental imperatives & functional specialties.

See: https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2017/12/13/contemplative-being-behaving-believing-belonging-desiring-becoming-an-outline-of-foundations/

To wit:

De-liberatively, regarding our references, descriptively & interpretively, epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can adjudicate, normatively, any competing responses, using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty, evaluatively.

De-liberatively (cosmos & mythos – be free, be loving, be-loved per both temporal & ultimate teloi) …

regarding our references …

descriptively (logos or perceptionbe aware in research & communications) & …

interpretively (topos or understandingbe intelligent in interpretation & systematics) …

epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can adjudicate …

normatively (ethos or actingbe responsible in dialectics & foundations), any competing responses, using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty

evaluatively,(pathos or judging & decidingbe reasonable in history & doctrines).

I must stipulate with Hart & Milbank that any rivalry between ultimate worldviews, say nihilist vs theological, cannot be logically coerced. Reality remains far too ambiguous for us & way too ambivalent toward us to compel belief through speculative reason, alone.

With the Thomists, I would insist that, even stipulating that nihilism has not thus been refuted, philosophy well demonstrates the reasonableness of natural theology as an equiplausible competing worldview.

For me, Thomism’s reasonableness remains indispensable over against any thoroughgoing fideism, much less, nominalism, idealism, voluntarism or relativism.

I do not receive Milbank as coming from some Thoroughly [Post]Modern Millie, but, instead, take (eisegetically) his postmodern critique as an admonition to avoid the temptations of dueling hyper-formalisms in countering those insidious –isms.

This is to recognize that —

no essentialistic framing will finally foreclose nominalism, descriptively;

no naïve realism will convincingly defeat idealism, interpretively;

no intellectualistic speculation will logically overcome voluntarism, evaluatively;

no absolutistic insistence will compellingly obviate relativism, normatively; and

no rationalistic appeals will definitively refute fideism, existentially.

But what amount to epistemic misfires for some are but caricatures for others, whose

1) descriptive probes include semiotic & moderate critical realisms;

2) interpretive heuristics employ a metaphysical fallibilism;

3) evaluative dispositions engage an irreducible triad of logos-pathos-ethos, e.g. Aristotelian eudaimonia, Augustinian beatitudo or Thomist summum bonum;

4) normative propositions allow some degree of ethical pluralism grounded – not in an insidious relativism or vulgar pragmatism, but — suitable epistemic humility, metaphysical fallibilism & moral probabilism ; and

5) philosophical preambula vault fidei past the threshold of equiplausibility.

Thomism’s reasonableness thus gets vaulted philosophically past the threshold of equiplausibility by the valid & coherent arguments of natural theology & natural law. (And its deontological conclusions should be considered at least as modest as its ontological commitments are tentative). There, philosophy culminates in either the theological preambula fidei & its general precepts or a nihilistic cosmogony.

Any “competing” theological or nihilistic mythos would come after a normatively justified existential leap.

Past this threshold of epistemic warrant, speculative reason yields to practical reasoning under uncertainty. The speculative arguments between essentialism & nominalism, realism & idealism, intellectualism & voluntarism, absolutism & relativism and fideism & rationalism have previously been transcended by a fallibilist, critical realism.

Normative justifications commence and can lead either to the fideistic, voluntaristic dichotomy of a theological versus nihilistic mythos or to an existential disjunction, where rational equiplausibility principles, albeit often implicit, adjudicate a decision to “live as if” that which is (more so, perhaps, they who are) the most life-giving & relationship-enhancing, the most beautiful & good, the most unitive & liberative, will — first & proleptically, i.e. proximately & temporally, as well as eventually & eschatologically, i.e. ultimately & eternally — also happen to be the most true.

This constitutes meta-discourse, however inchoate or implicit, whether variously held provisionally or confidently, yes, prior to special revelations, and yes, on tradition-transcendent grounds. Importantly, this needn’t be formal discourse or what can sometimes devolve into sylly syllogisms, but more often, via our participatory imaginations, comes from our common sense & common sensibilities, from connaturality, an illative sense, a tacit dimension, intuitions & informal abductions.

The most problematical arguments of natural theology are rationalistically grounded in naïve rather than critical realisms. The most problematical arguments of the natural law are a prioristic, rationalistic, deductivistic, biologistic, physicalistic & infallibilistic, especially as they move from general precepts to specific concrete norms, particularly because of epistemic hubris and the lack of a more inductive, personalist relationality-responsibility approach. But the abuse of natural theology & natural law is no argument against their proper use.

The questions that beg?

What constitutes the most life-giving, existentially?

How do we define & measure the most relationship-enhancing? The most unitive, interpretively & orthocommunally?

Where’s the most beautiful instantiated, evaluatively & orthopathically?

And the most good realized, normatively & orthopraxically?

And the most liberative, metanoetically & orthotheotically?

These are not questions that yield to an armchair cognitive map-making but which must actively engage participative imaginations that are naturally embodied, historically situated, socially embedded, culturally bound, politically immersed & transcendentally horizoned.

Of course it’s incredibly problematical to apply our ortho-metrics to competing worldviews, precisely because their instantiations are so very particular & traditioned.

But I wouldn’t want to defend the notion that nihilism remains in that competition?

Finally, Between an overly pessimistic Augustinian interpretation & overly optimistic transcendental Thomism, perhaps a Goldilocks theological anthropology can be articulated:



Gelpi recognized both as donative realities – a gratuity of creation & gratuity of grace, the Spirit’s universal presence (e.g. nomicities) & particular presence, where Grace is mediated via transmuted experience, where, for example, Kerygma matter immensely.

This discussion continues here:


Where in the World is Sophia? —a Sophiological footnote

The created grace Gelpi refers to would be constituted by reality’s actualized potencies, eternalized teloi (both temporal & ultimate teloi) of Peircean thirdness, efficient materialities of secondness, connaturalized indeterminacies of firstness, existentialized essences, formalized finalities, participatory intimacizations eternalized, all temporal realities coaxed forth Pneumatologically, Christologically & Paterologically via Divine Energies as would account for effects as would be proper to no known causes.

Every trace of human goodness, for example, eternalized, i.e. every beginning of a smile & all wholesome trivialities!

Whether interpreted in Platonic, Neoplatonic, Aristotelian, Thomist, Scotist, Palamitic or Peircean categories (and I cross hermeneutical bridges between them all), collectively & dynamically, these cumulative actualized potencies or eternally realized divine teloi may represent Sophia, who participates in the Divine Energies in a perichoretic Divine Dance.

In The Wisdom of God, Bulgakov spoke of two Sophias, one created and the other uncreated. She to whom I refer above would be the created Sophia in her participatedness. While I affirm the Divine Energies per a formal distinction, I must defer to others regarding the manner of viewing Sophia in Orthodoxy. And still wonder just how we might best account for ecstatic visions of Sophia.

See more re this theophany:



This body of work largely comprises my project, which I refer to as Pan-semio-entheism, because, as a systematic theology, while it is metaphysically realist, it prescinds from any given metaphysical root metaphor (substance, relational, process, experience, etc) to a phenomenological meta-heuristic.

See: Amos Yong With John Sobert Sylvest, “Reasons and Values of the Heart in a Pluralistic World: Toward a Contemplative Phenomenology for Interreligious Dialogue,” Studies in Interreligious Dialogue 20:2 (2010): 170-93















Integralism as a Pre-political Anthropology & Meta-political Norm Grounded Philosophically in Natural Theology – The Pre-political Grounding of both Liberal & Illiberal Regimes

Liberal & illiberal regimes may all have their times & places.

Licit regimes will share certain theoretical foundations, hence, criteria of liceity.

Consistent with such foundations, then, consider the following criteria:

Public laws serve as one of many means toward just ends.

We critique political strategies, diagnosis their deficits & prescribe their optimality by prudentially judging them per criteria defined by just ends.

Sufficient strategies will attain a modicum of justice as realized in public virtue, order & peace.

Confluent with other just ends, we exercise the end of freedom by being who & doing what we ought, i.e. properly forming & duti-fully exercising our consciences to flourish in & as community, where the necessary goods of a sufficient material progress serve as a means to higher moral & spiritual ends.

Freedom’s inherent duties, thus objectively & communally ordered, realize the aretaic & deontological ends (teloi) of eternal & natural laws.

We grow in freedom through a formative & liberative process of learning, which will necessarily include the increasingly habitual practice of these duties.

Freedom’s rights remain correlative with & inseparable from its duties to be/come who & do what we ought.

Radically finite, the concrete states of both individual & communal realities constantly evolve, so, continuously, we must prudently discern the means of their flourishing and adapt our public laws & political strategies to those states.

Laws & policies must variously prioritize & subordinate agreed upon (at least practically if not substantively) rights & interests and, when those rights unavoidably & truly compete, adjudicate them, balancing & reconciling them through accommodations that, foremost, preserve & foster the common good, but only ever limiting the rights & interests – or burdening the consciences – of individuals in the least restrictive manner practicable.

The abovementioned criteria obviously share certain theoretical foundations.

Even if only implicitly & inchoately, we can anthropologically & philosophically ground rather substantive (suboptimal but satisficing) agreements regarding theories of humanity & of the cosmos, of truth & of knowledge, of goodness & of beauty.

We thus abide some degree of ethical pluralism derived – not from an insidious relativism or vulgar pragmatism, but – from a moral probabilism consistent with an appropriate epistemic humility & suitable metaphysical fallibilism. Our de-ontologies should therefore be as modest as our ontologies are tentative.

A given community may well move beyond such an implicit & inchoate philosophical grounding, e.g. natural theology, to an explicit & definitive revealed theology. In that case, any agreed upon rights & interests may more optimally reflect humanity’s ultimate telos, condiligentes, i.e. as co-lovers with God.

In such a community, religious conversion can further foster, even trans-value, its members’ realizations of humanity’s proximate, erotic-agapeistic-eudaimonistic teloi.

Beyond a given community’s vision of ultimate teloi, transcultural realities & religious pluralism invite further excursus, e.g. regarding shared orthocommunal (topos), orthodoxic (or polydoxic logos ), orthopathic (pathos), orthopraxic (ethos) criteria.