My Mon-Arche-I-tectonic Shift

The reflection, below, is in dialogue with Eclectic Thoughts on Holy Trinity: Person, Essence, Energy, and Stuff Like That .

Thanks for generously sharing, Robert, and Father for providing this forum for all, including us nonacademic anawim. I love grappling with this stuff as hard as it is for, on my daily walks, it feels very much like prayer.

Your essay evokes analogies to the way I have appropriated Charles Sanders Peirce. I say analogy because his modal ontology applies to finite, determinate being. His category of firstness or possibilities roughly maps to essence or ousia or quiddity. He’s no essentialist but neither does he countenance nominalism. As a moderate realist, that essence would only ever be encountered in his category of secondness or actualities, roughly mapping to existents or hypostases or haecceities (think act = efficient & potency = material cause). His realism comes in via thirdness, a category of generalities, which maps roughly to probabilities or relations, which actually mediate (think teloi, where act = formal & potency = final cause) between firstness & secondness. One can see from those act|potency dynamics why this only applies analogically to Actus Purus.

No divine ousia could be abstracted, as it’s only ever eternally instantiated in divine hypostases, where the act|potency analog is pure act.

Of course, the determinate being of creation, as a whole & even in rational creatures’ theotic realizations, would, as vestigia & imago Dei, present as effects proper to no other known causes, leading us to our abductions of the Ens Necessarium, to Whom, aided by both general & special revelation, we could only make successful references but could not fashion definitions (think idioma of hypostases & propria of ousia). Our essential references would be strictly apophatic negations: nondeterminate, noncomposite, nonfinite, etc, predications we casually toss around as if we comprehend them, when their intelligibility, propositionally, barely leads to an analytic conceivability. But GOD is such a LARGE reality (Peirce says we should avoid the fetish of saying He “exists”), that a meager informative intelligibility can go a long way performatively & dispositionally (like on my prayerful walks or when I first prayed the Credo in Latin as an altar boy). Discussions like these, even disagreements within dogmatic contours, to me, aren’t arguments but prayers. Think pragmatic semiotic realism.

Whether the unity is substantial via ousia, hypostatic in the Father via principium or dynamical in the Trinity via synergy or all of the above, our logical analytics, which manipulate propria & idiomata, energeia & economies, remain strictly epinoetic & ananoetic, propositionally, but our metanoetic & theotic encounters in Word & Sacrament & Creation lead us to partake of the divine synergy & to be incorporated in the divine nature, where trinitology yields to trinitophany, evoking psalms, hymns, prayers, creeds, all manner of worship & all types of ongoing conversions.

But good worship & good conversion, good fellowship & good behavior, will only ever best be fostered if we get good Trinity-talk right. That’s why I defer & demur. (Think of a fugue of orthodoxic, orthocommunal, orthopathic, orthopraxic & orthotheotic dispositions. Oremus!

Another evocative analog to me between Peircean approaches & trinitology comes from his speculative grammar, wherein, for his modal ontology, one can map – not only the act-potency dynamics, but – at least, insofar as this grammar is applied to determinate being, to our applications of first principles (noncontradiction & excluded middle or PNC & PEM).

For possibilities, PNC folds & PEM holds; actualities, PNC & PEM both hold; probabilities, PNC holds & PEM folds.

This all prescinds from a metaphysic of necessity to a more vague-general phenomenology or meta-ontology to guide syntax, semantics & contextual realities that present indeterminately (viz. in an epistemic-ontic omelet, where we can’t always say, a priori, whether our ignorance derives from the methodological advances & constraints of in/determinability or ontological revelations & occultings of in/determinedness.)

Anyone, who’s ever toyed with alternate cosmogonies, quantum interpretations or philosophies of mind, will recognize these epistemic-ontic omelet phenomena and how those competing interpretations represent our analytic-semiotic attempts to technologically unscramble those phenomenological eggs.

What of necessity as a modal category? Wherein all of the first principles would hold, including identity, with variously weak or strong versions of the principle of sufficient being [PSR]?

Here we reach the threshold of the abduction of the Ens Necessarium? Here we see Russell & Copleston debating primordial mereology viz. fallacy of composition? Here we encounter Leibniz and a pantheism that derives from a PSR on steroids?

Next we see Hawking taking the square root of imaginary numbers (axiomatized by taking the square root of negative one) to predicate a finite but unbounded universe, as well as others, who propose a plurality of worlds, a multiverse or even an ultimately thoroughgoing formless abyss?

But we also find Anselm, Augustine & Aquinas, Basil, Bonaventure & von Balthasar, Cappadocians, Chalcedonians & Christmas!

How we axiomatically predicate putatively non/determinate realities, hopefully looking over our epistemic shoulders at Godel-like constraints, Agrippa’s trilemma & a robustly aporetic intuition, will algorithmically steer us away from either, on one hand, an unmitigated nihilism, which “grounds” an ultimate epistemic idealism, ontic nominalism, evaluative voluntarism, vulgar pragmatism & moral relativism (you recognize the litany of bogeymen of a radically deconstructive postmodernism), or, on the other hand, a thoroughgoing pantheism, with its mindboggling implications for all notions of – not only divine, but -creaturely freedom.

What’s most at stake, then, for those who properly thread the needles of non/determinate & in/determinate realities, are precisely our notions of freedom.

And how we ground them primordially & ultimately, as well as dispose ourselves to them, contingently, will profoundly impact our quotidian existence.

It seems to me that many arguments – regarding what precisely was and remains at stake in those tensions still playing out between our patristic, scholastic & modern schools – turn on whether or not we imagine the Fathers & Medievals were mostly trying to solve, on one hand, the One & the Many, or, on the other, the Mystery of Freedom, both divine & creaturely, as all we most deeply cherish derives from its putatively coinherent gratuities, what we celebrate in our lives as Love.

I hope I have unpacked enough to hint that such a tension represents a false dichotomy.

Let me unpack a few more trinitological implications of my Peircean architectonic.

Numerically, if not ontologically, I suggest that (where > indicates a conceptual greater than vis a vis a sheer number of putative concepts to be limned existentially)

  • Being (possibilities, essence, ousia, quiddity, epistemic vagueness) >
  • Reality (actualities, existents, hypostases, haecceities) >
  • Relations (probabilities, necessities, teloi, ontic generalities, non/determinacies & in/determinacies) >
  • Existence (determinate & composite beings)

If we reify a sphere of pure being, we might predicate its ontic extremes either in terms of a formless void or tehomic abyss or in terms of a platonic plenitude of forms, neither “essentially” a no-thing-ness but, instead, a realm of infinite possibilia or potentialities not otherwise in potency to act.

“Potentialities not in potency” makes for a great analytic conception until one recognizes it’s inherently self-contradictory, unsurprisingly though if, per one’s speculative grammar, noncontradiction has folded, leaving only the implicit ontological imperatives of the excluded middle: Choose! Determine! Act!

“To Be or Not To Be,” that is the question!

Here we, the Many, are faced with the Existential Disjunctive, but only proximately & derivatively.

Ultimately & primordially, there must be some One, a Who, a Person, a Pure Act, existentially & hypostatically, to freely answer that call, then, to donatively gift being to One-self, pivoting from nondeterminate emptiness as the unoriginate Source of – not being, itself, but – relationality, itself, as self-determinate, which is one’s relationship to one’s self, one’s very existence, One’s hypostasis choosing One’s essence.

Alternatively, I suppose a tehomic realm of dynamical nondeterminate material is certainly conceivable. It would perdure in an eternal flux of ever-emergent but merely ephemeral teloi, for example, presently in a radically entropic, materio-energetic, spatio-temporal configuration, as might just so brutely happen. (See unmitigated nihilism, above).

Or, of course, there’s pantheism.

That’s the Existential Trilemma of our three mereological-metaphysical-sufficient reason tautologies: nihilism, pantheism & all manner of needle-threading theistic conceptions, switching metaphors, trying to navigate the radically nondeterministic nihilistic or radically deterministic pantheistic existential shoals, trying to adjudicate, with some modicum of epistemic warrant, between those equiplausible worldviews and various competing theistic stances.

At least, some suggest they’re equiplausible, but those, in my view, seem to subscribe to either a thoroughgoing nominalism or a radically naïve realism, both which, per my pragmatic semiotic realism, caricature our otherwise inherently axiological epistemology.

I address, elsewhere, how such forced, vital existential options become “live” through a combination of epistemic warrant & normative justification. And it doesn’t involve epistemic adhocery, just the ordinary furnishings of our epistemic suite: perinoetic, ananoetic, epinoetic, metanoetic, etc

Confronted with “Why is there not rather nothing?” or “Whither the One & Many?” or “Of whom & how can we predicate ‘freedom’ or even define it?” — I’ve suggested they reduce to a single question, even though there are many putative answers.

Wise guys know that, for The Answer, all roads lead to Bethlehem, prior to Cappadocian & Roman excursions. And our responses begin, dispositionally, in a gnosis discovered on our knees, before the post-experiential processing of our episteme of participatory imaginations, long before the cognitive map-making of our doxastic propositions.

What flows algorithmically from such a Mon-Arche-itectonic as I hinted at above?

We set aside both a nondeterminate nihilum of ultimate nothingness & a wholly determinate one-thing-ness of necessary being or being-itself and consider – not a nondeterminate ground of nothingness, but – a nondeterminate ground of emptiness (a Christological intuition from The Tomb), freely choosing (in absolute ontological freedom) to Supremely Be (a Paterological intuition from both general & special revelation, onto-theologically & theo-ontologically), freely or Self-determinately (substantially unoriginated) originating & spirating, on One hand a generated Son & on One hand a processing Spirit, as Trinity donatively gifting both the gratuity of creation and, to rational creatures, the gratuity of grace (Pneumatological intuitions from both the coeternal via vestigia & our theotic realizations and sans filioque).

Elsewhere, I address grace as transmuted experience, following my late Jesuit friend, Don Gelpi.

All of our theophanic & trinitophanic sensibilities & intuitions, taken together, would reflect how our theotic transformations, while they are not patterned after Ascensions, are exemplified in the Assumption (a Mariological intuition).

As I begin to close, now, I would summarize by suggesting that the substantial, hypostatic & relational unity of the One — known, however imperfectly, in divine propria, idiomata & synergies, experienced as divine energy & economy as we partake in One Mission & are incorporated into One Bread, One Body, One Lord of the Many — is communicated to us via a quintessential semiosis – what Peirce would call icons, indexes & symbols. But others, like Andrew Robinson & Christopher Southgate, have told that story.

What I have set forth are my Peircean Trinitophanic Preambulae, which remain meta-ontological, bracketing any root metaphors du jour, as I remain, substantially, in search of a metaphysic, just like the rest of Christianity, at least, those who bring an aporetic sense and apophatic sensibility to the Divine Essence, because, really, it’s no-thing.

Much Ado About Nihil – a taxonomy of in/determinacies

Nondeterminate Emptiness (e.g. ground of Tillich & Neville, Ens Necessarium of Peirce)

Nondeterminate Nothingness (e.g. nihilum, ex nihilo)

Indeterminate Being (e.g. tehom)
• uncreated
• created
• lapsarian

Determinate Being (e.g. probabilistic in/determinacies as variously in/determinable and/or in/determined in degrees; as absolutely and/or relatively self-determinate)

A Cajun Credeaux – as believed consistent with any number of theo-cosmogonies, metaphysics & trinitologies

Hypostasis of the Father = idioma of the unoriginate originator (principium)

necessarily (per esse naturale) or, alternatively, freely (cf Eclectic Orthodoxy), originating (as self-determinate dynamis-actus),

possessing divine ousia as referenced, not defined (via negativa), via apophatically predicated propria &

gratuitously (per esse intentionale) creating determinate being, thereby

revealing Himself as Creator, including both pneumatologically (idioma of Spirit proceeding) from the via vestigia in the divine gratuity of creation (per general revelation) & Christologically (idioma of Son begotten) from the via positiva in the divine gratuity of grace (per special revelation), thereby

communicating with determinate being via the Godhead’s singular trinitarian synergy and

offering special intimacy (Abba) to rational beings via theotic participation in that divine economy & incorporation into that divine nature, illuminated by divine energeia.

More is fleshed out here in my collaboration with Amos Yong.



A new phase in the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church began formally with the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and the Pan-Orthodox Conferences (1961-1968), which renewed contacts and dialogue. From that time, a number of theological issues and historical events contributing to the schism between the churches have begun to receive new attention. In this context, our own North American Orthodox-Catholic Consultation was established in 1965, and the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches was established in 1979. Although a committee of theologians from many different Churches, sponsored by the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, studied the Filioque question in depth in 1978 and 1979, and concluded by issuing the “Klingenthal Memorandum” (1979), no thorough new joint discussion of the issue has been undertaken by representatives of our two Churches until our own study. The first statement of the Joint International Commission (1982), entitled “The Mystery of the Church and of the Eucharist in the Light of the Mystery of the Trinity,” does briefly address the issue of the Filioque, within the context of an extensive discussion of the relationship of the persons of the Holy Trinity. The Statement says: “Without wishing to resolve yet the difficulties which have arisen between the East and the West concerning the relationship between the Son and the Spirit, we can already say together that this Spirit, which proceeds from the Father (Jn. 15:26) as the sole source of the Trinity, and which has become the Spirit of our sonship (Rom. 8:15) since he is already the Spirit of the Son (Gal.4:6), is communicated to us, particularly in the Eucharist, by this Son upon whom he reposes in time and eternity (Jn. 1:32).” (No. 6).

Trinity & Metaphysics

McInerny sees us as Characters in Search of Their Author. Like Pip in Great Expectations, we are beneficiaries in search of a Benefactor. Like the Empty Tomb, our Empty Mangers during Advent instill — not lost meaning or unintelligible references, but – Great Expectations!

Practical upshot is that neither revelation nor metaphysics gift us with an exhaustive, descriptive definition of the divine hypostases. But the former gifts us w/adequate character references, while the latter aspires to adequate phenomenological references w/categories that – even if only intelligible to a modest degree, propositionally, are profoundly impactful, dispositionally, & eminently actionable, existentially.

Apophatic references to divine esse, metaphysically, only ever clear the epistemic stage of half-gods that God may appear.

Noncomposite esse or simplicity tells us, ergo, what God is not as well as not like. Such attributes, even taken together in a cluster concept, increase descriptive accuracy, only by eliminating impostors & idols, not by providing terms to be used in sylly syllogisms.

Our successful references, then, both metaphysical & revelational, allow us to distinguish relations, ad intra & ad extra, impersonal & personal, re both propria & energies of ousia as well as idioma & economies of hypostases, as the causes of otherwise inexplicable vestigial & theotic effects, respectively, in the divine gratuity of creation, generally, & gratuity of grace, specially.

Like the Empty Tomb of Triduum & Empty Manger of Advent, as unoriginate originator & sole source of the Trinity, the Godhead – the Father has a freedom grounded in – not an indeterminate nothingness, but – a nondeterminate emptiness, that eternally implicates the Son & Spirit.

The Metaphysics of Authentic Freedom

Probabilities refer to formal causes as acts in potency to final causes, where, modally, noncontradiction [PNC] holds & excluded middle folds [PEM], while actualities refer to efficient in potency to material, where PNC & PEM both hold.

Via probabilities, we prescind from both logical & ontological necessities & take a fallibilist stance to each indeterminacy we encounter, not a priori casting it as an epistemic in/determinable or ontic in/determinedness, recognizing each may contribute in terms of degree.

Emergent complexities confront this moderate realism, presenting it w/novel properties & indeterminacies. We then disambiguate any vague conceptions of telos into teloi, recognizing that different forms may be variously im/potent re the actualization of their associated ends.

Formal actualizations of various ends or finalities might be conceived in terms of traveling epistemic distances to overcome ontic privations, the latter conceived in terms of an entity’s freedom “to be” what it “ought” via a real-ization of ought-henticity, no longer deprived.

Conceptions of teleonomy thus needn’t be taken as deflationary of teleology, but neither are they sufficient to distinguish the more robustly telic realities from the weaker forms (double entendre) & less complex ends, e.g. end-stated “whereby”s vs end-intended “in order to”s.

Somewhat paradoxically, then, authenticity cast as freedom translates – not into auto-nomy of being, but – into the oughts of being, which, for a human, who aspires to real-ly be, will then get actualized only if one heeds certain imperatives of be-coming.

Habitual practices, often counterintuitively, gift freedom. Good habits “form” virtues, which may take on the outward appearance of enslavements, but otherwise truly indicate the fullest realization of an inner freedom that allows one to effortlessly & self-forgetfully be _____.

Habits marked by such an effortlessness & self-forgetfulness distinguish the robustly teleo-logical from the merely teleo-nomic & teleo-matic habits, which, divorced from divine logics of transcendental imperatives, will devolve into those self-indulgent efforts known as vices.

Thoroughgoing nominalists remain ignostic re teleology, having no need for that hypothesis, a stance ultimately dissolving into nihilism. Essentialistic naive realists, w/a fully deterministic telos & no epistemic distance to travel, in their own way, deny authentic freedom, too.

re PNC & PEM in the “actualizing condition” of generality

cf Bradley, James (2009) Beyond Hermeneutics: Peirce’s Semiology as a Trinitarian Metaphysics of Communication. Analecta Hermeneutica, 1. pp. 56-72. ISSN 1918-7351

Meaningful God-talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, if one might suggest:

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

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

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

Then, how might we evaluate that?

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

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



relations (ad intra & extra)

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





informal & common-sensical

formal & syllogistic
(root analog or metaphor?)

3) interpretively – incl meta-ontological aporia




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

4) evaluatively & liberatively -theopoietic



Analytical Theology?

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integral Human Episteme

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

normative & evaluative
• dianoetic|aesthetical, ethical & logical

interpretive & explanatory
• diastemic|aporetic
• ananoetic |metaphysical

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

For future development:

Trinitarian Distinctions of Systematic Theology for Interreligious Dialogue

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

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

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

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

Apocatastasis, Apokatastasis, the Eternalization of All Wholesome Trivialities – where there’s a will (divine Telos) there’s a way (to Heaven)

I’m committed to no particular theo-cosmogony and no cosmo-metaphysic, either, but it’s always seemed plausible to me that there could have been an uncreated, co-eternal formless void (in no sense some dualistic co-equal of divine forces, e.g. Manichean or otherwise).

There are ongoing scholarly debates (linguistic, etymological & exegetical) regarding cognates like tohu wa bohu and tehom, so, I don’t mean to specifically invoke them, but those debates have certainly evoked some of my thoughts, so, when I employ such concepts, I only intend to co-opt them as helpful metaphors.

To wit, then, we might well imagine neither a classical creatio ex nihilo nor a neo-classical creatio ex profundis, where the tehom refers to a primary creation (early exegesis of Augustine). And, under any circumstances, we best elide the exegetical debates, receiving Biblical accounts theopoetically not metaphysically, anyway.

But, certainly, our theopoetic narratives, theophanic encounters & theopoietic participations gift us some onto-theological & theo-ontological contours?

One such speculative take-away, I’d propose, is that our references to divine Telos must be predicated apophatically, whenever we engage in onto-theo- or theo-onto-speak. While there may indeed be a modicum of univocity, semantically, between a divine Telos, theopoetically, and our cosmic teloi, metaphysically, still, ontologically, like divine Simplicity, divine Telos “essentially” must remain a negative concept, an apophatic reference, a metaphysical placeholder for categories of Being, Reality & Relations that correspond only syntactically (i.e. not ontologically) to categories of determinate being, reality & relations.

So, while believing THAT determinate beings, realities & relations, with their cosmic teloi, participate in divine Telos, we can’t begin to proffer HOW this could be so!

Cosmic teloi might include various emergent “about-nesses” regarding the multiform “ends” of determinate realities:

end-unbounded via teleopotent veldo-poiesis (e.g. quantum fields);

end-stated via teleomatic cosmopoiesis (e.g. thermodynamics, gravity, etc);

end-directed via teleonomic biopoiesis (e.g life origins);

end-purposed via teleoqualic sentio-poiesis (e.g. what is it like to be a bat?)


end-intended via teleologic sapio-poiesis (e.g. origins of symbolic language).

Many recognize these multiform teloi within a strictly materialist monist account of determinate reality, accepting the inescapable nominalist, voluntarist &, ultimately, nihilist consequences.

Other monists recognize them within an idealist framework, accepting the pantheistic consequences, which include a principle of sufficient reason on deterministic steroids.

Ignoring the manifold & multiform aporia and question begging bruteness that unavoidably will afflict such emergentist accounts of determinate beings, realities & relations, such an infinite regression of dynamical efficient-material causes as determined by only the most ephemeral of teloi, in my view, might precisely describe a formless void, an eternal abyss wherein no formal or final causes “necessarily” perdure, otherwise merely probabilistically presenting in various degrees of in/determinacy, in an epistemic-ontic omelet never to be unscrambled.

What if, however, the divine Telos of the Ens Necessarium, substratively, super-stratively & circum-stratively, via a divine matrix, was diffused into this tehomic, formless abyss of determinate being, reality & relations, somehow inviting a creative & imitative participation in its eternal forms & finalities, its activities & works, its Love? (think divine energeia)

Might there ensue an Incarnation?

Might not every trace of human goodness, every beginning of a smile, all wholesome trivialities be eternalized?

Might we all not, apokatastatically, variously populate the firmament, whether as a tiny votive candle (e.g. that altar boy, Hitler) or as blazing helios (e.g Mother Teresa)? Overflowing our capacity, growing per eternal teloi, moving from glory to glory, beatitude to beatitude?

For every eternal Telic potency actualized would thus pierce the heavenly veil as a perfect participatory prayer or oblation, even as every merely ephemeral, tehomic teloi otherwise self-annihilates, not participating in the authentically True, Unitive, Beautiful, Good & Liberative.

A dog shaped by a trace of human goodness & desired by a human person, who’s in turn shaped by Divine Goodness, might well go to heaven, thus eternalized?

All traces of true sin (not mere finitude) might otherwise be washed white as snow, every tear wiped away?

Such a panentheistic account could square nicely with classical theism, even a neo-Platonist approach, with no need for Whiteheadian accounts that, themselves, flirt with nominalism.

Or not.

Just thinking aloud with no metaphysical horse in the theistic race.

Truly Apophatic Negations of Divine Being

I prefer the prefix non– for apophatic negations that refer to divine being, essence or esse naturale, & trans– to refer to divine reality, energies or esse intentionale, eg. non- vs trans-in/determinate, modal, analogical, formal, etc b/c non-
better conveys that I have no idea!

The above refer, respectively, to the Peircean, Palamitic & Neo-Classical distinctions.

You May Keep Your Trinitarian Kataphatic Crayons if You Color Inside Defensible Dogmatic Lines

There are many common phenomenological themes that present as we have encountered manifold & multiform aporiae throughout the great chain of being, beginning with whether or not being, itself, is a useful construct when predicated of existence writ large, mereologically, or even of a given existent.

An emergentist account has proved helpful as a heuristic device, which will strategically employ a suite of conceptual placeholders at each of reality’s causal joints in order to provide a lingua franca to alternate interpretations, typically, of emergent novel effects as will have appeared to have been proper to no previously known causes.

These aporiae have arisen and been addressed especially in the facts of quantum mechanics & the approaches of quantum interpretations, the facts of cosmology and interpretations of age-old & modern cosmogonies, the facts of biological realities and biogenetic interpretations, the facts of neurobiology and the interpretations of philosophies of mind, the facts of human sapience and the interpretations of brain & language evolution, the fact of human agency & freedom and the interpretations of free will.

The phenomenological lingua franca will typically be constructed using a familiar set of epistemic hygienes. I’m not suggesting this has always been consciously recognized as a rather universal epistemic suite, only that, having dabbled in these philosophies of science and some metaphysics over the years, although the terminology was different from one domain to another, I repeatedly encountered recurring themes.

A vague phenomenology will often:

1) prescind from necessities to probabilities

2) not a priori interpret probabilities as ontological vs epistemic

3) bracket ontologies, i.e. no root metaphor & no prioritization of entities or of relations or of static vs dynamical accounts

4) implicitly employ Aristotelian causes associated with acts & potencies

5) implicitly employ modal categories of both temporality & adequacy

6) navigate the shoals of essentialism & nominalism with a moderate realism

7) attend to predications (e.g. analogical, univocal, equivocal, apophatic, kataphatic)

8) attend to a conceptual typology (e.g. essentialist, fuzzy, vague, pluralist, cluster)

9) attend to philosophical distinctions (e.g. real, logical, conceptual, virtual, formal, metaphysical, modal)

10) attend to evidentiary standards for normative impetus (e.g. scholastic notations)

11) follow the rubrics of triadic inference (e.g. abductive, retroductive, inductive, deductive)

12) attend to triadic ellipsis (e.g. syntax, semantic, pragmatic, contextual)

13) confront paradox w/o a priori approach to its dialectical resolution, pragmatic evasion, paradigmatic dissolution, exploitation of creative tensions

14) return to fast & frugal heuristics of common sense (e.g. reductio ad absurdum, existential actionability)

15) consistent with common sense and vital traditions, recognize the value-realizations of successful reference even when successful description evades us

16) attend to the normative significance & existential actionability even of inchoate meta-heuristic realities, which impart reasonable ontological implications & suggestions, even when meta-physical ontological specifications & definitions otherwise elude us (e.g. Whether in a modest moral deontology, grounded in a tentative ontology, which invites an ethical pluralism derived from a suitable moral probabilism, or in a dogmatic theology, grounded in diligent historical, exegetical & mystical hermeneutics, which invite diverse theologoumena & a theological (sometimes even a polydoxic) pluralism, this is to recognize that there are still lines within which we must color, time-honored, tradition-tested, boundaries within which we best remain)

I just inventoried the above meta-heuristic rubrics without elaborating on examples or engaging them in a robustly explanatory way because I don’t have the time and space or interest, presently. At the same time, I’ve indeed treated this emergentist approach exhaustively over the years, elsewhere. For one thing, most who’d have any interest will rather quickly recognize its general themes, anyway.

My particular purpose, above, is to set forth this rubric to better reveal how it applies to trinitarian theology, where I see similar dynamics, tensions, aporiae, antinomies, paradoxes presenting and where rigorous parsings and prayerful reflections continue even after millennia.

To the extent that intratrinitarian realities will, definitionally, represent humankind’s ultimate aporetic horizon, this is to suggest that the problematics that inhere in the rubrics above are of a different order of magnitude (of difficulty!), because the above-listed heuristic devices address spatio-temporal, materio-energetic realities, where Aristotelian causes, acts & potencies, and semiotic modal ontologies & ellipses, simply do not adequately address, for example, the ousia or hypostasis of a putative actus purus, where a modal ontology would represent a category error, where kataphatic predications are so vague that they more so implicitly entail the inference-blocking strategy of a rationally apophatic via negativa (thankfully thereby at least providing dogmatic lines within which to color).

This is not to suggest, however, that there are no legitimate fields of discourse regarding the immanent trinity, only to recognize that philosophy is neither their academic starting place nor their proper existential landing. Others will have to determine which beliefs represent authentic dogma and/or legitimate opinions, which impart normative impetus to our moral excursions and/or liturgical celebrations.

It is to say that there are authentic dogmatic lines within which theologians should color in their otherwise diverse theological disciplines …

including normative (ethos & mythos) foundations (historical, exegetical & philosophical);

evaluative (pathos) liturgical & devotional doctrines and dispositions;

interpretive (topos) ecclesiological & systematic expositions; and

descriptive (logos & cosmos) propositions, which include soteriological & sophiological, ascetical & mystical, moral & pastoral, anthropological & eschatological communications.

In my view, they all best follow Lonergan’s trajectory of methods & his imperatives of conversion.

This is also to recognize that the above-bracketing exercise will not issue forth deliverances regarding whether a primarily relational or substantive intratrinitarian account is more coherent, but that, even left bereft of robust definitions of entities & specifications of relations, the church has for millennia, nevertheless, enjoyed the fruits of the reasonably presupposed successful dogmatic references, as implicated in its celebrations of same liturgically & mystically! And these have sufficed at producing spiritual fruits, reaping myriad consolations and fostering authentic conversions!

Ortho-communal belongings have cult-ivated ortho-pathic desirings inculcating ortho-praxic behavings, which have, with varying empirically measureable degrees of success from one community of believers to the next, authenticated ortho-doxic beliefs, all through a process of becoming, i.e. who we are meant to be, thereby realizing the freedom called forth by our temporal & eternal ends (telos).

Much of this is appropriated and validated much more so via our participatory imaginations than by our cognitive map-making excurses. Most of us taste & see the goodness of our leaps of faith without employing classical or analytical theology.

Still, those systematic theologians who continue to wrestle with intractable metaphysical & theological aporiae, just like the many philosophers of science, can hygienically cleanse our epistemic hubris and therapeutically purge our insidious conceptual idolatries, many of which can needlessly & scandalously divide our community of faithful.

Done with a suitable metaphysical circumspection and not overinvested with a supposedly universal normative impetus, theological opinion-giving, even regarding the Divine Essence, needn’t a priori retreat behind a radically apophatic, rational via negativa, which can, ironically, reveal a rationalistic bent, albeit inverse. It just had better plant its seeds in the existential soil of a prayerful, mystical garden of an experiential apophaticism and genuine religious conversion. And the intellectual and affective excesses of rationalism, encratism, quietism, pietism, fideism, relativism, voluntarism, intellectualism and so on can thereby best be avoided.

What might we not unreasonably infer from our own telic realizations, both temporal & eternal, secular & religious, and the manner through which they progressively gift our freedom?

Realizations that advance our mere agency to a clear liberty?

That reduce our unrealized potencies through increasingly authentic acts that determine them via habitual virtue?

And through which we receive the beatitudinal & beatific consolations that ensue from that sustained authenticity, which has been born of our ever-enlarging circle of loving personal relationships?

If that donative gifting of freedom thus ensues via our telic realizations of our truest nature, whereby loving interpersonal acts determine otherwise indeterminate potencies of our human relational realities, then, even without being able to definitively describe a divine entity or completely specify a divine relation, might we not reasonably infer that an Actus Purus (free beyond all freedoms imaginable, love beyond all loving conceivable) could be somewhat successfully referred to as having gifted such effects as would remain proper to no other known cause?

And also, at least, be somewhat successfully referred to as somehow & in some way (neither wholly describable nor robustly specifiable) a circle of loving personal relationships?

See also:

Analogical Predication is indispensable cosmo-logically & anthropo-logically, especially theo-logically

Reflecting the Mystery: Analogy Beyond Negation and Affirmation
via Fr Aidan Kimel
By Robert F. Fortuin

My reflections evoked by the above:

I’ve been musing over the wisdom of this presentation all week, trying to formulate a succinct response that doesn’t sacrifice either clarity or brevity. I have been relishing this blog trying to learn its idiom that I may make more apposite responses as my lifelong interest has been biology and not speculative theology (only formative and contemplative spirituality, practically considered).

Here’s the source of my delight in this presentation. Due to my own analogogical imagination, I extrapolated Robert’s insights to cosmology, in general, anthropology, in particular. I could take his essay, in other words, and perform a simple syntactical “find and replace” that substituted the words “anthropology” or “cosmology” in place of theology and his conclusions would equally hold in those speculative disciplines.

More concretely, up and down the great chain of being, in their cosmo-talk and anthropo-talk, certain scientists and philosophers, especially of that cabal whom the late Don Gelpi, SJ would refer to as Enlightenment fundamentalists, have rather univocally employed concepts like entropy, cause, agency, even telos, so to speak, leveling the ontological playing field, giving only a wink to complexity and — not just a nod, but — a full bow to naturalism. That wink, of course, comes in the form of epistemic openness (nonreductively) and the bow reverences ontological closure (reductively). They end up “proving too much” precisely because, in nature, beyond our vague conceptions of entropy, cause, agent and telos, we must recognize that there are entropies, causes, agencies and teloi, each rather rigorously defined, all requiring dutiful disambiguation prior to their employment in facile syllogisms, many which can get sylly to the point of absurdity.

These reductionistas have properly gathered one take-away, which is that god must not be placed in our metaphysical gaps. At the same time, they have issued epistemic promissory notes denominated in a naturalistic fiat currency, which cashes out no value, metaphysically, only methodologically.

I am hard pressed to give examples, such as from philosophies of mind and cosmogonies to better illustrate my intuitions without running into those walls of clarity and brevity and my idiomatic barriers. Most succinctly, though, as God will arrive when the half-gods depart, theologically, so too the Cosmos and the Anthropos will arrive when the half-natures and half-humans depart from our cosmological and anthropological conceptions, the therapy for which includes suitable analogical predications.

Stephen Hawking expressed some liberation from his realization that there were Godel-like implications for any Theory of Everything, that one could choose between the consistency of one’s axioms or the completeness of one’s system. I listened to Hawking’s speech when it was first made public, marveling only at the fact that he was only of late realizing what the Jesuit Stanley Jaki had taught us decades prior, that when wagering between being either inconsistent or incomplete vis a vis any TOE, the good money’s always been on incompleteness. If that’s true regarding the cosmos, then how much more true that must be for the mysterium tremendum et fascinans?

Theological skepticism has never been some ad hoc strategem simply to avoid (properly, I say) theodicies, but has only ever been inherent in any worthwhile theological grammar. In the end, this has enormous import for our practical theology, formative spirituality, life of liturgy, prayer life, theopoietics and theotics, whereby our theological antinomies much less so will ever resolve, philosophically, but much more so will dissolve, existentially, via divine encounters, communions, participations, partakings and … well .. about those Energies?


I don’t have trouble with logical, deductive accounts (which basically cycle abductive and deductive inferences), whether a logical defense to the problem of evil or an alternate quantum interpretation. Those approaches help establish the reasonableness of — not only our questions, but — the external congruence, logical consistency, internal coherence, hypothetical consonance, interdisciplinary consilience and a host of other epistemic virtues regarding any given account.

Now, in the normal methodological scheme, such an abductive-deductive inferential cycling can fall into epistemic vice if, at some point, it is not also interrupted by inductive testing, if you will, falsification and empirical investigation.

So, beyond our establishment of logical possibilities, we pursue evidential plausibilities.

However, we must be mindful of our subject matter, even in that metaphysics pertaining to the origins of the cosmos, life, sentience and human agency, precisely because of transcendence, minimalistically conceived. These problems remain intractable because we haven’t been able to reconcile emergent nomicities from one level of complexity to the next.

So, as we encourage a plurality of logical interpretations at various of nature’s causal joints, we resist any rush to closure, especially aspiring to
avail ourselves of falsifiability and empirical probing. We don’t ever presuppose that we are, in principle, necessarily ontologically occulted, only imagine, instead, that, for now and in this case, we might remain epistemologically thwarted, methodologically.

Now, to the extent this describes our situation regarding, for example, the origins of life and human symbolic language, ontologically and nomically nearby, so to speak, then, how much more so will this epistemic distance obtain as our thermodynamic equations break down as we approach t=0 near the Big Bang?

That’s why evidential approaches, such as the attempt to establish irreducible complexity by ID proponents, remain seriously misguided. For one thing, some anthropic principle approaches confuse the math between chance and coincidence. More importantly, though, we simply do not know enough about the cosmos’ initial, boundary and limit conditions to say with any confidence what should or should not be expected. (I generously grant each person their unique bayesian priors but all might properly concede that those are rarely universally held). To boot, irreducible complexity is unfalsifiable.

So, if a healthy degree of metaphysical agnosticism remains defensible, how much more so theological skepticism?

The problem is, as Pascal and William James realized, the matter of God remains existentially vital and axiologically forced. So, we evaluate what might be live options. Now, by evaluate, I certainly include logical interpretations of primal reality and logical defenses of the problem of evil. But our final evaluations simply cannot turn on informative necessities, logically, but, instead on the performative significance of our leaps, existentially. So, there’s an evidential aspect that, with no little epistemic virtue, warrants our leaps of faith, and evaluates them in terms of how much value we can cash out of them in terms of what Don Gelpi, SJ (building on Lonergan) would describe as intellectual, affective, moral, social and religious conversions or, in short, human authenticity.

Faith, in such an approach, is much less so warranted epistemically vis a vis inductive testing of abductive-deductive “best explanations,” and more so normatively justified. The leap takes place at an existential disjunction as a “living as if” in the face of competing and intractable equiplausibilities, where we wager or choose the most life-giving and relationship-enhancing response (is that a rope or a snake coiled up on the floor of my cave? i shall leave it alone until i can light the fire and see! meanwhile, i’d best jump over it).

So, while I find evidential theodicies terribly off-putting, some worse than others, more fundamentally, they seem epistemically misconceived. We simply don’t know enough about — not only the cosmos’ initial conditions, but — G*d’s essential nature to say what should or should not be expected vis a vis creatio, metaphysically.

So, the problem of evil, logically, invites a plurality of defenses, none which must necessarily hold, evidentially remains way epistemically distanced but, existentially, suggests certain normative responses and requires creative pastoral solutions.

from a separate post re: divine & human activity

A lot of philosophical analysis to me seems over-invested in the employment of the excluded middle, which ends up in all or nothing & either/or thinking. When Charles Sanders Peirce formulated his modal ontology of firstness (roughly possibilities), secondness (actualities) and thirdness (roughly probabilities), in that category of thirdness vis a vis reality’s regularities, Peirce precisely prescinded from necessity to probability, where, while noncontradiction still holds, excluded middle folds. Whether regarding epistemic in/determinables or ontological in/determinacies, then, different realities are recognized as more vs less determined in varying degrees, on a case by case basis. For example, we might say a given entity is “adequately” determined without at all implicating “absolute” determinism.

Thus it may be, I’ve always thought, that, when deliberating over monergisms and synergisms, we certainly needn’t treat those dynamics in an absolutist frame. When attributing monergism or synergism to entities, we must ask both 1) regarding what particular attribute (as well as predicated univocally or analogically) and 2) to what extent?

McCann’s coreligionists would never countenance an absolute monergism and neither does he. Neither would it object to an adequate monergism while, at the same time, regarding other attributes, emphasizing an indispensable synergistic dynamic, between an Agent, Who’s absolutely sovereign (free), and an agent, who’s free-enough to aesthetically attain the beatitude of divine participations.

For my part, I’m not threatened by the image of my being divinely ravished, especially by such a courtly Suitor/Seductress, Who so coyly woos but never slav-ishly (double entendre intended) coerces my erotic attentions. I’m just desperately trying to better attune my tone-deaf self to Her overtures (insert your favorite composer du jour).


As far as any tendency to make divine unknowability the truth value of one’s position, at least regarding the problem of evil, what’s not defensible, in my view, are any ad hoc retreats into theological skepticism. Generally, though, that’s not what I encounter. Disagreements regarding whether or not theodicies are un/necessary or even im/possible are, instead, rooted in one’s religious epistemology, systematically. I get frustrated trying to figure out what implicit, alternate epistemological approaches might be the locus of some impasses. I’m not sure I’ve spoken to your frustration but you did remind me of my own. In my approach, for example, I suppose I could say that a positive theodicy remains unnecessary, largely because it’s virtually impossible.

Not sure I was thinking exactly the same thing re: such a “meticulous providential control,” but the logical consequences that I was intuiting regarding such a sovereignity seemed to lie in the same direction that I’ve called the Baskin Robbins account of the divine will, which comes in 31 classic flavors, mostly designed to feed theodicial appetites. I can imagine God being exculpable vis a vis sin in a double agency framework, but I can’t tell if McCann has succeeded in meeting such criteria (via some combination of sub- and super- venience). Where the price of such a sovereignity gets uneconomic, for me, comes at the expense of including evil and suffering in one’s divine economy, such as in an Irenaean theodicy. I cannot conceive of a “G”od, Who has anything whatsoever to do with author-ing evil or needing suffering, including annihilationism. The Brothers Karamazov makes more sense to me than metaphysics when it comes to those divine attributes. I’m more frightened by the thought that some atrocities might ever be made morally intelligible than I am of remaining forever befuddled or intractably theologically skeptical.

contd re: McCann

As I have grappled with the problem of evil, I have been rationally satisfied by different logical accounts of the divine economy, all which seem, more or less, consistent with special revelation, some seeming not to be necessarily mutually exclusive from others, none seeming to necessarily be the case.

I view soul-making and the greatest good as divinely willed “ends” for which neither evil nor suffering are divinely willed “means,” which, instead, include, for example, epistemic distance and theosis.

Epistemic distance necessarily introduces finitude and contingency, which, while they can constitute failures to cooperate with grace, merely result from “inabilities.” While moral evil can also constitute such failures, those result, instead, from “refusals” to thus cooperate, in a word, sin.

An anti-theodicy can logically affirm both divinely willed soul-making and the greatest good as “ends,” while denying evil and suffering as necessary “means” in the divine economy? God would never intend evil or suffering but whenever confronted with same could work — not with, but — providentially against and around them and seemingly, perhaps, could even opportunistically exploit every new set of circumstances to bring about the greatest good (Romans 8).

Now, in this scenario, anthropological questions would beg for me about why we wouldn’t necessarily suffer from mistakes, only from sin (but, oh what a better world it would be!) Still, I’d rather remain theologically skeptical, on one hand, about how epistemic distance and theosis, alone, might have (even if somewhat implausibly so) operated in a possible world without evil and sin than, on the other hand, skeptical regarding God’s lack of moral intelligibility vis a vis what might exculpate Her from employing sin and suffering as necessary means (often seemingly repugnantly so).

Is McCann offering a soul-making, greater good evidential theodicy, arguing — not only “that,” logically, but — “how,” plausibly, sin and evil were “necessary” divine means?

Or is he otherwise recognizing that, logically, the realities of sin and evil, even if probable, definitely not necessary, could successfully be worked around without overwhelming the divine economy with its eschatological, soteriological, sacramental, ecclesiological or sophiological ends?

As for the uninstantiated “possibilities” for moral evil, as logically entailed by freedom, they would have no ontological status. Arguably, too, sinful choices would result in axiological privations, evil having no ontological status? Also, God, in McCann’s acount, appears to be ontologically authoring, pre-morally, only an indispensable ontic evil (via epistemic distance as finitude not sin), which a proportionate reason would underwrite with the currency of a greater good, but otherwise remains teleologically uninvolved with any intentional agency, who might directly intend such an evil in a morally culpable act.

Perhaps this is more consistent with Scotus, who believed that the Incarnation was in the divine will from the cosmic get-go and not occasioned by some felix culpa.