U-turns and Transcendentals


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 embrace various irreversibility theses does violence to our common sense & sensibilities regarding personhood.

The “Trans-Formal Distinction” between the Divine Essence & Energies

Let’s first consider some Analogies of Phenomenological Distinctions:

essential or real:

  • creature: nonstrict, contingent esse naturale
  • Creator: strict, self-subsisting esse naturale

modal temporality:

  • creature: asymmetric
  • Creator: atemporal

modal adequacy:

  • creature: finite
  • Creator: infinite

modal ontology:

  • creature: possibilities, actualities & probabilities (in/determinacies)
  • Creator: ens necessarium

modal epistemology:

  • creature: reality variously in/determinable, epistemically distanced
  • Creator: reality absolutely determinable, omniscient

formal or real metaphysical:

  • creature: mutability presents from each genus/species/haecceity, which remains variously constrained by end-stated (mortal), end-purposed (adequately determined) & end-intended (intentional agency) teloi due to the boltzman, shannon & darwin entropies of an aesthetic teleology, which is variously realized (adequate freedom)
  • Creator: with an immutable aesthetic intensity (absolute freedom) indwells creation via a passible esse intentionale, which, per the sovereign divine will (consistent with – logically conceivable but evidentially indeterminable – essential, metaphysical and/or kenotic constraints) amplifies aesthetic diversity via divine energies, which manifest in the glorious multiplicity of creaturely participations

Speculative Take-aways:

Creaturely formal distinctions, noninherent but inseparable for each entity, refer to the nature of each entity’s journey toward its maximum aesthetic realization. Each journey might, more or less, be distinguished by its degree of substantial contingency (mutability), temporality, modal adequacy (finitude), in/determinedness (teleonomicity), epistemic distancing and volitional freedom (aesthetic teleological realization).

The formal distinctions made between divine attributes refer to no substantial or modal realities of the divine esse naturale (there simply are none), which remains immutable, atemporal, infinite, sovereign, omniscient and absolutely free in the unsurpassable aesthetic interrelationality of the divine essence and hypostases of the Ens Necessarium, Simplicity, itself. They refer, rather, to the otherwise noninherent but inseparable relational passibilities of the divine esse intentionale and to the ineluctably unobtrusive yet utterly efficacious responses that are freely gifted by the divine energies to creatures. These divine activities are then manifested in the effects that ensue from creaturely participations in this sacramental economy, in which evil and suffering enjoy no currency whatsoever, the donative nature of which remains profoundly incarnational (cf. Scotus) and profusely pneumatological (sans filioque).

Our distinctions, whether essential, formal or modal (Scotists), whether physically real, metaphysically real, virtual or logical (Thomists), cannot be univocally applied to both Creator and creatures due to the transcendent nature of divine realities. In the same way that it would be a category error to presuppose epistemological and/or ontological reduction between the different layers of complexity of cosmic realities, which require the analogical — not univocal — predication of the various emergent teloi, similarly, transcendent divine causalities simply (pun intended) will not reduce to epistemic or ontic categories of their subvenient cosmos. Our causal analogies, divine vs cosmic, remain vague, hopefully successful, references but in no way can be presupposed as successful descriptions.

Our vague phenomenology remains an exploratory heuristic, out of which a plurality of legitimate theologoumena might flourish, not a robustly explanatory metaphysic, logically coercing or axiologically compelling one valid opinion over another. Once we properly disambiguate the various distinctions analogically predicated of Creator and creatures, then, whatever it is that suitably distinguishes between the divine essence and energies, it cannot properly be called Scotus’ formal distinction or even the real or virtual distinction of Aquinas, for those refer to contingent realities with modal properties.

Arguably, the distinction between the divine essence and energies is the one most analogous to Scotus’ formal distinction. I like to refer to it, then, as the trans-formal distinction, both to emphasize its analogical character and to evoke the trans-formative Telos that inheres in the energies, coaxing our participation in a perichoretic-like dance with the divine. Likewise, the divine esse intentionale would, analogously, be supremely passible, transcending our conceptions of creaturely passibility.

Of course, questions are left begging regarding how the Divine Telos causally interacts with our subvenient cosmic teloi. Our abductive inference to the best explanation can only suggest that, while otherwise ineluctably unobtrusive, a supervening (aesthetic) Telos can be, analogously, just as utterly efficacious as that cosmic telos, which is located in human personal intentionality, which, for its part, however tacitly, causally interacts with other layers of complexity. In such interactions between these somewhat dis/continuous ontological layers, while human telic intentionality clearly transcends them, we similarly lack (as with putative divine causal joints) explanatory adequacy for the apparent causal closures, among and between them. While we certainly methodologically presuppose such closures, for all practical purposes, still, we cannot metaphysically describe them to our speculative satisfaction (except, perhaps, for Dan Dennett and Richard Dawkins, who seem rather easy targets for a facile neuromythology).

Practical Upshots:

We best emphasize, then, de fide, kerygma and mystagogy, synergeia and theoria, sophiology and theosis, in an orthocommunal, orthopathic and orthopraxic authentication of true glory, ortho-doxically. We best deemphasize any so-called logical coercions of philosophical theology and should positively (pun intended, again) eschew evidential theodicies, otherwise epistemically warranting our leaps of faith abductively (as in Peirce’s Neglected Argument for the Reality of God), while, at the same time, normatively and performatively justifying such existential orientations by their formative and transformative progressions toward the transcendental imperatives

  • of truth, as preserved in our creeds;
  • of unity, as enjoyed in our communities and fellowships;
  • of beauty, as celebrated in our devotional and liturgical cult-ivations;
  • of goodness, as preserved in our canons and codes; and
  • of freedom, as realized in our trustful abandonment to providence, faithful surrender to the divine will and in our ongoing attunement to the siren song of that divine suitor/seductress, neither threatened by Her virtual irresistability nor fearful of His delightful ravishing, precisely because, while we’re merely adequately determined, monergistically, we enjoy a most robust intentionality, synergistically.

This musing was evoked by:

Reflecting the Mystery: Analogy Beyond Negation and Affirmation By Robert F. Fortuin

Additional notes:

Simplicity for Scotus wouldn’t entail a simple being having no distinctions, whatsoever, only its having no “really” distinct parts?
We might be tempted to suggest that a Scotistic formal distinction, e.g. esse intentionale, wouldn’t entail God’s nature, e.g. esse naturale, having parts (limitations)? Or, in Thomist terms, to refer to that as a “metaphysically” real distinction?
But would that distinction between the divine will & essence really work with a sufficiently robust notion of divine freedom? We might say yes, if it’s combined w/the Damascene approach to divine infinity?
But I’m not really comfortable w/all that b/c, while I find the formal distinction very useful in parsing in/determinate realities, where act-potency obtains regarding formal-final teloi, to be truly consistent w/the Damascene approach, it seems we’d need to conceive a “trans”-formal distinction?
That is, we need more than the classical formal distinction, which works fine for creaturely in/determinacies, to distinguish God’s indeterminate ousia & hypostases from God’s energeia, as God’s determinate work?
Further, taking energeia as freely chosen determinate manifestations (any divine determinacy “taken on”) doesn’t mean they must necessarily deliver us descriptive likenesses of the divine essence, even as they will clearly reveal something truly meaningful about God’s nature? Like the generation of the Son & procession of the Spirit, neither of which must be either willed or necessitated, the energeia would originate from God’s very nature?
We might then suggest that something analogous to Scotus’ formal distinction, a trans-formal distinction, re: divine energeia, wouldn’t entail God’s nature having parts (limitations).
Perhaps the trans-formally distinct divine energeia neither originate by necessity nor esse intentionale but by esse naturale (as Athanasius suggested re the begotten Son)? And the esse intentionale, too, is trans-formally distinct from the esse naturale?

To me, univocity just means our concepts are sufficient to convey something meaningful about the putative cause of various effects as remain proper to no known causes.
How meaningful?
A successful reference.
So, univocity’s only semantical, not ontological. Beyond a God-concept or quark-concept serving as a mere placeholder for a given putative cause, is there nothing else that can be said?
Well, re a God-concept, can’t we also talk, univocally, about the divine essence in terms of an all positive conception of divine infinity? Sure & it will also qualify as univocal. But it’s still not onto-talk, since creatures aren’t infinite?
In that regard, Scotus (& Bonaventure) fall into the Damascene school.
Such analogies & metaphors can be very meaningful, i.e. existentially actionable & soulfully dispositional, even in our syllogisms, but, because we yet remain in search of a root metaphor (a metaphysic), we mustn’t imagine we’ve speculatively proved very much, i.e. QED.

God knows the “future of nature” but – just what is the “nature of the future”? anthropopathic projections or theopathic interpretations?

That God omnisciently knows the future of nature, there should be no doubt. On the other hand, the nature of the future must be properly understood.

Peter Geach held that apart from present trends and tendencies there is no future to be known. This squares with a divine omniscience of peircean thirdness.

See, for example: Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion (vol. III), ed. Jonathan Kvanvig (OUP, 2011), pgs 222-251. Geachianism

A truly Catholic open theism, as would be consistent with many of the thoughts of Norris Clarke and Peter Geach (Roman) or John Polkinghorne (Anglican), could make for a very generic version.

In addition to the distinction between esse naturale and esse intentionale

See, for example: William Norris Clarke and Robert A. Connor on Person as Thomistic Esse

we can also distinguish between an essential impassibility and affect passibility (and certainly affirm both).

See, for example: Graham A. Cole, The God Who Wept a Human Tear: Some Theological Reflections http://ojs.globalmissiology.org/index.php/english/article/view/612/1538

In light of the imago Dei, one needn’t interpret the Biblical depiction of divine suffering as some anthropopathic projection, but can interpret human suffering as theopathic or God-like.

See, for example: Graham A. Cole, The Living God: Anthropomorphic or Anthropopathic? Reformed Theological Review, 59 (1, 2000), pp. 16-27

Also, see:

Marcel Sarot (2001) Does God Suffer?, Ars Disputandi, 1:1, 53-61


Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, The Gaze of Mercy: A Commentary on Divine and Human Mercy, Frederick, Maryland: The Word Among Us Press, 2015

Walter Kasper, Mercy: The Essence of the Gospel and the Key to the Christian Life, Paulist Press, 2014

Divine Attributes per Greg Boyd

Divine Omniscience


Divine Omnipathy


Divine Omnibenevolence






Divine Omnipotence


Divine Omnipresence


Divine Immutability




Divine Necessity & Contingency



We should take the theological stances, above, as opinions, even better, as questions!

God knows the future of nature but we don’t fully know the nature of the future.

At bottom, our philosophical theologies, beyond some rather vague phenomenological commitments, only frame our questions but should not pretend to have answered them, proving too much, telling untellable stories, saying way more than we could possibly know. Instead, we abide with paradox, tolerate ambiguity, nurture creative tensions, seek out the antinomies, resist rushes to closure and admonish the voices of certitude … but move forward, anyway, in humility, with hospitality, doing what we’ve discerned we must and saying what we believe we should, dialogically, boldly and imaginatively! There is, after all, a certain wisdom in distinguishing between a legitimate plurality of theologoumena and matters that are de fide?

Any kataphatic theopoietic, which aspires to articulate our theopoiesis (our divine cooperations via kenosis, katharsis & synergia) and theosis (our ineffable, unitive divine participations via theurgy & theoria), will necessarily quickly unsay itself, apophatically. Above all, suitable analogical predications must be employed.

What we can say, then, for example, is that …

God suffers impassibly.

Norris Clarke critiques Hartshorne, whose process approach ignores the possibility of a rich, inner life of divine plenitude, thereby overemphasizing ad extra divine relations.

At the same time, in the same way that he employs the esse naturale vs intentionale distinction, which seems consistent with open theism, he similarly draws a distinction between

God’s infinitely intense interior joy (never rising higher in intensity of perfection) and its relational expressions, which do entail a divine enrichment via novel determinate modalities of expression of those joys, such finite modalities being limited participations in that infinite Source.

This reminds me of Boyd’s distinctions between the intensity and scope of aesthetic experience as well as between definitional and constitutive (relational) dispositions, all consistent with my appreciation of the essence-energies distinctions.


Clarke affirms divine contingency. I interpret his reference to the “eternal now” not so much as an argument for or against a/temporality but as his attempt to remain modally agnostic, temporally speaking.

In other words, in affirming the THAT of divine contingency, i.e. openness, at the same time (ha ha), he’s saying that that affirmation is nontemporal, that it’s not taking a stance on HOW temporally thick or thin God’s now might be.

For Clarke, the question of divine foreknowledge springs from a category error re: god-talk (needs to be decisively analogical). He otherwise certainly seems on board with the “open future” conception of the open theists.

Clarke wouldn’t object to a temporal view of the divine relational consciousness, i.e. God as changing, as long as we’re only referring to esse intentionale and as long as God’s only affected — not improved — by relations with the world.

In my view, each such formal distinction (not quibbling with thomistic real-logical relations as the logical can refer — not just to conceptual distinctions, but — to noninherent but inseparable relations) may or may not reflect a divine contingency, for example, vis a vis the future (properly conceived!), mutability (of this or that attribute), im/passibility, a/temporality, or even enrichment. At least the necessity and/or contingency of each attribute or energy would have to be argued separately. One could, for example, affirm open theism vis a vis omniscience but still deny passibility.

Fr Clarke could be interpreted to be, using Boyd’s terms, affirming an enrichment of the divine aesthetic scope while denying same regarding intensity, especially given his recognition of one Source of value — thus supporting a thin notion of enrichment or a thin passibility vis a vis the divine esse intentionale.

Regarding most theological opinions (vs de fide), I don’t have a dog in such hunts. I’m still trying to understand the questions they raise.

It seems to me that Orthodox approaches to panentheism (as indwelling w/sufficient ontological distinctions beyond just mereological distinctions) do not threaten classical theistic approaches to divine attributes, immutability, impassibility and so on.

Because open theism entails no theologic amendments to omniscience and only metaphysical reconceptions re: temporality, i.e. the nature of the future, it should be compatible with Anglican, Roman & Eastern Catholicisms and Orthodoxy, whether via a classical theism or proper panentheism.