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)
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)
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