Oremus – The Who, What & How of God-talk or Let Us Pray!

Our scriptures, sacraments, sacramentals, psalmody, hymns, liturgies, devotionals, oblations, works of spiritual & corporal mercy, when all embodied, dispositionally, in the unitive strivings of our sophiological trajectories, will grow our loving intimacy with God, others, the cosmos and even each in our relationship to one-self!

Little of that growth requires a depthful propositional grasp, onto-theologically or theo-ontologically, beyond the barest common sense understandings of our creeds, dogmas & general precepts, which certainly impart some meta-ontological implications per their general contours, though nothing requiring a specific ontology or given metaphysic.

Meta-ontologically, for those who do like to “go there,” while I could not begin to relate what Scotus, Palamas, Aquinas & Peirce ever really said or intended, for me these definitions will apply:

Freedom as authenticity, infinitely realized or progressively actualized

Univocity as semantic, applied to Peircean 1ns, possibilities (not real actualities), where noncontradiction folds but excluded middle holds in an indeterminacy of vagueness.

Formal distinction as applied to Peircean 3ns, probabilities, a final cause (potency) & formal cause (act), where noncontradiction holds but excluded middle folds in an indeterminacy of generalities.

Actualities as Peircean 2ns, a material cause (potency) & efficient cause (act), where noncontradiction & excluded middle hold

This modal ontology with its grammar applies to determinate realities that participate in being, reality & existence, where freedom & authenticity are temporally & progressively realized and potencies actualized.

Freedom & authenticity are infinitely realized only in the reality of the Ens Necessarium to which only a trans-formal distinction would successfully refer (as neither an act of existence nor other act-potency dynamics would apply).

Syntactical categories of essence (ousia or what?), esse (hypostases or who?) and activities (e.g. divine energies or how?) could successfully refer to both the Ens Necessarium & determinate realities and a semantic univocity even applied to their essence-talk, allowing for a modicum of meaningful, theopoetic God-talk (an infinite intelligibility), while otherwise precluding all but apophatic references (not only vis a vis who? & what? but also how? in an utter incomprehensibility) both onto-theologically & theo-ontologically, especially given our lack of a successful root metaphor, metaphysically (e.g. whether substantialist, personalist or relationalist).

It does seem that there’s a wealth of things we can meaningfully say metaphorically & theo-PO-etically, especially as we attend to the works & activities of God (esse intentionale) theo-POI-etically, as we participate in the manifold ways & means fostered by the activities of Uncreated Grace (esse naturale), observing how they transmute our experiences by infusing created grace, all ordered to theotic ends.

Primarily, then, what we can meaningfully say … are our prayers!

For those who do like to “go there,” seldom will you come across blog discussions better than these:



In Sympathy with many of Scotus’ Detractors if not with all of their Detractions

In a symposium on Daniel Horan’s Postmodernity and Univocity, John Milbank contributes:

To the contrary, to read the univocity of being as “semantic” (a description never given by Scotus himself) must in Scotist terms imply that it occupies a kind of middle ground, exactly that of the formal or transcendental. It is on the middle ground that Scotus has indeed logicised and conceptualised metaphysics, in a revolutionary fashion, but that does not mean that he has replaced it with logic, far less with grammar.

I can’t presume to speak for Scotus. Many others in that symposium and elsewhere offer respectable interpretations. Precisely what’s at stake, though, involves the clarification of whether or not the univocity of being refers to a logical, semantic, conceptual or grammatical term rather than an ontological, metaphysical, ontotheological or actual reality.

It does seem to me, however, that one could say that, in terms of Peircean firstness, non-actual possibilia, which have no reality, a univocity of being would indeed apply – not ontologically, but – grammatically or semantically to our concepts.

Therefore, the univocity of being, as Peircean firstness, would not, in this sense, occupy a metaphysical middle ground. And formal distinction would otherwise refer to Peircean thirdness, what some Thomists might refer to as a metaphysically real distinction.

Wherever they come out on the debate regarding the Scotus Story, it does seem that most interlocutors want to affirm a metaphysics of participation. For Jesus’ part, in his essay, The Vates Christ Jesus and the Struggle to Say Amen, Brian C. Moore, Ph.D. cites my late friend, Jim Arraj:

When Jesus takes our human nature, it does not become less, but more human, and it is made more by its contact with God, the very source of all being, and this intensification of Jesus’ human nature must be understood not only in a personal sense, but in a social one, as well.

And, for our part, Moore emphasizes:

You have to discover yourself as gift. It is not just a question of an isolated will defending its autonomy. Indeed, that is a lie most pernicious. This event is outside time, perpendicular to all temporal happening. It is metaphysically prior and coincident with the gift that is passio essendi. Thus, there is always mystery to identity because identity is a participation in divinity and entails infinite depths.

Moore’s essay reminds me why I resonate with all sorts of tendencies:

Existential Thomism,

neo-platonic thought,

Russian Sophiology,

overcoming – not overturning – metaphysics,

creedal formulae as – not primarily arguments, but – prayers,

theology as – not primarily a science, but – a dance (David Burrell) and, when as science, the science of love (William Johnston),

the integral relationship of science, philosophy & theology,

and such.

I remain, however, agnostic regarding who may be practicing eisegesis or exegesis of either Aquinas or Scotus – not because I believe such can’t be known, in principle, only – because I’m not equipped to discern same, in practice.

I am heartened that so many, who are otherwise in disagreement regarding what Aquinas & Scotus said or really meant to say, seem to resonate in favor of participatory accounts, proper notions of freedom & theosis, etc and over against an artificial extrinsicism (grace vs “pure” nature), voluntarism & neutral secularism (nihilism), etc.

I would like to add the voice of Benedict XVI with his take on Scotus:

Lastly, Duns Scotus has developed a point to which modernity is very sensitive. It is the topic of freedom and its relationship with the will and with the intellect. Our author underlines freedom as a fundamental quality of the will, introducing an approach that lays greater emphasis on the will. Unfortunately, in later authors, this line of thinking turned into a voluntarism, in contrast to the so-called “Augustinian and Thomist intellectualism”. For St Thomas Aquinas, who follows St Augustine, freedom cannot be considered an innate quality of the will, but, the fruit of the collaboration of the will and the mind. Indeed, an idea of innate and absolute freedom – as it evolved, precisely, after Duns Scotus – placed in the will that precedes the intellect, both in God and in man, risks leading to the idea of a God who would not even be bound to truth and good. The wish to save God’s absolute transcendence and diversity with such a radical and impenetrable accentuation of his will does not take into account that the God who revealed himself in Christ is the God “Logos”, who acted and acts full of love for us. Of course, as Duns Scotus affirms, love transcends knowledge and is capable of perceiving ever better than thought, but it is always the love of the God who is “Logos” (cf. Benedict XVI, Address at the University of Regensburg, 12 September 2006). In the human being too, the idea of absolute freedom, placed in the will, forgetting the connection with the truth, does not know that freedom itself must be liberated from the limits imposed on it by sin. All the same, the Scotist vision does not fall into these extremes: for Duns Scotus a free act is the result of the concourse of intellect and will, and if he speaks of a “primacy” of the will, he argues this precisely because the will always follows the intellect.

Whether or not Scotus was the ontological villain & epistemological culprit as some insist, I can’t say. Respectable voices differ. It does seem that suitably appropriated in Peircean terms, neither a univocity of being nor a formal distinction would threaten an ontology of participation. And, Scotus’ primacy of the will need no more devolve, necessarily, into voluntarism than Peirce’s aesthetic primacy ushers in hedonism, if suitably (re-?)framed. Happily, though, I can give my assent to many of the tendencies that some of his biggest detractors affirm!

Univocity Unischmocity

Scotus is no more scotistic about being in any metaphysical or ontological sense than Hume was humean regarding the reality of causes. Both were dealing with epistemology.

Scotus was talking semantically, logically, epistemo-logically about the concept. His univocity of being did have ontological implications, that the analogy of being logically presupposes relationality, presupposes successful references, presupposes causal relations, between, for example, God and creatures, even while denying successful descriptions of God, Who remains wholly incomprehensible but eminently intelligible. Thus the analogy of being doesn’t dissolve into total equivocation or utter unintelligibility. Attribution and proportionality never did.

Scotus was talking about human language. A univocal concept has enough, i.e. sufficient, unity in itself such that to both affirm and deny it of the same thing would be a contradiction. In my view, sufficient unity implies that it’s good enough to do analogical work vis a vis predications but does not imply that it has enough unity to establish ontological identities. This whole notion of sufficient sameness of meaning, itself, implies analogy at work! (although, without specifying the degree of dis/similarities in play from one concept to the next). Self-subsisting existence, for example, differs qualitatively — not just quantitatively — from any contingent existence, as would other attributes infinitely rather than finitely instantiated, which can differ not only formally but vis a vis modal adequacy and/or temporality. Univocity, properly considered, is not an ontotheological proposal. It remains wholly consistent with creaturely participation in divine attributes.



For his part, Scotus returns to the notion that Aristotelian science is a system of propositions organized into sound deductive syllogisms. A syllogism–e.g., ‘all A’s are B’s; all B’s are C’s; therefore all A’s are C’s’–can be valid only if the middle term ‘B’ is taken univocally in both premisses. Otherwise, there is a fallacy of four terms. Scotus concludes that metaphysics can furnish sound cosmological arguments from finite beings to infinite being, only if there is some concept of being that applies univocally to God and creatures.

As Richard Cross points out, this is for Scotus a semantic thesis. As Stephen D. Dumont emphasizes, Scotus’ concept of univocity is very thin, requiring only as much sameness of meaning as it would take to avoid the fallacy of four terms.


Faith and Philosophy 25 (2):190-196 (2008)


Upholding a univocity theory of religious language does not entail idolatry, because nothing about univocity entails misidentifying God altogether—which is what idolatry amounts to. Upholders and opponents of univocity can agree on the object to which they are ascribing various attributes, even if they do not agree on the attributes themselves. Neither does the defender of univocity have to maintain that there is anything real really shared by God and creatures. Furthermore, even if much of language is analogous, syllogistic argument—and hence theology’s scientific status, as accepted by the scholastics—requires univocity.

Morrell’s 4-D IMAX Rohrian Perichoretic Adventure

To get properly immersed in a 4-D IMAX Rohrian theo-phanic adventure, one needs a set of 3-D lenses, which implicitly provide Rohr’s indispensable theo-logic vision.

“Of a hundred writers who have held Duns Scotus up to ridicule, not two of them have ever read him and not one of them has understood him.” ~ Etienne Gilson

Perhaps the same could be said of Richard Rohr?

Occasionally, it does seem to be the case that his Franciscan, Scotistic sensibilities, which have long yielded minority — not unorthodox — reports, leave him misunderstood, and …

precisely by those who, only having engaged him sparingly, have engaged him superficially, thus rashly judging him, even while stridently recommending to others that he best go unread!

Those who fail to trade-in their hermeneutically polarized theo-logical shades before entering Rohr’s perichoretic theater will not only find his motion picture of our relationship to the Trinity blurry, but might feel theologically poked, jolted and shaken in their seats from a lack of that hermeneutical context, which otherwise allows his imagery to theophanically stoke, ignite and fire-up others of us!

Rohr’s hermeneutic — not only neither blurs nor ignores, but — manifestly employs very robust notions regarding identity (strict and nonstrict), separability and distinction.

For those searching for his onto-theo-logical, trinito-logical model, it’s not articulated explicitly in The Divine Dance, which explicates Rohr’s theo-poetic, trinito-phanic imagery. But it is nevertheless implicated and rather pervasively!

This is to recognize that Rohr’s mystical imagery has always most certainly represented a trans-rational, trans-apophatic, experiential and relational over-flow and precisely from the rational, kataphatic-apophatic, modalities with which they confluently stream, existentially model-ing the doctrinal and liturgical continuities, which they theo-phanically transcend but do not theo-logically transgress.

Rohr employs a robustly relational Hermeneutic of Presence:

We encounter Rohr’s Implicit Hermeneutic (Scotistic & Palamatic) of Presence vis a vis the ways he addresses:

Incarnation (Christological & panentheistic) and

Eucharist (people gathered, word proclaimed & sacred species), which then onto-theo-logically extends to the

Trinity (perichoretic), trinito–logically, for those searching for his model, which takes:

essence as ousia

persons as hypostaseis

energies as energeiai

eucharist as christ’s transfigured, life-giving, but still human, body, en-hypostasized in the Logos and penetrated with divine energies

participation, as methexis — not partaking of divine essence, but — partaking of met-ousia

metousiosis as a multifaceted presence that involves

semiotic (sign and symbol),

dynamical (efficacious via divine power and activity),

penetrative (indwelling) and

distinct (essentially, conceptually, adequately, formally and/or modally) realities.

None of this is to claim that such a hermeneutic is either unproblematic or uncontroversial, only that, at least in Catholic circles — Anglican, Orthodox and Roman — it is not unorthodox. I don’t see why it would necessarily be incompatible in Arminian, Wesleyan or other traditions. Indeed, many of its elements can foster ecumenical and interreligious dialogue across all of our great traditions, East and West, pneumatologically, panentheistically and polydoxically!

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