Divine Modes of Identity – Bulgakov, Balthasar & Bracken with Scotus & the Greek Fathers

Some analytic theologians would charge all trinitarian defenses with ad hoc philosophizing?


I intuit a general amenability of Abelardian-like syllogistics to reality writ large, i.e. beyond trinitarian logic.

It seems to me that essential, hypostatic & formal modes of identity could be applied in any noncomposite, monist ontology, e.g. materialist monism, pantheism or even a mereological panen-theism.

Aristotelian syllogistic logic can be recovered from the Abelardian-like approach precisely because the distinction between modes of identity & modes of predication collapse for composite realities, where all predications are of formal identity.

The more widely embraced pan-entheism, like classical theism, employs an ontological distinction between humans & God, where God donates & communicates creatively as we participate & are liberated imitatively.

The panen-theistic parsing employs a mereological distinction between humans & God, where God donates & communicates diffusively as we participate & are liberated substratively.

My own pan-semio-entheism, in bracketing ontology, conceives divine donation & communication both creatively & diffusively and creaturely participation & liberation both imitatively & substratively.

Because I precisely nurtured such intuitions in dialogue with Bulgakov, Balthasar & Bracken (due to my own sophiological, aesthetic & Peircean sensibilities), I was delighted to encounter Brandon Gallaher’s reflection:

The Problem of Pantheism in the Sophiology of Sergii Bulgakov: A Panentheistic Solution in the Process Trinitarianism of Joseph A. Bracken?’ in Seeking Common Ground: Evaluation and Critique of Joseph Bracken’s Comprehensive Worldview (A Festschrift for Joseph A. Bracken, S. J.), eds. Gloria Schaab and Marc Pugliese (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2012), 147-167.


In a divine syllogistic of modes of identity, we’ve conceived the individual essences of the divine hypostases as originating in the Father and interrelating – not causally, but – as essentially dependent, hence, not subordinationist.

[re: not causally, arche, when regarded as an hypostatic idioma of the Father, in my view, can felicitously be conceived in a causal sense; it would refer to a personal cause, paternally, i.e. ad intra, a person via nature causing persons & ad extra, persons via will causing energeia & oikonomia? To be avoided would be any misconception of an impersonal and/or abstracted essence as variously causal, as well as any conceptions of either cause or person that aren’t suitably nuanced, apophatically, analogically, etc, eg I like supremely personal, trans-causal & trans-formal! I shy away from qualifying divine causalities with “quasi,” e.g. quasi-formal. I prefer, instead, to imagine that it’s we contingent, determinate beings & realities who act “quasi” on the way to becoming authentic & eternal!

For, you see, the essential, personal & formal modes of identity of divine syllogistics reflect three integrally related types of divine unity – substantial, hypostatic & dynamical – each correlatively presupposing the others. And yet, it’s the Father, as absolute unoriginate, Who secures the Trinity’s unity?

For, is it not this very monarchy that, in principle, precedes (not temporally, but in the order of intelligibility) & makes meaningful perichoresis, in the first place (pun intended)? Over against any subordinationist charges, I would simply suggest that, if there is anything like that, it’s nothing personal & isn’t substantial (puns, again, intended!).]

We have acknowledged THAT this account has ontological implications without suggesting HOW.

In Abelard’s first two modes of identity, the essential & personal, paralogisms (modalism & tritheism) present if we conceive the hypostases & ousia, respectively, as primary & secondary substances in the same Aristotelian sense that we apply to determinate being.

Happily, in the third mode, formal identity, we do have an epistemic bridge between the syllogistics of divine & determinate being.

This has all been addressed here:
Gödel & the End of Physics and Abelard et al & the End of Trinitology

Having acknowledged that there must be ontological implications for the first two modes of identity, the essential & personal, can we similarly build a bridge between the syllogistics of divine & determinate being?

Scotus has already constructed that bridge & it rather uncannily accommodates the thought of the Greek Fathers!

I have previously addressed other resonances between, for example, Scotus & Palamas.


How Gelpi’s Inculturated North American Theology “Graced” my encounter with Eastern Orthodoxy

My Mon-Arche-I-tectonic Shift

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.

Simply Divine or a Divinity Fudge? Cooking with Dionysius, Scotus, Peirce, Aquinas & Palamas

But how might Scotus further resonate with the approach of the Greek Fathers, beyond my previous preoccupations with divine energeia & formal modes of identity?

How might Scotus demonstrate a resonance with the Greek Fathers for the first two modes of identity, also?

How, exactly, has Scotus bridged the syllogistics of divine & determinate being?

No one more elegantly answers that question than does Richard Cross:

Duns Scotus on Divine Substance and the Trinity

Cross asserts that, by employing a conception of the immanent universal, Scotus constructs an account of the doctrine of the Trinity that is conceptually compelling, philosophically coherent & closer to that found in the later Greek Fathers, from Gregory of Nyssa onward, than the Augustinian approach (predominant in Aquinas’ own) to the divine essence.

Per Cross, Scotus flips the metaphysical script in considering – not the divine persons, but – the essence as – not a secondary, but – a first substance.

In fact, Scotus doesn’t consider the divine persons substances at all, whether primary or secondary, because they are incommunicable.

The relations between the persons are nonetheless real – as exemplifications of the divine nature.

Thus, apart from the Scotistic insights into the divine energeia, economy & formal identities, which I’d focused on previously (the links above), Cross well articulates how Scotus’ doctrines also have intrinsic value & address the divine nature & persons.


To me, the most interesting meta-metaphysical questions posed to any given metaphysic include –

Is reality, writ large,

  • 1) non|un/composite?
  • 2) non|in/determinate?
  • 3) non|in/finite?
  • 4) non|im/personal?

We can, a priori, envision (abductively) competing answers that are logically consistent & internally coherent, but, unavoidably incomplete, both axiomatically (deductively) & evidentially (inductively). Ergo, there’s an inevitable leap of faith involved in any existential opting for one or the other of these options.

What both religious & Enlightenment (e.g. Dawkins, Dennett) fundamentalists have in common is that they all fail to look over their epistemic shoulders to recognize their own leaps.

More concretely, then –

Some (e.g. materialist monists) view reality writ large as uncomposite & indeterminate, in the sense that, as a whole, the One’s simply brute & the Many dynamical causes just infinitely regress.

Others (e.g. idealist monist pantheists) view reality writ large as uncomposite & wholly determinate, in the sense that, as a whole, it’s sufficiently caused in a most thoroughgoing way. They answer the riddle of the One & the Many with The One “is” The Many.

Finally, there are various ontological dualists & pluralists, who are all over the map w/their, mostly both-and, answers to those questions & generally theistic. A lot of them are on Twitter & politely advocating all sorts of unitarian & trinitarian hypotheses!

My purpose in setting forth those meta-metaphysical questions in rather sharp relief was not just philosophical.

For sure, many “leap” existentially past materialist & pantheist construals because the first does violence to our innate aspirations to enduring values, the latter – to our universal volitional experience, each nihilistic (but in a various senses).

I want to further suggest that our philosophical categories of non|un/composite & non|in/determinate remain very much in play, theologically, for the trinitarian tensions that present, as we strive to defensibly thread the needle between tritheism & modalism.

Tritheism presents obvious problems as, exegetically & historically, we’re precommitted to the One (noncomposite deity). The more stringent a strategy for avoiding tritheism, however, the more a spectre of modalism will threaten one’s trinitology.

It is less obvious how a modalist (determinate) deity would necessarily do violence to our notions of divine & human volition, however, especially granting that the deity, modally, would still be self-determinate, humans contingently so. But, again, exegetical & historical contours circumscribe for us a much more eminent conception of the divine will, which is to say, with an intrinsically nondeterminate aspect to the divine nature that, certainly, constitutively entails self- determinate attributes, but in a way that’s essentially kenotic.

That kenotic aspect affords us a much more robust notion of freedom vis a vis the divine will & a much more eminent conception of the divine nature?

At stake in each metaphysic, then, whether philosophically or theologically, are conceptions with practical implications for the logical consistency (exegetical & historical), internal coherence & external congruence of our creedal stances toward the One & the Many (divine & determinate) and of all authentic conceptions of Freedom (divine & human).
Pneumatological kenosis: the Spirit immanentized in the gratuity of creation & Christological kenosis: the Son incarnated in the gratuity of grace, both, implicate a Paterological ur-kenosis of the Father in the generation of the Son & procession of the Spirit.
ur-kenosis entails an unoriginate, nondeterminate, principium, an idioma of the Father, eternally self-emptying in (self)determinate relating thru eternal generation of Son & procession of Spirit. Nothing modal. Hypostatic & personal in gratuitous ad intra & ad extra dynamism.

Father-Son-Holy Spirit [FSH]

FSH denotations, while epistemic denotations, have ontic not modal connotations (neither phenomenal nor noumenal).
A concurrent noumenal modalism suggests that the Persons are “three ways that God really is.”
Rahner’s “distinct manners of subsisting” derives from the Summae’seach of them subsists distinctly from the others in the divine nature” and in continuity with Gregory of Nyssa.

Hence, there are three subsistences, lacking the same formal identity, not one formal identity taking on three different manners of subsisting, i.e. ‘three ways that God really is.”

FSH denotations refer to divine hypostatic realities or idiomata like nondeterminate persons (EO), exemplifications (Scotist) or subsistences (Thomist) that are analogous to determinate persons (psychological), haecceities (Scotist) or instantiations & primary substances (Thomist).
FSH denotations do not refer to divine substantial realities or propria like nondeterminate ousia, essence or primary substances (Scotist) that are analogous to determinate essence, form, quiddity (Scotist) or secondary substances (Thomist).

As the most fecund metaphysics have rejected this phenomenal-noumenal distinction, the best systematic theologies have, too.

Such classical, disjunctive, dyadic conceptions as the phenomenal vs noumenal, epistemic vs ontic, essentialism vs nominalism, idealism vs realism, logical vs efficient causes, etc all represent two sides of the same bankrupt coinage of our metaphysical realm. If it has no metaphysical currency, that’s precisely because it presupposes the impossibility of metaphysics.

In the most robust metaphysical systems (classical realisms), the structures of objective knowledge remain – not dyadic, but – irreducibly triadic, introducing a third category – mediation (variously, but indispensably, accounted for & articulated). I’ve no space to explicate that here, but, classically, we encounter this triadicity in Aristotelian-Thomist & Scotist accounts and, more recently, in Peirce’s semiotic realism. Various triadic thought systems have indeed presented ubiquitously across cultures & throughout history.

The chief problem with any radically apophatic, trinitarian ignosticism is that it’s epistemically corrosive. It inevitably & successively will reduce to theological & metaphysical ignosticisms, which, in turn, will, necessarily & correlatively, also annihilate our highly speculative theoretical sciences.

Metaphysical Account of Substantial (Being or Esse) & Hypostatic (Existant or Subject) Modes of Determinate Being
Modal temporality categories include possible, actual, probable & necessary.
Modal adequacy categories include mereological (whole/part/noncomposite) & non|in/finite.
Modal ontology categories include descriptions & references to specific hypostatic realities (determinate persons, instantiations or haecceities or primary substances) with attributions to their precise properties (determinate essence, form, quiddity or secondary substance).
Semantic Univocity & Ontic Analogy of Being
logical categories for dogma e.g. ‘distinct manner of subsisting’ (subsistenzweisen)
ontic categories for systematics
Metaphysical Account of Substantial (Being or Esse) & Hypostatic Modes of Identity of Nondeterminate Being
Modal indentity categories include apophatic references (idiomata) to specific hypostatic realities (nondeterminate persons, exemplifications or subsistences) with apophatic attributions (propria) to their precise properties (nondeterminate ousia, essence or primary substance)
Formal Modes of Identity of Nondeterminate & Determinate Being
Theopoetic Account of Substantial (Being or Esse) & Hypostatic Modes of Nondeterminate Identity

How Classical Theism Avoids certain Sylly Syllogisms & Category Errors of some analytic & process theologians (& nihilists, too)

For starters, one mustn’t confuse meta-ontological phenomenologies and metaphysical ontologies, or quite simply that which is beyond being & being.

For another, one mustn’t confuse epistemic attributes and ontic properties.

Importantly, one must also not confuse nondeterminate, self-determinate, kenotically determinate & contingently determinate realities. In that regard, it might be best to engage Divine syllogistics by speaking in terms of essences, hypostases & formalities, while, analogically, employing quiddities, haecceities & quasi-formalities, when engaging Aristotelian syllogistics.

That’s pretty much it.

One can dig deeper, though.

To wit:

Meta-ontological categories of modal identity apply to nondeterminate, self-determinate & kenotically-determinate objects and include the essences, hypostases & telicities of such necessary realities.

This could include the ens necessaria of any meta-architectonic (e.g. materialist, pantheist, panentheist, classical theist, etc).

Such a necessary object can be identified either essentially or hypostatically or telically (formally) as attributes of any of those categories are, alone, sufficient to successfully identify such objects.

For determinate realities, only the meta-ontological category of telic (formal) modal identity applies. To successfully identify such contingent objects, essential, hypostatic & telic properties are all necessary, none – alone – sufficient.

For nondeterminate, self-determinate & kenotically-determinate objects, essential & hypostatic properties are epistemically unavailable, ontically occulted, in principle.

Hence, only vague attributes can be applied, such as, for example, divine propria, essentially, or divine idiomata, hypostatically.

For nondeterminate, self-determinate, kenotically-determinate & contingently determinate objects, telic (formal) attributes & properties afford, respectively, successful references & descriptions.

Hence, vague attributes can be applied, such as, for example, divine energeia, essentially, or divine oikonomia, hypostatically, in order to successfully refer to divine realities.

Also, for contingently determinate objects, precise essences & specific telicities can be applied in order to properly identify the (meta)physical properties that are necessary to successfully describe individual hypostases.

For such objects, beyond their modal identity & description, a dynamical modal ontology can be applied as various ontological categories represent different temporal acts in potency, for example, 1) hypostatic act of existence in potency to essence; 2) hypostatic efficient causation in potency to material causation; 3) telic formal causation in potency to final causation.

For nondeterminate, self-determinate & kenotically-determinate objects, beyond their modal identity & reference, their determinate effects ensue – not from acts in potency, temporally, but – from eternal acts.

Because of these distinctions, I prefer to distinguish eternal necessities from temporal contingencies by referring to the former in terms of essences, hypostases & telicities or formalities, the latter in terms of quiddities, haecceities & quasi- telicities or quasi-formalities. This approach flips that script which refers to divine telicities as quasi-formal (e.g. Rahner). It renders our metaphysical-talk metaphorical & our meta-ontological references as primally real. The path to authenticity thus involves eternalization or the transformation of quasi-telic temporal ends to the eternal ends of Divine Telos.


I think of modal identity in primarily epistemic terms, but it certainly also entails at least some vague ontological specifications (even when only via apophasis) & imparts some dispositional axiological implications.

This is to say that I believe that divine syllogistics regarding essential propria (e.g. truth, beauty & goodness) & hypostatic idiomata (e.g. Father, Son & Spirit) very much matter for our worship, our transformation & such.

Meta-ontologically, I conceive divine being as nondeterminate and/or self determinate, while contingent being presents as variously (in terms of degrees) in/determinate. I categorize in/determinate realities per a modal ontology, which recognizes its radical temporality.

Divine syllogistics & Aristotelian syllogistics intersect determinately, only in the category of formal modal identity. Otherwise, regarding modal identities, it’s a clear category error to equate divine essences & hypostases, for example, with contingent quiddities & haecceities, because they are otherwise distinguished as eternal vs temporal, as non- & self-determinate vs variously in/determinate, and so on.

In the category of formal modal identities, however, we can consider determinate effects, whether their causes are nondeterminate, self-determinate or in/determinate. Even allowing for divine determinate causes, still, those would be distinguishable from ordinary contingent determinate causes by their kenotic natures.

Divine determinate causes would include incarnational realities.
Divine determinate effects would originate from divine realities, including nondeterminate, self-determinate & kenotically determinate and would include, for example, vestigial effects in the gratuity of creation & theotic effects in the gratuity of grace, such effects as would otherwise be proper to no known contingent, determinate causes & which would be communicated via general & special divine revelations.

The Word remained what he was when he became flesh so that he who is over all & yet came among all through his humanity should keep in himself his transcendence & remain above the limitations of creation…he was alive even when his flesh was tasting death. (Cyril of Alexandria)

In the –

paterological ur-kenosis, the Father remained what He was in the generation of the Son & procession of the Spirit;

pneumatological kenosis, the Spirit remained the Holy Breath, when immanentized/presented in the gratuity of creation;

Christological kenosis, the Son remained divine, when incarnated/presented (via dyo/mia-physitism) in the gratuity of grace.

So kenosis has only ever entailed a qualified self-limitation or tzimtzum (not self-annihilation but self-contraction).

Formal identities of divine determinate realities (e.g. oikonomia & energeia) present via kenotic & synergistic trinitarian acts of the divine hypostases (personal identities), whether unoriginately nondeterminate, eternally self-determinate &/or kenotically determinate.


In what amounts to my pan-semio-entheistic theory of truth, I conceive five transcendentals per terms of an Ens Necessarium as Necessary Truth, Necessary Beauty, Necessary Goodness, Necessary Unity (Love) & Necessary Freedom. These five categories map to my conceptions of Lonergan’s conversions & imperatives as well as to a fivefold missiology, both pneumatological & Christological.

This is neither a Kantian nor transcendental Thomist approach, however, but grounded in a semiotic realism and advanced abductively from that naturalized epistemology, deriving from those participatory engagements with reality that rely on an axiological epistemology (per my Peircean-like theory of knowledge).

There’s a leap of faith required, to be sure, at an existential disjunction where nihilism, pantheism & classical theism present.

see Note Below
See: https://paxamoretbonum.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/classical-theism-doesnt-really-compete-tautologically/

Can one take my pan-semio-entheistic leap, within the contours of a classical theism, employing a logic that wouldn’t be considered adhocery & unamenable to normal syllogistic logic?

I believe so.

Conceiving my approach as a fallibilist abduction, then formalizing its phenomenology via a consistent predicate & propositional logic, employing modes of identity, we could establish that its reasoning regarding existents (creatures) would be a special case or reduction of the phenomenological syllogizing of my putative transcendentals.
Put more simply, creature-talk would employ metaphors of our normative Creator-talk, not vice versa.

My five transcendentals, then, will be imported into a classical trinitology. The conceptual bridges between it and Aristotelian logic have already been built by Sara Uckelman.

See: Uckelman, Sara L. (2010). Reasoning About the Trinity: A Modern Formalization of a Medieval System of Trinitarian Logic. In Logic in Religious Discourse. Schumann, Andrew Ontos. 216-239.

I will try to summarize her discourse below & apply it to my heuristics.

In avoiding both modalism & tritheism, while remaining consistent in trinitarian predication, one must recognize three modes of identity. Unlike modalism, which refers to a single object existing in one of these modes, a modal identity entails one object as being the same as another object in one of the modes of identity.

  • Essentially identical objects share the same essence (extensional identity).
  • Personally identical objects share the same properties & definitions (intentional identity).
  • Formally identical objects share a genus, sufficiently similar to be placed therein.

(Abelard originally distinguished extensional from intentional identity.)

The above modes of identity can be applied to the trinitarian logic of the Athanasian Creed, but this divine syllogistics collapses when applied to existents, where Aristotelian syllogistics, instead, apply.

My modal schema, influenced by Peircean categories, where

Being > Reality > Relations > Existents

roughly & analogously maps to these modes of identity

Essential | Personal | Formal | Creatures

employing a predicate or propositional logic, which is meta-logical (while Aristotelian syllogistics employ a term logic).


Also see:


So, Trinitarian discourse can be affirmed as formally consistent and roughly maps, heuristically, to our meta-logical categories.

Still, that affords us only analytical conceivability, a rather minimalist intelligibility?

Can a bridge be constructed to Aristotelian syllogistics? that we might gain some additional modicum of intelligibility?


First, we would recognize that, for existents (creatures), only the formal mode of identity obtains and essential & personal predications do not (i.e. in Aristotelian syllogistics).

So, can Aristotelian syllogistics yet be extracted from the mode of identity framework mindful of where such predications obtain or not?

If so, our trinitarian logic needn’t be considered adhocery & unamenable to normal syllogistic logic. Instead, our reasoning regarding existents (creatures) would be a special case as a reduction of trinitarian syllogizing.

We should remain mindful that, in relating propria of the essence, idioma of the hypostases & energeia of the Trinity, per Abelardian modes of identity (essentially, personally & formally), even if we suitably predicate these realities using apophasis, analogy, gerundives & such and remain otherwise consistent —-
still, because we only ever use partial references and not exhaustively complete definitions, a radical incompleteness will still afflict our trinitarian discourse.
For example, even when we’ve managed to avoid paralogisms by properly attending to our modes of identity, in order to disambiguate our categorical predications of divine terms (thereby making explicit identity types essencialiter vs personaliter vs formaliter), while we will have saved some of our most meaningful intuitions, still, mystery will perdure.

While our Peircean-like categories analogously map to our Aristotelian, Scotist & Thomist categories (like quiddity, haecceity, ousia, hypostasis and such), it’s not counterintuitive that the dissimilarities — between all of our approaches to temporal being (Peirce, Scotus, Thomist, etc) and our approach to nondeterminate & self-determinate being (with three modes of identity) — will be located essentially & hypostatically vis a vis the modes of identity.

The categories of essential-hypostatic nondeterminate being (ad intra), where an act-potency distinction will not obtain, simply will not, by definition, correspond to temporally modal categories of essential-hypostatic determinate being.

It makes perfect sense, otherwise, to draw on the formal mode of identity to locate the similarities between, on one hand, the determinate effects of the divine energeia (essentially or substantially of ousia) & economy (personally or hypostatically of haecceities), and, on the other, those of created, determinate beings.

Is that not precisely what we find in the Palamitic distinction between essence & energies, Thomist distinction between esse naturale & intentionale, Scotus’ formal distinction and Peirce’s thirdness?

There’s a divine-creaturely nexus, a semiotic locus, where we can reason, abductively, from effects that are proper to no known causes, to putative causes, whether the Actus Purus of nondeterminate & self-determinate divine causes, or the acts in potency of in/determinate creaturely causes, both physical & metaphysical.

While we are often epistemically constrained, methodologically, unable to exhaustively define such putative causes, whether divine, metaphysical or even physical, this moderate realism affords us the prospect of nevertheless, really, making successful references – per a univocal mode of identity vis a vis effects.

That’s what my project has been about — establishing that our God-talk, including a classical trinitology, remains robustly intelligible & coherent:









Note re: leaps of faith


panen-theism (dipolar or whole-part relation)
classical theism (created tehom – staged vs lapsarian)

pan-entheism (uncreated tehom)

Appendix – application to physical systems

1ns, 2ns, 3ns applies to particles & to systems, or to particles as triadic systems, and to systems of systems or meta-systems

As isolated quanta variously rest & interact, isolated systems variously rest & interact, formatively (1ns – entropic), trans-formatively (3ns – telic) & in-formatively (2ns – equilibric).

1ns or the virtual or intrinsic characteristics of an energy system = system energies’ “forming” = system energies’ intrinsic spontaneous changes of placement and/or of time = spatio-temporal waveform-ing or self-visualization or self-potentialities; approaching & realizing massless energy

2ns or the actual or characteristics of an energy system = system energies “resting” or existing or being or instant-aneously at an “instant” in time & place in space or materio-energetic characteristics (efficient/material) or self-actualization or self-actualities of authenticity of Here I Am, Lord or nonstrict identity; approaching nonenergetic mass but there is no energyless mass (asymmetry there, converse or transitivity not in play as energy is THE fundamental)


3ns or the real or extrinsic characteristics of an energy system = system energies “interacting” or “trans-forming” or be-coming or system energies’ extrinsic con-temp-oraneous changes of placement and/or of time or relating or the invitatory-participatory or spatio-temporal characteristics (formal/final) or “hold on, I’m coming!” or “I be coming!) as the I = true self or self-real-ization or self-realities of sustained authenticity of “I will go, Lord” or ultimate eternalization; approaching unique or designated mass-energy specifications

energy system = wave-particles
isolated, resting together, interacting

massless/massive particles

1ns isolated = no signal, only carrier or baseband-ing or pure potentiality or epistemically unmanifest &/or ontically isolated; approaching massless energy (e.g photon) – no frame in which an isolated photon has mass, i.e. no rest mass & no rest energy

2ns resting = signal or decoding or demodulation or epistemically manifest & ontically actual or acting/efficacious or approaching nonenergetic mass (e.g. rest mass or invariant mass) — all relative to an observer

3ns interacting = signal + noise or disturbance or modulation, or codes & errors, encoding or epistemic-ontic omelet of in/determinacy; eternalized as near-pure act or quasi- actus purus vis a vis approaching unique or designated materio-energetic specifications (e.g. )

Over-coming not Over-turning Metaphysics: A Peircean Trinitophany of Divine THATness, WHATness & HOWness

For Peirce,

Being > Reality > Existence

We can successfully reference the

Being of God

Reality of God

Will of God

But the Peircean category of Existence does not refer to God, only to creation.

Peircean categories can help us avoid the category errors that can easily arise in our references to distinctly different types of trinitarian properties, haecceities & relations, e.g. what we attempt to predicate of ousia, hypostases & energeia.

Philosophically …

from the HOWness (primary & secondary relations) of certain effects as would be proper to no known causes …

we reason to the THATness (primary substance) of the Reality of God, as such effects …

evoke the WHATness (secondary substance) of the Being of God – as another “kind” of being, an Ens Necessarium (Peirce), which only special revelation can qualify.

Divine aseity, kataphatically & quidditatively, describes the Being of God as a secondary substance or essence (Aristotelian) or quiddity (Scotistic WHATness), i.e. the Father’s revealed, concrete unoriginateness (e.g. Rahner), all corresponding to Peircean firstness.

Divine simplicity, apophatically & nondescriptively, references the Reality of God as a primary substance (Aristotelian) or haecceity (Scotistic THATness), i.e. God’s philosophically knowable unoriginateness (e.g. Rahner), all corresponding to Peircean secondness.

Ergo, the divine hypostases of revelation refer to the trinitarian relations of three primary substances, while the divine ousia refers to the trinitarian relations in one secondary substance or essence.

Divine energeia, participatably & experientially, diffuse the Will of God as esse intentionale (Thomist) or relationality (Cappadocian HOWness), i.e. the personhood of the Eucharistic divine-human communion (e.g. Zizioulas), all corresponding to Peircean thirdness.

Of course, all of this presents over against Arianism, modalism, tritheism, etc

How do we understand the content of special revelation, as our analogical & doxological predications of God, employing ever-cascading but always-collapsing metaphors, seem to challenge Thomas’ doctrine of analogy?

Aquinas denies univocism & equivocism prior to, apparently, affirming their amalgamated version, some might suggest, in an ad hoc manner, i.e. not defending that leap or deriving its logic?

It seems to me, however, that his trans-analogical, amalgamated analogia, derives in the same way that Christopher McHugh derives his God argument. McHugh improves Anselm, Gödel & Hartshorne’s ontological proofs by employing only apophatic predications, while otherwise still following formal modal logic. Any logical inconsistencies are thereby guaranteed not to derive from conceptual incompatibilities, thereby immunizing the argument from any susceptibility to a subversion by parody.

So, properly predicated, our quidditative probes do employ a complete cycling of triadic inference, abductively hypothesizing, deductively clarifying & inductively testing our knowledge of God.

But they accomplish only so much.

Onto-theologically, regarding God’s primary substance, we abduct the Reality of God’s THATness.

Theo-ontologically, regarding God’s secondary substance, we deduct the Being of God’s WHATness, our kataphasis necessarily translated into apophasis.

Avoiding a sterile, nonvirtuous cycle of dyadic inference, i.e. of rationalistic hypotheses & syllogisms …

In other words, not over-turning but over-coming metaphysics

Theopoetically, beyond our abductive onto-theologizing regarding the Reality of God’s primary substance or THATness, and deductive theo-ontologizing regarding the Being of God’s secondary substance or WHATness …

regarding the Will of God’s HOWness, then, we inductively participate in the theophanic Divine Energies.

We existentially engage their connatural, eudaimonistic invitations ever-aspiring to embody their entelechies.

While often inchoately & confusedly, these participations via engagements & embodiments can serve to implicitly authenticate the ortho-doxic formulations of our onto-theologies & theo-ontologies …

through their ongoing transformative realizations of manifold & multiform ortho-communal, ortho-aesthetic, ortho-pathic, ortho-praxic & ortho-theotic efficacies.

Another parsing:

Presupposing 1) a root metaphor (substantial &/or relational) 2) reasoning formally & 3) predicating apophatically (albeit constrained by indeterminacies of vagueness & generality)

Propositionally, then –

Onto-theologically, we abduct the Ens Necessarium w/a successful reference to the Reality of God’s divine esse via philosophy, i.e. THATness or hypostasis.

Theo-ontologically, we increase the accuracy of our theological references to the Reality of God’s divine essence, apophatically, saying what God is not (univocally &/or literally) &/or not like (equivocally &/or analogically), i.e. WHATness or essence or ousia.

Dispositionally, then –

Theo-poetically, we increase the accuracy of our theological descriptions of the Reality of God’s divine energies, kataphatically & apophatically, via myth, storytelling & liturgy w/ever-cascading, always-collapsing metaphors, norming our responses to divine relationality, i.e. its HOWness or teloi, as they re-positionally transform us (fostering what Peirce might call a quietus vis a vis admirability via the primacy of the aesthetic, what the mystics might call sweet repose).

See also:



A Semiotic Phenomenology toward a more Ecumenical Trinitology and Trinitophany

If one breaks open a new category, semiotically, for an actus purus, such as with Peirce’s Ens Necessarium, one could, for example, apophatically negate such conceptions as temporal priority in trinitarian relations, even while kataphatically affirming that such relations are onto-logically fundamental (note below). Similarly, one could negate the conception of creativity vis a vis intra-trinitarian entities, while affirming an eternal generativity.

This semiotic move doesn’t force one into either a relational or substantive ontology, a theistic personalism or classical theism, Palamism or Thomism. It’s not trying to explain, much less prove, that much!

Its apophatic negations, metaphysically, would be literally true, saying, in essence (wink): “I know you’re familiar with conceptions of act & potency, but dis ain’t dat!”

Its kataphatic affirmations would be more trinitophanic, Biblically, than trinitological, systematically and/or philosophically.

Trinitophanic affirmations refer to intra-trinitarian eternality, generativity, relationality, koinonia, hypostasis, prosopon, ousia & physis.

However, prior to (though not without) their rational & intellectual apophatic metaphysical implications, they invite a more robustly mystical & experiential apophaticism.

Semantically, while such concepts may be vague & their full meaning elusive, that situation is, perhaps, less due to the limitations of our modeling power, epistemically & methodologically, and much more so due to the intra-trinitarian nature, ontologically & metaphysically.

We generally don’t a priori assume that any reality is necessarily permanently occulted, ontologically. Rather we suppose that we are otherwise being only temporarily thwarted, methodologically (e.g. principle of sufficient reason).

Still, the last aporiae we’d ever pass, in principle, due to sheer epistemic distance, will not be “what it feels like to be a bat” or “how to reconcile gravity & quantum mechanics” and such. If, with all due epistemic humility, we must nurture a healthy aporetic sense regarding quantum interpretations, philosophies of mind, and biologic & cosmogonic origins, how much more so, then, regarding divine energeia, much less divine ousia?

It often seems that the most we can aspire to rationally with such trinitarian affirmations & negations is a demonstration that, taken together, they aren’t logically contradictory, and that, while incomprehensible, they aren’t unintelligible. There’s sufficient rationality here to avoid fideism and sufficient mystery to avoid rationalism.

Historical & exegetical foundations (and general revelation) demonstrate the reasonableness of our creedal trinitarian affirmations & trinitology vis a vis the cognitive map-making of our epistemic modeling power (including our rational via negativa & positiva as well as our sustained authenticity via secular & kenotic conversions).

The ascetical, mystical & liturgical experiences (and special revelation) of our participatory imaginations foster our trinitophanic human value-realizations (truth, beauty, goodness, unity & freedom) via both connaturality & grace (including our mystical vehicle negativa or relational apophaticism as well as faith via our religious & theotic conversions).

The best theological anthropologies will primarily model Biblical theophanies not trinitarian ontologies.

Faith and mystical experience – not metaphysical understanding (via either philosophical or systematic theology) – ground our understanding of divine unity, which is not purely substantive but relational.


Saying that intra-trinitarian relations are onto-logically fundamental is a trinitophanic affirmation grounded in historical & exegetical realities of special revelation. As such, it invokes only vague, commonsensical (heuristic) conceptions and not robustly metaphysical specifications, e.g. re-ordering entities & relations, indicating substantive vs relational ontologies. The take-away is that we are somehow dealing with a mystery involving loving relationships. That stance has normative significance (ontological implications & suggestions of a heuristic) for any subsequent systematic expositions (ontological definitions of a theory) of doctrine, which different metaphysics will try to further articulate.


When I refer to what I (likely idiosyncratically) call my semiotic phenomenology, I am talking about the basic categories most often applied to entities & relations, including general realities like act & potency, Aristotelian-like causes, modal temporality, modal adequacy, various types of concepts, predications & distinctions, various evidentiary standards that impart different levels of normative impetus, triadic inference, types of triadic ellipsis, a plain vanilla emergentism (e.g. w/o supervenience) and a meta-heuristic architectonic with anthropological, epistemological, ontological, axiological (evaluative & normative), theological & mythological categories.

I engage the grammar of those categories & distinctions prior to choosing a root metaphor & w/o prioritizing either relations or entities. As such, this phenomenology is but a meta-heuristic of meta-metaphysical placeholders, which mostly brackets specific metaphysics, epistemologically modeling value-realizations prior to elaborating a metaphysic. The premise is that there are many values to be shared & realized inter-ideologically, inter-religiously & ecumenically, metaphysically & really, even while we all remain in search of a metaphysic. Good thing, huh?

See also:


I commend the article, below, for the best direction to pursue that search.

Wesley J. Wildman, “An Introduction to Relational Ontology,” in John Polkinghorne and John Zizioulas, eds. The Trinity and an Entangled World: Relationality in Physical Science and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010): 55-73