Meaningful God-talk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For example, if one might suggest:

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

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

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

Then, how might we evaluate that?

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

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



relations (ad intra & extra)

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





informal & common-sensical

formal & syllogistic
(root analog or metaphor?)

3) interpretively – incl meta-ontological aporia




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

4) evaluatively & liberatively -theopoietic



Analytical Theology?

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

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

For example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integral Human Episteme

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

normative & evaluative
• dianoetic|aesthetical, ethical & logical

interpretive & explanatory
• diastemic|aporetic
• ananoetic |metaphysical

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

For future development:

Trinitarian Distinctions of Systematic Theology for Interreligious Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A vague phenomenology will often:

1) prescind from necessities to probabilities

2) not a priori interpret probabilities as ontological vs epistemic

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

4) implicitly employ Aristotelian causes associated with acts & potencies

5) implicitly employ modal categories of both temporality & adequacy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

evaluative (pathos) liturgical & devotional doctrines and dispositions;

interpretive (topos) ecclesiological & systematic expositions; and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Realizations that advance our mere agency to a clear liberty?

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

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

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

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

See also:

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

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

My reflections evoked by the above:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from a separate post re: divine & human activity

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

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

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

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


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

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

contd re: McCann

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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