The Eminent Intelligibility of Classical Theism

Prologue to what was previously published below.

Below are rather cryptic notes to myself, addressing how I would incorporate a modal identity metaontology into my modal ontological conceptions. To unpack this project a tad more & hopefully decrypt some of the jargon below, consider:

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


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


  • nihilism
  • pantheism


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


  • pan-entheism (uncreated tehom)

Natural Theology & Natural Law -however otherwise weak, at least- defeat Nihilism

In science, faith & quotidian life, epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can normatively adjudicate any competing responses using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty.

The hermeneutical spiral, above, recapitulates Lonergan’s transcendental imperatives & functional specialties.


To wit:

De-liberatively, regarding our references, descriptively & interpretively, epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can adjudicate, normatively, any competing responses, using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty, evaluatively.

De-liberatively (cosmos & mythos – be free, be loving, be-loved per both temporal & ultimate teloi) …

regarding our references …

descriptively (logos or perceptionbe aware in research & communications) & …

interpretively (topos or understandingbe intelligent in interpretation & systematics) …

epistemic virtues should first vault our speculative claims over the threshold of equiplausibility, where we can adjudicate …

normatively (ethos or actingbe responsible in dialectics & foundations), any competing responses, using the principles of reasoning under uncertainty

evaluatively,(pathos or judging & decidingbe reasonable in history & doctrines).

I must stipulate with Hart & Milbank that any rivalry between ultimate worldviews, say nihilist vs theological, cannot be logically coerced. Reality remains far too ambiguous for us & way too ambivalent toward us to compel belief through speculative reason, alone.

With the Thomists, I would insist that, even stipulating that nihilism has not thus been refuted, philosophy well demonstrates the reasonableness of natural theology as an equiplausible competing worldview.

For me, Thomism’s reasonableness remains indispensable over against any thoroughgoing fideism, much less, nominalism, idealism, voluntarism or relativism.

I do not receive Milbank as coming from some Thoroughly [Post]Modern Millie, but, instead, take (eisegetically) his postmodern critique as an admonition to avoid the temptations of dueling hyper-formalisms in countering those insidious –isms.

This is to recognize that —

no essentialistic framing will finally foreclose nominalism, descriptively;

no naïve realism will convincingly defeat idealism, interpretively;

no intellectualistic speculation will logically overcome voluntarism, evaluatively;

no absolutistic insistence will compellingly obviate relativism, normatively; and

no rationalistic appeals will definitively refute fideism, existentially.

But what amount to epistemic misfires for some are but caricatures for others, whose

1) descriptive probes include semiotic & moderate critical realisms;

2) interpretive heuristics employ a metaphysical fallibilism;

3) evaluative dispositions engage an irreducible triad of logos-pathos-ethos, e.g. Aristotelian eudaimonia, Augustinian beatitudo or Thomist summum bonum;

4) normative propositions allow some degree of ethical pluralism grounded – not in an insidious relativism or vulgar pragmatism, but — suitable epistemic humility, metaphysical fallibilism & moral probabilism ; and

5) philosophical preambula vault fidei past the threshold of equiplausibility.

Thomism’s reasonableness thus gets vaulted philosophically past the threshold of equiplausibility by the valid & coherent arguments of natural theology & natural law. (And its deontological conclusions should be considered at least as modest as its ontological commitments are tentative). There, philosophy culminates in either the theological preambula fidei & its general precepts or a nihilistic cosmogony.

Any “competing” theological or nihilistic mythos would come after a normatively justified existential leap.

Past this threshold of epistemic warrant, speculative reason yields to practical reasoning under uncertainty. The speculative arguments between essentialism & nominalism, realism & idealism, intellectualism & voluntarism, absolutism & relativism and fideism & rationalism have previously been transcended by a fallibilist, critical realism.

Normative justifications commence and can lead either to the fideistic, voluntaristic dichotomy of a theological versus nihilistic mythos or to an existential disjunction, where rational equiplausibility principles, albeit often implicit, adjudicate a decision to “live as if” that which is (more so, perhaps, they who are) the most life-giving & relationship-enhancing, the most beautiful & good, the most unitive & liberative, will — first & proleptically, i.e. proximately & temporally, as well as eventually & eschatologically, i.e. ultimately & eternally — also happen to be the most true.

This constitutes meta-discourse, however inchoate or implicit, whether variously held provisionally or confidently, yes, prior to special revelations, and yes, on tradition-transcendent grounds. Importantly, this needn’t be formal discourse or what can sometimes devolve into sylly syllogisms, but more often, via our participatory imaginations, comes from our common sense & common sensibilities, from connaturality, an illative sense, a tacit dimension, intuitions & informal abductions.

The most problematical arguments of natural theology are rationalistically grounded in naïve rather than critical realisms. The most problematical arguments of the natural law are a prioristic, rationalistic, deductivistic, biologistic, physicalistic & infallibilistic, especially as they move from general precepts to specific concrete norms, particularly because of epistemic hubris and the lack of a more inductive, personalist relationality-responsibility approach. But the abuse of natural theology & natural law is no argument against their proper use.

The questions that beg?

What constitutes the most life-giving, existentially?

How do we define & measure the most relationship-enhancing? The most unitive, interpretively & orthocommunally?

Where’s the most beautiful instantiated, evaluatively & orthopathically?

And the most good realized, normatively & orthopraxically?

And the most liberative, metanoetically & orthotheotically?

These are not questions that yield to an armchair cognitive map-making but which must actively engage participative imaginations that are naturally embodied, historically situated, socially embedded, culturally bound, politically immersed & transcendentally horizoned.

Of course it’s incredibly problematical to apply our ortho-metrics to competing worldviews, precisely because their instantiations are so very particular & traditioned.

But I wouldn’t want to defend the notion that nihilism remains in that competition?

Finally, Between an overly pessimistic Augustinian interpretation & overly optimistic transcendental Thomism, perhaps a Goldilocks theological anthropology can be articulated:


Gelpi recognized both as donative realities – a gratuity of creation & gratuity of grace, the Spirit’s universal presence (e.g. nomicities) & particular presence, where Grace is mediated via transmuted experience, where, for example, Kerygma matter immensely.

This discussion continues here:

Where in the World is Sophia? —a Sophiological footnote

The created grace Gelpi refers to would be constituted by reality’s actualized potencies, eternalized teloi (both temporal & ultimate teloi) of Peircean thirdness, efficient materialities of secondness, connaturalized indeterminacies of firstness, existentialized essences, formalized finalities, participatory intimacizations eternalized, all temporal realities coaxed forth Pneumatologically, Christologically & Paterologically via Divine Energies as would account for effects as would be proper to no known causes.

Every trace of human goodness, for example, eternalized, i.e. every beginning of a smile & all wholesome trivialities!

Whether interpreted in Platonic, Neoplatonic, Aristotelian, Thomist, Scotist, Palamitic or Peircean categories (and I cross hermeneutical bridges between them all), collectively & dynamically, these cumulative actualized potencies or eternally realized divine teloi may represent Sophia, who participates in the Divine Energies in a perichoretic Divine Dance.

In The Wisdom of God, Bulgakov spoke of two Sophias, one created and the other uncreated. She to whom I refer above would be the created Sophia in her participatedness. While I affirm the Divine Energies per a formal distinction, I must defer to others regarding the manner of viewing Sophia in Orthodoxy. And still wonder just how we might best account for ecstatic visions of Sophia.

See more re this theophany:


This body of work largely comprises my project, which I refer to as Pan-semio-entheism, because, as a systematic theology, while it is metaphysically realist, it prescinds from any given metaphysical root metaphor (substance, relational, process, experience, etc) to a phenomenological meta-heuristic.

See: Amos Yong With John Sobert Sylvest, “Reasons and Values of the Heart in a Pluralistic World: Toward a Contemplative Phenomenology for Interreligious Dialogue,” Studies in Interreligious Dialogue 20:2 (2010): 170-93