Truly Apophatic Negations of Divine Being

I prefer the prefix non– for apophatic negations that refer to divine being, essence or esse naturale, & trans– to refer to divine reality, energies or esse intentionale, eg. non- vs trans-in/determinate, modal, analogical, formal, etc b/c non-
better conveys that I have no idea!

The above refer, respectively, to the Peircean, Palamitic & Neo-Classical distinctions.

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:

Morrell’s 4-D IMAX Rohrian Perichoretic Adventure

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

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

Perhaps the same could be said of Richard Rohr?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rohr employs a robustly relational Hermeneutic of Presence:

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

Incarnation (Christological & panentheistic) and

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

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

essence as ousia

persons as hypostaseis

energies as energeiai

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

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

metousiosis as a multifaceted presence that involves

semiotic (sign and symbol),

dynamical (efficacious via divine power and activity),

penetrative (indwelling) and

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

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

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