Yet we teach from the Scriptures that God is one in essence, and hence that the essence both of the Son and of the Spirit is unbegotten, but inasmuch as the Father is first in order, and from himself begot his wisdom, as has just been said, he rightly deemed the beginning and fountainhead of the whole of divinity. Thus God without particularization is unbegotten; and the Father also in respect to his person is unbegotten. They also foolishly think they may conclude from our statement that we have set up a quaternity, for they falsely and calumniously ascribe this fiction of their own brain to us, as if we pretended that three persons came forth by derivation from one essence. On the contrary, it is clear from our writings that we do not separate the persons from the essence, but we distinguish among them while they remain within it.
… For although the essence does not enter into the distinction as a part or a member of the Trinity, nevertheless the persons are not without it, or outside it; because the Father, unless he were God, could not have been the Father; and the Son could not have been the Son, unless he were God. Therefore we say that deity in an absolute sense exists of itself; whence likewise we confess that the Son since he is God, exists of himself, but not in respect of his Person; indeed since he is the Son, we say that he exists from the Father. Thus his essence is without beginning; while the beginning of his person is God himself.
~ Institutes I. XIII. 25
Hip, cool, and informative! Read Leithart’s First Things post on Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy.
I’ve started to warm up to the doctrine of divine simplicity more and more because of the unity that I see in redemption. Richard Gaffin has used the illustration of facets on a diamond. Justification and sanctification are not two different and disconnected processes, but rather two different aspects of the same thing, namely union with Christ. You can see this in how everything is interwoven and connected: Soteriology is ecclesiology is eschatology is Christology, or as I like to say, everything is everything. You can’t talk about just one. And since everything on earth is analogous to everything in heaven (you know, the majestic forms), it makes good sense for me to connect the two.
And this is true because God is unified. His justice and His mercy are not two warring attributed, but rather exist in perfect harmony. Jesus Christ spends a good deal of his ministry showing that it is just to be merciful. God’s righteousness is always connected in Paul’s letters to the fact that God will indeed set the situation aright. He will be victorious.
I am certainly aware of the criticisms of this doctrine, but I wonder if they aren’t sometimes along the lines of the famed Homer Simpson dilemma, “Could God heat a burrito so hot that even He could not eat it?” Namely, they are the wrong questions.
Rather than worrying about God’s supposed freedom in asking “Could He have willed differently?” the doctrine of divine simplicity shows that this question is really to ask “Could He be other than Himself?” As David Bentley Hart pointed out (sorry to keep bringing him up, but my resources are limited at this time), this question seems to suggest that there is some unrealized potential in God, thus opening the door for all sorts of sundry nominalism.
Of course a Van Tillianized Calvinist is also keenly aware of the need to view everything through the lens of the Trinity, and so when we speak of divine simplicity, we are not speaking of the Pure and Most Beloved Monad, but rather the One God in Three. The One and the Many exist in equal ultimacy, and there is no contradiction here. In fact, it would seem to me that divine simplicity ultimately promotes synthesis.
And at the end of the day we also remember our doctrine of infinity and analogy. Whenever we employ the term “simple,” we realize that there is a certain level of univocation and equivocation involved.
At first Athanasius’ view of human nature as either always moving towards God or falling away from Him into non-existence struck me as odd, but the more I think about it, this does seem to be the logical consequence of creation ex nihilio.
If we really did come from nothing, then it makes sense that we can only remain something if we have some sort of inertia. There’s nothing “natural” about our current state, since it isn’t where we started out.
Of course there is still the question as to whether God would ever let someone fall completely out of existence.
As for the post-resurrection life, I am convinced that Christus Victor argues against all forms of annihilationism.
The church cannot conceive of itself as an institution within a larger society, as a pillar of society, culture, and civic order, or as a spiritual association that commands an allegiance simply in addition to the allegiance its members owe the powers of the wider world. The church is no less (as Origen knew) than a politics, a society, another country, a new pattern of communal being meant not so much to complement the civic constitution of secular society as to displace it. If Christ is risen, if this particular form is the infinite Word of the Father and the substance of salvation, then the church has no excuse for surrendering the horizon of history to the forces of “secularity,” or for allowing itself to become a mere element within, or function of, secular order. Christ’s pattern has been handed over and entrusted to the church as a project; he does not hover above history as an eschatological tension, a withdrawn possibility, an absence, or only a memory, but enters into history precisely in the degree that the church makes his story the essence of its practices. The church, then, as a pilgrimage, whose light and motile transit through time is recognized as an intrusion upon the cultural property of the secular world, should often appear as a transgression of the social order; at other times it should judge social order good and necessary, but in either case it should act only from the vantage of the kingdom. The church itself is (insofar as it is the church) a fabric of endlessly various ramifications and effolitaions of Christ’s beauty, unfolding between two parousiai, and can enjoy continuity with the form of Christ only so far as it resists the world’s every attempt to reduce it to the status of secondary affiliation. And this is a difficult matter indeed, for Christians are instructed by Scripture to comply with legitimate authority, but also to live according to the justice of the kingdom even now, in the midst of history, and the passage between these two commands must at times prove very narrow indeed. The normal politics of power (or of, to be more precise, the powers) is a politics of chaos and the inhibition thereof; it understands justice in terms of an immediate and hence tautologous reciprocity (in terms, that is, of violence). But the politics of the church can understand justice only according to a disruption of such reciprocity– bearing on another’s burdens, forgiving even the debt truly owed, seeking reconciliation rather than due retribution– and so typically should seek to reorder reciprocity after the fashion of the gift, as a differentiation and delay (and a giving again) that distorts the “Same” of violence into the music of forgiveness. Moreover, the church makes of itself a gnostic mystery cult if it mistakes this politics for a spiritual hygiene practiced only within the walls of the basilica– a kind of rite practiced for the sake or personal purity– and does not rather make it intrude upon the world about it. This is the visible beauty of the form of Christ in his mystical body: a beauty not posed over against the world merely as a gnostic or even eschatological critique, but offered to the world as a real evangel. The maxim that guided the early church’s evolving understanding of the doctrine of the incarnation was that whatever is not assumed by Christ is not saved; and this may be extended to mean that whatever aspect of the human world is not assumed into the narrative of Christ has not been recapitulated by him, and so still lies in bondage.
~ David Bentley Hart The Beauty of the Inifinite pg. 339-341
Indeed, the very idea of an “analytic” philosophy is a hopeless one: in attempting to reduce every “synthetic” proposition to one or more analytic truths, self-evidently and even tautologously correct, one makes the mistake of imagining that truth for finite beings is ever anything but synthetic: just as being is granted to beings by an act that transcends the conditions of finitude, so truth inhabits words that in themselves can never be adequate to the fullness of what they express; thus all real philosophy must include the motion of conjecture toward that transcendent horizon that shows itself yet hides itself in beings, and the animating logic of such conjecture must be one of contemplation and praise.
~ David Bentley Hart The Beauty of the Infinite
Philemon 17 If then you count me as a partner, receive him as me.
God forgives us our debts as we forgive our debtors. He deals with you the way you deal with others. So deal with others the way you’d like to be dealt with.
Gregory himself appears to reject any “realism” regarding the divine energies (CE 1:87), but Palamas is able to draw on language of Gregory’s, and I am not at all convinced that Palamas ever intended to suggest a real distinction between God’s essence and energies; nor am I even confident that the energies should be seen as anything other than sanctifying grace by which the Holy Spirit makes the Trinity really present to creatures. I take the distinction to mean only that God’s transcendence is such that he is free to be the God he is even in the realm of creaturely finitude, without estrangement from himself and without the creature being admitted thus to an unmediated vision of the divine essence.
~ The Beauty of the Infinite pg. 204
I’m no expert on Palamas, but this strikes me as the more natural reading of Paul’s use of energia and ergon. The Holy Spirit is always mentioned in close proximity, eg. 1 Cor. 12:11, Gal. 3:5, Eph. 2:2.
Discussions I’ve had concerning the doctrine of divine infinity and its implication upon the creature’s knowledge (eg. Clark/Van Til) have revealed that many feel that infinity only applies to the “quantitative” realm and not to the “qualitative” realm. God and man must have univocal and not simply analogical knowledge in order for true knowledge to be possible.
The problem with this, of course, is that it limits God to the created order. It simply makes God the highest form of being, rather than the being beyond being. In short, such a move steals away God’s transcendent glory.
Such a move makes Him but a god.
I’ve finally recovered from the trip home, and so I thought I’d like to say a little about the recent visit to NYC. I don’t plan on doing a full theological summary of each speaker’s presentation. Perhaps Joel will be able to provide you with something closer to that. I’d just like to highlight my favorite experiences and give a “big picture” or “overarching narrative” approach .
Faris and I left J-Down at about 5:30 AM on Thursday June 14th. The PCA had just slid back into the 19th century, only without a working knowledge of Latin and the classics, so we weren’t looking forward to having to be “Presbyterians” on this trip. In many ways, I suppose, we weren’t. Continue reading