Dabney’s Solution to the Lapsarian Debate

This is worth quoting in detail. I’m very intrigued by Dabney’s particular understanding of divine simplicity, as he and Hodge were both very critical of the more Thomistic definition.

The attempt to illustrate the action of the divine will from the rise of rational volition in man, has doubtless been prejudiced by the scholastic explanations of God’s absolute simplicity. They would have us believe, not only that this excludes all composition and aggregation of quantitative parts, but all true distinction of essence and attributes. They would have the idea of God as absolutely devoid of construction in thought as his substance is of construction in reality. We must, in his case, identify essence and attributes. God is actus purus [pure impulse]. Any attribute is God; and hence one attribute is differentiated from another only by our apprehension of it. With him cognition and effectuation are identical. It does not satisfy them to say that God is an infinite monad, as the rational human soul is a finite monad; and that his attributes, like man’s essential powers of intelligence, sensibility, and will, are not limbs or parts attached to the spirit, but essential modes of functions with which it is endued. They require us to identify God’s attributes with his essence in a way inconceivably closer than we do man’s essential powers with his essence. Now, if this speculation be correct, the attempt to apprehend the action of the divine will by the human must be wholly erroneous. There could be no such distinction, as is true of man, between motive and volition, or between the optative powers and the power of choice. Nor could there be any sense whatsoever in which God’s subjective motive could be complex.
    But we deny that the speculation is correct, susceptible of proof, or possible to be valid to the human mind. Evidently the cognition of such a being is inaccessible to man’s intelligence. The only way he has of knowing substance is through its attributes; and the only cognition we have of it is as the intuitive notion, which the reason necessarily supplies, of the subjectum to which the attributes perceived must be referred. Hence, to require us to think substance as literally identical with each attribute rationally referred to it, is to forbid us to think it at all. Again, reason forbids us to think different attributes as identical. We intuitively know that thought is not conation, and conation is not sensibility; it is as impossible to think these actually identical in God as in ourselves. Last, this speculation brings us too near the awful verge of pantheism. Were it true, then, it would be the shortest and most natural of steps to conclude that God has no other being than the series of activities of the several attributes with which they seek to identify the being. Thus we have the form of pantheism next to the gulf of nihilism. If the attributes are identical with the being of God and with each other, and if it be thus shown that God’s thought makes the object thereof, then, since God is eternally, necessarily, and infinitely intelligent, these results must rigidly follow: That all objective being known to God must be also as eternal and necessary as God; and that it must be as infinite as he is. What more would Spinoza have desired to found his mathematical proof of pantheism? The speculation is not true any more than it is scriptural. The Bible always speaks of God’s attributes as distinct, and yet not dividing his unity; of his intelligence and will as different; of his wrath, love, pity, wisdom, as not the same activities of the Infinite Spirit. We are taught that each of these is inconceivably higher than the principle in man which bears the corresponding name; but if the Scriptures do not mean to teach us that they are distinguishable in God, as truly as in man, and that this is as consistent with his being an infinite monad as with our souls’ being finite monads, then they are unmeaning.
    In the rational creature, notwithstanding the simplicity of the spirit, judgments of the preferable and conative propensions are not identical with the volition in which they result. In him subjective motive is complex, and a given element of motive may be truly present, and yet not separately expressed in the volition, because over-preponderating motives prompt the agent freely to restrain that element. Then, the absolute simplicity of God does not forbid our ascribing to him an inconceivably higher mode of action of will, which is yet truly analogous.
    We may be reminded that the Confession declares God to be “without passions.” So the theologians tell us that we must ascribe to him no “passive powers;” for then he would not be immutable. He acts on everything; but is acted on by none. He is the source, but not the recipient of effects. This is indisputable. But we should not so overstrain the truth as to reject two other truths. One is, that while God has no passions, while he has no mere susceptibilities such that his creature can cause an effect upon it irrespective to God’s own will and freedom, yet he has active principles. These are not passions, in the sense of fluctuations or agitations, but none the less are they affections of his will, actively distinguished from the cognitions in his intelligence. They are true optative functions of the divine Spirit. However anthropopathic may be the statements made concerning God’s repentings, wrath, pity, pleasure, love, jealousy, hatred, in the Scriptures, we should do violence to them if we denied that he here meant to ascribe to himself active affections in some mode suitable to his nature. And it is impossible for us to suppose an agent without active principles, as well as cognitive, as we could not believe that the compass could move the ship without any motive power. The other truth is, that objective beings and events are the real occasions, though not efficient causes, of the action both of the divine affections and will. Are not many divines so much afraid of ascribing to God any “passive powers,” or any phase of dependence on the creature, that they hesitate even to admit that scriptural fact? But why should they recoil from the simple statements of his Word on this point, unless they were confused or misled by the old sensualistic view, which regarded the objective impression as somehow the efficient, instead of the mere occasion, of the following activities of the percipient soul: “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Ps. 7:11); “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” [(2 Sam. 11:27);] “My delight is in her” (Is. 62:4); “In these things I delight, saith the Lord” (Jer. 9:24). Is all this so anthropopathic as not even to mean that God’s active principles here have an objective? Why not let the Scriptures mean what they so plainly strive to declare? But some seem so afraid of recognizing in God any susceptibility of a passive nature, that they virtually set Scripture aside, and paint a God whose whole activities of intelligence and will are so exclusively from himself that even the relation of objective occasion to him is made unreal, and no other is allowed than a species of coincidence or pre-established harmony. They are chary of conceding (what the Bible seems so plainly to say) that God is angry because men sin; and would go no farther than to admit that somehow he is angry when men sin, yet, because absolutely independent, angry only of himself.

Now, our rational nature compels us to think these active principles relevant only when they act towards their proper objectives. If the wise and righteous reason does not perceive something that has (or is to have) actuality that is wicked, it does not have indignation; the legitimate condition for the action of this affection is wholly absent. If it does not see some being approvable, it does not feel the love of moral complacency. Why should not this be most true of the perfect reason, all of whose activities are most absolutely true to the actual? Nor is there any danger of sacrificing God’s independence or immutability, or of imputing to him “passive power,” or of tarnishing his nature with the fluctuations and agitations of passion. For, first, since his will was eternally sovereign, there can be nothing holy or unholy, in all time, in the actual objective universe, which was not decreed freely by his effective or permissive will. Thus, while it is true that what God looks at objectively is the unfailing occasion in him of the appropriate subjective affection; it is also true that there cannot be any thing actual for him to look at save such things as he freely chooses to permit to occur or exist. Second, there is no truth in this point of the sensualistic creed, either for God or man; the object is not efficient of the affection directed upon it, but the mere occasion. The affection is from the inward spontaneity. And, third, God’s omniscience is declared in the Scriptures to be infinite and eternal; so that no amiable or repulsive object can be a novelty to his mind. The treason of Judas was as clearly seen and comprehended, in all its hateful features, in God’s infinite intelligence, before the foundation of the world as the moment it was perpetrated; nor has there been one instant since in the divine consciousness when the mental comprehension of that crime has wavered or been forgotten or displaced, or even obscured by other objects of thought. Thus, the object being stable in the divine intelligence, the appropriate affection has been equally changeless in the divine will. The truth we must apprehend, then, is this—we cannot comprehend it—that God eternally has active principles directed towards some objective, which combine all the activity of rational affections with the passionless stability of his rational judgments, and which, while not emotions, in the sense of change, or ebb or flow, are yet related to his volitions in a way analogous to that which obtains between the holy creature’s optative powers and his volitions. Can we picture an adequate conception of them? No; “it is high; we cannot attain unto it.” But this is the consistent understanding of revelation; and the only apprehension of God which does not both transcend and violate man’s reason.
    God’s absolute unity and simplicity may be supposed by some to furnish another objection to the hypothesis that his propensions and his volition are distinguishable in his consciousness as truly as in a holy creature’s. It may be urged that this would imply an actual sequence in the parts of the divine will, and the acquisition by him of additional acts of will. Let this be considered. In a finite rational spirit there is unquestionably a partial parallel between volition and deduction; in this: that as this finite mind, in its logical process, advances from premises to conclusion, making a literal (though possibly rapid) sequence of mental acts; so, in its acts of choice when rationally conscious, it proceeds from motive to volition, making a sequence of voluntary activities equally literal. Now, all are agreed that the infinite intelligence cannot have logical processes of the deductive order. Its whole cognition must be intuition. For else it would follow that omniscience was not complete at first, and receives subsequent accessions of deductive knowledge. (This is one fatal objection to the Molinist scheme of scientia media [middle knowledge].) So, it may be urged, the activity of the divine will must be absolute unity; if we represent volition as arising out of motive, and the divine consciousness as discriminating the one from the other, we shall have the eternal will acting in succession, which is untenable.
    This comparison of the intellectual and active powers will lead us to a solution. It must undoubtedly be admitted that all of God’s cognition is immediate intuition, and that he can neither have nor need any deductive process by which to reach truth. But does it follow therefrom that he has no intuitions of relations? Let the reader reflect that many of our surest intuitions are of truths of relation, as of the equality of two magnitudes of which each is equal to a third and the same; that a multitude of things which exist do exist in relation; and that it is the very glory and perfection of God’s intelligence that it thinks every thing with an absolute faithfulness to the reality known by him. He will not be rash enough to question the fact that among God’s infinite cognitions are a multitude of intuitions of truths in relation. Again, since all God’s knowledge is absolutely true to the actual realities known, wherever he knows one thing as destined to depend on another thing, there must be a case in which God thinks a sequence. Let the distinction be clearly grasped. The things are known to God as in sequence; but his own subjective act of thought concerning them is not a sequence. How can this be? Our limited intelligence cannot realize it in thought; God can, because he is infinite. We must, then, to avoid wronging God on the one hand or the other, in our apprehension of his omniscience, acquiesce in this statement: That while the infinite capacity of the divine mind enables it to see coëtaneously by one all-including intuition every particular truth of his omniscience, his absolute infallibility also insures the mental arrangement of them all in their logical and causal relations, as they are destined to be actualized in successive time. O bathos ploutou kai sophias kai gnoseos theou! [“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom.
11:33)] Thus all must admit, for instance, that in the rational order of thinking, we think cause as in order to effect. It is an intuition. Now, is this an infirmity or a correct trait in the finite mind? Surely it is a correct trait. Will God’s infinite mental superiority, then, prevent his doing this correct thinking, conceiving cause as in order to effect? Surely not. Yet he sees both cause and effect by one coëtaneous intuition, and does not need, like us, to learn the cause by inference from the effect, or the effect by inference from the cause. So the rational order of thought is, that the object is in order to the volition. The hunter must see the animal in order to aim his weapon. Does not the infallible mind of God see object and act in the same rational order? Doubtless; but he has no need, like us, of a chronological succession. God’s cognitions, then, while devoid of sequence in time, doubtless preserve the appropriate logical order.
    Now the same considerations will lead us to the proper conclusion touching the order of motive and volition in God’s infinite will. This is not irrational, because infinite. From our point of view, subjective motive is in order to volition; they are related as cause and effect. We cannot think them otherwise. However rapidly we may conceive a spirit’s spontaneity to act, we cannot help thinking that when it formed a rational volition it did so because a rational motive went before. There is no ascertainable sequence of time; but none the less does our reason insist on putting the motive and volition in a causative sequence. Again, I ask, Is this an infirmity or a correct action of our reason? If our reason acts correctly in insisting on this causative order, does God’s infallible reason signalize its infinite superiority by refusing to think the order aright? Surely not. Here, then, we are shut up to the same apprehension; that while the action of the divine mind in rational volition is not successive, yet its infinite capacity preserves the proper causal subordination and distinction of rational motive and resultant volition. It thus appears that the unity and eternity of all the acts of the divine will do not preclude the proper discrimination and relation in the divine consciousness of motive and volition, affection and action. We see that if we insisted on that dogma, we should sacrifice the rationality of the divine will in the needless attempt to preserve its unity.

The justice and value of this conclusion may be illustrated by the light which it throws on the supralapsarian scheme of predestination. Because a rational mind determines first the ultimate end, and then the intermediate means, and because that which is last in effectuation is first in thought, therefore these divines insist on this sequence in the parts of the decree: 1st. God selects, out of men in posse, a certain number in whose redemption he will glorify himself. 2d. As a means to this ultimate end he determines to create mankind. 3d. He determines to permit their fall. 4th. He decrees to send his Son in human nature for the redemption of his elect. Sublapsarians, perceiving the harshness and unreasonableness of this, propose the opposite order of sequence (but still a sequence). God decreed, 1st, to create man holy; 2d, to permit his fall; 3d, to elect out of fallen mankind his chosen people; 4th, to send his Son for their redemption. Supralapsarians retort that this scheme makes God’s decree as truly conditioned on the creature’s action as the Arminian, though on a different condition. So the debate proceeds.
    But he who apprehends the action of the infinite mind reasonably and scripturally at once, sees that, while the sublapsarian is right in his spirit and aim, both parties are wrong in their method, and the issue is one which should never have been raised. As God’s thought and will do not exist in his consciousness in parts, so they involve no sequence, neither the one nor the other. The decree which determines so vast a multitude of parts is itself a unit. The whole all-comprehending thought is one coëtaneous intuition; the whole decree one act of will. But in virtue of the very consistency and accuracy of the divine plan, and infinity of the divine knowledge, facts destined to emerge out of one part of the plan, being present in thought to God, enter into logical relation to other parts of the same plan. As the plan is God’s thought, no part precedes any other. But none the less those parts which are destined to be, in execution, prior and posterior, stand in their just causal relations in his thinking. One result decreed is to depend on another result decreed. But as the decree is God’s consciousness, all is equally primary. Thus there will be neither supra- nor infra-lapsarian, and no room for their debate.


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