Friday, December 13, 2013

Present perfect

Dale Tuggy has replied to my remarks about his criticism of the classical theist position that God is not merely “a being” alongside other beings but rather Being Itself.   Dale had alleged that “this is not a Christian view of God” and even amounts to “a kind of atheism.”  In response I pointed out that in fact this conception of God is, historically, the majority position among theistic philosophers in general and Christian philosophers in particular.  Dale replies:

Three comments. First, some of [Feser’s] examples are ambiguous cases. Perfect Being theology goes back to Plato, and some, while repeating Platonic standards about God being “beyond being” and so on, seem to think of God as a great self. No surprise there, of course, in the case of Bible readers. What’s interesting is how they held – or thought they held – these beliefs consistently together. Second, who cares who’s in the majority? Truth, I’m sure he’ll agree, is what matters. Third, it is telling that Feser starts with Plato and ends with Scotus and “a gazillion” Scholastics. Conspicuous by their absence are most of the Greats from early modern philosophy. Convenient, because most of them hold, with Descartes, that our concept of God is the…idea of a Being who is omniscient, omnipotent and absolutely perfect… which is absolutely necessary and eternal.” (Principles of Philosophy 14)

End quote.  Take Dale’s second comment first.  “Who cares who’s in the majority?”  Well, Dale cares, for starters.  He, after all, is the one who raised the issue of what “most philosophers” think, when he asserted that “what most philosophers call ‘theism’” is the theistic personalism or neo-theism that defines itself in opposition to classical theism.  I was merely pointing out that if one is going to appeal to what “most philosophers” think, one could get a majority in favor of theistic personalism only if one arbitrarily confined one’s poll to merely a subset of contemporary philosophers -- essentially, to Anglo-American Protestant academic analytic philosophers and their atheist critics -- and will certainly get nothing close to a majority if one considers philosophers of the past.  Having had this pointed out to him, Dale suddenly decides that what “most philosophers” think maybe isn’t so important after all.  “Convenient,” as he would say!

There is a substantive issue here too, however.  Dale, remember, had claimed that the notion that God is Being Itself is “not a Christian view” and even “a kind of atheism.”  Surely the point that, historically, most theistic philosophers, including most Christian philosophers, have in fact held that God is Being Itself is highly relevant to evaluating Dale’s assertions.  Even if the claim that “Most Christian theistic philosophers historically have held that p” doesn’t provide much evidence that p is true, surely it does provide at least defeasible evidence that p is consistent with theism in general and Christian theism in particular.  Indeed, that is presumably why Dale himself had originally raised the issue of what “most philosophers” think.  It is arbitrary for him now to pretend that what “most philosophers” have thought is irrelevant to evaluating what is consistent with Christianity and with theism, when he finds he can’t after all get most philosophers to agree with him.

And of course there are reasons why the historically mainstream Christian philosophical tradition has always insisted that God is to be conceived of as Being Itself.  I summarized the basic idea in my recent reply to John Leslie and Robert Lawrence Kuhn, to which I linked in the previous post.  (The relevant considerations are explored in detail by Aquinas in Summa Theologiae I.IIIArticle 4 is most directly relevant to the subject at hand, but it is best understood in the context of the surrounding material.  See also Summa Contra Gentiles I.22, and De Ente et Essentia.)  The idea is that if God were not Being Itself then he could not possibly be the ultimate cause or explanation of things.  Anything less than Being Itself would merely participate in being and thus be metaphysically less ultimate than that in which it participates; it would be a compound of actuality and potentiality rather than pure actuality, and thus require a cause which actualizes its potentials; and it would have an essence distinct from its existence and thus be metaphysically composite, where composites are metaphysically less fundamental than whatever principle accounts for their composition. 

Of course, that’s just a one-sentence summary.  I wouldn’t expect someone unfamiliar or unsympathetic with the key concepts and arguments of classical (Neo-Platonic, Aristotelian, and Scholastic) philosophy to be convinced by, or even necessarily to understand, the ideas in question.  But of course it would be quite silly for someone unfamiliar or unsympathetic with classical philosophy to expect me to provide him with a compelling primer on these complex ideas in the scope of a blog post -- especially in a blog post which has to address the gigantic range of sweeping assertions (about what counts as truly ”Christian” theism, about Thomistic metaphysics, about the history of early modern philosophy, about the merits of contemporary analytic philosophy, and so on) that Dale casually fires off in these drive-by posts of his.  Here I am just making a very narrow point, namely that whether you agree with the arguments in question or not, the fact of their existence gives the lie to Dale’s key assertions.  For it is precisely the logic of theism itself-- in particular, the logic of the key theistic idea that God is the ultimate cause or explanation of things -- that drives the classical theist to characterize God as Being Itself.  This characterization is thus by no means something extrinsic to theism, something arbitrarily tacked on.  Dale might not like this way of developing the idea of God as creator, but that is what it is a development of -- and hence it is precisely a development of (rather than a reversal of, or an ad hoc addition to) theism in general and Christianity in particular. 

Certainly Dale has said nothing to show otherwise.  Yet the burden of proof is on him to do so, and not on me to prove classical theism to him.  For remember, what we are debating here is not whether the claim that God is Being Itself is true or even intelligible (though of course I think it is both).  What we are debating are assertions Dale made, to the effect that the notion of God as Being Itself is “not a Christian view of God” and amounts to “a kind of atheism.”  Hence when Dale complains that I haven’t clarified the notion of Being Itself to his satisfaction -- something I wasn’t trying to do in the first place -- he is engaging in something of a red herring.  For the philosophical defensibility of that notion is not what’s at issue.  What’s at issue is whether Dale can justify his (hardly modest) claim that Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, and indeed the majority of past Christian thinkers were, not merely philosophically mistaken, but guilty of peddling an essentially anti-Christian and atheistic position.  So, let’s stick to the subject.

Dale perhaps thinks he has addressed the subject in his first point, viz. that some proponents of the view that God is Being Itself also “seem to think of God as a great self.  No surprise there, of course, in the case of Bible readers.  What’s interesting is how they held – or thought they held – these beliefs consistently together.”  The implication is that even if the Christian philosophers in question affirmed the personal God of the Bible, this affirmation was not consistent with their affirmation of God as Being Itself.  But here Dale simply begs the question.  For one thing, as I have said many times, classical theists do not in general deny that God is personal.  When they say that God is not “a person,” what they mean is not that he is impersonal but rather that he is not an instance of the kind “person,” for the reason that he cannot intelligibly be said to be an instance of any kind or property.  He is not less than personal, but more than a mere instance of the kind “person.”  (He does not instantiate the property being powerful either, since he is Power Itself rather than merely one powerful thing among others.  But no one for that reason accuses the classical theist of thinking of God as weak.)

Indeed, given the philosophical analysis by classical theists like Aquinas of what intellect and will are, we must attribute intellect and will (no less than being, power, etc.) to God, and intellect and will are the characteristic marks of personhood.  So there is a sense in which God’s being personal is partially constitutive of the purely philosophical (as opposed to specifically biblical or Christian) side of classical theism.  Of course, Dale might say that the conception of intellect and will appealed to by classical theists like Aquinas is not close enough to the conception reflected in biblical descriptions of God, or that it is in some way philosophically deficient.  Dale says lots of things.  What would be more impressive, though, is an argument, and so far he hasn’t given us one. 

There are also specifically Christian theological reasons for objecting to the bald assertion that God is “a person” or “a self.”  As Brian Davies has pointed out, the claim that “God is a person” apparently first appeared in English in 1644, when it was used to express a heretical Unitarian conception of God.  And of course, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity tells us, not that God is “a person” but rather that there are three Persons in the one God.  How can this be?  That is, of course, a much debated question, but if anything is clear from the debate it is that “person” is not being used in Trinitarian theology in quite the way it is used in ordinary contexts.  Indeed, it is being used in a way that requires that the Persons in question are not distinct “beings,” or substances -- which means of course that Trinitarianism requires us to abstract pretty far from the persons of everyday experience, who are distinct beings or substances. 

If purely philosophical considerations lead the classical theist to attribute a kind of personhood to God even though he is Being Itself, and Trinitarian considerations lead the Christian theologian to move away from the everyday notion of persons when speaking of God, it is hardly surprising that Christian classical theists hold that the two trajectories ultimately converge.  So where does Dale get off casually insinuating, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, that a Christian can’t plausibly affirm both that God is Being Itself and that he is personal? 

Dale’s answer, in part, is to resort to some Bible thumping. “[T]o think of God as a great self” is, he says, “no surprise… in the case of Bible readers.“  The trouble with Bible thumping, though, is that the thumper often unwittingly reads his own theology into the text before reading it back out again.  Certainly you won’t find anything close to the formula “God is a great self” in the Bible.  Of course, Dale knows that; what he means is that the Bible often describes God in the sorts of terms we often apply to human persons or selves.  That is perfectly true, but these descriptions include examples that Dale himself would surely agree cannot be taken literally.  For instance, in the Old Testament God is variously described as if he walked about in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:8), has eyes and eyelids (Psalm 11:4), breathes (Job 4:9), and so forth.  Apart from the Incarnation, these things cannot be true of God, since if he literally has legs, eyes, lungs, etc., he would be part of the material world and thus not the cause of the material world. 

But something similar is true of any biblical description of God that seems to attribute to him mental qualities that entail corporeality, limitation, or changeability.  Hence while there is certainly a sense in which God can be said to be angry at sin, this cannot be a matter of his having a sort of feeling (since feelings are corporeal) or a change of mood.  He cannot literally be said to learn, to change his mind, to regret some course of action, etc.  For anything literally describable in these ways has potentialities that require actualization, metaphysical parts that require composition, etc., and no such thing can be the ultimate cause or explanation of the world.  He would be just one part of the world among others, even if a “great” one, and thus not truly divine at all.

There are also biblical passages that clearly point away from a theistic personalist conception of God and toward the classical theist conception.  For instance, Malachi 3:6 describes God as unchanging.  Exodus 3:14 tells us that God refers to himself as “I AM,” which has sounded to a  lot of interpreters over the centuries like he is indicating that he is Being Itself.  John 14: 6 tells us that Christ is the truth, and John 4:6 tells us that God is love -- as opposed to merely instantiating or having love.  (Why don’t theistic personalists ever say: “How can a person be love?  That’s Greek philosophy speaking, not the great self of the Bible!”  Why don’t they complain: “How can God be truth?  Are we supposed to believe that he is a conjunction of propositions?”  These biblical statements make perfect sense given the doctrines of divine simplicity, analogical predication, the convertibility of the transcendentals, etc.  Given theistic personalism, not so much.) 

Of course, Dale is bound to disagree with these interpretations of the biblical passages in question, but the point is precisely that merely waving the Bible around doesn’t by itself settle anything.  For the correct interpretation of the relevant passages is itself part of what is in dispute between the classical theist and the theistic personalist.  Simply to cite the Bible against Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, et al. in criticizing their notion of God as Being Itself as “not a Christian view of God” and “a kind of atheism” is just to beg the question.

Then there is the fact that Dale is untroubled by appeals to the Trinity, because as it happens he doesn’t take all that Trinitarian stuff seriously in the first place.  (As longtime readers know, Dale and I have had a few exchanges on this subject.)  Yes dear reader, that sound you hear is rich irony sinking in.  Dale is accusing those who regard God as Being Itself of taking a view that is “not a Christian view of God” and indeed “a kind of atheism” -- even as he rejects what has historically been regarded as the very heart of a distinctively Christian conception of God!  (Again, dear reader, the answer is Yes -- that is a straight face you see on Dale in the YouTube video just linked to.)

So, it’s not just the Neo-Platonists, Aristotelians, and Scholastics who’ve gotten the Christian conception of God all wrong.  It’s Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants in general.  Indeed, it’s pretty much everyone, for two millennia now, except for a handful of Unitarians here and there.  Connect all the dots and it seems that it’s only contemporary theistic personalist analytic philosophers of religion with Unitarian leanings, specifically, who’ve at last attained a really philosophically serious understanding of God.   And if, after connecting them, you read between the lines that result, perhaps you’ll find that the group that’s really, really gotten this whole Christian theism thing finally worked out consists of…  well, pretty much just Dale Tuggy.  Which means, I guess, that the notion of Being Itself really is incompatible with Christian theism after all.  Q.E.D.

To hell, then, with what most Christians, past and present, have thought.  But never with what “most philosophers” think, if that means what “most contemporary analytic philosophers” think.  For Dale’s answer to my charge that he’s got a bad case of presentism is strenuously to object that that’s putting it just way too mildly.  I paraphrase; what he actually wrote is this:

Philosophers and intellectuals generally, in [the early modern] era, rejected the traditions of medieval philosophy as too deferential to authority, too unclear, and going nowhere.   Locke… with all the bitterness of one who was a student intellectually smothered by such masters… [speaks of their] “artificial ignorance and learned gibberish” [and] “obscurity”…

Analytic philosophers are the descendants of these early moderns who tried to reboot Western philosophy. To some extent, they succeeded. The era from about Hobbes to Kant was a golden age of philosophy. We’re in a greater golden age right now.

End quote.  Dale must have an unlimited line of credit at the First International Bank of Tendentious Philosophical Assertions.  At least I hope so; otherwise, at the rate he’s going, he’s going to have some metaphysical Chili Palmer breathing down his neck.  “Dale, look at me.  Let me tell you the way it is.  You keep tossin’ off these big conclusions without payin’ us the arguments you owe, Momo’s gonna send me to throw you down the stairs like I did Bear.  Might mess up your pretty little goatee…”

Dale’s clichéd description of Scholasticism might pass muster for the World Book Encyclopedia, but as an account of the actual historical facts it’s now considered rather dated even by many analytic philosophers.  First, as contemporary Scholastics often point out, the early moderns were reacting to a late and degenerate form of Scholasticism that had been corrupted by nominalism, rather than to the high Scholasticism of writers like Aquinas.  Second, it’s pretty much an open secret among historians of early modern philosophy that Descartes, Locke, Hume, and Co. don’t really give us a fair picture even of Scholasticism as they found it.  Anyone familiar with the work of writers like Dennis Des Chene, Walter Ott, Margaret Osler, Robert Pasnau, and Helen Hattab knows how sophisticated was the tradition the early moderns were reacting against, and how much of it survived in the thinking of the early moderns themselves. Third, it is a mistake to treat the Scholastic ideas the early moderns were reacting against as if they are a mere historical curiosity.  Recent metaphysics has seen, even outside the ranks of Thomists, a revival of interest in powers (e.g. George Molnar, Stephen Mumford, Nancy Cartwright, C.B. Martin, John Heil), natural teleology (e.g. Molnar, Paul Hoffman, John Hawthorne, Thomas Nagel), hylemorphism (e.g. Kit Fine, Kathrin Koslicki, Michael Rea, Mark Johnston), and other essentially Aristotelian and Scholastic ideas.

As for the work of the early moderns having ushered in a “golden age,” I would say that in fact it’s largely just riffs on the same mistakes made by Pre-Socratics -- warmed-over Parmenidean rationalism, Heraclitean sensism, Democritean atomism, and Sophist relativism -- which Plato, Aristotle, and their medieval followers had already refuted before the moderns put pen to paper.  The early modern philosophers’ bloated reputation has largely to do with the successes of the scientific revolution, to which their ideas are only contingently connected.  What they inaugurated was in reality a progressive degeneration of philosophical understanding, which has only in recent decades -- with the rise of bizarre metaphysical doctrines like eliminative materialism, grotesque “ethical” systems like consequentialism, and theological crudities like theistic personalism -- reached full putrescence.  Alasdair MacIntyre famously argued that modern philosophy created conceptual chaos in ethics by sundering key moral concepts from the context in which they had their natural home.  I have argued that the same thing is true in metaphysics -- that many of the “traditional” problems of philosophy as we know them today are in fact a product of the early moderns’ anti-Scholastic revolution, and are as intractable as they are only because few think to question the metaphysical presuppositions that generated them. 

This, by the way -- and to address Dale’s third point above -- is why I didn’t cite any early modern philosophers as representatives of classical theism.  It’s not that none of them was a classical theist -- I think a case could be made that writers like Descartes and Leibniz were, more or less, classical theists.  But their initially only partial abandonment of Scholasticism makes their views unstable -- they point backward to the systematic theological rigor of Scholasticism, but also forward to the decay that would culminate in the Humean and Kantian critiques of natural theology.  And some of the moderns clearly are theistic personalists; William Paley, with his lame “designer,” is a good example.  (For further Paley-bashing, go here, here, and here.)

Perhaps Dale will just shrug and dismiss all this as eccentric dissent from what “most philosophers” these days think.   But as Dale likes to say out of the other side of his mouth: “Who cares who’s in the majority?  Truth is what matters.”  (It’s nice to agree with Dale when I can!)

As for Dale’s assertion that contemporary analytic philosophy represents an even “greater golden age” than early modern philosophy -- where early modern philosophy no doubt surpassed, in Dale’s view, anything the ancients and medievals accomplished -- that not only fails the laugh test, it fails the ROFLMAO test.  Though I suppose if you seriously think Augustine, Anselm and Aquinas were committed to something akin to atheism, then it’s a cinch to convince yourself there’s someone in academic philosophy today remotely close to the stature of a Descartes or a Leibniz, let alone a Plato, Aristotle, or Aquinas.

Unlike the history of philosophy from Thales to Aquinas -- which, I would argue, is progressive and culminates in a body of genuine knowledge that preserves the insights, and avoids the errors, of what came before -- the history of philosophy since Ockham (grandfather of modern philosophy) is, I would argue, a history of dissolution and fragmentation, with contemporary academic philosophy in something like a Kuhnian crisis state.  It has no body of genuine metaphysical and moral knowledge to offer us (unless you count its dogmatic naturalism and its dogmatic and desiccated Rawlsian liberalism, which I assume Dale would not).  Its practitioners are often (by no means always, but often) unbelievably insular, seriously interacting only with the work of other contemporary analytic philosophers and having little knowledge of the history of philosophy, of continental philosophy, or of non-Western philosophy.  Their opinions about religion are typically as laughably ill-informed as they are confidently expressed.  And their mindset is often shaped by a vulgar careerism that is unchecked by forces of the sort that counteracted academic ambition in earlier stages in the history of philosophy (the autonomy afforded by aristocratic leisure in ancient philosophy, religion in medieval philosophy, independence from the academy in early modern philosophy). 

If contemporary analytic philosophers have anything to boast of, it is not their results but only their methods -- and those methods are pretty generic, comprising little more than clarity of expression, facility in logic, and rigorous argumentation.  These are indeed very real strengths, and analytic philosophers are right to prize them highly and to criticize those who do not do so.  But they are hardly original.  Indeed, there was another group of thinkers well-known for precisely their emphasis on these ideals.  They were called the Scholastics, and they were unjustly accused (by the early moderns, mind you) of hair-splitting and logic-chopping, just as analytic philosophers are.  Been there, done that, and did it better.   


  1. Hey Feser, that's unsporting making fun of Dale's goatee. Maybe he should make fun of that ridiculous Miami Vice stubble you've been rockin' of late.

  2. Hi Sock Puppet,

    Settle down, fella. I wasn't making fun of it. Just trying to convey an authentic Chili Palmer patois.

  3. Where would you recommend to begin reading for a good introduction to God as Being Itself for someone who is new to this idea?


  4. You should both grow beards.

    Then you could stroke them while philosophizing and smoke pipes and drink whiskey.

    That would totally be badass.

  5. If God is pure actuality and pure being, and if change is a change from potential to actual, how can there be change? Because in order for there to be change, the potential would have to exist in God. But God is pure actuality. So the potential would have to be actual: a contradiction.

    In other words, don't you then fall right into Parmenides?

    And how then does classical theism distinguish itself from panentheism? Or are they the same?

  6. grapefruit,

    The potential exists in the things that are moved. Such as my fingers, as I type this.

    God doesn't move, yet he moves everything else.

    A ---> A/P -----> A/P

    There's God on the left as pure actuality, moving something which is act and potency, moving something which is act and potency.

  7. Patrick,

    You might check out Feser's books Aquinas and The Last Superstition.

    Also, look for some of Ed's posts on "classical theism." Just do a quick search, and you'll find them.

    Even better, read the Summa Contra Gentiles.

  8. Maybe we should all band together and buy Tuggy these?

  9. Tuggy: Conspicuous by their absence are most of the Greats from early modern philosophy.

    Um, yeah, there's a reason for that...

    The era from about Hobbes to Kant was a golden age of philosophy. We’re in a greater golden age right now.

    Well. He's made a common, and even understandable mistake: it wasn't a golden age, it was a pyrite age.

  10. Hey Dr. Feser,

    I have heard several times now that late scholasticism was in a decadent state and corrupted by nominalism. I would like to learn more about this shift in thought from high to late scholasticism (particularly the how and why) . I was wondering if you or any of your readers could point me in the direction of some good sources on the matter. Or, perhaps you touch on it in you forthcoming book?

  11. zmikecuber,

    I have read both Aquinas and TLS. I Also have read most posts on Classical Theism on this blog and even downloaded this morning Summa Contra Gentiles :)

    Any other suggestions?

    Thank you!

  12. To my mind, all the issues here pale in comparison to one: the need for both philosophers to sport luxurious beards.

  13. Eras that could plausibly be called golden ages in philosophy tend not to be eras in which people talk about being in a golden age. There's something of an irony, in that sense, in talking about a golden age from Hobbes to Kant, given that Hobbes thought the philosophical atmosphere of his time was very, very dark, and Kant thought the philosophical golden age was still to come; nobody was talking about being in a golden age then.

    Analytic philosophy currently bears the usual historic signs of being in a state of degeneration. The 'analytic' in 'analytic philosophy' used to mean a specific approach; it has broadened to the point that it means little more than a set of rhetorical tags and a common educational background, lumping a large number of things together. Such syncretism is usually a sign of collapse, arising either from weakness or from less and less interest in the original ideas. Outside some very specific areas the tools used by analytic philosophers are behind the times; when Russell was writing, analytic philosophers were using state-of-the-art methods of mathematical analysis filtered through philosophy of mathematics, and were actively contributing to them in their own ways. People like Johan van Benthem and David Corfield have been trying, mostly in vain, to get analytic philosophers to do this again as a general matter, with modal logic (van Benthem) or topos and category theory (Corfield). (And, indeed, if we keep the 'analytic' meaning more or less what it used to mean, it's only people like van Benthem or Corfield and their fellow-travelers in formal epistemology and philosophy of mathematics who are genuine analytic philosophers.) And analytic philosophers are talking about being in a golden age, which is also itself a sign of decay, since intellectual eras that can reasonably be called 'golden' typically look to the future they hope will come about, and are constantly comparing the present to that hoped-for golden age; eras that look to their present are usually contributing less to future eras and resting more on the riches they've inherited from the past. It's usually a sign of slow down, and possibly impending crash, when the sprinter starts thinking, "Wow, I'm running amazingly fast! Look how fast I'm running! I've made it so far so quickly, and my feet are moving even faster!"

    Of course, nothing can tell what the future will hold; but the usual warning signs are all there.

  14. Christian,

    You might find the book "The Unintended Reformation" by Brad S. Gregory interesting. It covers a lot beside the breakdown of Scholasticism as well.

  15. Since the topic's come up, there's something I've been wondering about late mediaeval scholasticism. From my (admittedly limited) knowledge of Scotus and Occam, it seems like their philosophical systems are pretty ridiculous, and certainly can't hold a candle to Aquinas'. So how on earth did they become so popular? Why didn't people just stick with Aquinas, or at the very least keep metaphysical realism and not go over to nominalism? It all seems very inexplicable.

  16. Mr. X,

    Great questions.

    The answer is very simple: People like crap.

  17. He would be just one part of the world among others, even if a “great” one, and thus not truly divine at all.

    Dale is accusing those who regard God as Being Itself of taking a view that is “not a Christian view of God” and indeed “a kind of atheism” -- even as he rejects what has historically been regarded as the very heart of a distinctively Christian conception of God!

    It begins to seem that Dale's criticism could only really make any sense from the same sort of standpoint as that of the polytheists of pre-Christian and pre-Judaic times: Hey, we have hundreds and even thousands of different gods, and you think all these gods aren't really gods at all? What kind of atheists are you?

    And again: each of our gods individually exhibit some greatness, but do try to do us one better, you simply grab each separate greatness and throw it all in a single pot and call that your "God" as if by mashing every sort of excellence together you get not only another god, but someone who isn't even "a being" in the same sense.

    Of course, Dale's thesis is so woefully unhistorically valid as to be laughable. Of course the great Christian thinkers thought God was different from the pantheon of the pagans - whose gods were indeed "one being among many". Judaic and Christian revelation brought us out of that pagan darkness. It is ridiculous to try to press the quasi-pagan theories of theistic personalism into the facade of "the one true Christian version of a philosophically intelligible god" and beyond ridiculous to assert that's what the early Christians like Augustine and Athanasius held.

  18. The more that I read Cajetan, Domingo de Soto, Banez, John of St. Thomas, the Conimbricenses, and even Suarez, the less I think that we can let the early-moderns off the hook for their criticisms of scholasticism. In other words, I think that those sympathetic with scholasticism are being too generous to Descartes, Hobbes, et al., when we blame the supposed decadence of the late-scholastics for the caricatured presentation of the schoolmen in the works of Bacon, Hobbes, Locke, Descartes, etc. Indeed, Leibniz says explicitly that, in certain respects, he prefers modern schoolmen like Pedro Fonseca and Agostino Nifo, etc., to their thirteenth- and fourteenth-century predecessors.

    How then do we explain what happened in the seventeenth century? Ignorance, deception, bad individual teachers, etc.? That seems like an important line of inquiry.

  19. I think to a very great degree the shift needs to be attributed more to infrastructural failure than to an ideological one. Nominalism spread because it fit university life better and (I think this is definitely a separate issue) the universities really were starting to stagnate in many (although certainly not all) places -- teachers taught the minimum (the curricula of the major universities in Newton's day are shockingly bare and heavily dependent on summaries), students did the minimum (the university structure made it very easy for them to do so under most circumstances, and it's very difficult in some places to pin down what the universities were even teaching because the students weren't doing much with it anyway), so not much got taught. Which was especially a problem since late scholasticism had the weight of several hundred years of rigorous argument to carry. So in lots of places serious intellectual life just dropped most of it and moved out of the universities.

  20. Dale seems to be arguing that the orthodox view of God is the result of a Platonic imposition on the scriptures. This is something that a number of early moderns argues, such as Thomas Hobbes, the father of modern biblical criticism, and more recent figures, such as Adolf von Harnack. Although one thing that Harnack realized that I think Dale misses is that one has to reject certain books from the cannon in order to hold this claim; Harnack himself rejected the Gospel of John on these grounds. I presume that Dale neither knows Greek nor has much knowledge of the Hellenistic era. If he did, it would be clear that John's Gospel borrows from Hellenistic language about God, and, contrary to what Dale seems to suggest, it isn't only the first verse that's the problem for him, as such ideas run throughout the Gospel.

    This brings me to the historical problem with his reading of the Bible. He seems to follow the early moderns in arguing that there is a cultural chasm between Judaism and Hellenism and to impose the latter on the former is to misinterpret the text. However, in light of the last century or so of scholarship, I don't see how that he can maintain this claim. The rich wealth of archaeological and textual evidence since the early modern period has rendered these distinctions problematic. There had been centuries of cultural exchange between Jews and Greeks by the time of Christ, and the former were willing to express their ideas in the terms of the latter. In other words, the cultural barriers are porous, not hermetically sealed. There are ideas in the New Testament that are clearly Greek-influenced, and to be Greek influenced in spirituality in this time and place meant to be influenced by a sort of attenuated middle-brow Platonism. It's that influence that Dale has to reckon with and what he doesn't see unless he is willing to look into the "philosophical mud pit" of Hellenistic and Late Antique philosophy. But if he continues to read the scriptures from the view of an early modern--which is precisely what he seems to be doing given the influences on him and who he lauds--then he is getting a very anachronistic view of them.

  21. Dale Tuggy provides evidence that the denial of divine simplicity (and the understanding of God that goes along with it) leads to the abandoning of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity.

    To quote the great Protestant scholastic Francis Turretin, "The Socinians...deny that simplicity can be attributed to God according to the Scripture and think it should be expunged from the number of the divine attributes for no other purpose than to weaken more easily the mystery of the Trinity by establishing the composition of the divine essence." (Institutes 3.7.1)

  22. Nathanael is quite right. As I wrote above (and forgive me for confusing Prof. Tuggy's first and last name--no offense was intended), many of the the early moderns, such as Hobbes, rejected simplicity and a realist ontology, and in doing so they embraced a nominalism (and often a sort of materialism, as in Hobbes case) that they then brought to their interpretation of scripture.

    But as Feser wrote above, this is question-begging. What is at issue is how to read the text and part of the answer to that, as Feser has repeatedly pointed out, is that the philosophical framework brought to the interpretation matters. Feser has done the leg work considering these questions by having compared the classical approach to the modern. Tuggy has instead refused to consider the classical--a bizarre choice given its historical proximity to when the New Testament was actually written--and instead opted for one that presumes a philosophical framework completely foreign to the premodern world. What ever happened to that Protestant mandate to get back to what the texts actually mean? If Tuggy was serious about this, he would at least investigate classical theism and its hermeneutical approach to see which offers a better interpretation of the texts and better accounts for the whole.

  23. There is a genuine debate in the classical tradition about God and being. Neoplatonists denied that being and unity are convertible (as I think Plato did somewhere), and therefore concluded that the One was not a being, cannot be said to exist, and is beyond being and not-being. Their reason for asserting this was that since being and unity are distinct, anything that possesses being must have some internal diversity, and thus not be simple, which the highest principle must be. Those who followed Aristotle in holding that being and unity are convertible, however, thought that the ultimate principle is being itself rather than beyond being. Their position on being allowed the to do this, because it meant that assigning being to the ultimate principle did not imply some composition in that principle. The differences between the two positions led to differences about the grasp of the ultimate, with the Neoplatonists postulating a mystical non-conceptual faculty that was not the intellect - since the intellect has being as its object, and hence cannot put us in touch with the One. There is a case to be made against the Neoplatonist denial of being to God, but it has of course been made in the tradition by the Aristotelian theists. I don't suppose that Tuggy's criticism identifies this point or distinguishes between the two views.

    There is no doubt a religious factor at work here; despite the work of some largely forgotten 17th century Protestant scholastics, the philosophical basis and outlook of Protestantism is overwhelmingly linked to early modern philosophy, and of course the scholastic tradition is originally and almost entirely a Catholic one - and was hated and attacked by Luther. So to be enthusiastic about scholasticism is very hard to reconcile with Protestantism.

  24. John Lamot, I hear that sentiment a lot, usually from Barthians. It is true that Luther and Calvin both say lots of nasty things about the "scholastics" and that Luther loves to hate on Aristotle. However, Calvin founded a school that trained scholastics and Luther continued to employ Aristotle in the curriculum at Wittenburg. Furthermore, both Luther and Calvin employ Aristotelian notions of causality and scholastic terms and distinctions. So what gives? The answer is that in the 16th century "scholastic" was more or less synonymous with our word "academic"; it could be used as a neutral term for a school theologian or as a pejorative referring to specific established academics. So, for instance, in Calvin's Latin edition of the Institutes (written for the educated) he bashes on the "scholastics" but in Calvin's French edition (written for common folk) in the same passages he mentions not "scholastics" but "the theologians of the Sorbone". Luther did object strenuously to Aristotle's ethics but in quite a number of other areas (e.g., causality) he was just fine being an Aristotelian. The place to look on these issues would be the work of Richard A. Muller (The Unaccommodated Calvin) and David Steinmetz (Luther in Context; Calvin in Context).

    Now, on to the Protestant Scholastics themselves. Protestant Scholasticism started basically the generation after Calvin for the simple reason that the Protestants in that era had to found their own schools and have a complete curriculum, something that just wasn't an issue for the earlier Reformers. Unsurprisingly, they used the only method of academic instruction available; the scholastic method. The mainstream of Protestantism was Aristotelian in its philosophical orientation for the first 150+ years of its existence (see Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics by Richard A. Muller). Furthermore, although some Protestants in the 17th century did embrace the philosophy of the (Roman Catholic) Rene Descartes, the majority objected to Cartesianism on philosophical grounds (see The Crisis of Causality: Voetius and Descartes on God, Nature, and Change by J. A. van Ruler and Descartes and the Dutch: Early Reactions to Cartesian Philosophy, 1637-1650 by Theo Verbeek). Unfortunately, as the 17th century turned into the 18th Enlightenment philosophy took over in Protestant theology, much as it did in Catholic theology.

    Protestant Scholasticism has been neglected and maligned in recent times (although there have been Protestant theologians who have explicitly built on their legacy, such as the great 19th century Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck). However, as with the neo-scholasticism that Edward Feser defends, being unpopular doesn't make it untrue. To regain the legacy of Protestant Scholasticism is to regain the roots and the true legacy of Protestantism, no matter what Barthians say. Here endeth the history lesson.

  25. John Lamont,

    Could you elaborate the distinction between the Platonists and the Aristotelians a bit more? My understanding was that later Platonists followed Plato in arguing that the Good was "beyond being" because, since being and knowledge were coextensive and coterminous, the Good had to be diffuse to all things. As such, no nomination of the Good, the One, etc. is ultimately actually possible because it treats such as an object of the mind and thus a being. Nonetheless, many Platonists were willing to call this first principle by names analogically. Isn't this last part regarding analogical reasoning something they shared with many of the scholastics, including Thomas?

  26. The phrase "Being Itself", to me, smacks of Buddhism. Intellectualism, taken too far, like buddhism, becomes gibberish.

    This also goes for the phrase "ultimate reality". There is no such thing. Reality is reality and even if "ultimate reality" exists--it must exist in reality.

    God is the Supreme Being. God is Pure Act. All of these are cognitive, knowable statements but "Being Itself" seems to mean that there are no such other beings that exist. Everything is a figment of imagination of God.

    To apply "Itself" as an adjective in the English Language means "empower" or "I emanated the thing". If God is Eternal Being, He doesn't empower himself to exist. He is "I am, who am". That is a statement of Eternal Being but "Being Itself"?

    No. "Being itself" and "ultimate reality" are nonsensical and therefore the Buddhization of Western Thought. This is Far Eastern Thought. Gregory Palamas is a star of this kind of "I can out-pious you". "Being Itself" is just that, exestential flights of fancy that have no bearing on reality.

    Philosophy exists in the Golden Mean, a Natural Law. Philosophy does not take extremes.

  27. W. Lindsay Wheeler,

    Aquinas, who argues that God is "pure act," which you seem to uphold, also claimed that he is "ipsum esse subsistens," "Subsistent Being Itself." In this he argues that the essence of God and the existence of God are the same. This isn't Buddhism, and I've never heard the terminology used in Buddhism, although you or someone else are free to correct me on this matter. Rather, the phrase "Being Itself" is indigenous to a mode of reasoning that emerges from classical and medieval reasoning.

    The same problem exists in your characterization of Gregory of Palamas who was assuredly not influenced by Buddhism. Nor was his project about out-pious-ing anyone. Rather, it was to defend a contemplative and mystical practice of monastics, one that has its roots in the Cappadocians.

  28. @Patrick Senn
    David Bentley Hart's 'The Experience of God,' is a tremendous statement of the classical theistic view. I hesitate to recommend it in the light of the debate between our host and Hart on natural law, but these are two great writers on the side of the angels!

  29. John Lamont,

    Aristotle did not truly address being at all. His response to Parmenides' paradox was to change the terms of the debate from "being" to "substance", without properly accounting for substance's existence. Act and potency take being for granted. This is why Aquinas was compelled to argue for the necessity of esse: it had no place in Aristotelian thought until philosophers schooled in Neo-Platonism imported it there. Aristotle's "pure actuality" also suffered from this problem, viz. not being able to account for its own existence. So it's not accurate to say that there was a rivalry between Aristotelian "being itself" and Neo-Platonic "beyond being". Aristotle never even got that far.

    Also, "beyond being" and "being itself" mean the same thing. Both terms signify a state beyond anything we know as "being". Neither signifies a "supreme being" on top of a heap of lesser beings.

  30. Brandon:

    "Nominalism spread because it fit university life better"

    Could you elaborate a bit?

  31. @The original Mr. X,

    Whilst I agree to a large extent about Occam I think that Duns Scotus, had he lived, would have been the equal if not better than Aquinas. Some of his ideas on Modality, Cognition, Individuation and Logic were so advanced that only within the last forty years has their import finally begun to be realised outside specific schools. His work on the Ontological Argument is amongst the most insightful ever written (had Kant made a proper study of the history of philosophy he might have experienced some misgivings to find that the greatest opponent of there being a Real Distinction between Essence and Existence was also the greatest exponent of that particular argument) and his Cosmological Argument has been called the best ever devised. While I think that last part is a slight exaggeration – after all we get something similar to that argument by reading Thomas’ Second Way in the light of the arguments given in On Being and Essence – the Subtle Doctor still has a lot to say for himself.

    If you can get hold of them through a library here are a couple of books those wanting an introduction to Scotus might find of interest:

    Duns Scotus, Metaphysician by Allan Wolter

    The Philosophy of John Duns Scotus by Antonie Vos

    Duns Scotus: The Basic Principles of his Philosophy by Efrem Bettoni
    (This last one is basically a neo-scholastic manual written about Scotus rather than Thomas; it’s good fun to read if you can get hold of it).

  32. Serious philosophy is pretty much beyond me, but that said, it is my considered opinion that you automatically won this debate with the Chili Palmer riff. Further refutation would be superfluous.

  33. Why read Scotus and Ockham? Because generally they have badass arguments that make Aquinas pale in comparison. I generally find that Aquinas is great for setting up an issue, or getting rid of unfruitful byways like Averroism, but his own solutions are often just pat answers that don't solve anything. Divine simplicity is a good example. His most elaborate discussion, in the Scriptum (which Thomists today generally ignore unless they want to mine it for support of the baroque thomist distinction of reason reasoned), posits definitions (rationes) in God, a parte rei. He tries to make them just concepts in the second draft, but it's too late. If one wants to draw slippery lines of blame (like the Gregory book mentioned above), one need look no further than Aquinas' own solutions. Duns Scotus formal distinction is easily just a further development of Aquinas' basic claim.

  34. To Anonymous.

    St. Aquinas is not God nor what he says is "Gospel Truth". His teacher St Albert was infused with Talmudic teaching which he passed to his student, Aquinas. Many Catholic "theologians" were infused with Jewish thought. So much of Aquinas is, for me, suspect. He promoted democracy but not one true philosopher, Socrates, Plato or Aristotle advocated democracy. Socrates says "...philosophy holds always to the same." (Gorgias) So Aquinas is not a true philosopher.

    The Orthodox consider themselves "Eastern" and despise the Western Way and Western Thought. They are proud of their "Eastern ways and thoughts". Most certainly I don't recognize that Gregory Palamas was influenced by Buddhism but they share many characteristics. Edith Hamilton a famous, excellent classical scholar mentioned that in no way was Greek thought mystical. I want to thank you anonymous for stepping in the sh**, yourself by claiming Gregory's "mystical thought". His "mystical" ways is Eastern Orthodox--and NOT Western. "Being Itself" and this stupid idiotic statment "Beyond Being" is so much horsepuckey Buddhizing. This has no place in true Western Thought nor in Philosophy. Philosophy holds no such thing. Philosophy is NOT mystical nor harbors anything mystical. Sorry.

    Philosophy is a Greek science.

    What Gregory Palamas is really doing is trying to out-holier-than-now thinking up bizarre things that put God in the neither world. Orthodoxy is full of this crap and they hate Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. If you dig deep, Mystical Orthodoxy has many influences of the kabbala and other Jewish mystical traditions. None of this is true philosophy or Western Thought. I consider Eastern Orthodoxy, Eastern. Even Greek Orthodoxy has turned upon its classical roots.

    There is a bigger picture that one needs to grasp and it behooves Western Christian man to dump this crap of "ulimate reality", "Being Itself", and "Beyond Being". All of this is Nietzchean/Buddhist/Palamas crap.

    Over-intellectualization is a philosophical error. Respect the limits. If you want to do mystical things---that is fine, but don't call it philosophy and don't confuse it with true philosophy.

  35. As Lee Faber demonstrates (and Congratulations to you, by the way), the debates were never really settled between Aquinas, Henry of Ghent, Scotus, Occam, and the like. There are still viable debates to be had, but unfortunately that isn't likely today. Scholasticism is, sadly, not a living tradition. I wonder what direction things would have gone had the universities not become so rigidly dogmatic and the Protestant Reformation not occurred.

  36. The original Mr X,

    Could you elaborate a bit?

    There's not really much to it. A strength of terminism is that it makes it possible to handle certain kinds of very, very complicated arguments without having to exercise extraordinary insight or subtlety. It's the same reason why we see the rise of Ramism or Lullism: they propose, or claim to have, ways of cutting through the difficulties of the argument so that you don't need to be an Aquinas or a Scotus to manage it. Nominalism has its own complications, of course, but they are complications that wouldn't really be an issue for people who had read Petrus Hispanus and engaged in obligationes and disputationes. It was the perfect approach for people who spend an extraordinary part of their lives arguing. And, it is worth noting, it was associated with some genuinely exciting developments, exactly the kind of developments that would excite people immersed in university life. So it's really not surprising that it spread.

    I also think we have to recognize that the terminists themselves saw their approach as less presumptuous and more careful than that of their opponents.

    Incidentally, while it's not really my field, I think Ockham is a relatively minor side note here, however interesting and innovative he may be; Ockham had his followers, but arguably he was as much a bugbear for a significant number of people then as he is for some today. The really serious players at the time, it seems to me, were John Buridan and Marsilius of Inghen who (unlike Ockham) wrote books that were widely used as textbooks and reference works. And I think it's in Buridan that we really see how truly impressive and exciting it could be in the hands of a real master.

  37. W. Lindsay Wheeler,

    I'm not sure what the "infusion of Talmudic teachings" has to do with the discussion. This seems like the genetic fallacy to me--and an odd example of one at that. But it's also a non sequitor. My contention was that the terms you assault, such as "Being itself" is indigenous to his thought, not Buddhism. It's the result of his unique synthesis between a Platonic chain of being and an Aristotelian metaphysics. There is nothing "Talmudic," "Nietzchean," or "Buddhist" about it. Repeated assertions otherwise will not do; you have to show that these ideas have these sources and why they represent a corruption of medieval philosophy.

    As for Palamas vis-a-vis Greek philosophy, you are very wrong. Recall that for Plato such "mystical" language is used in the Republic for the highest level of knowledge in the Analogy of the Line. Plato describes this level of knowledge as noesis and contrasts it to the level below as involving dianoia. This latter one is discursive in character, while the former is non-discursive, a reason without words, one that involves a vision or apprehension of the good. In this way, also recall that when Plato speaks of the Good and the ascent to it, this is always in terms of an analogy. Because it involves dianoia, it is not predicable. I could go on: Plato encourages ascetic practics, he distrusts writing and thinks that philosophy must be conveyed from a teacher to a student, etc. By the time of Middle Platonism, the implicit mysticism of Plato had become explicit. It's in the Cappadocians, who made use of Middle Platonism to interpret the Nicene Creed, Augustine, Dionysius the Areopagite, Maximus the Confessor, Simeon the New Theologian, and Palamas. In other words, Palamas is part of a tradition with his mysticism going back to Plato himself. I would encourage you to read Andrew Louth's "The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition: From Plato to Denys" if you are interested.

  38. Plato encourages ascetic practices because the Spartans did. The Spartans went around barefoot and with one cloak. Socrates, following them, did the same. The Spartans were not a mystical people. Spiritual, pious yes. But not mystical. There were many wonder workers on Crete. Epimenides was one. Pythagoras was considered one; his travels, appearing in two places at the same time. Yes, philosophy towards its apex touches the divine but it is not mystical. Middle Platonism and much later thought became Orientalized. Southern France was a hotbed of kabbala and mysticism where Albert and Aquinas passed thru that area. The Eastern Mediterranean was infused with Gnosticism. There are too many threads of corruption. Plato said a Doric thing: "To define and divide" in the Republic. Much of what goes on today is not true philosophy. If you read the Platonic dialogues carefully, even in his time Socrates/Plato most of the time prefaced philosophy with "true" because they were correcting the errors that have crept in to the system in their time. Yet, YOU Fail in this. YOU FAIL in recognizing that philosophy must be seperated from the dross of Orientalizing, fantasy and over-intellectualism.

    When one states "Supreme Being" or "Pure Act" one can picture the thing. Only a person speaking for itself can use the term "Itself". Outside of that, there is no understanding or comphrension. For someone else to state "Itself" is an oxymoron. There is NO picture in the mind of "Being Itself". It doesn't exist. Therefore the phrase is nonsensical.

    "God", "Angels", Christ, Heaven and Hell, being, substance, telos are all concepts that man can grasp, picture in his mind to some extent. Not fully, but there is an image, hazy as it is. "Being Itself" has NO picture, no comprehension. If there is such a thing as "Beyond Being" then it is BEYOND COMPREHENSION! This stupid crap is trying to move knowledge into a sphere that only the elect can have like Gnosticism attempted to do. Which the Kabbala seeks to do. Knowledge that is not for the lower class. To posit "Beyond Being" is an arrogant statement that some of us are too stupid to grasp or that God is Incomprehensible. This is the whole idea behind this Gregory Palamas that he has to glorify God out of existence with langauge that is bizarre. Bizarre langauge is produced by bizarre people. This is called apothatic theology. We can only know God by what he isn't and that is just Bullsh**. Apothatic theology is makes me hurl! It is disgusting. Jesus Christ is affirmable in many qualities. We saw Christ--therefore WE SEE GOD! There is NOTHING Bizarre about Christ and there is nothing bizarre about God. I totally reject and condemn apothatic theology. The whole of Gregory Palamas is formed around apothatic theology. There is NONE Of this in Plato. Plato who created the trinitarian formation of nous, demiurge and world spirit. That is NOT mystical but logical and commonsense!

  39. Jacques Maritain posits Commonsense as a necessary ingredient for Philosophy to have. No commonsense---No philosophy. All these terms "Beyond Being", "Being Itself" and "Ultimate Reality" lack commonsense. Apothatic theology rejects commonsense.

    Plato is NOT about Philosophy per se---but Wisdom. Philosophy is the Love of Wisdom. Wisdom is not a repetition of maxims, or intellectualism but what Plato was getting at in the Republic--was a Spiritual thing, a Spiritual feeling for Wisdom. It is akin to Instinct. Wisdom becomes Instinctive. Once you practice the lower levels, the higher levels become like a sixth sense. Wisdom is a sixth sense. The whole purpose of the Platonic dialogues is to grasp Wisdom. Wisdom is the sixth sense that grasps The Good.

    That is the goal, not this "Being Itself" which is just nonsense.

    Apothatic theology is nothing more than Buddhism. It is pure Eastern Thought. This junk makes a Western man blanch and hurl. Just like the medizing Greeks turned the stomach of the Spartans, orientalizing buddhizing apothatic theology is the same. Apothatic theology is a freakiness and un-western. Socrates and Plato was about returning philosophy to its purity and its roots. Of sifting it and purifying it from error. It is something that needs to be done in current philosophy now.

  40. Not this Racist jerk-off again who says blacks shouldn't be allowed to vote?

    Didn't Feser give you your walking papers?

  41. Plato knew God. Plato was a monotheist but then Plato also knew that God was Three, Nous, Demiurge, and World Spirit. Plato's concept was arrived at by looking at Nature. Plato knew God by reading Nature. Plato did not have to deny things which apothatic theology demands, to know God. God is familar. God is near. God IS knowable as a friend.

    If God is "Beyond Being" then there is NO theosis. But if God is near, there can be Theosis. Theosis was a Spartan paideia.

    God is known by Positive affirmations. Plato knew God. Plato is the intellectual founder of Christianity. Christianity is a Greek religion. And since it is Greek, it must reject Orientalizing. Hellenism is the New Wine Skin. That Wine Skin must be pure. Christ himself said the Faith must have a New Wine Skin. Christianity can not live in Oriental thought.

  42. Enough. I won't let Wheeler turn yet another thread into an endless stream of logorrheic crackpot assertions. Take it elsewhere WLW.

  43. W. Lindsay Wheeler,

    This will be my last post because I don't appreciate the incriminations in all capital letters, the false opposition between common sense and "apothatic [sic] theology," and the false equivalency between kaballah, gnosticism, and Middle Platonism, in addition to a number of other fallacies remarks.

    But first it should be made clear that the phrase "beyond being," in Greek epekeina tes ousies, has its first appearance in philosophy in Plato's description of the Form of the Good in the Republic. Plato describes the Good as such because in order for it to be diffusive toward the forms, which represent true being, it must transcend them. The reasoning as it develops and is extended in later Platonism goes like this: all being and thought is coextensive and coterminous. If you can think it, then it exists, and vice versa. So far, this is something found in Parmenides and Plato. Later Platonists and Christians, however, describe God as infinite. But being has to be finite because human thought is finite and vice versa. God, being infinite, then cannot be properly named. One can only predicate of him analogically or deny predications of him. In both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy you will find both. The differences are of emphasis. To approach God in any other way is to approach God impiously, for it is to aver that one can hold God in the intellect and know Him completely.

    I'm also well aware that Plato was criticizing those who came before him, but there were no gnostics around at that time. He names who he criticizing: Eleatics, Milesians, Pythagoreans, and sophists. Gnosticism is a Hellenistic movement. Middle Platonism and later Platonism rejected it quite decisively.

  44. My apologies, Dr. Feser, I didn't see your comment before I hit post.

  45. I found this book to be quite helpful with regard to the question of Being.

  46. Lee,

    Anyone with a passing familiarity with the Church Fathers should know that Aquinas's "pat answers" were repetitions and elaborations of tradition. Scotus and Ockham were innovators in line with Henry of Ghent. Not that Aquinas was seen as traditional in his time, by the way--I'm fully aware of the skepticism that his ideas were met with. But a quick look at the Condemnations of 1277 (which were heartily endorsed by Henry of Ghent) makes it pretty clear that the church then had a pretty warped view of what "tradition" actually was. You can see the makings of extreme divine voluntarism, which to my knowledge Ghent had already been discussing, taking shape in the list of ideas condemned. Scotus just kept this train rolling. Regardless of the quality of his arguments, he remains an innovator, and so he can't simply be endorsed over Aquinas.

    Also, I should add that the 20th century theory that Scotus was a mellow moderate (something I've seen you defend before) is questionable at best. He was indeed as radical as pre-20th century accounts held. But perhaps you've already read and rebutted Stephen Dumont's "Did Duns Scotus Change His Mind the the Will?"--which I would be interested to see.

  47. But isn't it the case that Aquinas moved closer to a voluntarist position as well in some respects, even if not as far? And wasn't his reconstruction of a Platonic chain of being under Aristotelian premises innovative?

    While I understand that Thomas was reacting out of necessity given the Aristotelian challenge to Platonism in regard to the problem of universals, the same could be said for Scotus. The Thomist position on the soul as the form of the body is difficult to reconcile with the immortality of the soul (even if one judges that it can be done).

    Now, I'm not suggesting that Thomas started a cycle of problems in Medieval philosophy. If anything, Abelard and Averroism seem to be the culprits if one takes the position that there were problems. But I'm not sure if it's fair to blame Scotus and Occam, but not acknowledge that Thomas may have played a part in this--and one can hold that even if one thinks that Thomas is ultimately right.

    But here I go talking about historical narratives when I know that Lee Faber hates those. . .

  48. Scotism stood alongside Thomism as one of the approved schools of scholastic theology and philosophy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. And the Church in that period was not very receptive of "radical" trends.

    The following essay is also useful for putting the history of Scotism into some context: http:// marcoforlivesi/ mf2005ie.pdf

  49. This is probably going to be the last post I leave on this thread.

    Whether or not Scotus’ ideas were ‘innovative’ seems hardly to matter, at least in comparison with the question of whether they were true or not. Strictly speaking, I believe ‘innovation’ can only be taken as a pejorative within the fields of theology where it’s basically synonymous with ‘revisionist’. As it stands I would still rank Thomas above Scotus but that does not mean that the latter might not have the advantage over the former at least in some places.

    ‘The Thomist position on the soul as the form of the body is difficult to reconcile with the immortality of the soul (even if one judges that it can be done).’

    With respect, no it’s not. What is historically more controversial is whether or not Aristotle himself was a Monopsychist – Thomas’ reading is arguably the logical consequence of his and Abelard’s more refined Moderate Realism

    Anyway Nominalism is the father of all philosophical follies.

  50. @PhilR

    I actually am reading Hart's book at the moment, thank you for the advice, it definitely is good on the topic!

    @Quin Finnegan

    Thank you, will check it out in the future.

  51. RS wrote: "But a quick look at the Condemnations of 1277 (which were heartily endorsed by Henry of Ghent) makes it pretty clear that the church then had a pretty warped view of what "tradition" actually was."

    ..."endorsed by" or "spearheaded by"? The claim about "the church" here seems to be based on the rather naïve assumption that the views of Etienne Tempier and those who agreed with him = the views of "the church then," whereas I assume that not even Etienne Tempier would have made that (warped) assumption.

  52. I think Lee is going to be the bigger man and walk away from these inane claims against Scotus. But I hope I'm wrong.

  53. Why read Scotus and Ockham? Because generally they have badass arguments that make Aquinas pale in comparison.

    Lee, you should quit philosophy and go into comedy.

  54. First comment. Great site. Love the conversations.

    I thought Dale's comparison of traditional view to atheism was interesting and worth exploring. It brought to mind comments Denys Turner made on the same comparison:

  55. On a Morally & doctrinal level no Catholic of either school is allowed to call the non-doctrinal ideas of the rival school's "heresy" or say it is "error" beyond the mere disagreements of prudent judgement.

  56. Anon,

    But isn't it the case that Aquinas moved closer to a voluntarist position as well in some respects, even if not as far? And wasn't his reconstruction of a Platonic chain of being under Aristotelian premises innovative?

    No, it isn't the case that Aquinas moved to a voluntarist position. The core claim that the voluntarist makes about our wills is that they can choose via spontaneous efficient causation. The will is indifferent to and unmoved by the objects presented to it by the intellect; hence it stands "above" the intellect in power. This is exactly the opposite of what Aquinas claims. As for voluntarism in God, Aquinas's account of divine freedom was one of the main factors that rattled the cages of the voluntarists in the first place.

    But I'm not sure if it's fair to blame Scotus and Occam, but not acknowledge that Thomas may have played a part in this

    Scotus was not the heretical bogeyman that Thomists love to hate--this I admit. Henry of Ghent, from whom Scotus borrowed many of his worst ideas, would be a better candidate for that role. But even Ghent was part of a wider zeitgeist against tradition in the Western church.


    Scotism stood alongside Thomism as one of the approved schools of scholastic theology and philosophy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. And the Church in that period was not very receptive of "radical" trends.

    Banezianism and Molinism are two of the most radical ideologies ever held in Catholicism, and they were both allowed during that period. By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the church was heavily influenced by nominalism, modernism and the corruption of power. The tradition of the first millennium that Aquinas was trying to continue was long gone.


    The claim about "the church" here seems to be based on the rather naïve assumption that the views of Etienne Tempier and those who agreed with him = the views of "the church then," whereas I assume that not even Etienne Tempier would have made that (warped) assumption.

    Obviously, not everyone agreed. Aquinas and his followers didn't, for one. But the Condemnations are critical to understanding the intellectual climate of the period. If you want more evidence of anti-traditionalism, see Peter Abelard and much of Franciscanism (not to be confused with St. Francis himself).

  57. Rank:

    To respond to your latest: Henry is not part of a wider zeitgeist against tradition. Henry, and the tradition of the secular masters in general are the tradition as handed down from 12th. c. scholasticism. if one were to glean out the patristic and biblical quotes from people like Henry and Gerard of abbeville, you would be left with maybe 5 pages. They are preserving traditional, largely augustinain doctines, such as divine illumination, against what they see as Aquinas' averroist innovations.

    The general point on voluntarism taht I try to stress is agains the general thomist view that the will simply views without any reference to the intellect at all. But the will always has to have an object supplied at some stage by the intellect. Scotus' moderating position was to posit volitional activity as elicited by both intellect and will. Now he may have waffled on this, and held a view closer to Henry's, as described in the article you mention by my doctorvater. But that is on ongoing debate in Scotus scholarship. Ingham has attacked Dumont on this score. I haven't made up my mind.

  58. Those are some rather striking claims, rank sophist, though I'm open to persuasion. Perhaps you could recommend a couple of scholarly works that show that the tradition of the first millennium was "long gone" and that Banezianism was one of the most radical ideologies held in Catholicism. Thanks.

  59. Can we all at least agree that Abelard got what was coming to him?

  60. Lee,

    I wasn't trying to suggest that there was a conscious attempt to revise tradition at the time. Even Ockham, let alone Scotus, did not see himself as an innovator. Franciscans in general were "traditionalists". But, then, Protestants saw themselves as traditionalists as well.

    I agree that Augustinianism is at least partly to blame for people like Henry, though. Western Christianity (again, including Protestantism) has long had problems with overemphasizing the importance of Augustine relative to that of the other Church Fathers. But Augustine's more extreme and inexplicable views had traditionally been tempered by the writings of the other Church Fathers (such as John Cassian on grace). Aquinas continued to do this, and he added Aristotle to the mix. Henry and co. were innovators precisely because they failed to do this, and they took Augustine's vaguest and strangest statements about the will far more seriously than they had been in the past. Imagine if a radical Nyssenian sect had done the same with Gregory's universalism--they would rightly be called innovators.

    The general point on voluntarism taht I try to stress is agains the general thomist view that the will simply views without any reference to the intellect at all. But the will always has to have an object supplied at some stage by the intellect. Scotus' moderating position was to posit volitional activity as elicited by both intellect and will. Now he may have waffled on this, and held a view closer to Henry's, as described in the article you mention by my doctorvater. But that is on ongoing debate in Scotus scholarship. Ingham has attacked Dumont on this score. I haven't made up my mind.

    I'm aware that the intellect must supply an object for the will to choose. I don't know of any serious critics of Scotus who deny this. The issue is whether the will is an ungrounded efficient cause that can choose an intellectual object spontaneously and disinterestedly, without being directed by a final cause. And this, between Dumont's article and others I've read, seems to be what Scotus believed.


    A particular piece on Banezianism that comes to mind would be this (click "Page 34"). As for the loss of tradition thanks to modernism, corruption and nominalism, the claim is based on my reading of highly diffuse material, the location of which I largely do not remember. It would take me many hours to track down the proper sources and build a case--so feel free to ignore my statement. I can't back it up on short notice.

  61. It s no longer so much the issue to decide whether it is necessary or not to name God by the title of esse, but if we can get such an understanding of esse that it could reasonably claim not to reach to but at least to aim toward whatever it might be that we name God. It is not a matter of deciding whether we should speak of God in the name of being, but if being (taken as esse or otherwise) still has sufficient quality or dignity to enunciate whatever it might be about God, which would be more than straw.


    esse that Thomas meditates on may deal not with metaphysics, or ontology, or even the "question of being" but, in stead, with the divine names and on the "luminous darkness."

    ~ Jean-Luc Marion, God Without Being, p236

  62. I'm wondering how time relates to Aquinas' first way?

    Isn't time something that constantly changes? Would that mean time requires something else to change it?

  63. This is a drive by comment: .......... (those are bullet holes in your blog).

    :-) Will reply soon - finishing the semester.

  64. OK, now we're on.

  65. Surely, Dale's main point is sheer equivocation. Most Christian thinkers have not believed in his "Zeus-Jehovah" sort of a God. It is quite clear that the God Tuggy has in mind is like some sort of giant, spiritual man. In his thought is God Absolute? Is God Infinite? When past Christian thinkers have talked of God as a Being or Self, still, they have not meant anything like this.

    Just think, his "God" might actually be vulnerable to Dawkins's critique of the evolutionary likelihood of such a being existing. That Dicke Dawkins can rightly critique him should send alarm bells ringing.

    The elites he talks of appear to refer to all Christian and Jewish thinkers of the premodern era. Perhaps some ordinary Christians have held anthropomorphic notions, although I doubt many ever turned these into the full "Zeus-Jehovah" he puts forward, but his brand of spiritual demagogy is absurd.

    I would go so far as to say that many, if not most, of his fellow polytheists have been unhappy with the viewpoint he puts forward and have at least vaguely believed in a divine reality behind what they call the Gods.

  66. Anyone else get the sense that this response was a long non sequitur? Both Feser and Tuggy acknowledge the "personalist" language about God in the Bible. The issue, as Feser identified it, was how to interpret such language. It then seems like Tuggy's effort to spend most of his post demonstrating that this "personalist" language pervades the Bible--rather than, say, addressing the way these utterances should be interpreted, which he finally does, briefly, at the end--seems to ignore much of the issue.

  67. I suppose that what I find particularly vexatious about his most recent argument is that they rely on that very same "presentism" that Feser has repeatedly critiqued and to which Tuggy has not adequately responsd, to wit: why should we privilege an analytical account of scripture and of God? Tuggy even begins his recent response with a rather lame crack about how he appreciates the analytic medium over the continental or scholastic. Then he proceeds to analyze scripture like a Bible Thumper, presuming a literalism--despite his denials that he is doing this--that is common to both Protestantism and analytic analysis. At no time does he adequately address the main points of Feser's critique; instead, he offers an essay on why he is not a Thomist, which is quite the bizarre move given Feser's emphasis that his Thomism is part of a tradition that is continuous with the attenuated Platonism of the early Fathers of the Church. Thomism is not the issue here, and Tuggy's failure to see this (or acknowledge it) makes Feser's critique that Tuggy is offering a reconstructed Christianity in the image of Dale Tuggy that is divorced from two millennia of Christian thought appear all the more warranted. This is a bold move from someone with such heretical views, but likely a necessary one in order to justify them.

  68. Dale,

    This is a drive by comment: .......... (those are bullet holes in your blog).

    To paraphrase Crocodile Dundee, Those aren't bullets [that you used]... These are bullets:

    o There some being by whose providence the world is governed. This we call God. -- SCG I.13.35

    o We have shown that there exists a first being, whom we call God. -- SCG I.14.1

    o [A]s is evident from what was said above, God is the first being[.] -- SCG I.16.3

    o From what we have set down we can conclude that there is no composition in God... Every composite, moreover, is subsequent to its components. The first being, therefore, which is God, has no components. -- SCG I.18.1-3

    o [T]he being that is at the peak of nobility among all beings we call God[.] -- SCG I.18.6

    o [N]othing can in any way be the cause of God, since, as we have shown, He is the first being. -- SCG I.21.5

    o ...God, as the first cause of being, is the noblest being. -- SCG I.27.5

    o ...God, Who is not other than His being, is a universally perfect being. -- SCG I.28.1

    o [E]verything that is imperfect must be preceded by something perfect... The first being must, therefore, be most perfect. But we have shown that God is the first being. He is, therefore, most perfect. -- SCG I.28.5

    o From what has been said it can be shown that God cannot will evil. For the virtue of a being is that by which he operates well. Now every operation of God is an operation of virtue... -- SCG I.95.1-2

  69. It may be noticed that Crocodile Dundee did not, in the scene linked to above, employ the term 'knife' in an equivocal manner.

    In my paraphrasing of Mr. Dundee's utterance, however, the term 'bullet' was employed in just that manner.

    If this is to be taken as a flub, then let it be taken as a fortuitous flub.

    For by my having engaged in this act of equivocation, I have been reminded of Aquinas having written the following on equivocation:

    o It is also a fact that a name is predicated of some being uselessly unless through that name we understand something of the being. But, if names are said of God and creatures in a purely equivocal way, we understand nothing of God through those names; for the meanings of those names are known to us solely to the extent that they are said of creatures. In vain, therefore, would it be said or proved of God that He is a being[.] SCG I.33.6

  70. Dale writes (elsewhere),

    But again, let us look beyond the intellectual elites. Are you a long time churchgoer? Ever heard a sermon or homily or liturgical reading or song whose theme was that “God” is “Being Itself”? Have you heard any in which God is extolled as a wonderful, trustworthy, active, mighty, wise, kind, parent-like being? What’s the percentage of the two? For me, it’d be 0% vs. 100%. Granted, I’ve never been Roman Catholic. But I would ask even my Catholic friends: discounting mere verbal gestures at or allusions to doctrines that God is Pure Act, Being Itself, and so on, have you ever heard a sermon the theme of which is such claims? As in, someone taking notes, would write those down as central points?

    Well... I myself have not heard that, no. **

    I also have never heard any weather report of this kind: "The conjunction of the earth's rotation around the sun and its rotation about its axis tomorrow will be such that, for those at or nearly at 16.7758° N, 3.0094° W, aka Timbuktu, the sun will appear to rise at 6:35 AM."

    Given the dearth of such utterances by weather forecasters, and taking a cue from the able example above of argumentum ad populum, one may now:

    a) Inquire, "Have you ever balked when a normal person says that the sun rises in the east? Or that it sets in the west?"; and,

    b) Make explicit the implicit point of his rhetorical query by saying, "If we're going to consider as relevant what most normal people say, then it follows that..."

    - - - - -

    ** I am not disappointed by this fact of my experience. For I do not expect to hear in church a disquisition on philosophy and metaphysics in lieu of a sermon.

  71. Excerpted from Veritatis Splendor: American Responses:

    "Aquinas' Objectivity and Wojtyla's Subjectivity

    "We can see how very objective St. Thomas' view of the person is. It almost seems as though there is no place in it for an analysis of consciousness and self-consciousness as a totally unique manifestation of the person as a subject. For St. Thomas, the person is, of course, a subject--a very distinct subject of existence and activity--because the person has subsistence in a rational nature, and this is what makes the person capable of consciousness and self-consciousness. St. Thomas, however, mainly presents this disposition of the human person to consciousness and self-consciousness. On the other hand, when it comes to analyzing consciousness and self-consciousness--which is what chiefly interested modern philosophy and psychology--there seems to be no place for it in Thomas' objectivistic view of reality. In any case, that in which the person's subjectivity is most apparent is presented by St. Thomas in an exclusively--or almost exclusively--objective way. He shows us the particular faculties, both spiritual and sensory, thanks to which the whole of human consciousness and self-consciousness--the human personality in the psychological and moral sense--takes shape, but that is also where he stops. Thus St. Thomas gives us an excellent view of the objective existence and activity of the person, but it would be difficult to speak in his view of the lived experiences of the person."

    - - - - -

    The concluding clause seems to imply a reason why weather forecasters and most normal people do not say, "The conjunction of the earth's rotation..."

    That they do not say such a thing, however, does not make the thing untrue.

  72. Glenn,

    That passage on Aquinas and subjectivity displays a shocking ignorance of what Aquinas actually wrote. Aquinas discusses apperception and reflexivity at length. He even distinguishes between sensual apperception (the consciousness that humans share with animals) and intellectual apperception (the intellect's self-consciousness of its own act). Aquinas may not use contemporary terminology for it, but his understanding of consciousness is totally compatible with JPII's.

  73. (Hmm. There just may be a very good reason why no weather forecaster ever says that the earth rotates around the sun...)

  74. Unless, of course, JPII is referring there to Aquinas's habit of never analyzing subjective experience in the first person. This can be attributed simply to a stylistic choice: Aquinas quite clearly endorses Augustine's subjective account of consciousness.

  75. To say, "...there seems to be no place for it..." is not to say, "...there isn't any place for it..." The use of "seems to be" seems to be an indication that reference is being made to a general impression that might be had. And a reference to a general impression that might be had does include a denial that the strength of that impression might be weakened by a closer examination.

  76. s/b "...that might be had does not include a denial..."

  77. The most offensive thing here is that bit about the period between Hobbes and Kant being a golden age of philosophy.

  78. Dale Tuggy has posted another post--this one critiquing divine simplicity:

    I look forward to Feser's and everyone's response to his argument.

  79. What is the incentive to take his 'argument(s)' seriously?

    He relies on abstracta, yet claims not to believe in abstracta.

    The conjunction of such behavior and speech may be summarized in either of two ways:

    1) He relies upon that in which he does not believe; or,

    2) he does not believe in that upon which he relies.

    Again, what is the incentive to take his 'argument(s)' seriously?

  80. Another one of his problems is that he makes the typical analytic mistake of assuming that realism about universals is equal to Platonism or a belief in abstract objects.

    In Aristotelian realism, universals are merely beings not substances so they do not have an independent existence over and above their instances, whether concretely or abstractly in the case of minds, in some sort of “Third Realm.”

    Thus, at least some universals are truly necessary (cannot possibly not exist) under AT philosophy, but their eternal existence absolutely depends on God.

  81. 1. Dale Tuggy: "Now, Thomists think that any source of all beings, any provider of an explanation for why there are beings at all, can’t be itself a being[.]" (Dale's emphasis.)

    2. Thomas Aquinas: "I answer that, The existence of God can be proved in five ways... The fifth way is taken from the governance of the world... Therefore some intelligent being exists by whom all natural things are directed to their end; and this being we call God."

    3. Apparently: a) Dale believes that Thomists don't believe Thomas Aquinas; b) Dale wants his readers to think that he believes that Thomists don't believe Thomas Aquinas; or, c) Dale wants his readers to themselves believe that Thomists don't believe Thomas Aquinas.

    - - - - -

    (No doubt it will have been noticed that while I have (earlier and now) offered quotations from Aquinas to the effect that God is a being, I have not said anything about God not being a being like any other being. But this lack ought not to be taken as an indication of some deficiency in my understanding of God. Rather, it ought to be taken for what it is: a recognition that if Dale is not yet capable of grasping the simple and obvious fact that Aquinas does indeed on multiple occasions clearly and explicitly refer to and identify God as a being, then it is dubious at best, and highly unlikely at worst, then he is capable of grasping the distinction between a being who is self-existent, and all other beings none of which are self-existent and all of which are such only by way of participation.)

  82. (errata:

    (1. "my understanding of God" s/b "my understanding of the Thomist view of God".

    (2. "unlikely at worst, then he is capable" s/b "unlikely at worst, that he is capable".)

  83. Glenn:

    Perhaps Aquinas was just speaking loosely when he described God as "a being"? After all, saying that X is a being necessarily implies that X is an instantiation of a kind, which is impossible for God for a number of well-known reasons. That is why God is Being itself, and there is as much reason to say that Being is a being as there is to say that running is a runner.

    Furthermore, to say that God is a being would be like saying that running is a runner.

  84. dguller,

    Thanks. Read again my parenthetical comment above.

    After all, saying that X is a being necessarily implies that X is an instantiation of a kind...

    As "imply" has to do with what one says, and "infer" has to do with what one does, I won't disagree that one may infer an instantiation of some kind from "God is a being", but will disagree that "God is a being" necessarily implies said instantiation.

    Furthermore, to say that God is a being would be like saying that running is a runner.

    So, Aquinas ought not to have written that "God is a being in act"? And likewise he ought not to have written that that God is a being in act "was shown in Book I" [of SCG]?

  85. Glenn:

    As "imply" has to do with what one says, and "infer" has to do with what one does, I won't disagree that one may infer an instantiation of some kind from "God is a being", but will disagree that "God is a being" necessarily implies said instantiation.

    Then what does “God is a being” mean? To say that God is a being means that God is this particular being, which also means that God is not that particular being. But if you have this particular being and that particular being, then you have instantiations of a kind, i.e. “being”, which is precisely what we cannot have in the basis of God’s inability to be a genus or be under a genus.

    So, Aquinas ought not to have written that "God is a being in act"? And likewise he ought not to have written that that God is a being in act "was shown in Book I" [of SCG]?

    If by “a being” he just meant “something that exists”, then it’s probably fine, but I think that all talk about “a being” would entrap God within onto-theology, and thus under the comprehension of finite human beings, because it would place God in the position as the highest being, i.e. the ultimate particular being. Instead, God does not belong in that position at all, but rather belongs in no position relative to particular beings, including as the highest peak of a hierarchy of being.

  86. dguller,

    I will take it that you also disapprove of Aquinas having written, "Now at the topmost summit of things there is a being which is in every way simple and one, namely, God."

  87. dguller,

    From the first para of the 51st chapter mentioned here:

    o Be careful that you do not interpret the spiritual things I am saying in literal terms. Believe me, the human vanity of those who have quick and imaginative minds can lead them into much error by doing just this.

  88. ...or as as is said here: "Joe’s mistake, one often repeated, is to take a spiritual saying in a materialistic way."

  89. dguller,

    > Then what does “God is a being” mean?

    Here is one way of addressing the question:

    1. When we say of dguller that is he a being, we are less engaging in a manner of speaking, and more engaging in the utterance of a fact.

    2. When we say of God that He is a being, we are less engaging in the utterance of a fact, and more engaging in a manner of speaking.

    3. And whereas dguller's nature is composed of potentiality and act, and his substance is not its own operation, God's nature is not composed of potentiality and act, and His sustance is its own operation.

    o [I]f there is a being whose nature is not composed of potentiality and act, and whose substance is its own operation, which itself is for itself, there we can find no room for habit and disposition, as is clearly the case in God. ST I-II Q 49 A 4

  90. After reading Tuggy's posts on the subject, I am surprised he is a professor of religion. I think the problem at root is simply an incapacity for philosophical, and specifically metaphysical, conception. His is more a visceral position, quite Protestant, actually. It's the old tension between Greece and Judaism. Of course, without the Church tradition, the Protestants would have no Bible. Nonetheless, their position is a possibility, although a more fragmentary one. Since presumably Tuggy accepts the Nicene creed he is within essential orthodoxy. If he rejects that, his position would be heretical, hence null and void.

  91. @Brendan:

    "Since presumably Tuggy accepts the Nicene creed he is within essential orthodoxy."

    I would be very surprised if he accepted it. As I understand it, he rejects the doctrine of the Trinity and regards himself as a Christian unitarian.

  92. "Christian Unitarian" is an oxymoron,of course. After all, Religion is not a democracy, it is a Revelation; orthodoxy is a fact. Everything has its just limits. Christianity means Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Son implies Father; and the Son was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Hence Divine Reality, in Christianity, is a Trinity. Does one really have to insist on this glaringly obvious fact? Now you can adhere to the Orthodox interpretation of the Trinity or you can adhere to the Catholic interpretation. The Orthodox interpretation is more "unitarian" in a sense. The Protestant position varies somewhat, but does not, in its great theologians, depart from Nicea. But you cannot be a unitarian in some individualistic sense. The term "orthodoxy" is meaningful and absolutely necessary after all, or else everything dissolves and we eventually will have nothing at all. Luther and Calvin accepted Nicea, and that actually should settle the matter for Mr. Duggy. He should read A. W. Tozer, who had a much more wholesome mentality, and was a venerable personage.

  93. Lindsay has never read Palamas. You know how I can tell? Because he claimed that Palamas was anti-Aristotelian. Complete nonsense- 150 Chapters opens with the argument from motion. Nor is the doctrine of the divine energies particularly “mystical.” Energy just transliterates the Greek energeia, which means both activity and actuality. Not only this, but the doctrine of the divine energies is the root of cataphatic, not apophatic theology. Apophatic theology is not a vague mystical instinct. It is a philosophical premise. It comes from the following:

    1. Being is understood to be coextensive with intelligbility. Things do not simply “exist” formlessly. Instead, they have definite and specific characteristics. We are able to make things intelligible in a network of identities and distinctions which depend on the reality of multiple things. If all we knew was whiteness, then we wouldn’t be able to pick whiteness out from anything else and provide it with a name (as Aristotle says, the power of intellect is naming)

    -This network of really distinct things existing in a certain relation with one another is a function of the divine activities, usually called energies. A thought is a divine activity. Love is a divine activity. As activities are actualities and God is fully actual, God thinks all truths necessarily. He knows all concepts necessarily. These concepts which are the divine thoughts are sometimes actualized contingently (this is rooted in Aristotle’s distinction between first and second potency, the latter not realizing a thing as more truly itself but simply being a particular way in which a capacity can be realized) in the act of creation.

    3. God is the basis of the divine activities. Activities realize a potential in nature. All of the forms inhere in the Divine Mind and are not all ultimately reducible to one another. God is the Actor whose timeless act simply is the network of forms.

    4. Given that intelligbility depends on a network of distinct things existing in certain similar and different relations with every other thing, God in His nature is beyond intelligibility. He is the source of the web of forms, and therefore is not one form among them.

    5. Given that being is coextensive with intelligibility and God’s nature is beyond the latter, God is beyond being.

    This is not a particularly exotic or esoteric teaching. In fact, Orthodoxy teaches that human nature is incomprehensible as well. Staniloae (with Florovsky, the greatest Orthodox theologian of the last century) applies certain aspects of God’s beyond-beingness to the human person. Orthodoxy predicates essence and activity not merely of God, but of all existent things. An activity is a power by which a thing is manifested as truly itself.

    I freely admit that there are Eastern Orthodox writers who bear part of the blame for the perception of the divine energies as an exotic and difficult teaching, but the ignorance you have displayed on these comments is absolutely inexcusable. Read Palamas’ writings.

    I know that Linsday will likely never see this comment, but it’s for the benefit of others, at least.