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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

More about the Western confusion

From pages 207-211

"The opposition of Christ's human will to the divine will was seen to occur for two reasons: one, because of the confusion of person and nature implied in the Augustinian understanding of original guilt; and two, because fallen humanity is the same humanity to be found in Christ, inclusive of its opposing will. Christ's predestination is therefore the same as ours because it is by grace: the divine will overcomes Christ's human will in an irresistible manner, much as the divine will overcomes the human will in the case of those predestined to salvation. But this led the Spanish Adoptionists to assume two sons, one of nature, the other of grace. And this in turn implied that they confused a personal characteristic, that of sonship, with that of nature and have thus come full circle back to the confusion which began the process. It is this whole vast and intricate matrix which related Spanish Adoptionism and its underlying predestinational Christology to the filioquist controversies of the ninth century. This would suggest that the Spanish Adoptionist predestinational Christology and the filioque share a common ancestry. That ancestry is Neoplatonism, and it is this consideration which incites, indeed, compels, comparison between St. Maximus and St. Augustine. The filioque is ultimately derived from the philosophical and neoplatonic definition of simplicity and its accompanying dialectic of oppositions. Each of the problems that attended Neoplatonism - the identity of being and will and its consequences of an eternal generation of the Son indistinguishable and indivisible from an eternal creation, the dialectical opposition of the simplicity and the dialectic in collapsing into an infinite series of beings as in the neoplatonic system of Iamblichus, or in erasing all distinctions between beings as in the Neoplatonic Pantheists, the structural subordination of all pluralities to the One-all these implications are to some extent present in the trinitarian theology of St. Augustine.

St. Augustine assumed that if there could be common ground between theology and philosophy there could be common definitions as well. He found this common definition in the neoplatonic definition of the simplicity of the One. Appropriating this definition as an understanding of the divine essence of the Christian Trinity, as a definition of the unity of the Christian God, he made of it the ultimate basis of his attempted synthesis. Consequently it is at the Augustinian doctrine of God that the point of contact between theology and philosophy occurs, and it is through this doctrine of God that the Augustinian conception of predestination must be approached. A proper understanding of Augustine Triadology will yield a proper understanding of the logic and structure behind its predestinational doctrine.

When he appropriated the definition of simplicity as a definition of the divine essence of the Trinity, he accepted it uncritically, and thus made his "philosophical first principle one with his religious first principle" to such an extent that as the French Roman Catholic Etienne Gilson observed, even his notion of divine being "remained greek," that is, ultimately pagan. Therefore, insofar as his doctrine of predestination is derived from this pagan definition of the divine essence, it is to that extent that it is pagan in its roots. It is at the point of this definition that the divine essence begins to be abstracted from the plurality of attributes and persons as a prolegomenon to theology. In other words, once he had assumed the simplicity as a definition of the divine essence in its full Neoplatonic sense, the essence becomes increasingly singled out ans strictly distinguished from all the divine "pluralities," the attributes and the persons. The dialectic of opposition between the One and the many is already in evidence in this step, and two things occur because of it. First, the unity of God is seen in impersonal and abstract terms. St. Augustine states it this way: "The divinity is the unity of the Trinity." But more important is the fact that, at this stage at least, the persons and the attributes are accorded the same logical status. And thus St. Augustine can say that

He is called in respect to Himself both God, and great, and good, and just, and anything else of the kind; and just as to Him to be is the same as to be God, or as to be great, or as to be good, so it is the same thing to Him to be as to be person.

Underlying these mutual identities is the simplicity, once again functioning as a great metaphysical "equals" (=) sign, and consequently the conclusion that the person are attributes or that the attributes are persons is inescapable.

But when he turns to consider the attributes themselves, they become identical with the divine essence and alternative names for it: "The Godhead," he writes, "is absolutely simple essence, and therefore to be is there the same as to be wise. And this leads to the further implication that since the attributes are identical to the essence, they are identical to each other: "In regards to the essence of truth, to be true is the same as to be and to be is the same as to be great....therefore to be great is the same as to be true." A=B and B=C, ergo A=C. Reason, logic, and simplicity are the very essence of the divine essence. It is this identity of attributes amongst themselves which led to three very different conclusions, conclusions which are nevertheless related, for they depend upon this identification of the attributes amongst themselves.

First, it is this identity of the attributes with themselves and with the divine essence that allowed Thomas Aquinas, who inherited this definitional understanding of the divine simplicity from St. Augustine, to assert the identity of the divine essence with the divine will. The simplicity is absolute; therefore God's will is not other than His essence," a proposition common with Plotinus, and a proposition at the root of the Origenist problematic. Unlike the Athanasian response to this problematic, which depended upon the distinction between essence and attributes being a formal one, this understanding of the simplicity is a definitional one, and it is this which is the ultimate root of the Western difficulties with Palamism: there cannot be ultimate and equal goods which are really distinct from the divine essence as well as being really distinct from each other.

Second, the Augustine doctrine of predestination must, to a great degree, be referred to this identity of attributes amongst themselves, in other words, to this identity of attributes amongst themselves, in other words, to predestinate is the same as to foreknow. If God foreknows the damned and the elect, He also predestines them. The evaluation of Jaroslav Pelikan is therefore not entirely correct. It is in regard to this identification of the attributes of predestination and foreknowledge that he wrote "what was needed to correct and clarify the Augustinian doctrine was a more precise definition of predestination that would distinquish it from grace." But since the deterministic aspects of Augustinism appear to be not so much biblical as neoplatonic and logical, as they are rooted in a particular dialectically-derived definition of the divine essence, it would appear that what is needed is precisely not another definition, but a non-definitional understanding of the divine simplicity, one which would not permit the term to function as an "equals" (=) sign which identifies the pluralities of attributes.

Finally, this identification of the attributes amongst themselves plays an important role in the derivation of the filioque. Because the categories of the persons and attributes, as multiplicites contrasted to the simple essence, all serve as logically interchangeable definitions of the simple divine "something", the question for St. Augustine then became one of securely maintaining the real distinction of persons in the face of a simplicity which had already nullified the real quality and distinctions of the attributes amongst themselves. Here the subordination of the persons and attributes to the essence in the ordo theologiae also provides St. Augustine with the means to attempt to distinction the persons from each other. Having assumed an absolute, definitional simplicity, the person can no longer be absolute hypostases, but are merely relations, since the names Father, Son, and Spirit are terms relative to each other. Here again there is a subtle but nevertheless real play of the dialectic of oppositions. One no longer begins with the three persons (since one has already began theology at the divine essence) and then moves to consider their relations, but begins more with their relative quality, with the relation between the persons, itself. In other words, there is an artificial opposition of any given person to the other two. It is at this point that the flexibility of St. Augustine's neoplatonic basis begins to surface in a more acute form." [1]

[1] pages 207-211 from the book Free Will in St. Maximus the Confessor by Joseph P. Farrell


Legion of the Grail said...

Thanks for posting this passage in greater detail. I read this book a while back, but it was from interlibrary loan, so I couldn't keep it.

Jnorm said...

Yeah, the Library seems to be the only way to read it now.

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