ADS Thesis V: ADS, Eternal Rewards, and the Mercenary Objection (Conclusion)


So I’m gonna preface this last part of the paper by that it is extremely tentative, not reviewed or challenged by many peers, nor is it necessarily all coherent. In my defense I wrote most of it during an all-nighter the night before the paper colloquiem. However, instead of trying to read and/or fix it ahead of time, I’m gonna boldly put it out there for the three or four people who will read it. Feel free to tear it to shreds. 🙂

Now I will leave Dr. Hughes and explore a very tentative and modest argument of my own. This argument will deal with the objection raised by nonbelievers that the Christian faith is “mercenary” due to the emphasis placed on loving God for the reward of eternal life. That Christ and the apostles do motivate love for God and neighbor by appealing to the reward of eternal life is something I regard as fairly uncontroversial. So how is the Christian to respond? I will outline a brief reply that I take to be satisfying and claim that the reply is not open to the proponent of ADS. This does not constitute a “knock-down, drag-out” argument, but I will suggest that the line of reply I provide is workable, and it is not clear that an equally workable option is open to the proponent of ADS.

The heart of my response is fairly simple. I would respond that the reward for loving God is not something other than God. Eternal life is God imbuing man with His divine immortality, and immortality is not a created effect, but a Divine energy or operation which is distinct from God’s essence but nevertheless, uncreated. This response is basically the Patristic doctrine of theosis or deification which Fr. John Meyendorf characterizes as the process whereby man comes “to ‘know’ God, to ‘participate’ in His life, to be ‘saved,’ not simply through an extrinsic action of God’s, or through the rational cognition of propositional truths, but by ‘becoming God.’” However, this process of “becoming God,” does not threaten pantheism because there is, on this view, a real distinction between God’s essence and His energies, and man participates only in God’s self-manifesting energies. This is, in fact, why the proponent of ADS cannot make use of this reply; because she cannot accept any real distinctions in God and without this distinction, deification would imply pantheism.

Obviously what I have said so far will not trouble the proponent of ADS very much because proponents of ADS typically regard deification as nonsense anyways. So how could the proponent of ADS respond? One way to respond would be to invoke the distinction C.S. Lewis lays out in his famous essay “The Weight of Glory” between natural/proper rewards and unnatural/mercenary rewards. A mercenary reward has nothing to do with the natural results or goals of the activity undertaken. A typical example of this type of reward can be seen in the person who loves for money. In contrast, marriage is very plausibly seen as natural/proper end of love. No one would fault a man who loved a women so that he could ultimately enjoy the communion of marriage with her.

So what is the natural end that the proponent of ADS has in mind? Certainly it cannot be eternal life because this would amount to loving God for the sake of receiving a created good. This seems to be mercenary in an obvious way. One way to avoid this response is to assert that eternal life is merely a proximal good to the unending enjoyment of some further good. But what? One typical answer would be the eternal enjoyment of a union of wills with God. What would a union of wills amount to for the proponent of ADS? The answer is a union in the object of will. In other words, this suggestion is that God and creatures would both will the same things. Because the Divine Essence is itself the highest good, it will be the principle object of the Divine will. So this suggestion will amount to saying that the proper reward for loving God is that both God and the righteous soul will God’s essence and will will the proximal goods that God wills whose ultimate good is the Divine essence. This suggestion is certainly a mouthful, and it is not even readily apparent what this would mean. Furthermore, even if we granted that the union of wills was a perfectly intelligible suggestion, it seems much less than obvious that it could qualify as the proper end of the action of loving God. Intuitively, the proper end of love is some kind of intimate communion that amounts to far more than merely having the same desires. Imagine a scenario in which a man and woman grow to love each other interacting solely through the internet. Through their interactions, they come to love, desire, and work for all the same things. It seems that something is lacking. This does not seem sufficient to qualify as the proper end for the activity of love. Thus, I think that this answer fairs far worse than the answer I have suggested to the mercenary objection.

Here the proponent of ADS is likely to be screaming in her head, “THE ANSWER IS THE BEATIFIC VISION.” This is certainly the answer Aquinas himself would give. Does the answer work as a response to the mercenary objection? I am dubious for a few reasons. First, and most importantly, it does not seem like statically looking with one’s mind’s eye on the essence of the beloved would qualify as “the natural reward for love.” Well, perhaps the proponent of ADS can simply say that although the Lewisian line of reply is hard to make work for ADS, they can still claim that the reward is still God in a way. Maybe this will work, but it is not clear, in Aquinas at least, that the beatific vision really is a direct viewing of God’s essence or whether a created intermediary is involved. The specific worry here is generated by a puzzling text in the Summa Theologica where Aquinas says: “It must therefore be concluded that in order to see the essence of God, it is necessary that there be some likeness on the part of the power of sight, namely the light of divine glory strengthening the intellect to see God, of which it is said in Psalms: ‘In your light we will see light.’ But the essence of God cannot be seen through any created likeness that would represent that divine essence as it is in itself.” It is hard to decipher exactly what Aquinas is saying here. The divine glory is a creature for God, so on one read one can only see God’s essence through a created intermediary, but on another perhaps not. The passage is unclear.

Second, it is hard to see that the beatific vision is even possible. How would it be possible to hold an object before the human mind that has no properties and thus no representative properties? Perhaps one could appeal to the Prussian suggestion about God’s mind, but surely that isn’t a plausible account for how the human mind works. If the beatific vision does not involve visible sight, but God’s essence has no properties that can be represented before the mind, then how can a beatific vision be possible? I don’t know how to answer this.

Taking all this into account I will tentatively conclude that Patristic notion of deification that I have briefly outlined provides the most clearly workable line of reply to the mercenary argument. If this is true, then it poses at least some problem for ADS given that ADS is incompatible with the Patristic notion of deification. This is obviously not a conclusive argument, but some response is surely needed from the proponent of ADS.

So what has happened in this paper? Well, I’ve examined, defended, and advanced arguments against the compatibility of ADS with certain features of orthodox Christian theism, and (in my humble opinion) done so with a significant degree of effectiveness. I conclude that as best I can see, the orthodox Christian ought to dispense with ADS in favor of a view of simplicity that does not deny all distinctions. Specifically, I want to point out that in doing Trinitarian theology and Christology, one needs to have a real distinction between person and nature. The Trinitarian and Christological dogmas of the Church will turn out to be utter nonsense if we hold that “person” is not a distinct category from nature, but merely a property or quality that certain natures possess. To quote St. John of Damascus, “But this is what leads the heretics astray, viz., that they look up on nature and hypostasis as the same thing.” Finally, I would also tentatively suggest that we ought to seriously consider whether real distinctions exist between God’s essence and energies/natural operations and between the energies/natural operations themselves. Thus, I am urging those Christian theologians who ascribe to “classical theism” to re-examine their philosophical presuppositions in light of the Christian revelation, starting with their views on simplicity and the inherent opposition between the one and the many. ADS is not taught in the Scriptures, defined as part of the Christian faith in an ecumenical council, nor is it part of the consensus patrum. What I do believe we can glean from these sources is that the God experienced by those living out the Christian spiritual life is both radically transcendent and immanent at the same time. In my opinion, theologizing should start here, and not with abstract philosophical notions of perfect being. And in closing, this will be my last objection to ADS: The God of Christian spirituality seems radically different from the God of the philosphers. In my opinion, these two Gods are incompatible.


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