Archive for the ‘Divine Attributes’ Category

Thesis Part III: ADS and Trinitarian Orthodoxy

December 18, 2009

From here I will transition to some of Hughes’s argumentation about the incompatibility of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and ADS. I won’t be able to go into the full depth of Hughes’s argument here because he spends much of the 53 pages doing very in depth exegesis of Aquinas. I will try to streamline and simplify his argument as much as possible to fit it in this already crowded paper. The heart of Hughes’s argument is essentially this:

“Surely if (a) the essence of x = the essence of y, and (b) the essence of x = x, and the essence of
y = y, it follows as the night does the day that x = y. And Aquinas maintains both that the divine persons are not distinct from their essences, and that they all have the same essence (cf. DP 8.4; ST Ia.39.2; and ST Ia.40.1).”

In fact, the problem for the proponent of ADS could be stated even more simply: If all there is to God is His essence, and His essence is free from any type of real distinction (As Stump and Kretzmann admit), then there cannot be three really distinct persons in the Trinity that we refer to as The Father, The Son, and the Holy Spirit.
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My Senior Thesis: Part 1 (for the 2 or 3 people interested: it's about ADS and Thomism)

December 14, 2009

A Simple Defense of the Complexity of God:
Examining Three Arguments Against Absolute Divine Simplicity and Suggesting a New One

This paper will deal with the Latin Christian doctrine of divine simplicity which I will hereafter refer to as Absolute Divine Simplicity, or ADS.  I will attempt to get clear on exactly what this oft-misunderstood doctrine actually is, as well as why one might be motivated to believe it.  After this, the majority of the paper will be devoted to examining a few of the arguments against ADS provided by Christopher Hughes in his book On a Complex Theory of a Simple God.  I will examine three arguments: one having to do with God’s omniscience and possible worlds, one having to do with the compatibility of ADS and the doctrine of the Trinity, and one having to do with the compatibility of ADS with the doctrine of the incarnation.  I will explore possible lines of reply for the proponent of ADS and then take up the task of defending Hughes against them.  Finally, I will attempt to give a “bare-bones” sketch of how an argument might go to try to show ethical tension between ADS and the fact that Christians are motivated to love God on the basis of rewards.  This argument will not be entirely complete and will certainly not be a “knock-down, drag-out” argument, but it will hopefully provoke some thoughtful discussion. In the conclusion I will make a few recommendations to the Christian philosophical and theological communities regarding how to go about articulating a coherent picture of the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation.  Before we move on, though, let it be stated that the thesis of this paper is that ADS is not compatible with various tenants of orthodox Christian theism. (more…)

Could God save us from Annihilation without the Incarnation?

April 21, 2009

The following is a summary of a paper I wrote defending Athanasius’ view of the necessity of the incarnation. I argued that given certain definitions of God, humanity, and annihilation, it is not possible for God to save humanity from the post-mortem annihilation of the soul unless Christ becomes incarnate.

In his On the Incarnation, Saint Athanasius explains that part of the fallen human condition is the possibility that every human being will be annihilated. (more…)

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (3): St. John of Damascus

May 28, 2008

This is the third part in an ongoing series of posts on the use of arguments for God’s existence in early Christian theology. I hope to explore the implications of the use of these arguments by early Christians (to distinguish carefully what is being said from what is not being said by these theologians), and to hopefully gain a better grasp of the relationship between reason and faith, and the role of intellectual persuasion in the discourse of evangelism.

In Chapter 3, book 1 of On the Orthodox Faith, St. John of Damascus writes the following about the existence of God: (more…)

Natural Consequences (3): Jeremiah on Suffering and Punishment

May 28, 2008

What is punishment, according to the teachings of the Old and New Testaments? Is it just God repaying us for our guilt in a way proportional to the evil we did by inflicting suffering on us? Or can punishment mean something else too?

Normally when we think of “punishment” it is something inflicted retributively by an authority who is responsible for moral censure. But if we find a wider range of punishment language in Scripture, then this should caution us against assuming that elsewhere, punishment must mean some suffering that is meant to repay us for our guilt. Indeed, the prophet Jeremiah uses punishment terminology to describe the effects of sin upon the person who sins and their social group and environment.
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Natural Consequences (2): Isaiah on the Fire we Light

May 8, 2008

Is hell just retributive punishment inflicted actively by God?  The language of “punishment” and the fact that God is a judge who casts people into the fires of hell seems to favor this understanding.  But is there any biblical evidence for the idea that the fires of hell (whatever they are) are self-lit?  Consider Isaiah 50:10-11: (more…)

Natural Consequences (1): Jeremiah on Word, Fire, and Wrath

May 5, 2008

It seems like I’m always starting series of posts that I never finish. Oh well.

Anyways, this series is going to be about the biblical data and theological implications of the idea of “natural consequences”. To say that something has natural consequences for you basically means “what goes around, comes around” or “you asked for it”. Natural consequences are the non-intentional results of actions we take. They are not inflicted by an exercise of will that is aimed at retributively punishing us for our guilt; they just sorta happen because of the way the world is. (more…)

God's Glory (1): Visibility

December 29, 2007

The experience of God in the Torah and the New Testament is sometimes marked by episodes where God reveals his “glory”. I want to reflect on some examples of the manifestation of God’s glory and argue that various texts indicate that the glory of God is visible in the spatio-temporal universe. In later posts I will further argue that the glory of God is (2) a feature of God that can be communicated to created entities and (3) is in some sense identical to God himself. Lastly, I will argue that this aspect of biblical revelation poses intractable problems for any theology that denies that God and his attributes can be actually manifested in the created world and communicated to it.

Some Examples of the Divine Glory’s Visibility

The first texts come from Exodus, where the glory of God appears among the Israelites.

Exodus 16:7
“…and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD, for He hears your grumblings against the LORD; and what are we, that you grumble against us?”

Moses and Aaron here speak of “the glory of the LORD” using a verb for sight or vision to describe the encounter that the Israelites will have. When the experience actually occurs, we read as follows:

Exodus 16:9-10
Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the sons of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your grumblings.'” It came about as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the sons of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

The language of spatial location (“in the cloud”) is striking. It seems that God’s glory can be seen (as Moses and Aaron predicted) precisely because it has a localized presence with properties that allow it to be apprehended through the senses. It can also be compared to physical things:

Exodus 24:16-17
The glory of the LORD rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; and on the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. And to the eyes of the sons of Israel the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a consuming fire on the mountain top.

God’s glory is likened to a “consuming fire”. And, oddly, it is the *eyes* of the people that make them aware of it. Later, Moses makes the following request of God:

Exodus 33:17-34:9
The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.” Now the LORD said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. “So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. No man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain.” So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.”

Moses’ request is for a particular kind of experience–a visual experience. This is brought out by the fact that God is described as moving in a localized way across a specific stretch of space, and Moses is consigned to a vision of God’s “back”. Could the language of “back” be a clue to a metaphorical reading of the text, according to which God’s glory is a *symbol of God* but not God Himself? The language of “hand”, and “back” is interesting and peculiar, because when God manifests his presence, He doesn’t seem to have a physical body per se. Hence, it seems natural to take the language of body parts as metaphorical. Nevertheless, they are not metaphors in an ahistorical, abstract discourse. They are metaphors in a concrete historical narrative, and thus when coupled with language about God’s glory being spatially located and God being “seen” it seems best to take them not as utterly unreflective of concrete historical realities, but as indeed in a pictorial fashion describing localized and visible manifestations of God. In Isaiah we read as follows:

Isaiah 6:1-5
In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said,
“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,
The whole earth is full of His glory.”
And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said,
“Woe is me, for I am ruined!
Because I am a man of unclean lips,
And I live among a people of unclean lips;
For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”

In this theophany God is seen visibly present before the eyes of the prophet. John refers to this as a vision of the divine glory:

John 13:38-41
This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet which he spoke: “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT? AND TO WHOM HAS THE ARM OF THE LORD BEEN REVEALED?” For this reason they could not believe, for Isaiah said again,”HE HAS BLINDED THEIR EYES AND HE HARDENED THEIR HEART, SO THAT THEY WOULD NOT SEE WITH THEIR EYES AND PERCEIVE WITH THEIR HEART, AND BE CONVERTED AND I HEAL THEM.” These things Isaiah said because he saw His glory, and he spoke of Him.

God’s glory was thus described as having a particular shape in Isaiah. In Ezekial we read of a similar encounter with language that is equally emphatic about the visibility of God’s glory:

Ezekial 1: 26-28
Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him. As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD And
when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.

The glory of God is described in terms of “radiance”, “like fire”, and having “the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day”. All of these visible phenomena resemble the appearance of God’s glory to Ezekial. Several passages in Scripture witness to a kind of general manifestation of God’s glory that will happen in the eschaton:

Habakkuk 3:3-4
God came from Teman, the Holy One from Mount Paran. His glory covered the heavens, and the earth was full of his praise. The brightness was like the sun; rays came forth from his hand, where his power lay hidden.

Revelation 21:23
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb.

Revelation 22:5
And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

The emphasis in these verses on light, and the comparisons with the sun, definitely give the impression that God’s glory is something visible. When Christ is transfigured on Mount Tabor, the experience of the apostles is a visible one involving light and the presence of a cloud:

Matthew 17:1-8
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud over-shadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well-pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

Peter speaks of being an eyewitness to this event.

2 Peter 1:16-18
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

Christ is said to have received honor and glory from the Majestic Glory–the cloud out of which the voice of the Father issued. This cloud is what Peter identifies as the divine glory.

I conclude that the preponderance of the evidence of Scripture supports the idea that one use of the word “glory” can be a special divine manifestation that is visible to the eyes and spatio-temporally located.

Saint Isaac the Syrian on Love and Hell

December 22, 2007

Few arguments against Christianity are stronger and more troubling than the problem of hell. The problem is familiar to anyone who is familiar with Christianity. But not all understandings of hell are equally problemmatic. As Swinburne notes in Responsibility and Atonement for every “hard” position about salvation, sin, hell, justice, or human agency, there is a “soft” or more “liberal” view. Ironically, the more “liberal” view is hardly “liberal”, if by that we mean “new, innovative, rebelling against conservative consensus”. I think we sometimes assume for some reason that the harshest, most morally-repugnant view of Christianity is the most faithful to text and tradition. To help start correcting that tendency, I offer some words from Saint Isaac the Syrian:

What is a merciful heart? It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation. For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.

The person who is genuinely charitable not only gives charity out of his own possessions, but gladly tolerates injustice from others and forgives them. Whoever lays down his soul for his brother acts generously, rather than the person who demonstrates his generosity by his gifts.

God is not One who requites evil, but who sets evil right.

Paradise is the love of God, wherein is the enjoyment of all blessedness.
The person who lives in love reaps the fruit of life from God, and while yet in this world, even now breathes the air of the resurrection.

In love did God bring the world into existence; in love is God going to bring it to that wondrous transformed state, and in love will the world be swallowed up in the great mystery of the One who has performed all these things; in love will the whole course of the governance of creation be finally comprised..

As for me I say that those who are tormented in hell are tormented by the invasion of love. What is there more bitter and violent than the pains of love? Those who feel they have sinned against love bear in themselves a damnation much heavier than the most dreaded punishments. The suffering with which sinning against love afflicts the heart is more keenly felt than any other torment. It is absurd to assume that the sinners in hell are deprived of God’s love. Love is offered impartially. But by its very power it acts in two ways. It torments sinners, as happens here on earth when we are tormented by the presence of a friend to whom we have been unfaithful. And it gives joy to those who have been faithful. That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.

If zeal had been appropriate for putting humanity right, why did God the Word clothe himself in the body, using gentleness and humility in order to bring the world back to his Father?

(Taken from here)

The Fathers and Theistic Arguments (II); Athanasius

December 13, 2007

My first example is Athanasius, from On the Incarnation:

(2) In regard to the making of the universe and the creation of all things there have been various opinions, and each person has propounded the theory that suited his own taste. For instance, some say that all things are self- originated and, so to speak, haphazard. The Epicureans are among these; they deny that there is any Mind behind the universe at all. This view is contrary to all the facts of experience, their own existence included. For if all things had come into being in this automatic fashion, instead of being the outcome of Mind, though they existed, they would all be uniform and without distinction. In the universe everything would be sun or moon or whatever it was, and in the human body the whole would be hand or eye or foot. But in point of fact the sun and the moon and the earth are all different things, and even within the human body there are different members, such as foot and hand and head. This distinctness of things argues not a spontaneous generation but a prevenient Cause; and from that Cause we can apprehend God, the Designer and Maker of all.
Others take the view expressed by Plato, that giant among the Greeks. He said that God had made all things out of pre-existent and uncreated matter, just as the carpenter makes things only out of wood that already exists. But those who hold this view do not realize that to deny that God is Himself the Cause of matter is to impute limitation to Him, just as it is undoubtedly a limitation on the part of the carpenter that he can make nothing unless he has the wood. How could God be called Maker and Artificer if His ability to make depended on some other cause, namely on matter itself? If He only worked up existing matter and did not Himself bring matter into being, He would be not the Creator but only a craftsman.
Then, again, there is the theory of the Gnostics, who have invented for themselves an Artificer of all things other than the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. These simply shut their eyes to the obvious meaning of Scripture. For instance, the Lord, having reminded the Jews of the statement in Genesis, “He Who created them in the beginning made them male and female. . . ,” and having shown that for that reason a man should leave his parents and cleave to his wife, goes on to say with reference to the Creator, “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” How can they get a creation independent of the Father out of that? And, again, St. John, speaking all inclusively, says, “All things became by Him and without Him came nothing into being. How then could the Artificer be someone different, other than the Father of Christ?

(3)Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word. He says as much in Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth;[4] and again through that most helpful book The Shepherd, “Believe thou first and foremost that there is One God Who created and arranged all things and brought them out of non-existence into being.” Paul also indicates the same thing when he says, “By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that the things which we see now did not come into being out of things which had previously appeared.” For God is good—or rather, of all goodness He is Fountainhead, and it is impossible for one who is good to be mean or grudging about anything. Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved especial mercy for the race of men.

Notice the following about Saint Athanasius:

(1) Theistic arguments do not provide the foundation of theological belief-structures in Athanasius. He speaks as though Christian theology has authority separately from the considerations of his arguments. Notice how he takes divine Revelation as giving an adequate answer to opponents: “Such are the notions which men put forward. But the impiety of their foolish talk is plainly declared by the divine teaching of the Christian faith. From it we know that, because there is Mind behind the universe, it did not originate itself; because God is infinite, not finite, it was not made from pre-existent matter, but out of nothing and out of non-existence absolute and utter God brought it into being through the Word.” He knows that God is infinite, not finite because of divine revelation–a claim that would make little sense if he thought his trust in the contents of Christian revelation required theistic arguments first.

(2) Theistic arguments are primarily rhetorical/persuastive/polemical for Athanasius.
He appeals to the common standard of human *experience* (not some kind of supreme, neutral “reason”) to argue that the Epicurean view is unbelievable. He appeals to intuitions about divine perfection to argue against Platonism’s view that matter coexisted with God. This use of a shared standard of authority to show inconsistencies within opponents’ view and bring them in the direction of Christian faith is rhetorically powerful. In the first case, Athanasius argues that experience supports one specific view; in the second case, he argues that the view in question is inconsistent.

(3) The conclusions Athanasius draws are modest. Athanasius argues from experience and intuition to some of what the fathers would call “names of God”. He shows that God has names such as Creator, Orderer, etc. But this is very different from reasoning to truths about the divine essence. For creating and ordering are divine activities. God’s names of Creator and Orderer are designations of His personal acts. Athansius leads his opponents to approach the persons who are God via their personal activities.