Sunday, February 5, 2012

We are connected with God, but we are not characters in God's novel

Continuing the previous discussion about how we have viewed, and should view, the relation between God and the world:

One view is that we are related to God as are the characters in a book to the Writer of the book.  Edward Feser, a new Aristotelean-Thomist philosopher, encourages us to use this metaphor:
On the classical theist conception of God, God is not one causal factor in the universe among others, not even an especially grand and powerful causal factor. He is not a “first” cause in the sense of being followed in a temporal series by a second cause, a third cause, a fourth cause, etc. Rather, He is “first” or primary in the sense of being the fundamental cause, the necessary precondition of there being any causality within the universe at all, just as the author of a story is the “first cause” of what happens in the story, not in the sense of generating effects in the way the characters and processes described in the story do, but rather in the sense of being the necessary precondition of there being any characters or processes in the story at all.
The same metaphor was developed at some length in the talk by physicist Stephen Barr at the 2012 Science and Faith Conference: "Can Science Inform Our Understanding of God?", the video for his talk being available on youtube. This metaphor of a Writer and his book characters has the virtue of emphasizing some of the great philosophical / ontological differences between us humans and God. God is (thereby) not just another person among us persons, or another object among the world's objects, but can be the necessary precondition for the existence of any of us persons or objects.

This Writer metaphor, however, has a serious defect, and one which I believe is fatal. This is that a writer can never love his characters in any manner which respects their freedom. And the characters can never love return love to God-as-writer in any way which gives delight to God. The ontological chasm between God and creation, having been made great, is now in fact too great to be bridged, even by love. Even God (who is love) cannot now make anyconjunction which should be of love.*

I wonder whether Thomas Aquinas has something to do with this separation. Was there something in his views which emphasizes separation rather than conjunction? I read more about Aquinas in an article by Elizabeth Johnson, for example:
One of the strengths of Aquinas's vision is the autonomy he grants to created existence through its participation in divine being. He is so convinced of the transcendent mystery of God (esse ipsum subsistens) and so clear about the sui generis way God continuously creates the world into being that he sees no threat to divinity in allowing creatures the fullest measure of agency according to their own nature. In fact, it is a measure of the creative power of God to raise up creatures who participate in divine being to such a degree that they are also creative and sustaining in their own right. A view to the contrary would diminish not only creatures but also their Creator: "to detract from the perfection of creatures is to detract from the perfection of divine power.'' (SCG 3.69.15This is a genuinely noncompetitive view of God and the world. According to its dynamism, nearness to God and genuine creaturely autonomy grow in direct rather than inverse proportion. That is, God is not glorified by the diminishment of the creature but by the creature's flourishing in the fullness of its powers. The nature of created participation in divine being is such that it grants creatures their own integrity, without reserve.  
This participatory relationship has strong implications for the question of agency. The power of creaturely forces and agents to act and cause change in the world is a created participation in the uncreated power of the One who is pure act. Conversely, God's generous goodness and wisdom are seen especially in the creation of a world with its own innate agency.  
Admittedly her article comes from part of a polemic by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in their 'perspectives' about evolution, but I still believe what she says about Aquinas.

If so, then Aquinas has a serious problem in his theory. He wants to be "allowing creatures the fullest measure of agency according to their own nature". However, our agency requires us to have things which only God has: we need being, we need love, we need wisdom -- we need life in general. And God, in theism, is being itself, love itself, wisdom itself, and life itself. Aquinas does indeed recognize this about God: he acknowledges the 'aseity of God'. The word 'aseity' come from 'a se - ity', where 'a se' is latin for 'in itself'. But he does not acknowledge that we have to receive love, receive wisdom, receive life from God. This cannot be done arbitrarily 'at a distance', but must be done by the actions of God. And the actions of God require the presence of God. So it is certainly not the case that "nearness to God and genuine creaturely autonomy grow in direct rather than inverse proportion."

Aquinas seems to follow the traditional view of God creating the world, that is by fiat, taking literally the commands 'fiat lux: let there be light,' and so on. He, and other theologians since, have usually separated the question of how God sustains the existence of things from the question of their dynamical properties. These properties are taken to give rise to secondary causation, which is assumed to be independent of whatever primary causation there is from God.

The creation of substantial objects nevertheless involves God giving them their being (since he is being itself). There can be no power without substance nor without some kind of presence. It is impossible that God sustains merely the existences of things while at the same time remaining completely absent. In the theism of my book, the immanence of God, by which all things are sustained, is less an abstract  metaphysical principle and much more the immediate and mediate re-generation of life by continual influx from God. The sustaining of being by re-generation does allow this, as long as the beginning of the chain is in the presence of God.

The fact that God sustains all beings by such 'influx' can be the meaning of Matthew 5:45: "He ...  sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Alternative imagery in the same verse refers to light rather than liquid flow: "He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good."

For more discussion of these things, and the broader picture, see


  1. > But he [Aquinas] does not acknowledge that
    > we have to receive love, receive wisdom,
    > receive life from God.

    I wonder if this conclusion might be as confidently reached after consultation with, for example, (Chapter 4 of) Aquinas' Commentary On The Gospel Of St. John, some excerpts of which are as follows:

    Before temporal things are possessed, they are highly regarded and thought satisfying; but after they are possessed, they are found to be neither so great as thought nor sufficient to satisfy our desires, and so our desires are not satisfied but move on to something else. On the other hand, a spiritual thing is not known unless it is possessed: "No one knows but he who receives it" (Rv 2:17). -- Aquinas, Thomas, Commentary on The Gospel of St. John, #586

    Our Lord prepared the woman to receive his spiritual teaching by giving her an occasion to question him. ibid, #571

    We are shown that in the case of adults, living water, i.e., grace, is obtained by desiring it, i.e., by asking. "The Lord has heard the desire of the poor" (Ps. 9:17), for grace is not given to anyone without their asking and desiring it. Thus we say that in the justification of a sinner an act of free will is necessary to detest sin and to desire grace, according to Matthew (7:7): "Ask and you will receive." ibid, #578

    In saying, God is spirit, he means that God is incorporeal: “A spirit does not have flesh and bones” (Lk 24:39); and also that he is a life-giver, because our entire life is from God, as its creative source. God is also truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (below 14:6). Therefore, we should worship him in spirit and in truth. ibid, #615

    In its mystical sense, this gives us an example that if we wish to receive Jesus Christ within ourselves, we should go up to Jerusalem on a festive day, that is, we should seek tranquility of mind, and examine everything which Jesus does there: "Look upon Zion, the city of our festive days" (Is 33:20); "I have meditated on all Your works" (Ps 142:5). ibid #671

    And they, his servants, told him that yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. In the mystical sense, the seventh hour, when the boy is cured of his fever, signifies the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, through whom sins are forgiven, according to: "Receive the Holy Spirit; whose sins you forgive, are forgiven"..., and through whom spiritual life is produced in the soul: "It is the Spirit that gives life"... ibid, #695

    Hearsay can make for interesting reading, but it also can serve as a shaky foundation.

    1. I agree that I am using only secondary sources for this remark, and (moreover) not dispassionate secondary sources but from someone who is using Aquinas to argue a position on Darwinism that is only remotely connected with Aquinas.

      Your quotations show that Aquinas does indeed talk of *receiving* things from God. We receive 'a spiritual thing'. We receive 'his spiritual teaching'. We receive grace, for example by meditation. That, indeed, we receive the Holy Spirit.

      I wonder, however, how much we see here of Aquinas talking as theologian who is staying close the gospels (as of course he should), and how much we see here Aquinas following his philosophy and ontology which he derived essentially from Aristotle. For, in Aristotle, only the intellectual rationality was derived from the DIvine source. Aquinas straight-forwardly generalizes this to teaching & grace and spiritual things, and that is good.

      However, in theism, it should be that even our *everyday* loves, thoughts and life should derive from God. Even the lives of plants and animals. And, for religious reception also, the process of receiving should be not just *stated as existing*, but *described in detail*. I strongly suspect that Aquinas did not do this because it would resemble too much the neo-Platonist views with which he is competing at the time.

    2. I see the conclusion here as being mostly fair.

      At the same time, while it can be said that the acknowledgement that there is 'receiving' is a tacit acknowledgement that there is a process of receiving, it cannot likewise be said that it is necessarily the case that concomitant with the ability to acknowledge a process of receiving is an ability to describe that process in detail.

      It is true that Aquinas did not provide a detailed description of the process of receiving. It is also true that no such detailed description of the process (at least not one detailed to the extent desired by Theism) was forthcoming from anyone during the 800 years following his death.

      Speaking playfully, then, and if I may (without being overly impertinent), if not providing a detailed description of the process of receiving is to be taken as equivalent to a lack of acknowledgement of its existence, then one would be justified in believing that you yourself, as yet, do not acknowledge the existence of it. (!)

      Aquinas referred to (under Article 5 of Question 3 in On the Power of God): a) "early philosophers" who "held that there is no other cause besides matter", and who "were forced to state that matter itself has no cause, and to deny absolutely the existence of an efficient cause"; b) "later philosophers" who "began to take some notice of substantial forms" and who "posited indeed certain active causes", but for whom, nonetheless, "matter was in existence before any efficient cause came into action"; and, c) subsequent philosophers, i.e., "philosophers as Plato, Aristotle and their disciples" who "attained to the study of universal being", and who "alone posited a universal cause of things, from which all others came into being".

      The last position--that of the 'subsequent philosophers'--was held by Aquinas to be both in agreement with the faith to which he subscribed and provable by three arguments. At the conclusion of his third argument, Aquinas states, "Thus reason proves and faith holds that all things are created by God."

      If all things are created by God, then there is no thing which is not created by God. And if there is no thing which is not created by God, then it necessarily follows that (unless it should somehow be the case that they do not qualify as 'things') "even our *everyday* loves, thoughts and life should derive from God."

      Aquinas did not (even attempt to) describe in modern-day Theism-approved detail how they might derive from God. But I don't see how this might succeed in being a criticism against Aquinas, for neither he was a Deist nor was he engaging in 'theistic science' (certainly not as it might be understood in this day and age).

      As for the larger issue regarding the detail of how everyday loves, thoughts and life derive from God, one would hope that reliance upon and use of the 'black box' of "that they derive from God" would not be held in abeyance by one and all until such time as its contents are satisfactorily accounted for in the eyes of Theism.

    3. I completely agree that there are many things that we can reasonably accept, even though we do not have a full or even satisfactory account of the details of those things. The manner in which God sustains the universe could well be one such.

      However, I would still insist that a *philosopher* can only reasonably accept in advance a particular stand, if that stand is logically compatible with what else he has accepted and publicized as true.

      Aquinas, for example, clearly believes that everything for its existence does depend absolutely on God. Finite beings have no 'existential inertia' to keep them them existing without God. Feser has recently written about this at . This is good.

      My remaining question for Aquinas is whether then, given his Aristotelean ontology, it is compatible that anything more than the *existence* of finite beings depends on God. Does the *functioning* of living creatures depend on God, for example? He does accept that the 'intellectual form' of the rational soul must depend on God, and be influenced by God. That is a step in the right direction. But what about plants and animals (beings with only vegetative and animal souls)? Does their life (as distinct from their very existence) depend on God? Or do plants, animals, and us (apart from our rationality) go our own merry way independently of God, so long as God keeps us existing?

    4. My remaining question for Aquinas is whether then, given his Aristotelean ontology, it is compatible that anything more than the *existence* of finite beings depends on God.

      The answer to this may depend on the general direction of the ratiocination.

      I would say that, in light of Aquinas' first proof for the existence of God, it is at least not incompatible.

      In his first proof for the existence of God (scroll down for Whether God Exists?), Aquinas uses the fact of changes of state (i.e., transformations from potentiality to actuality, aka 'motion') to prove God's existence.

      Simply put, he is saying, "That God exists may be known from the fact that changes of state exist."

      But how might changes of state prove the existence of God if they are independent of God? Since they prove the existence of God, they are not independent of God, but dependent on God. And since they are dependent on God, "more than the *existence* of finite beings depends on God."

      Whether changes of states successfully prove the existence of God might be called into question by some. But this attempt would be beside the point. The point is that Aquinas believed that they do. And since he believed that they do, it would have been inconsistent for him to hold that only the existence of finite beings depends on God.

      Perhaps Aquinas was inconsistent. And perhaps his writing is so frequently concerned with the explicit question of Being that the wider range of his implicit belief has been eclipsed.

      Whichever way it goes, the kind of details desired by the modern mind of the additional dependencies are lacking in his writings, yes. This lack, however, has been previously acknowledged. And there is no harm to be done--and possibly a whole lot of good to be gained--by the endeavors of others to fill in the missing details.

      (-- Hmm. Only after pondering the question and typing the above do I look at the Feser link. In fact, I was all set to click 'Publish' when the thought occurred to me, "No, better look at the link first." Interesting...)

    5. Re more the more specific questions, I haven't been able to consider them without my mind being drawn back to what Swedenborg might have to say. This has made it difficult to see with some clarity what Aquinas might have been saying, or to draw my own inferences from what he did say.

      (In general--and from my perspective (which isn't what your questions inquired into)--there must an independence of God of some kind or sort and to some extent, else: a) there would be no 'free will'; b) there would be need for what Swedenborg refers to as "particular influx"; and, c) there would be no creaturely others for Him to love or be loved by, and God simply would be interacting with Himself.)

    6. It is true that, according to Aquinas, God is instrumental in our changes of state. We cannot change something from potentiality to actuality without something actual already being present. God is (at least) the initial actuality to get all changes started. (And I agree, it is irrelevant whether or not that is a proof of the existence of God.)

      Here we can already see a difference between Aquinas and what I think of as 'proper theism'. According to Aquinas, all beings have their own substantial form and their own potentialities for change. The role of God is like that of a midwife: to bring forth that which is already potential in a finite being.

      I understand theism, however, as God giving us (by various stages) all our loves, powers and dispositions. And, with those dispositions, we produce our own actualities. Our own free choices of an actual outcome are what truly belong to us.

      See the difference?

      we are our loves. God is needed for us to act out our loves.

      we are our own actions of love. God is needed to provide & enliven those loves.

      Aquinas's problem is that he does not have a *proper* conception of active power/active love. He *talks* a lot about it, and certainly Aristotle knew of these, but they seem to be lost within the ontology Aquinas adopted. He has 'prime matter' which is pure potency, and no active power for a specific end. He has 'substantial forms'. If these are forms like shapes/structure/etc then they have no active power. If these forms are more than shapes/structure/etc then he has to tell us what more they are, but he hardly does. He may think he has explained 'active causation' with his ontology, but he does not really succeed.

    7. See the difference? Aquinas: we are our loves. God is needed for us to act out our loves. Theism: we are our own actions of love. God is needed to provide & enliven those loves.

      I do see the difference, yes, but not only that.

      Regarding the first statements, I think Swedenborg might say something like, "Whether you adhere to the Thomistic 'we are our loves' or the Theistic 'we are our own actions of love', it is the same, for the life of man is his love, and that which he loves he wills, and that which he wills he does." So I see the difference between the first statements as primarily lexical, thus without any genuinely meaningful import. This isn't to say there isn't any, only that I don't see one. (And it is fair to say that without the invocation of Swedenborg I would see an import that is clearly meaningful in the difference between 'we are our loves, and 'we are our own actions of love'.)

      Regarding the second statements, if God is viewed as a midwife whose role is to bring forth what is already potential in a finite being, then the import of the difference is clear. But what isn't clear to me is that Aquinas saw God in quite this way. My understanding, which may be inaccurate, is that he saw actuality as preceding potentiality, thus God as connecting an actuality with a potentiality in order that the finite being might, via decisions of judgment, render it actual. If my understanding of Aquinas' thought on the matter is reasonably correct, then he may be closer to the stated understanding of Theism than might be presently thought.

      As for whether Aquinas succeeded in explaining 'active causation', I think he did succeed, just not at a level which may be satisfying to modern-day minds. It was, after all, during the 13th century that he did most of his writing. And if this context is ignored, then one might as well also claim, say, that in creating the 4004, Intel did not really succeed in creating a microprocessor.

    8. In this last reply, you are collapsing various ontological categories, and getting confused. Just because 'what we love we will', does not mean that love and will are identical. Instead, Swedenborg insists that we must always distinguish loving something, from deciding to will it. Similarly, just because 'what we will we do', does not mean that will and doing are identical! Everyone can tell that there are many things we will, but do not do. No sane philosopher would say that willing and doing are ontologically synonymous with each other. Thus, I think your 'invocation of Swedenborg' has led you astray both from what you previously reasonably thought, and from what in fact Swedenborg thought. (I agree that often he says 'A is nothing but B', but this is more for dramatic purposes. Especially since elsewhere he spends much time distinguishing A from B.)

      It is true that Aquinas "saw actuality as preceding potentiality, thus God as connecting an actuality with a potentiality in order that the finite being might, via decisions of judgment, render it actual." But that is precisely the problem! Normally we think of potentiality as preceding actuality, in the sense that the life of an agent is the actualization of what lies within its active power or potentiality to do. Aquinas agrees with that. But then he also says that God (as purely actual) precedes potentiality (as you just quoted). Which is it (when to comes to 'normal life')?

      Aquinas has much discussion about active causation: he calls it 'active power'. It is true that this is not satisfying to modern ears, but we can still discuss things from his own point of view. We can see whether he is consistent with his own principles. I think he is not. Let me give an example, one that directly bears on our discussion.

      His general principle is that God is 'pure act'. He is devoid of potentiality.
      HOWEVER, Chapter 8 of SCG is titled "That God's Power is His Substance". Since power is the potentiality for doing things, if God is power essentially, then he is NOT pure act! Do you see the problem?

      Aquinas tries to get around this problem by claiming in 8.2 that "For active power belongs to a thing according as it is in act." This is the collapse power and act together (just as previously you thought Swedenborg was doing). Now Aquinas is doing it as well. Aristotle warned us against this collapse as the "Megarian" view.

      My opinion is that Aquinas has an ontological view of God (as pure Act) that should have led him to exclude power & love from the essence of God. As a Christian, he could not do this, so he has an unresolved difficulty. Swedenborg gets around this problem by having God not equal to pure Act, but to pure love and pure wisdom (combined). Swedenborg can then properly allow God to provide us with love and wisdom, and not just with pure act as Aquinas would have to say if he were consistent with his ontology (rather than consistent with his religion). Swedenborg can then allow potentiality within God to do things. Even potentiality to live and respond to us.

    9. I had a three-page response, but thought it best to boil it down to this:

      Consider a chain reaction. A causes B; B is an effect of A. B causes C; C is an effect of B. C causes D; D is an effect of C. D causes E; E is an effect of D, etc., etc., so on and so on. Effect B preceded causes C, D and E; effect C preceded causes D and E, etc. etc. so on and so on. No one is saying (and Aquinas didn't say) that the actuality preceding a potential is the same actuality which follows from it.

      Also, Swedenborg does not have love deriving from wisdom or wisdom deriving from love but both as emanations from God (he calls them proceedings rather than emanations; but a rose by any other name...). So, he has God as being His emanations, and His emanations as being Himself. If this is permissible, why is it impermissible for God to be the power behind His acts, and the acts stemming from His power?

      Swedenborg defines the Holy Spirit as Divine Energy and Operation proceeding from God. If God is not energy and operation (power and act), how might they proceed from Him (and why would they be called 'Divine')?

      Lastly, Swedenborg explicitly states that God acts from Himself. But by whose power does He do that?

      (To be precise, it is the Lord that he explicitly states acts from Himself. But as he was not a Trinitarian, what justification might there be for believing that Swedenborg does not mean God when he says the Lord?)

    10. In your 'chain reaction', you talk of effect B being the cause of C. This is correct in how the world operates. However, effect B, if it is to be the cause of anything, cannot be purely an actuality. It must have some potentiality or causal power to do something. It is indeed an actualization of the cause/potentiality A, but it must still be essentially related to some further causal power or potentiality.

      God can indeed be the 'power behind his acts', and that is now most people see him. However, the question is whether Aquinas can consistently assert this, when, according to Aquinas, God is Pure Act and hence devoid of potentiality in himself. Without an potentiality, I say, God must also be devoid of active power.

      God is correctly 'power and act', according to Swedenborg, but not in the same sense. Rather, his internal actual existence is the union of love and wisdom. And his external actions are the product of his power. Certainly not identical with his power. And he would say that God's power is from love preparing to act according to wisdom. Not the act itself, but whatever (ontologically) precedes act. And by 'God', he is referring to the Lord.

      Aquinas' problem arises because he thinks of 'potentiality' in a purely passive manner, as referring to change or decomposition of oneself. Hence he says "it is not required that any potentiality be posited in the divine will" (SCG I.82). God is therefore pure Act. However, potentiality in fact is needed also as the basis for power and love. They are externally-directed potentialities, but still essential potentialities. Thus Aquinas can consistently see God as providing what is actual for us to actualize our potentialities. But he cannot consistently see God as providing from himself the love and power that we need (eg in our souls).

    11. Let me add a few remarks. I quoted Aquinas: "it is not required that any potentiality be posited in the divine will" (SCG I.82).

      To me, this is the most blatantly self-contradictory claim ever! Is not will all about potentiality for new actions! If your teacher wrote in your year-end report that "there are no potentialities in this child's will", would she not be saying that the child is incapable of doing anything??

      Probably, the statement can be rescued by saying that 'potentiality' is not meant here what we normally mean by that word, and also that 'will' is not will as we know it, but somethings special that only God has. But the result of that rescue is a retreat that means that we lose all knowledge of God. That knowledge is just what Aquinas claimed to be supplying.

      For another discussion on the deficiencies of the Aristotelean-Thomist view of God, and criticisms based on similar arguments, see the article The Concept of Divine Energies, written from the Eastern Orthodox point of view.

    12. Probably, the statement can be rescued by saying that...

      ...Aquinas was a Trinitarian, so when he was addressing the subject of God, he didn't think of himself as also addressing what he thought of as the Son, thus was ostensibly addressing only the first two levels of God as defined by Swedenborg several centuries later (parenthesis added):

      o I have been told from heaven that in the Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, before He assumed a humanity in the world, the first two degrees existed actually, and the third degree potentially, as they do also in the case of angels, but that after assuming a humanity in the world, He put on in addition the third degree as well, which we call natural (so that He became in consequence a man like any other in the world, yet with the difference that this last degree, like the previous one, is infinite and uncreated, while the same degrees in an angel or person are finite and created). DLW 233

    13. The quote will read more clearly if presented like this,

      o I have been told from heaven that in the Lord from eternity, who is Jehovah, before He assumed a humanity in the world, the first two degrees existed actually, and the third degree potentially... but that after assuming a humanity in the world, He put on in addition the third degree as well, which we call natural[.] DLW 233

    14. I am aware that your objection does not disappear entirely. It just now applies to Swedenborg (whose ideas and expressions thereof were more coherent, sophisticated and refined).

    15. I agree that, especially in Contra Gentiles, Aquinas was not relying on any specific trinitarian aspects of God. And neither was I in my discussions above.

      Thus I was not concerned with what Swedenborg was stating concerning the 'third degree' being held 'potential'. Rather, I was concerned with the Father as the 'Godhead', and whether it is possible to say that God/Father is "Love itself". Since love is will & active & dynamic & powerful, it contains within itself the potentiality for many things. And, if it does so, how can this be consistent with Aquinas' characterization of God as 'Pure Act'? That is my problem.

    16. I was not concerned with what Swedenborg was stating concerning the 'third degree' being held 'potential'.

      Yes, I know. But you did earlier indicate that Swedenborg might have had something right in your estimation, so I brought it up. Remove Swedenborg's 'third degree', and what's left is the actuality of God without potentiality. This reminds one of Aquinas' position, which is why it was suggested that Aquinas may have unknowingly addressed only (what Swedenborg later referred to as) the first two degrees of God.

      Potential: 1. Capable of being but not yet in existence. 2. Having possibility, capability, or power.

      How can that which is not yet in existence have capability or power? A thing has to exist first before it can have capability or power. Aquinas insisted on God as 'pure act', not to deny that God has capability or power (2.), but to avoid saying that God is not yet in existence (1.).

      Perhaps this may be of some help:

      God is Pure Actuality, with no potentiality in his being whatsoever. Whatever has potentiality (potency) needs to be actualized or effected by another. And since God is the ultimate Cause, there is nothing beyond him to actualize any potential (i.e., ability) he may have. Nor can God actualize his own potential to exist, since this would mean he caused his own existence. But a self-caused being is impossible, since it cannot create itself. Something has to exist before it can do anything. Even God cannot lift himself into being by his own ontological bootstraps. Thus, God must be Pure Actuality in his Being.

      Of course, God has the potential to create other things. But he cannot bring himself into being. He always was. And while God has the potential to do other things, he cannot be anything other than what he is. He has the power to create other things (active potency), but he does not have the power (passive potency) to exist in any other way than he does, namely, as an infinite, eternal, necessary, and simple Being.

      God's aseity means that he is Being; everything else merely has being. God is Pure Actuality; all other things have both actuality and potentiality. Thus, God cannot not exist. All creatures can be nonexistent. That is, they have the potentiality for nonexistence. Only God is a Necessary Being. All other beings are contingent.
      -- (Paras 3-5 here.)

    17. You write Potential: 1. Capable of being but not yet in existence. 2. Having possibility, capability, or power.
      How can that which is not yet in existence have capability or power? A thing has to exist first before it can have capability or power. Aquinas insisted on God as 'pure act', not to deny that God has capability or power (2.), but to avoid saying that God is not yet in existence (1.).

      Here, you misunderstand how this definition works. When 'potential' is listed as (1) or (2), it means that there are two different meanings of the word. And then, if someone use the word, you should ask them which meaning they had in mind.

      Conversely, if someone said 'B is actual', then this excludes one of the meanings of 'potential', or possibly both: you have to ask.

      However, when someone says 'G is purely actual', then this necessarily exclude both meanings of potential. Aquinas, says, as you correctly quote him, that God is Pure Actuality, with no potentiality in his being whatsoever. And so there can be neither kind of potentiality in the nature of God. There can be nothing that changes concerning God. God can never do things at one time that he does not do at all times, for example.

      You quote that "Of course, God has the potential to create other things." There is no 'of course' here, given Aquinas's God of pure act. In that case, it is impossible for God to 'have the potentiality' to do anything.

      Returning to Swedenborg again: it is not that, if you remove his 'third degree', you are left with 'the actuality of God without potentiality.' That is because his 'first degree', the Father, is divine love. And divine love is forever concerned with what can be done at some times rather than at others. It forever is looking forward to doing different things in the future! And doing this by the power of that love.

      It is relevant that I am denying Aquinas' subsidiary claim that "Whatever has potentiality (potency) needs to be actualized or effected by another. " God has potency (power, potentiality), I insist, without it needs being actualized by another.

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    19. The primary sense of God having potency is that it is an active potency. This is what is needed to create the world and manage it. This is what must be attributed to the Godhead, or the primary being of God as Love and Wisdom.

    20. My apologies; I had not seen before deleting it that you had responded to the comment. I deleted the comment in order to expand it. However, the expansion still seems valid (with one exception (choice a))), in that you say (my emphasis), "The primary sense of God having potency is that it is an active potency."

      God has potency (power, potentiality), I insist, without it needs being actualized by another.

      Which of the following is true regarding God's potency:

      a) It exclusively passive.
      b) It is exclusively active.
      c) It is sometimes passive, sometimes active, but never simultaneously passive and active.
      d) It is sometimes passive, sometimes active, sometimes simultaneously passive and active.
      e) It is always simultaneously passive and active.
      f) There is nothing to be gained by alleging a distinction between 'passive potency' and 'active potency'.
      g) None of the above is true, but something else is.


      So readers may know what you had responded to, the deleted comment is/was:

      God has potency (power, potentiality), I insist, without it needs being actualized by another.

      Which is true regarding God's potency:

      a) It exclusively passive.
      b) It is exclusively active.
      c) It is both passive and active.
      d) There is nothing to be gained by alleging a distinction between 'passive potency' and 'active potency'.
      e) None of the above is true, but something else is.

    21. My answer still stands: the potency of God is almost exclusively active potency/power/potentiality.

      The word 'almost' here is to allow for some response by God to the contingent actions and loves of beings in the world. In all religions, even Islam, God knows about us. And just that knowledge must indicate some dependence (in some aspect of God) on us. And love too, not just knowledge.

    22. Okay, thank you for answering the question.

  2. Thanks. That was interesting. And way over my head, but in a good way. I actually read it outloud - if not for it being a discussion it would have made less sense. The back and forth helps answer the obvious (to many of us) question: "What?"

    Ian, if not the Writer/character analogy, can you suggest one that would be closer to the truth?

    AC1937, isn't it amazing how Aquinas talked like he was Swedenborgian? I've always wondered how much of Sw.'s ideas preceeded him - Aquinas is calling the 'mystical sense'.

  3. There is a severity to Aquinas that does lead to separation, but perhaps only in people inclined to fall for him hook, line and sinker. I think you are correct, Ian, that what he misses is the wisdom/love higher thought pattern. AC1937, you are just darn lucky you have read lots of Swedenborg to mitigate the Aquinas damage; you yourself are not succeptible to it.

    I have a distaste for Aquinas because I've been reading E. Feser's blog where I notice that Aq. can lead to bad conclusions. Aquinas' "perverted faculty" argument as it is presented there is too "natural law" for its own good. Lying is always wrong because it perverts a faculty of man (speaking). Fine. He excludes all the ways in which we sort of lie (jokes, compliments, the boss is not in, etc), and then he comes to bizarre conclusions. If one is following a philosophy that tells him to place equal derision on lying to one's children about Santa and letting a person hiding from a murderer be found out, then one should begin to take it with a grain of salt. There is a faculty called "common sense and understanding consequences" that is natural to man and that should not be perverted.

    I don't mean to criticise Feser's blog which is fun to read, but only the lack of his noticing that that just could not be correct. There is a higher way of thinking that must be applied. Wisdom and love would be good words for what is missing there. If man is receiving wisdom and love from the Lord, he can think much more clearly than Aquinas gives him credit for.

    1. I notice that Aq. can lead to bad conclusions.

      Isn't this a bit like noticing the 'pernicious influence' of Kant?

      Aquinas does has a thing or two to say about God's Divine Providence operating if not within a person, then into a person. So, from my perspective (which I won't say is necessarily a 'correct' perspective), the appearance of Aquinas' severity leading to separation stems from seeing only part of the picture painted by him (and, obviously, not that part of the picture having to do with DP's activity in or into a person).

    2. True. So the pernicious influence is not Aq.'s fault. He just wrote what he saw as the truth. And then the Catholic Church loved him for his defense of them. And then he really caught on. And some people (Pope John for instance) can use his theories in a wonderful enlightened way. But people can also use it to put faith above love. Not faith alone, but faith above.

      Didn't he himself see the light and decide it was all straw that he had written? Which could be symbolic of a great idea (green grass) dying.

    3. I think what he saw, in the first part of his life, was rather limited by his following Aristotle. He did not see, for example, that spirituality consists of states of love, and not states of forms or truth. He saw angels as forms, not as loves; in fact, devoid of love in their essence.

      I do like to think that, at the end of his life, he saw further.

    4. I just woke up thinking about Aquinas and put my finger on what is wrong. His framework was fine and valuable and led to men being able to be moral by following certain precepts (such as 'man has natural faculties that should not be perverted')

      But he stops short of showing WHY something is right or wrong. Everything is either right or wrong based on a level of thinking that is above what he addrsses. He is ususally correct, but that's almost a coincidence. It seems to back him up. But he is also often totally wrong, and then the people following him closely go off track right behind him.

      Case in point: man's penchant for perverting his sexual faculty which is in the news right now. The Feser blog with Aquinas insists that that is always a huge sin. But they are not seeing WHY it is a huge sin. It is not a huge sin because you are perverting a natural faculty (even if that is also true), it is a huge sin because you are hurting others. You are not loving.

      And it occurred to me that that is part of what went wrong in the bishop pedophilia horror. The bishops, who have memorized Aq., saw that the priest was perverting his natural faculty and dealt with it mostly on that level. But they missed the overall problem: people were getting hurt.

      Aquinas built a nice framework of thought, but it does not reach to heaven. And that confuses some people.

    5. Ian,

      He did not see, for example, that spirituality consists of states of love, and not states of forms or truth.

      The concluding phrase seems somewhat ambiguous to me. I get that you are saying that spirituality does not consist of forms. But you say something else in the concluding phrase, and it is this something else which seems ambiguous to me. Are you saying that spirituality does not consist of states of truth? Or more generally that spirituality does not consist of truth?

    6. Sue,

      Aquinas built a nice framework of thought, but it does not reach to heaven. And that confuses some people.

      Something else pertaining to Aquinas which may confuse some people are some his statements regarding love (all these statements were made by Aquinas after he began his ST, but before deciding to leave it uncompleted):

      o The spirit of the world is the love of the world, which is not from above; rather, it comes up to man from below and makes him descend. But the spirit of God, i.e., the love of God, comes down to man from above and makes him ascend.

      o It is by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us, that we are made strong in our love for God.

      o The voice of Christ was spoken not only to the exterior, but it enkindled the interior of the faithful to love him.

      o We should note that the cause of all our good is the Lord and divine love. For to love is, properly speaking, to will good to someone. Therefore, since the will of God is the cause of things, good comes to us because God loves us.

      o God's love itself is the cause of the goodness in the things that are loved.

      o Although love, notionally taken, is the principle of all the gifts given to us by God, it is nevertheless not the principle of the Son; rather it proceeds from the Father and the Son.

      o Some people are lamps only as to their office or rank, but they are snuffed out in their affections: for as a lamp cannot give light unless there is a fire blazing within it, so a spiritual lamp does not give any light unless it is first set ablaze and burns with the fire of love. Therefore, to be ablaze comes first, and the giving of light depends on it, because knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love.

      o The sea became rough, agitated by a great wind [John 6:18]. This wind is a symbol for the trials and persecutions which would afflict the Church due to a lack of love.

      o Christ is within us in two ways: in our intellect through faith, so far as it is faith; and in our affections through love, which informs or gives life to our faith.

      o One who eats and drinks in a spiritual way shares in the Holy Spirit, through whom we are united to Christ by a union of faith and love.

      o Through love, God is in man, and man is in God.

      o The Holy Spirit is given to us so that we might raise our hearts from the love of this world in a spiritual resurrection.

      o The love by which we love God is from the Holy Spirit.

      o No one can love God unless he has the Holy Spirit: because we do not act before we receive God's grace, rather, the grace comes first.

      o The Son is a consoler because he is the Word. The Son is a consoler in two ways: because of his teaching and because the Son gives the Holy Spirit and incites love in our hearts.

      o From the fact that God loves us, he influences us and helps us to fulfill his commandments, which we cannot do without grace.

      o Carnal love is contrary to the Holy Spirit, since the Spirit is spiritual love.

      o Our Lord says that eternal life lies in vision, in seeing, that is, it consists in this basically and in its whole substance [John 17:3]. But it is love which moves one to this vision, and is in a certain way its fulfillment.

      o It very often happens that contemplatives, because they are docile, are the first to become acquainted with a knowledge of the mysteries of Christ--but they do not enter, for sometimes there is knowledge, but little or no love follows.

    7. I agree that my phrasing here is too simple, and liable to be misunderstood. At the very least, it should have read ' .. and not only states or forms of truth'.

      More fundamentally, however, I see spiritual life as consisting of love as its being/substance. Our true identity is what our deepest love is. And that love exists in various forms or states, like 'shapes', which I take to be the thoughts (especially thoughts of truth) at that particular stage of life. Just as substance exists in certain forms, so does love exist in certain truths.

    8. Just as substance exists in certain forms, so does love exist in certain truths.

      I agree.

    9. But not only with that, I agree with the entirety of "More fundamentally..."

    10. We do not read this in Aquinas, not even in the (mostly very good) quotations on Love from ST that you give above.

    11. Who might 'we' be? And why might we (readers of this blog) implicitly trust their perception? The (mostly very good) quotations on Love are not from ST, and it wasn't stated that they are. It was simply said that the statements "were made by Aquinas after he began his ST, but before deciding to leave it uncompleted." The phrasing used was not for the purpose of setting a 'trap', but I can see now that it did function as a kind of booby-trap for the unwary. Still, I'm suprised you (plural) fell into it so easily. Then again, maybe not. The understanding sometimes can lead astray, and love sometimes can blind the understanding. God help us all!

    12. Mostly I am trying to understand Aquinas from his basic principles. These are the principles that came originally from Aristotle, but were modified in various ways. You are right: I am not trying to follow everything he writes that might not be connected to those ontological principles.

    13. This comment has been removed by the author.

    14. This seems somewhat reminiscent of a prior pattern.

      Suppose we... analyse observed dispositions in terms of constituents. Presumably the parts are to have the ability to interact. But this means at the microscopic level of explanation we again have to accept some kinds of dispositional properties: of the parts this time. This is because 'to be able' signals a dispositional property. Thus I will argue (somewhat controversially) that in fact dispositional properties, though perhaps explained, are never explained away. However much we may dislike them, they are never found to be illusory, and cannot be completely replaced by talk of functional relationships, differential equations, and probability calculus.

      At the microscopic level we might hope that the constituents have many definite properties (e.g. mass, shape, position, velocity, energy etc.), and only a few of those peculiar dispositional properties (e.g. perfect elasticity, gravitational attraction, and electric charge). In that way there might be a minimum number of these inexplicable 'occult powers'. Such would be the case if Newtonian physics were true, as [will be] seen in [a later] section[.]

      Quantum phenomena show, however, that this hope is not satisfied...

      Just taking a shot in the dark here, but suppose 'understanding of' is used in lieu of 'dispositional property' and 'principle' in lieu of 'constituent', and an unnamed something else in lieu of 'quantum phenomena'. If this were to be done, then some of the difficulties involved in each pursuit might appear as being similar.

      Another shot in the dark: suppose the formation of an ontology is like an act of art expressing the 'Conceptually Unknown'...

    15. The 2nd-4th paras s/b italicized or enclosed in quotes, and the concluding statement s/b "...the 'Conceptually Unknown'."

    16. You first suggest trying to understand dispositional properties, but treating them as analogous to 'understanding'. That is one possibility, but it could be improved slightly:

      Let us treat the 'underlying disposition' as the 'persisting love' that is the ontological being of the parts of an object, and treat the forms and structures and properties in which those parts appear and are arranged as the 'understanding' that the love has at a particular time.

      This is indeed to treat 'understanding' as a 'dispositional property', but only as long as it refers to the property and not the underlying love/disposition. That is because (after Plato & Aristotle) direct understanding is always understanding the forms of things: the manner in which they are at the moment. It takes a lot more intellectual effort to understand the dispositions of things: the manner which is the source of what they could be subjunctively.

      This last aspect -- that relating to disposition / love / substance -- is notoriously difficult to see intellectually, but we can infer it from observations & experiments. It is what science is all about. For that reason, though to many people that aspect may be the 'conceptually unknown', I think it can and should be the subject of a proper science. A 'theistic science', I say, because it also applies to God and his activities in the world.

  4. Off the subject, but did you know that Many Worlds theories have the downside of not including a strict conservation of energy?

    Wikipedia, under Common Objections:
    Conservation of energy is grossly violated if at every instant near-infinite amounts of new matter are generated to create the new universes.

    1. That is certainly a serious problem, one that is not widely appreciated.
      Some physicists (eg Hawking) try to get around it by having universes composed of positive and negative energy of equal amount.

  5. Have you noticed that Aquinas's reasonings (or at least my newfound Aquinas knowledge from Feser's blog) are narcissitic? Things that are wrong seem to always be about harming Myself. As if Myself were 'good'.

    Here's my list so far:
    Lying is always wrong because it perverts my natural faculty, nevermind the consequences to others.
    Ditto for anything sexual.
    A joke that mocks another person is ok. (This comes from a story Feser tells about cornering a stranger who owns a Jaguar to tell him that his car has been totalled). Mocking the insecurity that prompted him to buy an expensive car is fine because it would not in fact pervert my wonderful faculty of truth in speech.
    Pornography is wrong because it ... well, you know how it plays havoc with my faculties. But no mention of the fact that it is wrong because it promotes drug addicted young women falling victim to horrible harm.
    A starving person stealing my food could be wrong except for the fact that my property rights are not strong enough to prevent it.

    Me, me, me. I could perhaps do right by others for the sake of doing right by others ... but sheesh! What about ME and my natural faculties! I am hoping to become perfect, so I will have to think only about myself. I hope you scared refugees will understand if you ever have to hide out in my basement. I'll have to (reluctantly) tell the murderers where you are so I can be Good!

    1. Perhaps you had better go back to the source, and not rely so much on Feser?

      Summa Theologica

      Contra Gentiles

      I have concentrated more on the ontological foundations Aquinas uses.

  6. The source is confusing and it also has me referring back to someone (Augustine, I believe). It's all a muddle until some nice person like Feser fleshes it out.

    For years I could not tell Aristotle, Aquinas, Augustine, Plato apart. But Feser has helped me be able to never forget Aquinas in the future. Feser is a great teacher, in a wacky way.

    Ontological? Definitely not my strong suit. But I think I would have to trust the person's reasoning power first and then go on to trust his ontology. He didn't pass my test for reasoning his way out of a box. I still love the Catholic church, though, since I think they find a way to rise above him most of the time.