Thomas Oden on Greg Boyd & Open Theism

March 17, 2009

If “reformists” insist on keeping the boundaries of heresy open, however, then they must be resisted with charity. The fantasy that God is ignorant of the future is a heresy that must be rejected on scriptural grounds (“I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come”; Isa. 46:10a; cf. Job 28; Ps. 90; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1), as it has been in the history of the exegesis of relevant passages. This issue was thoroughly discussed by patristic exegetes as early as Origen’s Against Celsus. Keeping the boundaries of faith undefined is a demonic temptation that evangelicals within the mainline have learned all too well and have been burned by all too painfully. (Thomas Oden, “The Real Reformers and the Traditionalists,” Christianity Today, Feb. 9, 1998, p. 46. emphasis added)


Short book note: _Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective_

April 10, 2008

Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective.
Ed. by Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler. Baker, 2007; 244 pages.

Fred Sanders and Klaus Issler have compiled six outstanding essays in Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective. The book begins with a well-written introduction to Christology (by Sanders), which focuses on the orthodoxy established in the early creeds, especially Chalcedon. “Each of the remaining chapters in this book approaches the task of doing Christology in a way that is informed by trinitarian thought and Chalcedonian categories” (p. 36).

Chapter two focuses more explicitly on the Trinity, specifically Jesus’ place within it. Arguing for an “eternally ordered social model” for understanding the Trinity, this chapter emphasizes the equality of the divine nature, while affirming a “distinction of roles within the immanent Godhead” (p. 76). The next two chapters discuss the person of Christ. The first is a fine exploration of the fifth-century Christological controversy, commending Cyril of Alexandria as the most important contributor to the debate. Given the general ineptitude among Evangelicals regarding historical theology, this is a welcome essay. The next chapter is a rigorous philosophical investigation into the Incarnation. In dialogue with Medieval philosophical theology, a “contemporary monothelite” model is offered.
The latter half of the book addresses the work of Christ, beginning with a chapter on Christ’s atonement “as a work of the Trinity,” arguing that “without the Trinity there could be no atonement and hence no salvation” (p. 156). The sixth and final chapter (by Issler), discusses Jesus’ genuine example for “how to live the Christian life beyond the limitations of an average human life” (p. 189). For example, “Jesus walked by the Spirit, and so it is possible for us to do so as we yield in dependence on God” (p. 214).
Though the contributors do not shy away from precise (and sometimes technical) language, they are careful to thoroughly explain themselves. Jesus in Trinitarian Perspective is geared for advanced undergraduates or beginning seminary students, but can certainly be read with great benefit by any determined reader.

Leibniz and Henry of Ghent on Possibility

January 25, 2008

Judging by his previous post, it looks like my man Keith has been reading some Leibniz.  I must confess, I’ve only just  began reading Leibniz seriously just recently.  I did some reading a while back in an Early Modern Phil. class but I don’t remember much from back then.  One interesting point though about the early modern thinkers is the remarkable continuity they exhibit with their medieval predecessors (despite their strong repudiation of them). 

Consider the the nature of possibility: In the Monadology, Leibniz insists that the ‘essences or possibles’ depend on the ideas in God’s understanding in such a way that if God did not exist, then ‘not only would nothing exist, but also nothing would be possible.’  The eternal truths or abstract realm of possibilia are for Leibniz so dependent on God, that their very possibility emerges from him.   But what does that mean?  Specifically, Leibniz’ claim is that ‘the possibles’ depend on the divine intellect itself.  Here, he tries to repudiate Duns Scotus’ understanding of God and possibility while avoiding the pitfalls of Descartes:

We ought not to say, with some Scotists, that the eternal truths would subsist, even if there were no understanding, not even God’s.  For, in my opinion, it is the divine understanding that makes the eternal truths real, although his will has no part in it.  Whatever is real must be founded in something existent.  It is true that an atheist may be a geometer.  But if there were no God, there would be no object of geometry…The reason for truths lies in the ideas of things which are involved in the divine essence itself.

By making this move, Leibniz is appealing to the doctrine of divine ideas associated with Augustine and Aquinas, which says that God’s knowledge extends as far as He knows His essence to be imitable in this way or that, and that there exists in God an idea of every such imitation that He knows.  So in God, there are ideas of everything that exists, even of things that do not in fact exist, but are simply possible.  Now Leibniz thinks that God’s will has ‘no part’ in determining what is possible.  This is the sole perogative of His intellect.  He has in mind the likes of Descartes who, in his letter to Mersenne appeared to embrace a kind of voluntarism:

As for the eternal truths, I say once more that they are true or possible only because God knows them to be true or possible.  They are not known as true by God in any way which would imply that they are true independently of him…In God willing and knowing are one single thing, in such a way that by the very fact of willing something He knows it, and it is for this reason that such a thing is true.

And in another reply to Mersene, May 27, 1630 he says:

You ask me by what kind of causality God established the eternal truths, I reply: by the same kind of causality as he created all things, that is to say, as their efficient and total cause.  For it is certain that he is no less the author of creatures’ essence than he is of the existence; and this essence is nothing other than the eternal truths.

He goes on to maintain that it is because God has willed it that all the radii of a circle are of equal length or that it is again in virtue of the divine will that all the angles of a triangle are necessarily equal.  But Leibniz in no uncertain terms, rejects this thesis.  Necessary and possible truths have their status not because God has willed that they do.  This would imply that it is within God’s power to will that such truths have a different nature altogether.  Hence, God could have made it that 2 + 2 = 7 or that a necessary conclusion would not come from a valid syllogism with true premises.  So Leibniz rejects Descartes’ view, but he does not want to give the impression that he is with Scotus either.  His via media then is this: Whatever is possible is possible in virtue of God somehow, if only because the divine intellect makes it possible.  Leibniz never really fleshes out this claim, however.

As it turns out, Leibniz proposal is remarkably similar to that of Henry of Ghent (one of Scotus’ favorite interlocutors), and here we find a bit more flesh.  Henry proposes one of the clearest responses to the impasse posed by the statistical model of possibility for God’s freedom to create.  On Aristotelian modality, no genuine possibility could forever remain unactualized.  In fact Aristotle himself had insisted that per impossible, if an object were to have contrary potencies, one of which is always actualized, then the alleged unactualized potency could not in fact be real.  Yet this concept of modality seemed to entail that God could not have the freedom to create things that He would otherwise not have.  But God’s perfect freedom in creation was a central theological doctrine that the medieval thinkers could not contradict.  Henry’s solution was to posit that the possibilities do in fact have some kind of realization in the divine intellect.

            Now Henry argued that in the divine mind there exists a kind of reality consisting of all things that might take place in the actual world.  These objects have a quasi-reality about them albeit somewhat less that the being of actual objects.  They have a “being of essence” and are real enough to be called “conceivable things.”  These objects derive their formal possibility from their relation to the divine intellect itself.  Their being conceived by the the divine mind is what makes them possible.  Opposed to these, are the absolute nothing of fictions, Henry says.  These are simply the things that are impossible like the Chimera or Aristotle’s goat-stag.  These have no being or reality at all for they are not objects of the divine intellect and thus do not derive any formal possibility from this relation.  So the possibility of things is derived from the divine intellect itself, whereas impossibility is derived from the absence of a relation between an ostensible thing and the divine mind.  So for Henry as for Leibniz, an object derives its very possibility from the divine mind such that if God did not exist, not only would it not exist in the actual world, it would not even enjoy its formal status as possible. 


January 23, 2008

“[D]ivine goodness and justice are shown forth to perfection in God’s designs for the souls of men” (Theodicy, preface).

New Books in Phil. of Religion

October 3, 2007

Both are edited by Paul Copan and Chad Meister. The first is Philosophy of Religion, published by Blackwell. The second is Routledge Companion to Philosophy of Religion.

Austin Farrer

July 30, 2007

If we were never to say anything unless we said everything, we should all be best advised to keep our lips sealed: but we are all vain enough to think that if we express within a limited compass what in fact interests us, it may have the luck to interest our indulgent friends.

The Glass of Vision

Anselmian Motivations for God’s Simplicity

June 28, 2007

I posted this a while back at Metaphysical Frameworks and I thought I’d include it here at Summa:

I want to suggest what I think are two of Anselms motivations for his insistence that God is metaphysically simple and see what everyone thinks of them.  He says in the Monologion:

It would seem, then, that the supremely good substance is called ‘just’ by its participating in a quality (in this case, justice), rather than through itself.

But this is contrary to the already ascertained truth.  The supreme nature is what it is–good, great, existing–precisely through itself and nothing else.  So then, it is just through justice and it is just through itself.  And if so, then what is more necesarily and clearly the case than that the supreme nature is justice itself?…And so if you ask ‘what is this supreme nature we are talking about?’, you my answer ‘justice.’  What could be truer?

Monologion 16

Here, I think we find one of Anselm’s motivation, namely, his notion that God cannot be what He is through any other than Himself.  I think Anselm might see this in the suggestion that God exists a se.  According to the aseity thesis, God is completely self-sufficient and requires nothing for His being.  Since His existence is entirely of Himself, there cannot be anything that causes Him to be.  But if this is true, then His essence (that is, His essential attributes or properties) cannot be what they are through any other existing thing either.  For consider the matter that ‘God is just’:  The statement attributes some real thing–justice–to God.  But if God is just, then because of his aseity, He cannot be just through justice (in Platonist talk), or He cannot be just by exemplifying the property justice (in contemporary essentialist talk). 

So if Anselm is right, God does not stand in the “subject-exemplifiable” realtion to justice as other just persons do (Abraham, Moses, Mother Teresa), and since He doesn’t instance justice, and yet He is just, we must surmise that He just is justice.

Here is another principle I think that motivates Anslem:

So the supreme nature is many good things.  Is it then a composite of these many good things?  or is it not rather one good tihng, signified by many names?

Monologion 17

The question is pertinent for Anslem because he wants to mantain that if God is a composite, then He cannot be a perfect being.

One might conceive of a composite either as a heap or an organisation of proper parts.  A heap seems to have all its parts essentially while an organisation of proper parts can admit of accidental as well as essential parts.  In either case however, it seems that a composite depends on its (essential) parts.  In this sense, the essential parts of a composite, are more fundamental than the composite itself.  For while the composite C depends on its parts x, y, and z for its existence and character, it doesn’t seem that x, y, and z depend on C for the same. 

Now if God is not simple, then it appears He exists in an asymmetrical realtion of dependency with His parts.  Accordingly, His essential properties such as omnipotence are more fundamental than He.  But how can this be true of a perfect being?

Consider further: if God is composed of metaphysical parts then it seems that He is conceivably corruptible.  For like other material composites, His parts can be divided up and separated.  Of course, He isn’t a material being so there are no material parts to be separated, but He would be at least separable in intellectu.

But a greater being is conceivable.  That is, one who is such that it is not even possible that He be divided up metaphysically and separated.  And that of course could only be a simple being.