Back to basics

basics

Gathering a few lines here and there from key previous posts, here are a few basics as I’ve come to embrace and in light of which I strive to live. As I transition out of MN and to a new life in CA, I’ve been trying to boil down some of our more important lessons here. Most of what Dwayne and I explore here can be reduced to one or more of these basic convictions. I don’t know why theologians feel it necessary to say things in Latin, but I’m sure the Latin of some of these phrases is horrible. Feel free to offer corrections!

God’s beauty is his beatitudedei pulchritudo eius est beatitudo
God is the Beautiful, and that beauty is an experienced beatitude. Nothing outside of God makes him beautiful. He doesn’t derive his beauty from anything outside his own self-relations. If he’s the transcendent ground of ‘beauty’, nothing other than his own experience of himself (Father, Son, and Spirit) can be that which makes God beautiful, and that beauty is the experienced fullness of trinitarian love.

God’s beatitude is the summum bonumbeatitudo dei est summum bonum
The beauty of God which is his beatitude is itself the summum bonum (the ‘highest good’ or ‘supreme value’) and that from which all created experiences derive their value. This, we think, yields what we take to be a metaphysical rule: the greatest value in the universe is the greatest beatitude. All value is aesthetic value. God’s value is just the sheer beatitude of his triune experience. And an infinite value would be an infinite(ly intense) experience of beatitude. If I were pressed for a definition of apatheia as I understand and employ it, I’d say it is just the infinite value of the beatitude of God’s triune experience.

Creation from nothingcreatio ex nihilo
God creates freely and gratuitously.

Incarnation or nothing at allincarnatione aut nihil
God either creates to bring all he creates to fulfillment in/through Incarnation, or he doesn’t create at all. Varieties of creation or created distinctions don’t constitute a range of options God chooses between. They are all potentialities inherent in the capacities and dispositions God breathes into his one determination to create for Incarnation. It should then be impossible not just to speak of this creation apart from Incarnation/Christology, but to speak of God’s creating at all apart from the intention to incarnate. Indeed, I’m suggesting that all possibilities for creation derive from and return to the one possibility of Incarnation. In the end, there is only one possible world to create—an initial state suitably fitted and sustained for the emergence of sentient-hypostatic/personal life for the sole purpose of Incarnation.

Living from nothingvita ex nihilo
We want to mean something, to be something permanent. That’s our ‘natural’ will/desire at work. But for passibilist believers, this natural desire precedes rather than follows the truth that grounds it, and when that happens we misconstrue our ‘meaning’ as the difference we make to God rather than the difference God makes to us and so misinterpret our God-given desire to make-meaning. We may recognize that we “live and move and have our being in God” (Acts 17.28), but we live by construing our fullest meaning otherwise, partly at least, as the sense or measure in which God lives and moves and has his being in us. So to be in the presence of a beauty and delight that doesn’t need us, that isn’t improved upon or completed by us, ends up being viewed by passibilists not as the fulfillment of desire but as its denial and so as a kind of torment.

God wills our improvisationdeus vult nos improvisus
If the logoi of created beings can be analogously understood, then the divine will ends in defining the ‘scope’ without prescribing or determining the actual creative expressive ‘form’ which Truth, Beauty, and Goodness take in us—as us. But this means, I believe, that God’s will in sustaining creation as such embraces created improvisation on our part, which means—I’m afraid to utter it—the divine will (viz., logoi) is given to us to improvise upon. I mean, if you want to retain mystery, there you are. The endless possibilities are God’s, their final arrangement is ours. But if this is his will, then it seems to me that the mode of God’s knowing creation would reflect the mode of his willing; that is, God would know the improvisational form which divine logoi finally take in us as a knowledge of form ‘apprehended’ or ‘received’ and not only a knowledge of created being as ‘given’. What the world gives to God is what it gives back to God in improvisation upon and within the grace of being.

Go with the Flow

rohrThanks to Fr Kimel for the heads up on Fred Sanders’ review of Richard Rohr’s new book Divine Dance: Trinity and Your Transformation. I don’t usually get with the Gospel Coalition’s vibe in general, their view of the atonement, or their rejection as heresy of other orthodox positions, “but never mind that for now” (as Sanders repeatedly says in his review). I have not yet read Rohr’s new book (definitely will, and soon). I also want to kick myself for not remembering the passage, but I do recall running across the word “dance” in one of the Greek Fathers in reference to the Trinity. Regardless of the accuracy of my memory though, I don’t share Sanders’ suspicion of the word “dance” to describe the dynamism of the Trinity’s fullness.

Not having read Rohr’s book, it’s impossible to judge the content of Sanders’ review. That said, I didn’t find Sanders’ tone insulting or dismissive, even if it was passionate. He was helpful and fair, ever if he ignores the notorious (and orthodox!) language of the mystics (like Eckhart) who are infamous (and loved!) for their shocking claims regarding being one with God and experiencing one’s own self as inseparable from the divinity in (even ‘of’) all things. If Sanders hasn’t read Denys Turner on the Christian mystics, that might help him understand people like Rohr and what such language is doing (even if it doesn’t always announce what it’s doing). There’s no way to bring mystical expression (more art that a recipe to follow) into any neat – concept for concept – alignment with precise doctrinal formulae. You’re going to have messy conceptual leftovers on the table. I could pull phrases out of Maximus, not identify him as the author, and almost certainly get a similar assessment of them by Sanders. Rohr is a mystic, and you have to remember that.

However, at the same time I’m glad we have the mystics to push us beyond stale and clinical formulae, I’m thankful we have thoughtful, informed, debated, conciliar statements too. I’ve posted on aspects of Rohr’s thought from earlier works that I find helpful, but if Sanders has accurately captured Rohr’s essential claim regarding the Trinity, I agree with Sanders that there’s room for great concern – not because Rohr uses the words “dance” and “flow” (those can be put to good use), but because of more sinister metaphysical assumptions at work (i.e., God’s dependency upon the world by which God constitutes or enriches his own being, a distinction between the divine persons and something “other” (“the Flow”) than those persons in which the persons participate, or the idea that we participate in that “Flow” as the divine persons do and so expand the Trinity’s partnership to Four, etc.). If this is just Eckhartian mysticism being uncomfortable with the boundaries of neat formulae, fine. That just is the ongoing conversation that is Christianity. Experience will always exceed language, territory will always exceed the map. Hopefully Rohr will clarify his position. But if these other metaphysical assumptions are at work, those are of concern.

So, another book to buy!

A time for everything under the sun

sunset-and-sunrise-in-merzouga

Head’s up! I need to announce some changes in my life that will mean a temporary pause in new posts. I’ve accepted a new job that will involve relocating out of state the first of the year – from Minnesota to California. My wife and I are excited about this next chapter in our lives, but it means I’ll be busy this December getting our home ready to sell and packing up our lives, then there’s the move west and settling into a new job and home. I’ll be checking in to respond to comments, but I’m not likely to be making new posts until the move is behind us and we’re settled. I just wanted folks to know I haven’t shut things down and hope to be back in the saddle as soon as possible after the new year. I’ll keep you posted!

Where is Jesus?

resurrection_side_cs_500A friend asks:

Where is Christ’s resurrected body right now?

Fascinating when you think about it. I’ll risk putting my own speculations out there.

I suggest that Christ’s resurrected body is a disposition of all material reality that guarantees creation’s eventual perfection and glorification in him and that this disposition is free to particularize on occasion.

In the One Logos all things are one and so are inseparable both from the Logos in whom they inhere and from each other. We are all connected, and as deeply as our created essences go, we are there equally connected. I think of how entangled quantum particles are immediately implicated in one another’s experiences regardless of the distance that separates them, and their connection is not accountable for any given physical reality within the system.

So what about Jesus’ body? No one of our bodies (because our bodies are each animated by created, finite persons) can mediate life to all other material bodies and bring them to fulfillment. Only the Logos, an infinite Person, in whom all things are sustained, can stand in that kind of relation to material realities. All things inhere in him, not in us. In a real sense, then, Christ’s resurrected body now just is the entire material cosmos (dispositionally speaking), and in a more accomplished sense as the Church embodies God’s intentions for human existence. The Church is that portion of the fallen, material, sentient world being redeemed and brought into union with God.

Thinking of the double-slit experiment. We know that matter fundamentally is a superposition (a wave-function, a disposition for a range of concrete manifestation) which collapses/particularizes under sufficient conditions. Consider thinking of Christ’s glorified body as dispositionally everywhere (superpositioned throughout the cosmos), but which like other created material realities can collapse, in Christ’s case into a ‘particular’ manifestation of the risen Christ in his hypostatic uniqueness. Christ can ‘show up’ here or there. How? Because by virtue of being the Logos, his body is dispositionally-possibly everywhere his Person is, and particularly-concretely anywhere he wills. Can Christ’s body not be ‘particularized’ anywhere and still be a “body”? I think so, yes. The wave function is constitutive of the material order.

So where is Jesus right now? He’s everywhere dispositionally (inherent in all things, a transcendent wave function which is the material world’s receptivity to God and now the universal possibility of his particular manifestation). Where is Jesus’ body ‘collapsed into particularity’? Wherever and whenever he wills it to be. Maybe nowhere right now.

God’s duration is without loss

glass2I’ve been reading and listening to reflections on God and time. I get such headaches when I dwell on this question, but four core convictions come to mind as I consider these conversations again.

(1) Creation as irreducible becoming or processu operis (a work in progress). We exist entirely as an act of “becoming,” an ever-moving process in which we determine ourselves in the present by relating our perceived past (the data of past experience; i.e., memory) to perceived possibilities at which we aim ourselves in the hope of becoming what we wish to be. We are a perpetual hourglass that negotiates between the perceived effects of the past and the perceived possibilities of the future.

(2) God’s self-constituting triune perfections and beatitude are actus purus. In our view, God cannot be reduced to the “becoming” described in (1) above, even if the process is qualified by saying it occurs “necessarily.” God’s self-constituting triune act (the Father’s begetting of the Son, the proceeding of the Spirit, the triune fullness and beatitude of this knowing and loving) cannot itself be subject to temporal becoming; it cannot supervene upon a process that prehends ‘past’ data from which God’s ‘present’ is determined in light of some desire to become in the ‘future’ what he is not ‘now’. To borrow Whitehead’s language (but not how he understands it), we suggest that God’s essential triune act is the “epochal immediacy of an occasion’s subjective indivisible unity,” an infinite specious present, an indivisible occasion of plenitude not composed of successive temporal moments upon whose unending process it supervenes (i.e., it has neither past which it remembers nor future changes it anticipates).

(3) God’s free self-expression in creation is contingent and involves duration. If God cannot be reduced to a processu operis, neither can he be reduced to actus purus as a totum simul. If God’s self-constituting, triune fullness is the living immediacy of an infinite ‘specious present’, it is not on that account intolerant of contingent self-expressive modes of willing and knowing. Thus we believe God’s free self-expression in creation (the creating, sustaining, and knowledge of the world in its contingent temporal actualities) involves temporal duration for God. Time flows from God as we “live and move and have our being in God.”

(4) God’s duration is without loss. The phrase is Robert Jenson’s. I don’t include in it all that he does. I employ it only to say that God’s duration as expressed in (3) is without loss (because it’s asymmetrically related) to the triune fullness expressed in (2). God’s self-expressive act in creation, with its duration and change, is purely expressive of his triune identity. God does not constitute himself dialectically within the economy of creation, though his knowledge of and relation to the world involve change and reciprocal relations such as prayer within an open horizon whose precise unfolding even God does not immutably (fore)know. This openness (for free, creaturely becoming in love) just is God’s free, creative self-expression. Free creaturely self-expression (ultimately in unfailing love and union with God) perfectly manifests free divine self-expression because the latter grounds and guarantees the former. But the entire economy of creation, even the Incarnation itself, only expresses or manifests (rather than determines or alters) God’s self-constituting triune fullness.

Divine Sophia and the experience of wonder

54bc1ecec0311_-_hbz-sophia-loren-20-1964-rexusa-210677bq-xlBack in 2013 at Biola’s Art Symposium, David Bentley Hart suggested that true beauty isn’t always reducible to the predictably neat and tidy forms of beauty classically understood as ‘right proportionality’. An example Hart gives of disproportionate beauty is Sophia Loren’s face, “magnificently beautiful,” he says, but “nothing in it of classical proportion.” Conversely, he notes, objects that possess all the ideal features of proportionality often “bore us with their banality.” Rembrandt’s obscure canvases are beautiful, while the glittery canvases of Thomas Kinkade are repellent.

It was while listening through Hart’s Biola presentation, together with working with staff on our upcoming Advent sermon series, that I got to thinking again on the experience of “wonder” (which Aristotle believed to be the beginning of philosophy).

The reason Hart’s talk and our Advent series planning meeting got connected in my mind is because our Advent theme is “Capture the Wonder.” There ya go. So obviously I asked: What really is the experience of wonder? Why do we desire the experience of wonder so irresistibly? And what ought an Advent sermon series branded “Capture the Wonder” urge upon listeners regarding the satisfaction of this desire?

As I thought on our theme I couldn’t help but invert it to “Captured by Wonder.” It seems to me there’s a mistaken presumption in the standard phrase. A more proper perspective on the order of grace and creation, I think, sees the experience of wonder not as captured by us, but as capturing us. After all, “there is no one who seeks God.” (Rom 3.11) It is God who seeks, his beauty that captures, his wonder that entices, enthralls, and defines us. Wonder precedes us, creates us, arouses our desire, draws out our hunger. There’s a real danger (a threat to true wonder) then in supposing that God is found by us or that wonder is somehow captured by us at all. At best these are as true of the experience of God as is “sunrise” a true description of what the earth and sun actually do when we look eastward every morning. The deeper, more revealing narrative is that we, not the sun, are doing the moving. Similarly, our search for meaning and fulfillment ends precisely in the realization that we are sought by God, captured by him, and that if there is any evading going on it is we who evade the wonder that frees and fulfills us. The “advent” of Christmas, then, is creation’s arrival at its intended end, earth’s being caught up into heaven, humanity taken up into divinity. We don’t capture the wonder. It captures us.

What is ‘wonder’? Synonyms pop up—awe, astonishment, fascination, amazement. These all describe a certain ineffable pleasure, the satisfying of an appetite of the heart, a beatitude possessed (or let us now say, as possessing us) in the perceiving of beauty. It might be some event in the natural order of things or encountered through a work of art. But the proper order of grace and creation is important. Why am I so inclined to invert “capture the wonder” to “captured by the wonder”? Because a proper perspective on the relation is precisely where ‘grace’ is encountered. There’s a gratuity and graciousness to our existence that is present and offered to us in every experience of wonder. We intuitively know when we experience the beauty of a sunset, or are caught up in the rapture of a musical composition, or sit before a Renoir unable to exhaust the ways it mystifies us, that we are being addressed and possessed by something not under our control, something we do not define but which defines us precisely in its power to draw us out of ourselves and in drawing us out of ourselves define our most inward depths. This is as true for the artist who paints or composes as it is for the art aficionado, as true for Monet as for the tourist who visits him in the Musée d’Orsay.

da408ced982d40d63e022733cf831ad9First of all, then, the experience of wonder is an experience of grace, the realization that I am at home in the world, that I am welcome in it, and that the truest thing about my being here at all is the experienced beauty of the world in its gracious giftedness and goodness.

Secondly, the experience of wonder is also beautifying. When we wonder at some beauty, we are made beautiful. The experience of beauty is itself beautiful. So anyone experiencing beauty is beautiful to the extent one perceives and opens oneself to beauty’s transforming wonder, for there is something beautiful in/to us as well, in our very openness to the world. In our experience of wonder we reflect the beauty around us and so experience not only the world but ourselves as beautiful. We wonder at ourselves wondering and so become all wonder. We experience ourselves as painted into being.

Not only is the experience of wonder firstly an experience of the grace that gives and welcomes our being, and not only is it a beautifying (sanctifying) wonder, but, thirdly, wonder is also an experience of the essential unity of all things. Not only are there beautiful things in the world, but all beautiful things are a single, unified beautiful “thing,” a single beautiful act of being.

Fourthly, every experience of wonder is irreducible to itself (and I confess here the influence of David Hart’s piece “The Mirror of the Infinite” on Gregory of Nyssa’s doctrine of creation). That is, no beauty in creation that excites true wonder in us, not even the whole of creation contemplated as a single beautiful thing, can offer an account of itself. The experience of wonder is an experience of transcendence and thus a token and reflection of an Artist (not just art), a primal Gift Giver (not just gift), a Beautiful One who makes beautiful (but who is not made beautiful by the things he makes).

Finally, in all this I was drawn back to Celia Deane-Drummond’s comments about divine wonder, about the fact that God also ‘wonders’, that he is wonderful, that he is a God of Wonder, and to comments I then made:

I imagine God to be ‘wonderful’, to experience and know himself with an infinite sense of wonder, not because he is forever discovering things about himself he hasn’t always known, but because there is nothing possibly boring or redundant about God. God is never bored with himself. That is (partly I suppose) his infinitude. The Father’s eternal begetting of his Logos is an exclamatory act (!), an eternal “Wow!” whose utterance is God’s own existence.