Why can’t we all be one?

oversoul3
Warning: Speculations ahead! Dwayne and I have been going back and forth over the question of the interpretation of Paul’s view of Christ as the “firstborn of creation” and the related question of Paul’s possible awareness of Philo’s use of the same term in describing God’s Logos as a created, non-divine means or archetype of creation.

Very briefly, Philo (25 BCE to 50 CE), an educated Alexandrian Jewish philosopher, sought to express his Jewish (biblically informed) faith in Hellenistic-philosophical terms. One might argue that he sought more than to faithfully express his Jewish faith in Hellenistic terms, but that he aimed at integrating the two. In any case, our discussion the past few days has focused just on his view of the Logos, its relation to creation, and in turn the possibility of Paul’s awareness of this. Philo believed God’s Logos is “the man of God,” God’s “image,” his “firstborn son” and the first of all God’s creations. The Logos for Philo is a kind of shadow or archetype of God in his creative intentions used to bring the world into existence. As such, the Logos is the intelligible form of things and thus the ground of universal intelligibility, the principle of unity within creation. While Philo rejected Aristotle’s crude version of an eternal creation, he nevertheless held God to create eternally, not at some point in time.

All this bears a resemblance to NT ideas (esp. Paul) of Christ as the Logos, the means by which God creates, of Christ as the “image of God,” the “heavenly man,” in whom all things hold together. These terms and their function in expressing a doctrine of divine creation are not made up on the spot by John or Paul in the NT. They’re writing within a tradition—some of it Hebrew and some of it unquestionably Hellenistic. Forget the question of the Greek influence of the post-apostolic church and councils. This is older, in the biblical texts themselves. And apart from this influence, we wouldn’t even have a New Testament. And never mind the Greek and pagan influence upon Judaism and its beliefs during the second Temple period (the Septuagint being a case in point). Purge Christianity of its pagan, Hellenistic, Zoroastrian influences? Good luck.

Anyhow, how are we to understand Paul’s use of this tradition? Dwayne (he can explain more on his own if he’d like) favors a Pauline doctrine of creation that takes Paul’s use of Philo and the Alexandrian tradition pretty seriously. In other words, Dwayne follows those who argue that when Paul describes Christ in Colossians 1 as the “firstborn of creation,” he has that tradition in mind which holds God to have created via his Logos/Image in its function as the archetype of creation, the ‘heavenly man’, the (later) ‘Adam Kadmon’ (if you want to explore Kabbalah thought). Dwayne wouldn’t agree with Philo that the Logos is ‘created’ of course. However, he does agree with this wider tradition that there has to be a created reality (Oversoul, Consciousness, Plenum, whatever you wanna call it) which belongs to the Logos but which is a kind of first-step in creating which makes creation in its diverse fullness possible.

What’s incarnation God to do with it? We argued (with many others) for an Incarnation-anyway view of the universe. God creates because he wants to unite creation to himself incarnationally. But it’s Incarnation that is the primary end of creation. We get implicated (and so perfected and brought into union with God) in the Incarnation. Incarnation isn’t just (or even primarily) about fixing what’s wrong with the world on account of sin. Incarnation was always God’s plan and means of bringing creation to fulfillment.

That said, this primal ‘first-act’ of creation, this diffusing of divine energies (I’m grabbing what terms I can), this collective soul or archetype of creation, this ‘Adam Kadmon’ (the original Adam) or as Philo described it, this “[immaterial] man of God,” is the first and foremost act by which creation is made a suitable context for Incarnation. Christ is the “firstborn of creation” not only in the commonly held sense of his having “preeminence” within the created order, as true as that is. In addition to preeminence, as “firstborn of creation” Christ is the Incarnate One as archetype of humanity through whom all things are created and in whom they have their being and find their final fulfillment (cf. Rom 8.19-21). Creation from its beginning is a kind of Incarnation, a step toward eventual Incarnation. Incarnation begins as an act of incarnational intention and preparation. It starts out by being that which is a suitable context for Incarnation.

I’ve balked at Dwayne’s idea here because Paul would never have agreed with Philo that the Logos is created. So there’s no need for a “created” principle of unity within the created order. What would it even be? I still don’t know. But let me offer two reasons for thinking something like this is the case.

The first question has to do with creations’s unity. The “principle of unity” in creation is that which makes the universe ‘one’ as opposed to a collection of self-contained realities each of which is a kind of universe to itself. What accounts for this unity? Just the truth that all things have their source in the Logos?

Can’t the uncreated Logos itself be the principle of unity? Must we posit a created archetype or principle of unity? True, everything is in the Logos, was created by him and is sustained by him, and that provides a kind of unity “of source” or “origin.” But I’m inclined to think (with Bulgakov actually) that creation itself, not just its Creator, has to be ‘one’ on some fundamental level in its createdness. If creation is ‘one’ creation, if it’s ‘singular’, it (and not just its Creator) should be one in its being and not just in sharing God as the source of being. Otherwise what you have is not God related to one/single ‘creation’ but God related to an innumerable number of ‘creations’ each of which is a stand-alone world (so to speak) that just happens to be related to God as its creator. There would be a “vertical” unity of all things (by virtue of their having God as their source), but no “horizontal” unity that constitutes that about created being per se which accounts for its integrity as a single creation. How is such unity to be gotten? We’re suggesting that it’s found in positing a created context (whatever it is — Oversoul, Plenum [cf. Richard Creel], Adam Kadmon, a universal consciousness [if that’s the word] — you can tell I’m struggling to describe it — or perhaps Bulgakov’s ‘World Soul’, viz., Created Sophia) which is not itself a diversity but in which all things as diverse have their individuality.

The second question asks what the above unity of creation has to do with Incarnation and theosis (the perfection and consummation of creation via Incarnation). If the kind of unity within creation described above isn’t the case and creation is in fact an innumerable number of discrete universes related only in the mind of God (i.e., their unity is JUST an abstraction deriving from the shared source which all things have in God), then God incarnate is just one of these innumerable universes/worlds alongside others and there’s no ground within creation upon which the Incarnation redeems all created worlds by implication. Christ would have to be incarnate in every discrete reality to redeem it. It’s because the Incarnation (God’s becoming “a” human being) redeems all creation that I’m inclined to argue for a horizontal unity of the created order. This unity is how the one, finite human being can have universal implications for all things by virtue of also being the Logos. In other words, redemption via incarnation is efficacious not only vertically by virtue of Christ’s being the Logos, though that’s got to be true. It also has to be efficacious horizontally within creation. But if creation isn’t one in its concrete being as created, then there’s no concrete reality, no “way the worlds is,” that mediates the saving effects of Christ incarnate to all things.

I think I can get with a lot of this. I’m still processing it. But I have annoying questions about the notion of an ‘Oversoul’ as a “field of consciousness” or Kabbalah’s “Adam Kadmon” that aren’t going away. And I find it very easy to hold positions in a sort of suspended animation without feeling the need to render a final verdict. Dwayne is more a final verdict kind a guy.

(Picture here).

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11 comments on “Why can’t we all be one?

  1. tgbelt says:

    In the end, I’m not convinced it works. That is, where Philo held ‘Logos’ together with ‘Firstborn of Creation’ as identical and as non-divine and created, I can’t see Paul disagreeing with Phil re: the Logos (Paul would hold him to be divine and eternal) but agreeing with Philo that the ‘Firstborn of Creation’ is created. How? Paul simply identifies the eternal Son as the firstborn of creation. Dwayne wants them to be different realities (Logos on the uncreated side of the line, Firstborn of Creation on the created side of the line).

    If it’s true that we have to posit some underlying created consciousness which fundamentally unites the created order, fine. Just do it. But I wouldn’t know how to identify anything in the NT as it.

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  2. Or “the firstborn of creation” is more an eschatological statement than a metaphysical one for Paul so he would tell Philo he’s missing the point.

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  3. tgbelt says:

    In which case “firstborn of creation” is more like “firstborn from the dead” (another Pauline phrase), like Christ being the “firstfruits.” It looks forward to the connsummation.

    I think what makes me lean toward Philo’s meaning (or at least to the established Alexandrian tradition) is that Paul so closely links “firstborn of creation” in v. 15 to his role as God’s means of creation (vv. 15-16). I suppose that could be eschatological in the sense that it’s the predetermined telos of creation set at the beginning. But it’s Christ as constituting this beginning that I think Paul has in mind by “firstborn of creation” (a phrase Philo is the first to use).

    Interesting.

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  4. tgbelt says:

    It gets mind numbingly speculative, but here’s what Dwayne wants to say…

    Orthodoxy teaches that Christ has a human soul/spirit (just like every other human being). Now, take that immaterial, created aspect of Christ’s (whatever it is)…got it?…and now universalize it and make IT the fundamental unifying principle of all creation, present in all things as well as individualized uniquely by the Incarnate Logos.

    This means that the immaterial uncreated aspect of God incarnate just is identical to that first creative step God makes in creating the cosmos to begin with. It’s what later incarnates individually as Jesus. But the first thing (logically, if not temporally) is an immaterial consciousness which is the archetype and telos of creation (from which all creation emerges) and THAT is assumed by the Logos in incarnation.

    What’s also true then (for Dwayne) is that this same ‘Soul’ is our soul. There are no individual, disconnect souls flying around, as if we each have our own soul. There’s one fundamental consciousness that we all–what’s the word?–tap into or share in the utterly unique ways that constitute our individuality. This is unique in Christ’s case because the creator and author OF this consciousness also shares an individual, material manifestation of himself within it (i.e., Jesus). We each are not THAT, but we each do SHARE the SAME HUMANITY. That means more than just Jesus is human LIKE I’M HUMAN. It means there literally is a SINGLE human reality which we each individually instantiate. This created consciousness JUST IS that humanity. That’s why Paul (says Dwayne) call Christ the “heavenly man.” It’s why Philo calls the Logos the “man of God” present in all things.

    That’s what Dwayne would say.

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  5. tgbelt says:

    I suppose the question might be: Is consciousness the fundamental created reality, a transcendental present throughout created reality?

    Answering ‘yes’ would not be equivalent to saying that all things (esp. inanimate objects like rocks and chairs) are “conscious” in the sense of being self-aware, aware of themselves as rocks and chairs). Rather, I think it would just mean that awareness permeates all things–quantum events and sub-atomic particles included, that what we describe as the physical objects that make up our universe are really just the ‘contents of a universal consciousness’.

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  6. tgbelt says:

    Some very interesting conversations. Love ‘Closer to Truth’. Check out the episodes with Neil Theise (a more panpsychist position), Donald Hoffman (a more monistic view) and Peter Forrest.

    Is Consciousness Ultimate Reality?

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  7. tgbelt says:

    I ran across David B Hart stating in an interview (my paraphrase), “Yes, created reality is fundamentally just consciousness. Everything is consciousness.”

    There aren’t any problem-free positions. What’s new?

    Listening to Dean Radin (Institute of Noetic Sciences), another panpsychist, talking about the change in our understanding of the world when we understood that matter and energy are basically equivalent, they comprise a single reality ‘matter-energy’. As we got to the quantum level, another element, ‘information’, was introduced and that has brought another change. Just as ‘matter’ and ‘energy’ were viewed as fundamentally different realities but came to be viewed as a single reality ‘matter-energy’ (in diverse forms?), we can now suggest expanding ‘matter-energy’ in a fundamental way to be ‘mind’. He admits there’s no one word that captures this third element. He actually doesn’t like ‘consciousness’ because one’s not saying every identifiable whole is self-conscious. But you definitely have something ‘mind-like’ (‘mentality’ ?) which we can say ‘matter-energy’ is as opposed to saying it’s reducible to ‘matter-energy’. In fact, if there’s any reducing going on, it would be in the opposite direction, i.e., what we call ‘matter-energy’ is reducible to this ‘mind-like’ reality from which it emerges.

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  8. I think that a “horizontal unity of the created order” does not require the existence of a world soul,…

    I believe that this is an interesting excerpt in this regard:

    ‘It’s because the Incarnation (God’s becoming “a” human being) redeems all creation that I’m inclined to argued for a horizontal unity of the created order. This unity is how the one, finite human being can have universal implications for all things by virtue of also being the Logos. In other words, redemption via incarnation is efficacious not only vertically by virtue of Christ’s being the Logos, though that’s got to be true. It also has to be efficacious horizontally within creation. But if creation isn’t one in its concrete being as created, then there’s no concrete reality, no “way the worlds is,” that mediates the saving effects of Christ incarnate to all things.’

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    • Tom says:

      Whether world-soul or something else, it seems to me that some created principle of unity is required.

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      • What if that is just in Christ? As it being an intrinsic part of Him? 🙂

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      • Tom says:

        “What if that is just in Christ? As it being an intrinsic part of him?”

        Well, that’s considered in the post. Forgive my repeating it:

        If the kind of unity within creation described above isn’t the case and creation is in fact an innumerable number of discrete universes (i.e., their unity is JUST an abstraction deriving from the shared source which all things have in God), then God incarnate is just one of these innumerable universes/worlds alongside others and there’s no ground within creation upon which the Incarnation redeems all created worlds by implication. Christ would have to be incarnate in every discrete reality to redeem it. It’s because the Incarnation (God’s becoming “a” particular human being) in fact redeems all creation that I’m inclined to argue for a horizontal unity of the created order. This unity is how the one, finite human being can have universal implications for all things by virtue of also being the Logos.”

        I think both are necessary – vertical and horizontal, because neither by itself explains what needs explaining. Redemption via incarnation is efficacious because the redeemer in question is (vertically) none other than God. But as necessary as that is, it isn’t enough, because all it grounds is God’s relatedness to what God creates, and without a created principle of unity, the multiplicity of discrete entities amounts to a multiplicity of discrete creations each a universe to itself, among which the Incarnate Christ would be one alongside the rest. That the discrete universe we’ll call ‘Christ Incarnate’ has its source in the same God that my embodied world has its source in, isn’t enough to implicate my human nature in what his human nature does. They’re not connected, related as created. And just having their source in God (though that’s necessary) doesn’t do the work of implicating all created natures in his created nature.

        Tell me whether you think all created things are ‘one’ and if so what you think constitutes this unity. That would help. I take it you agree that created nature is perfected and fulfilled “in” Christ. I wanna ask what you suppose this “in” entails, because earlier you said you agreed with Athanasius that Incarnation is not essential to the perfection/completion of creation per se. Incarnation only becomes necessary because of the fall and sin. So you don’t see the fulfillment of human nature as essentially dependent upon Incarnation. That might be why I look for a created principle of unity – because for me Incarnation is the only way to get created being perfected and fulfilled.

        Tom

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