Incarnation or nothing at all

godman“What could possibly be the point of a created universe entirely plunged in the darkness of unconsciousness, unable to know or appreciate that it is there at all?…The person is ultimately the key to why there is anything and not rather nothing.”
(W. Norris Clarke)

Clarke was a Catholic scholar/philosopher. Great mind. Loved engaging Hartshorne. Good banter back and forth between those two. In the above statement of his, Clarke sees clearly that hypostatic-personal existence is the only consistently (Christian) theistic way to conceive of God’s purpose in any possible created order. The idea that God could have created any number of created orders, even some with no sentient beings at all, is difficult to imagine in light of Christology. That is, Christology ought to delimit the possibilities for other questions.

I wonder if ‘logic’ has been so divorced from theological conviction that theologians feel themselves forced to give an account of the faith in terms of innumerable ‘logically’ possible worlds, worlds the possibility of which have to be accounted for theologically so long as they generate no logical contradiction (strictly speaking) but which are unthinkable Christologically. This commits the Church to having to accommodate and understand herself in terms of possibilities which, Christologically speaking, are no possibilities at all, which can only undermine the Church’s vision of her identity and mission. My point is, the purpose of any creation, Christianly conceived, is “God all in all.” No creation could be intended for any other end, and that end is inconceivable apart from Incarnation.

13 comments on “Incarnation or nothing at all

  1. Tom, agreed, if we assume that it is ordained that all time-space creation is characterized by the evolution of body and mind from the simplest forms of life, then all possible creation necessarily implies a conjoint plan of spirit ministry, redemption, uplift, and sanctification.

    In that sense God could not act as the “Lord and Giver of Life” on any evolutionary world without having some kind of redemption in mind (i.e. incarnation).

    On the other hand, it is not inconceivable that the Father might indulge his great love of perfection by creating at least one divine system or universe of things and beings so complete and replete in spirit that it had no need of redemption.

    Incarnation (and redemption) would seem to have no meaning in such a perfect world, because it would be eternal and not ‘carnal’. Even so, the Father might “bestow” himself on such a world in some concrete fashion (i.e, as the Son?) for the sheer joy of it (to all concerned).

    The existence of such a divine ‘residential universe’ would solve one problem of theodicy – it would silence the complaint that God had nowhere united both his infinite goodness and infinite power in a single act of creation.

    Such a creation would be purely spiritual and eternal, a divine reality pre-dating all time-space creation. It would be a ‘Paradise world,’ a perfect issue of the perfect Creator’s power, filled with perfect spheres and perfect creatures – the “Heaven of heavens” mentioned in Nehemiah 9:6.

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    • Tom says:

      John: Such a creation would be purely spiritual and eternal, a divine reality pre-dating all time-space creation. It would be a ‘Paradise world,’ a perfect issue of the perfect Creator’s power, filled with perfect spheres and perfect creatures…

      Tom: I confess I find it inconceivable, but that may be because I don’t have the intuitions and categories to imagine it.


      • Tom, as far as inconceivability goes, I join you in your agreement with Clarke, that the creation of a non-sentient universe is inconceivable.

        My hypothetical perfect universe was only an attempt at the concept of an eternal creation – one from before the foundation of the world. I find it hard to conceive of ‘other universes’ other than this hypothetical eternal one, somehow outside of time and space.

        I think it stems from my belief that the Trinity was existent before the history of time began. Have you any categories for that? A divine Trinity outside of time seems to me to imply the pre-existence of an eternal “heaven of heavens”

        Oh well, one question, for clarity’s sake, I assume you are using the words ‘world’ and ‘universe’ as interchangeable – that is, you don’t deny the possibility of other inhabited planets in the universe, right? – As long as they all find their telos in God.

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      • Tom says:

        Sorry. Yes, I’m using ‘world’, ‘universe’, and ‘creation’ interchangeably.

        Let me see if I’m following you. You find it hard to conceive of a world/creation that is not eternal (in the sense of somehow being outside of time and space). But if you can’t imagine a world other than that, then you must imagine that our world just is that world. Right?



      • Not quite.

        I mean that I cannot conceive of any universes in addition to ours except for a primal and divine creation, a ‘heaven of heavens’ which (I hold) must be eternal. By contrast I hold our current universe of time and space to be everlasting (God willing) but not actually eternal in the pre-existent sense.

        So by Eternity I do not mean simply an infinite procession of moments. The Eternal is, to my thinking, a ‘separate reality’, a perfect Trinity-based reality from ‘before the foundation of the world.’

        Unfortunately for discussion, our minds are time-based and do not easily grasp the concept of Eternity. For example, I cannot easily explain how two such separate ‘universes’ (The Eternal and the Time-Space) might be interrelated.

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      • Tom says:

        Been on the road. Sorry for the delay.

        What’s confusing me, John, is your calling this alternate universe a “creation” that is “eternal” (not a creation of time and space). You describe it as a “creation,” so I’m thinking it’s not God. But in the 2nd paragraph you describe whatever is eternal as a “perfect Trinity-based reality,” which sounds like you just mean “God.” To my mind, a non-divine creation by definition isn’t “eternal” in this sense; it comes into being” and so is a subject of temporal becoming. So I’m still not sure what eternal, pre-existent, non-divine creation you have in mind.



      • Thanks, Tom, for pressing me on this. My phrase “perfect Trinity-based reality” could have been better expressed.

        I was trying to articulate the concept of a conceivable “setting” for the Trinity in eternity, and your original discussion of ‘alternate universes’ seemed to beckon. Any ideas as to what the Godhead was doing before he created the time-space cosmos? I perceive you do not hold the creation to be eternal but that you agree that the Trinity must be. Would you say I am wasting my time, or is there an Orthodox Father or later thinker who might help me with this kind of ‘before time-and-space question?

        To my thinking some kind of co-eternal Trinity-abode is required, one which precedes all becoming, but should still proceed from the Father, Son, and Spirit as no less ‘begotten’ (if not made)..

        As to my blogging, yes, I kind of hit the ceiling 4 years ago and have been studying since then as to my direction in any future writing.


      • Tom says:

        Thanks John.

        It’s difficult to say what God was doing “prior” to creation’s temporal becoming since, presumably, there is not “prior” to speak of. I guess we can talk about God ‘sans’ creation to avoid having implicating God sans creation in temporal becoming. I make the distinction between creation as temporal becoming and God’s triune fullness as not subject to such becoming – then from there try to iron out other questions. So whatever that triune plentitude is – creation has nothing to do with constituting it. The point of the main blog post above was just to limit the kinds of non-divine, created orders I think God’s triune plenitude grounds, and that’s where I say it’s ‘create to incarnate’ or ‘no creation at all’.

        I’ve often pondered the possibility of God’s triune fullness sans creation accommodating some kind of playful, creative self-constituting dance – not anything that smacks of ‘becoming’ (as it God “takes time” to become the triune God he is), but the idea of triunely self-expressive ‘movements’ within a single, unchanging, infinitely intense experience of beauty. I’d want to frame it in such a way as so avoid implicating God in any ‘loss’, and I don’t have the brain for that.

        David Hart said in a talk that even if we could prove that the material order never “came into being” (i.e., that is has always existed) it would still require a transcendent creator since as an order of ‘temporal becoming’ (even if eternal) it cannot be the KIND of thing that can explain itself. So it seems that for Hart ‘creation ex nihilo’ doesn’t require an absolute temporal beginning for creation. This seems suspect to me, since I agree with Aristotle that anything that is temporal eternal (i.e., anything that exists at all times) is by definition metaphysically necessary. So I don’t see how Hart can imagine conceding BOTH the world’s ‘metaphysical contingency’ AND its ‘temporal eternity’ though I can appreciate his point that any ‘temporally eternal’ thing which is “essentially” a subject of temporal becoming would still require the kind of transcendent explanation you get with God.

        But I think we’re agreeing two things (yes? no?): (1) the Triune relations in their fullness and necessity cannot essentially be an act of temporal becoming and (2) any created, non-divine order God sustains must be irreducible temporal becoming. I’m I right in thinking we’re both agreeing on these?



      • Yes, agreed that (1) the Triune relations in their fullness and necessity cannot essentially be an act of temporal becoming and (2) any created, non-divine order God sustains must be irreducible temporal becoming.

        And also your original point that any such temporal creation must presuppose incarnation/ redemption.

        Was reading Brunner’s Dogmatics this month (vol. 2, The Christian Doctrine of Creation and Redemption). Note that he joins you in placing the two great acts of God under one head.

        No matter that I am unconvinced that semantics rules out my suggestion that the Father might have gratified his infinite perfection and power in one perfect creation before the foundation of the world (the eternal abode, the “heaven of heavens”). Because I do recognize that such a thing would not qualify as an ‘alternate universe’ – it would be more like an absolute pattern creation underlying the entire time-space universe in which we live – i.e., not an idea really germane to your post (sorry, but thanks for the discussion, Tom!).

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      • Tom says:

        OK, now I’m following you better. Thanks John.

        It seems to me that what you’re describing with “perfect creation” (eternal abode, heaven of heavens) before the foundation of the world is not a non-divine “created” reality at all (if it were, it’d be subject to temporal becoming). You seem to be describing that about God which contains or expresses the creative, self-expressive possibilities of God. It’s that about God’s already actual plenitude that defines (outlines the pattern for) what is possible or conceivable for non-divine creation. If this is what you’re thinking, wouldn’t Maximus’ doctrine of the eternal, uncreated logoi fit the bill, and/or a careful sophiology?

        Is this vaguely related?



      • I have had some Maximus this past month in the first 100 pages of Olivier Clement’s 1982 anthology of the Fathers, The Roots of Christian Mysticism (English 1995).

        I certainly prefer the Greek Fathers to the Latins.

        I may want to respond to the March 2015 post you linked to. I had some thoughts on my first time through it. This has been a help.

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  2. Tom says:

    By the way, John. Are you still blogging? Last I see posted at Next Theology and Everyday Apocalypse is 2012.


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