Divine freedom


Forgive the infrequency of my posts. For me blogging is like the tide – it swells up and down under the force of issues that bring their urgency to bear upon me at a regularity I can’t make out. But here I am.

The most vexing theological question I’ve been confronting for some time now is the question of divine freedom relative to Creation. As I dance around it, its different aspects come out to greet me, but I can’t resolve them into a contradiction-free view. I know the options on offer but am not completely happy with any of them.

On the one hand:

• God creates ex nihilo (out of nothing) and so freely and unnecessarily.
• This has to at least mean that God’s triune fullness (God as infinite love and beatitude) is not achieved in or through his determination to create, for per ex nihilo the determination to create expresses that triune beatitude; it cannot also constitute it. So it cannot be that the determination to create is co-terminous with the begetting of the Son (as John Milbank recently tweeted) if that means the Father begets the Son ‘with a view to’ creating. This would effectively write the determination to create into the Triune relations in and as their content and telos, as sharing in the content of that act by which God is the God he is. (McCormack and Jenson are already here; God determines himself as Trinity in and via the determination to creation. I’m unable to say this, for it obviously denies creation ex nihilo and the triune plentitude implied therein.)

On the other hand:

• The logoi (God’s creative intentions for the world) of the Word/Logos/Son are uncreated and abide essentially in the Word. This constitutes for me the vexing question regarding divine freedom. For though the determination to create as free and unnecessary does not define the begetting of the Son (and I don’t see how it can), the logoi (which are the very possibility of creation) do have their shape and form in that begetting. If we say creation ex nihilo means the divine logoi may abide unrealized/unactualized in the creation they envision, what’s that really mean? The possibilities of creation define the Word within the scope of his begotten filial identity, but the fullness and beatitude of that identity is indifferent to the realization of these logoi?

You may see the problem. And I’m not uploading unsavory assumptions about some temporal before and after here. Let’s leave that aside for now. We need only contemplate the relationship in God between his triune fullness and his free determination to creation.

Enter divine teleology. What is the ‘end’ of these logoi if not Creation? But if they’re realized freely and unnecessarily, what can their realization in creation be unnecessary to but God’s own triune fullness and beatitude? I wonder if we may imagine the ‘end’ for which the logoi subsist as fulfilled ad intra. After all, we say the end/purpose of all things is God. If Creation is unnecessary, then its very possibility in God has to have God, always and already, as its satisfaction. This may seem strange, but what about any of this isn’t? It would mean the logoi are fulfilled in the Word, as the Word, as possibilities, but the possibility they represent for us is in God a fulfilled end, and that the Word as begotten is that end fulfilled.

In any event, I can’t imagine the divine fullness (or my own salvation in Christ) apart from creation ex nihilo, but I also find it increasingly difficult to imagine the generation of creative potentialities (logoi) in the Son that logically entail nothing whatsoever about God’s determination to create, as if the fullness that begets the logoi is indifferent to their actualization as creation – and yet they must be so. (I’m not entirely satisfied with this, but McCormack and Jenson only exacerbate the problem.)

All I can think to say is that in begetting the Son, the Father constitutes himself as an infinite disposition for creative self-expression ad extra and that this just is God’s freedom, not a reflection of it, but that freedom itself, and that as freedom it must be the case that creating is unnecessary to it, but that as teleological it must be the case that every creative act realizes ends constitutive of it. Hence, God creates freely/unnecessarily in the sense that the ‘end’ for which he acts expresses rather than realizes his own plentitude. Whichever aspect we confess, we confess a mystery and paradox.

6 comments on “Divine freedom

  1. Robert Fortuin says:

    Yes, it is the mystery of the affirmation of the All in All while yet denying pantheism. Which is really another way of saying that the divine mode of being and agency fundamentally transcends the created mode.


  2. Robert Fortuin says:

    and in awe we are struck and fall on our knees with the three on Tabor….


  3. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Jenson always insists that God would have been triune even if he had never created. We just don’t know and cannot know what that means.

    For Aquinas, God’s (voluntary) willing to create creatures ordered to himself is enveloped in his (necessary) willing of himself as the Good. But of course we cannot think of “necessity” in this context as something that is imposed upon God. We use the word because we have reasoned to God, and thus apprehend God, as the fullness and plenitude of infinite Being. His necessity is thus his freedom.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tom says:

      Hi Fr Kimel. Thanks for dropping in.

      I was aware of Jenson’s position on this and should’ve clarified. My bad. But in the end even Jenson evacuates the trinity he concedes would exist even hard God never created.

      Do you see any contradiction between:

      – Jenson’s saying ‘God would’ve been triune had he never created’ (however apophatically we have to employ our terms; by ‘necessary’ I certainly never mean the imposition upon God from some source outside himself), and..

      – Aquinas’s saying (as you’ve worded it) that this same determination to create (without which God would’ve been Triune – per Jenson) is “enveloped in his willing of himself as the Good”?

      I see a contradiction here, and I don’t think it’s the kind of paradoxical truth that all truly apophatic predication forces us to live with. For if we say God is ‘triune’ apart from his determination to create, while we can only say this because we reason from the economy (obviously), surely it is not a vacuous affirmation, any more than anything we say about God is vacuous on account of our having to think and say it from within the economy. Surely this sans-creation trinity Jesson concedes we must confess (as imminently conceived in its absolute freedom from creation) is at least a personal, loving, beatitude (however apophatically said; but let’s at least SAY it for heaven’s sake). Surely the transcendentals reflected in the created order (truth, goodness, beauty) are the fullness of God’s actual triune being, and this fullness is God’s freedom.

      I’m trying less to speculate about the inner motivations of others, but as ironic as it sounds, it seems to me that there’s a real reluctance on the part of classical theists to fully embrace the ‘nothingness’ of the ‘ex nihilo’ from which God called them into being, to actually contemplate God’s essential fullness and beatitude without somehow “enfolding” themselves into that fullness as a strategy for overcoming their own ‘nothingness’.


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