Thursday, September 03, 2015

Thinking “Laudato Si”

It seems that the Judeo-Christian revelation of creation is the key to all philosophy since it introduces a distinction into the warp and woof of being.  The notion adds nothing to the intelligibility of being as perceived and scientifically examined, except everything.  It gives everything we experience actuality while adding to the humanness of the cognition nothing. I recall Immanuel Kant’s remark on the difference between the idea of a lion and a real one.

   Robert Barron has done a nice job setting up the intellectual parameters that revelation gives us, and which I have posted on September 1, 2015:

                I repeat Barron’s introduction to his doctoral thesis:

                “To say that the universe is created is to claim that all finite being might just as well not have been, that there is absolutely nothing necessary about the existence of the world, that nature, as such, must be placed radically in question. But such claims are, from a classical philosophical perspective, non-sensical, self-contradictory, since they challenge the condition for the possibility of reasoned discourse about the world. How can one seek after the causes and principles at work within nature if the integrity of nature itself is doubted, if the entire context of questioning is questioned?
                Of course, the concept of creation implies the existence of a God who makes the world, who continually sustains the finite realm, who acts as ground and source of what the ancients called ‘nature.’ But this notion of a creator God, in turn, raises especially knotty problems. If God makes all that there is, there cannot any pre-existing ‘stuff’ from which God fashions the universe. But God certainly cannot produce the world from his own substance, allowing, as it were, some of his perfection to go out from himself. First, such a process implies that God is changeable, that he can lose’ some of his being. Secondly, it presumes that there ‘is’ some dimension outside of God into which the created realm can ‘go,’ some space that is neither creature nor creator. Thus, it has to follow that God makes the world ex nihilo, from nothing at all. But how can the ‘something’ of the universe come from absolute nothingness?

                “Even if we presume that God does indeed bring the universe into existence ex nihilo, how can we articulate the difference between the infinite, perfect God and the conditioned world? If God is not the world, and the world is not God, what separates the two dimensions?  It would seem that, in order to mark the difference between infinite and finite being, one would have to posit the existence of some realm of absolute non-being (neither infinite nor finite) that stands, as it were, between the two. But what is this absolute non-being which ‘exists’? And even if we admitted per impossible, that this non-being ‘is,’ what would separate it from creation, on the one hand, and the creator on the other? Wouldn’t there have to be some further dimension of even more absolute non-existence to mark this distinction. And wouldn’t this process continue ad infinitum?

                “Don’t these puzzling questions demonstrate in fact that the very notion of creation is problematic, even ludicrous? Don’t they show that it is impossible to leave the confines of a classical world view, to place finitude as such in question? Don’t they indicate that creation, though perhaps a spiritually significant myth, cannot be defended on metaphysical grounds?

                “Or is it perhaps possible that the very strangeness of the notion and the very knottiness of the questions indirectly indicate the radicality of what is at issue when one speaks of creation? Is it possible that connundra and difficulties arise precisely when one fails to appreciate the fundamental difference signaled by the symbol of creation and when one tries, as a result, to articulate it in terms of the very worldview that it questions? Is it possible that the idea of creation presupposes that God is not a being in or alongside the world, not one agent among others, not the highest or first cause, not anything in nature, but rather the sheer  act of being itself which escapes all categorization? And thus is it possible that, as Robert Sokolowski insists, creation is the doctrine which decisively distinguishes a Christian from a pagan perspective, which shakes and undermines a purely ’natural’ philosophy, which opens one to the ever greater mystery which is God?[1]
                Is it perhaps possible that the strangeness of the creation teaching is a clue and a hint, a vague and often misunderstood indication that our normal view of the world is perhaps not sufficient, that ‘something else might be the case,’ that there is something uncanny at work in the ordinary [my under line], that the reality we call ‘God’ is ever stranger than we can imagine. But if that is true, if creation signals the essential otherness, difference and indefinability of God, then it is the Urfrage of Christian faith, that question around which all the other theological questions turn. Finally, it is this uncanniness and this inescapable centrality of creation which intrigue and attract me and which led me to this project of research.”

            The reality is that only God is and everything else is not, as God is. Robert Barron deploys expressions  that reference God as “other” than everything else, but “otherly other.”  That means that it is even improper to use the phrase “nothing else” along side of God, because He is not only different in the sense of distinguishing individuals, but He is in a way that without which nothing is. And because this is so, Barron borrows the logic of Sokolowski that God is not competitive with His creation. The Christology of Chalcedon and Constantinople III can be helpful to get at this. Chalcedon laid down the ontological architecture of Christ: one Person, two ontologically distinct natures as created and uncreated. But they are not in parallel. Rather, they are the natures of the same Person Who is Agent Protagonist, and so the two ontologically distinct wills of Jesus Christ are “one” personally since they are one and the same person willing but as God and man. The divine and the human are not in competition in Him because is always Him as divine Person doing the willing. “Wills (which are abstractions) do not will. Actiones sunt suppositorum: only persons will.
                It would be fair to say that Barron finds this theme of the strangeness of creation to be the light, not only the whole of theology but the invisible thrust to whole philosophic endeavor. Without the revelation of creation, philosophy becomes a plodding of human conceptual knowing. But once reality is stood on its head, or the seeker of truth is stood on his to see things precariously about to fall into nothingness, reason is shaken to seek t he cause of why anything. The existential question is asked. Who is man? What is male and female? Distinctions have to be made.

This is still not it ….. But – Look at  the environment. Is it Christ, or is it yours?

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