You Search the Scriptures

“You search the scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness to me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” John 5:39, 40

Why do you search the Scriptures? For what other reason can it be but to know truth? Yet if this is so, then Truth must be the final end towards which the searching of the scriptures labors. All tools we use, all arguments, all authorities, all commentaries, yea all thinking itself, exist but for the sake of attaining the pure and simple truth: to have it dwell in our hearts and rule our lives and saturate our spirits. How easily the minds of men are distracted from this goal. How easily they turn aside from journeying towards the land of Truth herself to rest content in the cave of what-some-man-thought-was-truth.

What good is it, to know what another man thinks of truth? It is a mere historical fact, a trifle, a question of secondary – infinitely secondary – importance. Why then do we labor to prove what this or that person believed to be true? No doubt because we feel a kinship – a love even – towards the person. But this love for our brother or sister ought never to replace our love for what is true. The more noble minded and pure hearted the man we are inquiring about, the more surely he would cast aside all false opinion and beclouded conclusion to lay hold of the true. Would not St. Paul himself, if he were shown some obscurity in his argument or some erroneous deduction that could be made from his words, not, upon being told by a fellow truth seeker and lover of humanity and follower of Jesus Christ, would not St. Paul, I say, join hands with his interlocutor and seek to purify his very own understanding, his own appreciation, of God’s sweet truth? And if he would not, would he be a true man seeking truth, in all its profundity and loveliness? We use other men’s thoughts best, not when we adopt them thoughtlessly, worse still when we defend them blindly without ourselves feeling them true, but when we assimilate them into ourselves and our own true-knowing, and then look at the world through both their and our now blended, interpenetrated vision.

“Do you then put yourself on the same authority as Paul? As Christ himself? Is there no room for you to bow your mind to truths too high for you to comprehend? Are you saying that unless you can comprehend it, a thing cannot be true?”

I am saying that if a man cannot see a thing to be true, he cannot really – that is, truly – think it true. How then could he, or anyone, bow to it in honest submission, he not knowing what nature of the thing he is bowing to? And, supposing he blindly bowed anyway, where would the good be in such a thing?

But that is very different from saying that all that a man may believe in is that which he can comprehend. God shall no man ever comprehend. I do not say that no man shall never rest, yea even find joy, in his incomprehension. In the highest union of the soul with God, the fact that the divine beauty is infinitely surpassing even the all glorious and unspeakably loving bliss that the soul is bathed in, this very fact must itself cause the soul a unique rapturous delight. The ineffable, unimaginable grandeur of God’s being must fill the soul with an ecstasy beyond description. But this sort of incomprehension – an incomprehension of quantity, as it were – is very different from the incomprehension attending the submission of one’s intellect to what one cannot see as true. This incomprehension comes not because a man cannot see a thing as true, but because he sees a thing as untrue. In the former case, an incomprehensibility is set before the mind to gaze and wonder at. The mind comes up against it as a mystery, a sphere with no beginning, or a space with no boundary. In the latter, what meets the mind is a contradiction, a clashing of truths: as if two opposite poles of a magnet were being forced to make contact. The mind does not breath in a mystery, but chokes on an impossibility. The mutual togetherness that is being presented to it simply cannot be. The two things exclude each other.

“You then set yourself up over Christ.”

I set myself alongside Christ – or rather my understanding of him, for my understanding of the man may be very far from the thought of the man himself. I know, sorrowfully, that I cannot ask Christ my questions and see what he says. But do you suppose he would be angry with me for wanting to ask them? He would either answer them, or rebuke me. If he answered them, I would be the better, assuming I understood him, which, if I did not, I would, I hope, continue to ask more questions until I did. On the other hand, if he rebuked me, this would be either for my benefit and to deepen my understanding, or it would not be. If it would not be, Christ cannot be a lover of men who seek truth. He cannot himself be the truth, cannot be the one who tells us to ask so that it may be given to us or seek so that we shall find. Christ cannot then be the one who tells us to knock on the door of life and truth so that it will be opened to us, nor can he be him who seeks the truth, the very thing which, he tells his followers, shall set them free. Yet if Christ did rebuke me, and it was for my benefit, it is all the better still that I ask my questions, seeing as the sooner I am rebuked, the sooner I am on the way to a better understanding.

In any case, a lover of truth must ask the questions that burn in his bosom.

Therefore I ask again. What purpose is there in studying Church history, in reading Biblical commentaries, in memorizing Scripture? What good is it to ponder over the words of Jesus or know the theology of this or that thinker or recite the Creeds? Again I answer. These things exist but to serve a unified and mighty end: to know the truth. But are we to know truth simply for truth’s sake? No. We are to know it for the sake of becoming true. That is, we are to know it so to become beings altogether lovely, strong, perfectly good and pure.

Have you ever thought, friend, that the whole purpose for us in knowing Jesus, is not so that we could quote his words, but so that we could become True, Beautiful, and Good human beings? In this respect – and mind what I say closely – it does not even matter if we know what Christ said. If Christ could look upon a man and see a true man, a good man, an absolutely loving and lovely man, yea a pure man, would it bother him if such a one had never known that he had lived? Would not Christ rejoice simply in the goodness of the man, in the fact that the man existed and was a noble son of God? Would Jesus not be unspeakably glad in the perfect childhood of the Father that had blossomed into the mighty spring radiance that was the man’s soul?

I do not say that anyone can be good without Christ working in that one. But it is not difficult to believe – is it not impossible to doubt? – that Christ can work in a man without that man knowing it. Or do you not think that the Spirit of Christ, that is, the Spirit of the ideal humanity born out of infinite love’s heart, is working in you all the time, even when you know it not, yea that perhaps it works most when you know it least? How could you ever suppose that you were ever anywhere other than in a universe bathed in a human love unspeakably tender, omnipotently fierce, unfathomably compassionate?

Long before the dawn of what you call yourself peeped over the brim of your out-looking soul, the spirit of Christ was working in you. What moves the embryo in the womb, what knits together its limbs and body, what draws it into its humanity, what unifies the spiritual nature of the form that is taking shape – what anchors all these things, if not almighty God, working through and with the essentially human? That essentially human is Christ. Before you uttered your first word, before you thought your first thought, before your heart beat its first beat while you slumbered in your mother’s womb, the spirit of Christ was already working in you, friend. The divine maker was already, with his invisible and love driven hands, molding the depths of thy deepest self, through the ideal humanity of his Son.

Let us, however, return to the question, because it does present a difficulty. How are we to know Christ? We cannot speak to him, we cannot audibly hear his voice. We do not even have words he himself has written. And though we have words written by those who knew him best, even those men very often misunderstood him.

I ask, would not Jesus, if his goal was to bring men and women to a truer and better understanding of the divine purpose of their lives – that is, to look upon themselves as the offspring of a God altogether perfect and lovely – if this was Jesus’ primary goal, would he not be bound to talk at the level of his hearers? To teach a man, that man must be met where he is. There must be accommodation made for him. His mind must be stretched, not broken. To anyone who doubts that this way the way of Christ, or who doubts that such a thing has occurred, I ask him to but honestly and diligently compare the Synoptics to the gospel of John. I do not say they contradict one another. But I doubt very much one would disagree with me if I said that in John we find a deeper revelation of the Son of Man.

“You cast doubt upon the inspiration of the Bible!”

I do not grant it. But what does it matter if it were true? How can the casting of doubt ever trouble us, friends? We seek after truth, do we not? What would it matter if in the whole world not a soul knew or had ever heard of the Bible, if the whole world were nothing but true and altogether good men and women? We must never forget that the Bible exists, as does the New Testament, as do the writings of Paul and Peter and James and John, as do the words – yea the very deeds – of Christ himself, to make us like Jesus. That is, into perfectly good, true, lovely human beings.

But how does one become such a thing? And how does one know what such a thing looks like, opened up and living and thinking in the world? We must be our very best selves, must become better than what we fear we cannot be. But how to do it? If we are to be like Christ, what does that mean? How do we know him, so that we can be like him? What we have of him written in the New Testament shows us much of him. But is there no closer we can press into him, to know him better?

The man who loves the words of Jesus in the New Testament best will want most more than them alone. He knows that the letter exists for the deeper realm of spirit and of life. To the degree that the letter leads us deeper into our essential humanity and therefore brotherhood with Christ, to that degree it serves its divine life giving purpose. To the degree it leads away from this, it brings forth death. To the one who would rule his life by the text alone, and who claims to go neither beyond it or against it, his individual life – yea his whole thinking and doing and being in the world – must be an unspeakable enigma. How could a man take a single step if he supposed his every action must, before he could do or think it, be found in the historical record of Jesus?

What we want, friends, and what the soul yearns for with unutterable longing, is to know, not the words of the man Jesus, but to know the man Jesus. It wants not to know the record of him, but to know him. What does it even matter if we knew the very words that came forth from his lips – yea if we sat at his feet night and day, and heard the very tone and richness of his human voice – if we did not know him himself? We want to push past the appearances – the person as he appears through the matter that he is forced to use to convey himself – and enter into communion with his soul, that is, his very self.

Who does not long for such a union with every soul that he loves? Who is not dissatisfied with the fact that he must always be separated from, since he is not in absolute union with, the one whom he loves? How often I have looked into the eyes of another and felt them so marvelous, so unique, so full of someone within! Are they not portals to the soul; do they not speak to us of the deeper thing inside them, the person they express? Is it not easy to believe – it takes tremendous conscious effort to doubt – that, when we look into another’s eyes, those eyes show us someone? And yet who does not wish to push deeper into them, to lay hold of and intermix with and utterly dwell in the one they are giving us glimpses of? I imagine such a union ineffable, a mutual indwelling so interpenetrated and fulfilling and overflowing with loving warmth and joy, is what lay at the heart of the Godhead: yea is its very essence.

And yet, if the eyes show us something of the man which his words do not – indeed cannot show us – how can we be satisfied in our knowing of Christ if our only way of knowing him lay in the reading of the words of the New Testament? Mark, I do not say such reading does not show us the Lord. It does indeed. But I do say it cannot show us all that can be known of him, all the yearning heart wants and therefore must know of him. The sabbath was made for man; not man for the sabbath. Likewise the letter exists for the spirit, never the spirit for the letter.

How then are we to know Christ in the deep way that we wish? There is no other way save this. It is a way you have been doing all your life, a way you do every day, maybe every waking moment that you have ever thought of Christ. You must know Jesus by imagining him.

“What? Imagine him! Then what is preventing me from simply making up my own version of him and doing what I please?”

Friend, have you not – have all people not – been doing this from the very beginning? One cannot think about, cannot interpret, cannot know the personality of any person at all without using one’s imagination. Christ you know spoke in parables. What is a parable, but the setting before the imagination some situation in which the mind goes on to draw out some conclusion: some deeper truth? You have surely read books about Christ, heard sermons on him, and thought a great deal about what he said and what he meant when he spoke certain things you could not understand. What is this, but you using your imagination to get at the man?

Tell me you wish to know the spirit of a great man without using your imagination, and I will tell you it cannot be done. For the imagination is an indispensable organ of thought. The mind can form no notion of meaning whatsoever without running on its fuel. No doubt there is a very great danger that lie in imagining the spirit and message of Christ. But that danger is present from the sheer fact that we are not ourselves perfectly good and true and lovely people: not because, when we try to know Jesus, we do so the only way it is possible to know anything.

Christ is either the essential humanity which binds all human beings together, and therefore the perfect instance of Ideal Man, or he is one more man like the rest of us who are seeking for such a principle of unity. If he were the latter he would still be, by being himself, and doing what he thought was good and true, a great help for us in reaching our ideal humanity, our true self. All souls who are true, all who strive to open themselves up to their fellow humans, all who lay bare the chamber of their heart and try to speak the secret that lay at the root of their very self and so be good, all such souls are mighty helpers of the race. With their unquenchable spirit they inject humanity with life, and with their fiery souls they make the veins of us all pulse with a vitality strong and intoxicating.

On the other hand, if Christ is the Ideal Man, he does this same thing, but in a higher, more exemplary way.

In either case, in order to know the man, we must imagine him. But how? By taking what we already know of goodness, love, compassion and truth, and applying it in our here and now. To ask “what would Jesus do?” is the same as to ask “what would the idealized man, the most true, compassionate, good and loving man, the best version of myself, do? Or what would this figure at least wish he could do?” Thus the image of the perfect man which we must model ourselves by is one discovered by continually thinking and imagining, molding and comparing; and doing the best we can with what we already know. This is necessarily different from taking a given passage of the Bible which, taken at face value, contradicts notions we know to be true and good, and submitting to the passage, and therefore abandoning what we already know. For what we already know is nothing else than our true humanity, our true Christ alive and working in us, giving birth to our true individuality and our own Sonship with the divine. This is the only real contact we have made with the Good and True. All else is simply the remnants of contact made by another. To therefore abandon our own would be to doom ourselves to a universe in which we never could make direct contact with the good and the true. For we could never trust our own hearts: we could never set about becoming more than what we were, by being more truly what we know we ought.

But as of yet, are we not speaking of a sheer generality? The very question is to know the man, and yet, by following this path of idealized imagining, we shall not know the man at all, but know simply an imagined version of him.

If Jesus Christ really is an infinitely true human being, then, since we too are human, he must be like us. Or rather, if he is Perfect Man – the Son of Man – then we must be like him. How therefore can we know him, but to know ourselves?

To know Christ, is to know thyself, for in knowing thyself, thou knowest humanity. Thou knowest not only humanity, brothers and sisters: in knowing thyself thou knowest the essentially human. Christ as true man, is truly human. Therefore in knowing thyself, who is human, thou knowest Christ, for his essential humanity lives in you.

How then are we to become more and more like Jesus? How therefore but to be more and more our true, our purestly human selves?

To know Christ, is to have Christ dwell in you, and to have Christ dwell in you, is to become yourself like him. But to do this, is to become more truly – more fully – yourself than before. For this is and was the very way of Christ: to be fully human is to fully imitate Jesus.

“You teach a strange, not to say dangerous doctrine. Be yourself and be truly human? Why not then may a man do anything he wants? Be a murderer, a thief, a bigot, a self-centered and violent egoist? You offer us no protection from what is evil in ourselves! You offer us no protection from our fallen nature! Do you not know the inherent wickedness of the human race?”

What can save humanity, but that humans become fully, truly, and altogether good human beings? The protection from our fallen nature comes from the perfection of our current one. Christ was fully man. Therefore it is not the humanity itself which is evil. It is the fear and selfishness and lowness that plague it.

In God’s great universe, can a thing be fully itself without also being fully good, fully beautiful, fully lovely, fully true? It cannot be, else God made that which finds its fulfillment in its own destruction. Therefore for a thing to grow most truly into itself, is for it to reach its divinely appointed beatitude.

What is it to be fully human? It is to go on being as good, as true, as honest, as fair, as compassionate as you can. It is to continually look at the world as that which you can love and enter into and enjoy. It is to have a cosmic, eternal, undefeatable optimism It is to shun fear, and all things mean and low, and to hold existence as a treasure unspeakable, a mystery all-glorious. This is what Christ taught us. To be like him, which is to be essentially human, is to believe that there is a great Father – an all encompassing, absolutely lovely and beautiful principle – at the heart of all life, and to believe that this principle knits all humans into a single body, a united organism, every piece impossible to separate from every other. This is the first great light we must use to guide our steps as we come to understand Jesus Christ: this, I take, is his central message, the electricity that generates his beating heart, the atmosphere in which his spirit is saturated, the foundation on which his soul stands. It is the pillow that he lays his head down upon at night, and the sun which enlightens his eyes every morning. It is his meaning and his reason for being. To live in a universe sprung from his Father’s hand must be the way of things: to think such is the only way to live.

Thus we as imitators of Christ believe that the world ought to be looked at as the work of a Father who loves all infinitely and higher and deeper than we can ever imagine. And that the human soul ought to interpret reality as that which flows from not just a father, but our Father, as a gesture of omnipotent and tender love, as a gift to enjoy, and to help others enjoy.

The second great light Christ gave us for living is this: that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. To truly love a man as oneself is to recognize that each man is in us and that we are in each man. Every individual is in every other individual. This is so – yea it must be so – because we all share a fundamental humanity. Our fulfillment as humans, and therefore the fulfillment of our human nature, lies in our entering into the lives of our fellow brothers and sisters so deeply that we consider our very selves as if we were they. Note I do not say we are to consider our neighbor as if they were us: we are to consider us as if we were they. We must break down the wall of separation, the wall of self defense, the wall of thinking it impossible for there to be anything in common between human beings. We must enter into the heart, the mind, the feeling, the person of our fellow brother or sister. We must consider them as ourselves, for we must love them as ourselves. Their moods, their thoughts, their failures: they must become ours, and we must think of them as if they really were our own. How often do we do this? How often do we allow our neighbor’s feelings become our feelings? Not enough, friend. Not near enough.

Do we think we are above such things? It cannot be, for we are all human beings. We must strive for our compassion – our entering into – to reign so mightily in our hearts that there becomes no human alive – no human that ever existed – that we do not share a reality-binding, essentially inextricable connection with. It matters not how far away they are, how different their life may be, how foreign their feelings, fears, or beliefs, how apparently holy, how evidently selfish. No man is an island to any other man. If a man is a human like ourselves – no matter how different they may seem to be – we share the same fundamental consciousness, the same range of emotions, the same data of experience, the same hopes, the same desires. Yea we share the same image of God. All humans, therefore, are in some sense too deep for words and too big for explanation, one.

All other things Christ said and did must be interpreted in the light of these two truths: the eternal and all lovely fatherhood that surrounds us every moment, and the eternal, divine brotherhood of humanity. The first ushers in a universal optimism, though it may take at times a mighty strength of will to hold on to. The second, an unbreakable bond in the hearts of all humans for each other. On these two truths hang all the law and the prophets. And this is what Christ came to teach us. Or else, there is some greater message, some deeper undercurrent, that could underlie Jesus’ teachings that would stand behind them and give them life. To this source then we must turn, Christ himself being but the pointer to it, the messenger of it, rather than the thing itself. Since this principle explained the unity of humanity and pointed with hope to the ends towards which the race is moving, it must supersede and envelope all notions that taught or terminated in lesser truths. But if Christ is True Humanity in the flesh, if he is indeed the Son of Man, and that in which all men and women are rooted and interpenetrated, that cannot be. He must show us the way, for he, being himself Man, is the way. Therefore in looking within ourselves, we see our manhood and therefore Christ himself. We see both our universal brotherhood to one another, and our childhood of the Father.

It is to this innate humanity shared by all and its knowledge of Goodness and Truth that Christ himself appealed to, when he asked the crowd: “why judge ye not of yourselves what is right?”

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You In Me

You are interested in me, and I am in you. Even though we shall never meet, still, I wish I could meet you.

There is therefore some space in me carved out for you, and only you, since, were I never to meet you, I should still want to.

And the same is true of you with me. This makes us both happy.

My love to you, reader.

Rejoicing in Our Hope

Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2

St. Paul writes that we – that is, all believers, and all those who have hope in the resurrection of Christ – “rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.” Ah, friends! To be able to rejoice in a hope absolutely pure, to possess a trust absolutely free of negative suspicion! Who does not see that this is the very essence of hope and that, insofar as we fear that we shall not obtain the glory which we seek, we are that much further from a pure and perfect hope?

To the degree that our hope is tainted with fear, then, to that degree, we are not hoping. No doubt hope must be sown in the soil of hardship and uncertainty. Therefore it differs from positive knowledge. Yet the flower which buds that gives rise to the rejoicing that the Apostle here mentions ought not to be a dead thing or wounded and in the process of decay. Hope must be for the Christian a source of joy. I do not say it cannot be attended with tears of desire. But I do say that, if it is to be pure, it, like love, must cast out all fear.

How therefore can a man trust in God his maker if he believe that maker capable of damning him to eternal torment? How therefore can a man love his neighbor and hope for his salvation, if that neighbor may be tortured for all eternity?

Even those who believe in an eternal hell will tell you that they wish it were not true. They will tell you that they hope that, in the end, all will be saved. I do not doubt their feeling. I only ask how their hope is authentic, or how it is compatible with the other truth that they hold, namely that some souls in fact shall suffer forever. If what is commonly held to be divine revelation be true, then some – many? – shall be damned. There is no getting around the fact. But how then could one hope or wish otherwise? Can a man hope that divine revelation is wrong, or think that what is true is false? How pray for the salvation of the whole race, if it is certain that the whole race will not be saved? How desire that all be saved, if all certainly shall not be? I do not ask if a man cannot hope and pray and desire for universal redemption. Surely he can. I ask only how his feeling is not absurd, yea at total odds with his faith. A man may say he hopes for the salvation of all, but if he truly does, when he does he cannot also be holding to the traditional doctrine of the certain damnation of some. His hope is at that point at least inconsistent – irreconcilable with – his doctrine.

Thus most are in constant flux between what their hearts want for their fellow human being and what they believe a tradition of men teach as true. But others take a different way. They hold that, although some will be lost, and that although there is no getting around the fact, yet, still, in the end, “all will be well.” In heaven, they believe, they shall see the final righting of all wronging. Everything shall finally be reconciled, brought to a completed harmony, a state of agreement wherein they shall say “yes, this is good” and feel it true.

Assuming that they get to heaven themselves! How can all be well if you are not there, my friend? Yes, all shall be well – for the souls who are filled to overflowing with love unspeakable and infinite. But what of the others? They still exist. Is it well with them? If not, how therefore is it well with all? How can the completed universe be all right and good if all are not all right and good?

And what is more, if God is satisfied with such a condition, if such could really be a finished, perfected product of his, why have any confidence that you shall be among the saved? If God can bring into being that which he has no obligation to perfect, or which he is satisfied with not perfecting, why suppose all will be well with you? Why think he shall not be content with permitting your damnation?

“His grace,” one replies.

Yet that grace need not be given to all. Why therefore think it was given to you?

“Because I believe in God, and in Christ.”

Then God must be such as, to those whom he gives the grace of belief in himself and in his Son, therefore they must be saved. Therefore God does have some obligation, to his own gift of grace, to see to it that to those whom he makes believe and gives grace, these he shall save. But you have said that God has no obligation to what he makes.

“It is a self-imposed, freely chosen obligation. Once grace is given, it cannot be revoked.”

And you know this is so how?

“Because of his word.”

But God is such on your theory that he is under no obligation to give us his honest word, or keep it.

“The Bible is the word of God, and God cannot lie. Therefore what the Bible says cannot be false.”

If God is capable of creating conscious, feeling, loving souls and tormenting them for all eternity, then what prevents him lying? Or can he inflict endless torment, but not lie? If so, why? Note also how we have moved away from talking about God himself, to some written word about him. But when explaining the unmade, why invoke the made? Does the unseen rest upon the seen, the uncreated on the created? You are acting as if the Bible can explain God himself such that he must conform to it. Do you not see that any authority or reason you invoke to explain God’s ways must itself be such that your trust in it is warranted? To trust in God therefore is not to trust in some book about God – but to trust in God himself, as he is in his own eternally perfect loveliness. To substitute of trust in God for trust in his book, however mighty and beautiful and lovely it may be, is to trust in something infinitely less than God himself.

What is more, if eternal torment is true and we must believe it just because the Bible tells us so, then belief in the Bible is impossible, since the god whom such a book describes would be impossible to trust. It is often said that no man could know a personal God unless that God freely revealed himself to man, and that this revelation, the Bible, is therefore our only way of knowing God’s relation to us. Whether or not this be true, I follow the statement up with this: “and any revelation from a personal God must be pure enough to make trust in that being possible, else it would be useless.” What good would a revelation do, what would be the point in studying it, if, at the end of our inquiry, we arrive at the conclusion that the being who gave it cannot be trusted, cannot be hoped in? The whole enterprise would be futile. Would a man, except out of desperation or fear, trust in the criminal who had kidnapped his child? The criminal’s actions have already proven trust in him unreasonable. No doubt we may still pay the ransom to him and follow his orders: but only out of fear, never out of love.

“But we must trust in God. Else life becomes unlivable, hope impossible.”

Indeed! But that comes to this: we must trust in the goodness and unconditional love of God, for it is only on this basis that we can ground our hope in the first place. Even if we are mistaken, even if there is no God, or even if there is an evil god, we could not hope in anything less than an all-loving principle that is altogether for us. For hope must needs rest on such an assumption. It cannot stand on shifting ground or sinking sand. Hope can only lift up its eyes confidently to the heavens and spread wide its arms if it believes that the giver of its life is something altogether good for it, yea that it cannot in principle be bad for it. The giver may be bad for it for a time, or it may appear bad for it, but hope, if it be hope, must needs see these ills as transitory, as themselves bowing towards an ever greater, more glorious end.

But if that which breathed life into us, friends, is altogether for us – or if we must believe this in order to live – then it must also be altogether for everything that we love. What could be for us, or to say the same thing, what could love us, that did not love that which we loved? Does a mother love a child who has no care for the child’s loves? No doubt the child may love very lowly things, and no doubt the mother will want to correct the child, to redirect it to higher things. But this is only because the mother loves the child and wants what is best for it. The redirection exists not to take away the loves of the child, but to enable the child to more fully and truly be able to enjoy those loves. And not those loves only, but all loves – yea love itself – in the deepest way it can.

I ask, what is best for mankind – for all God’s children – if not to love God and each other?

St. John the Evangelist tells us “he who does not love abides in death” and “If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

Can we then love God, brothers and sisters, if we do not love each other? And can we love each other if we find it acceptable that some of us may be lost forever? Can a human really love another if he can justify in his heart somehow the ultimate destruction of that other that he loves? How has his love not shrank, wilted, yea evaporated into nothing?

If a man loves another thing – not to say another person – how can that man ever tolerate the loss of the thing? Ask yourself! Who have you loved, and really loved, that you could bear to part with, knowing that now that one is gone, that he never shall breath and smile and have joy again? I do not say perfect love could not be content in never beholding the beloved again. It could, in the strength of its perfection, throb unwounded by the separation, if it knew that the object of its love was itself happy, was fulfilled, that it suffered not lack. But this is because love’s action would still be itself, still be complete, insofar as it rested in the joy of the beloved. Yet how could this be, if the beloved was no more? How could love throb perfectly pure and healthy and without wound, if the beloved was miserable, was hopeless, yea suffered unspeakable torment? What weak love is this? If this is the essence of love, it is not eternal, not infinite. It may cool and dwindle, evaporate and cease. Would that God or Christ does not love us with a love like this! Or each other!

What man could ever desire or even accept his own ultimate destruction, his own eternal torture? Yet we are told to love one another as we love ourselves. To the degree that we love our neighbor as ourselves, we must be at war with – we must find intolerable and absolutely unacceptable – that one’s damnation. Insofar as we resign ourselves to another’s lostness, or even possible lostness, we have ceased loving them. We have taken them out of ourselves, out of our heart, and put them in some unseen corner. There they may rot, or suffer, or, for all we care, cease to be. We thus kill them in ourselves, we remove them from the organic family-unity to which their humanity has bonded us as siblings. We make them un-human, un-connected, un-loved by God. We make them into Nothings.

“But God says that some shall be lost! It is plain in Scripture. Do we not then have to accept – are we not then driven to accept – such a thing?”

To be driven to accept the will of God! To suppose the will of the All Perfect Love-Beautiful God could be a bitter pill that we had to swallow! What is this other than to suppose that God is ultimately not what we mean by God? That he is not an Almighty Love?

“In loving God, we must love him so much that we do not care whether any of his creatures are saved or lost. For he alone ought to fulfill us such that everything else is inconsequential.”

If God had never created our neighbors, it would be enough that we not love them. But God has created them: and not only that, but he has created that in us which is fulfilled and finds joy in loving them. He has created us as dependent on our neighbor, has created us as that which finds its perfection in its loving other people. There is a space carved out in us made specifically for all the Others of our race. It is the infinite compassion in us, the potential in the soul to enter into and become all its fellow human brothers and sisters. Even should we never meet a particular person, we would still want to. Thus there is a need in us, a satisfaction that can be attained, only in our loving the entire of humanity. If there was but one human left in the cosmos, one individual who was its own unique spark sent flying out of the divine fire heart of the universe, we would still want to meet, to connect with, to therefore somehow be united to and become one with that one. Therefore in us there is a space, not only for this or that person, but for all people, yea all possible people, which is filled only by our loving them.

God has made us and our neighbor one: for the two are only explicable in relation to each other; neither are explicable in isolation. There is no humanity without individual humans, and that are not individual humans without humanity. Therefore it is not possible to love God and not love neighbor, for then I would not be loving myself; I would not be loving my humanity, and therefore all humans. God made me then to love himself in loving myself, which means at the same time in loving my neighbor.

Ultimately there can be no disharmony in love. Love cannot be divided: it is one. Its energy is one. Its pulse throughout all existence is one. There must be a harmony of love at the root of all things. Thus, to love God must include a love of everything that God has made.

All things, from the atom to the human to the galaxy, love themselves insofar as they seek to maintain themselves as a unity. They are, as it were, “like themselves.” They behave according to their nature, and in doing so reach for and arrive at their perfection. In a word, all things naturally love and desire to be what they are: that is themselves. In this sense, since things are continually being themselves, they are continually reproducing themselves. This applies to humanity also. By the mere fact of our being human, we therefore love humanity. Our life is a continual enjoyment and maintaining and perfecting of it, a constant duplication and reentering into it, a never ending rediscovery of it. We cannot help this; nor is it bad. Yea it would be absurd for us to hate our humanity, for that would be for us to deny the purpose of our nature, for a thing to turn in on itself and destroy itself, for it to be essentially that whose goal was to move backwards, whose meaning was to unmake itself. No doubt we hate things about our current condition: our sickness, our anxiety, our troubles and cares, our hardships. But these hates only arise out of a deeper love of the perfection of what we have when we are fully human and fully alive.

Yet, if we really do love humanity as such because we are human and therefore we cannot help it – our loving ourselves being simply what it is to be ourselves – then from the fact that all people are humans, we therefore must love all people. Indeed we cannot but love all people, and we cannot but desire their happiness as our own, for we are essentially like them, and in them, all. All humans are human; therefore all like us, us all like them.

You and me, reader, are of the same nature. That fact alone contains a mystery more profound than human knowledge will ever exhaust. It means that you are in me and I am in you. And not only that. But that all humankind, all individual people, are in you, and you are in all. We are all in one another.

To desire or rejoice or be fulfilled by or accept the ultimate destruction or corruption of another person is, then, immoral, that is true. But in a deeper metaphysical sense it is impossible. For it would require the absurdity that a nature be perfected by its willing of its own destruction. Insofar as any human is lost, and I accept that fact, I have at once ceased to be human. I have ceased to love myself, for I have ceased to see in the lost my own humanity standing there, reproduced.

How then can a man hope, if the completion of the universe and the perfection of his human nature is such as to rend the very fabric of his humanity, that which knits and binds the whole human family? How is the world tolerable – or the god who made it – if such a thing really occurs? Will god unmake the nature he is making? Will he, at length, cause the human heart to be unmoved by suffering, by the spoiled potential in the damned, by the destroyed friendship, the eternal enmity between brothers, sisters, family, friends, yea children, yea spouses, yea lovers?

May we never believe it! For if we have ever truly loved someone, it can never be false that we truly loved them. Therefore there exists for all eternity that relation in us, that real love which links us to what or who we loved. Such would be true even if there were no god or no afterlife. Yea, were I to find that I could not believe in a hereafter, I would still believe in the reality of the love I have had in my soul for those I have loved. By holding onto this I would therefore keep them alive, I would bear them with me in my spirit until I died and was no more.

Since those we love are truly in us by our mutual love in times past, there is in us that which was uniquely made by them: a footprint of their soul, imprinted into ours for all eternity. Even should my brain decay until I forgot it, no amount of degradation could ever destroy the fact that I truly loved and was loved, and therefore that me and those I loved were truly united to and in one another. Such a thing was, therefore is true, for all eternity. Not even God can have make the past not to have been. Therefore not even God can destroy the reality of the love that was really there between lovers. Let us then flame the fires of that love and love all as truly as we can, while we can. Let us believe that what was began in us, will one day be perfected.

Our hope ought to lead to rejoicing, brethren. Therefore it should not lead to death, but to life. But then our hope must be infinite. It must rest on a foundation greater – necessarily greater – than anything we can conceive. But the greater must exist in the upper direction, not the lower. It must take up our loves and glorify them; never negate and forget them. Our hope must contain all that we can conceive and all that we can desire, and far more. Never less. This is why we believe – why we cannot but believe, if we are to be able to hope at all – in one who shall “reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace.”

Solving the Modal Collapse by Invoking the Trinity and the Creator-Creature Distinction

Is there a true distinction between the divine essence (DE) and the world? If so, then by simply positing the DE, one cannot posit the world or anything related to the world. That is, if we posit the DE, nothing else follows than just the DE, not even a power or disposition in the DE towards, say, creating a world. Why? Because

i) Per divine simplicity (DS), there is nothing “in” the DE. There is only the DE itself. To locate something “in” it would identify that property or power or disposition with the DE; that is, the power would be identical to the DE. This leads to

ii) A power or disposition is just a relation or tendency towards another. But if this is identical to the DE, then the DE is essentially referred to and related to something outside itself. But this compromises its aseity. It makes the DE a thing which is explicable in part by something else. That is, it makes it dependent. But the DE is the first being, absolutely maximally fulfilled in itself, independent, and without referent to anything outside itself. To say it depends on or is in any way referred to another is just to deny this.

In fact, were the DE to depend on another – imagine it as a point with a vector arrow pointing away from itself – then this other, since every property of the DE is identical to the DE, must be of the same nature as the DE. That is, what the DE points to could not be a creature, if we take creatures to be a) truly distinct from the DE or b) brought about libertarianly freely. This is because to be distinct from the DE is to be other than the DE. But if the DE has a disposition, power, or property towards something else, then this disposition, power, or property must be identical to the DE. Therefore when positing the DE we automatically posit a dependence on something else. But then by simply positing the DE, we posit that which is not the DE. Thus, by positing God, we posit “God plus something else.” But the DE is identical only to itself. Therefore either a) there could be no distinction between the DE and the “something else” that is posited which the DE refers to; or b) that “something else” would follow necessarily from the DE.

But whatever follows necessarily from the DE would be of the same nature as the DE. This leads us to a nice concept of the Trinity of Persons: God from God, but it does not lead us to creature from Creator.

In other words, any relation in the DE must just be the DE, relating to itself. This just is the doctrine of the Trinity. There cannot then be any relation in the DE to creation, if the creation is not identical to the Trinity.

If in positing God, we posit some relatable ability “in” God, that ability must be simply God himself. Therefore also the relata in question must simply be God, since the DE is identical to itself, independent, fully self-existent, unexplained by anything outside itself. If this were not true the DE would be a contingent being explained by some other thing outside itself which it referred to. Therefore, if the modal collapse objection is true, then the creation literally becomes God: for when we posit God we necessarily – that is, naturally – posit the creation also.

Pantheism, however, cannot be true. For if it were, then simply in us knowing the world, we would know the DE. But we can know more or less of the world. “Things” exist “in” it. There are singular items in it, real distinctions, finite supposits. But it is for all these reasons that we are driven to posit an absolutely simple being – a Plontinian “One.” The world is not identical to the principle which holds the world together; nor is it identical to the good towards which the whole world moves. Therefore it cannot be identical to God, who just is these things.

Exploring the modal collapse (MC) is helpful in that it makes us purify the way we talk about God. What it points out is this.

When speaking of the DE, we are not really talking about it if we use concepts that in any way imply the existence of creatures. For instance, we typically call God “omnipotent.” Yet if this means that God is powerful because “he can create anything” then we have slipped back into a modal collapse. That is, we have slipped back into dissolving the creature-creator distinction and equated the world with God. How so?

If God just is his power, and if his power just is his ability to create, then God is essentially referred to that which is not himself. This compromises aseity, or it makes what is referred to by God of the same nature as God. Ask yourself: what is God powerful about? If that is any other answer than simply God himself, then in calling God powerful we are not really describing what is identical to God, but “God plus something else.”*

This point holds true for all properties of God that have creatures as referents: God’s power, God’s will, even God’s knowledge. Even the Augustinian conception of the Divine Ideas (DI) – (which is also Aquinas’ idea, who gets it from Augustine) – falls victim to collapsing the creature-creator distinction. For if the DE is simply identical to the DE knowing itself, then, simply by positing the DE, one does not necessarily posit creatures or the idea of creatures. If the DE in knowing itself “also” knows creatures then these creatures must also be identical to the DE, since it necessarily knows only itself. But then the “also” becomes meaningless, for the DI’s become identical to God. But the DI of creatures cannot be identical to God, else they could not be “of creatures.” Therefore the DI’s involve God “plus something else.” But per simplicity, God is not “God plus something else.” God is simply God. Therefore in knowing himself God knows simply himself. Therefore the DI – the “what God knows” – must be identical to God. But then the DI cannot be of creatures, since creatures are not identical to God.**

Nor does appealing to any sort of “disposition” “in” God help to explain how God knows what he knows. For instance it would not help to simply invoke God’s power to explain how God knows the DI. For again, if God is identical to his power, then in saying God knows the DI by knowing his power we are simply saying that God knows the DI by knowing himself. But this just leads to the same conclusion: God knows simply God. Nothing “other” than God follows from this.

But how do we resolve the modal collapse “aporia”?

By denying that God’s willing, knowing, creating the world are features “in” God. We adopt a model of God’s relation to the world in which anything other than simply God is something other than God – that is, something “extrinsic” to him. Even God’s knowledge of creatures.

Consider: God knows only himself. This means that any conception other than God himself – that is, anything other than simply the DE (which we cannot conceive) – is something other than the DE. Therefore ideas of creatures – thoughts of creatures, propositions about creatures, possible creatures (or worlds), dispositions towards creatures, etc. – these things not being identical to the DE, cannot be intrinsic to God. For what is intrinsic to God is simply God.

To say that God has an idea of a creature or a possible world is just to posit something other than God. That is, it is to posit “God plus something else.” But to say this is just to say that something is extrinsic to God, which is just to say that something has been created by God and is related to him by a relation of dependence.

If we do not say this, then we must affirm that when God has an idea of creatures God has an idea of God: that is, that creatures are identical to God.

Per simplicity, we cannot understand the DE. This is something any theist will happily concede. Yet it is for this very reason that nothing that we can understand – creatures, the ideas of creatures, propositions about them, possible worlds – can actually be identical to the DE. For if so then when we conceived of a proposition about creatures, something, say, that exists “in the divine mind” we would be conceiving the DE. But we cannot conceive or understand the DE. Nor can the DE understand us (in the sense of intrinsically knowing us.) But it can understand us extrinsically: which is just to say it can create us.

It would not even be true to say that possibilities exist in the divine mind (intrinsically), since the divine mind understands simply itself, which is necessarily and absolutely actual, is identical to itself and not identical to the idea of creatures, and is one. If there is relation in the DE, that relation must be identical to the DE: hence we have the Trinity. But the DE is not a possibility, nor even a collection of them. Therefore possibilities cannot exist in it, for that would make the DE identical to said possibilities.

All this simply reduces to the fact that there is a true distinction between creature and Creator, between us and God. Other solutions collapse this distinction and lead to either Pantheism or Manicheism.

Anyone who believes in libertarian freedom, by the way, must at least concede that there is no contradiction in positing an extrinsic model of creation. For if libertarian freedom (LF) is true, then simply by positing the agent or actor, one need not posit the effect. That is, absolutely everything can be posited as regards the agent, and the effect may or may not follow. No disposition “in” the agent therefore can explain the effect such that, were that disposition absent, the effect would be absent, else you have both a) the agent and b) something “in” the agent which gives rise to the effect. But that is just to deny LF and affirm that the agent as a whole does not determine the effect but some item “in” the agent does. Which is just to say there is some distinction going on between the agent that is acting and that in the agent which gives rise to his action. No doubt we can refer to the agent when explaining the effect, since the agent causes it. But just because it freely causes it, this means that there is nothing in the agent which gives more of an explanation for the effect than simply the agent as a whole. For instance, no internal state of will, no wish, no desire, etc. For these things either necessitate the effect, or they do not. If they necessitate it, then no LF. If they do not necessitate it, then we are back to the same scenario: we have an agent (in this case “desire” or “internal state” standing in the place where previously “the one who had the desire or internal state” stood), and we have the effect. But the free existence of the effect has been no more explained, for the agent still need not necessarily produce it. What this means is that if LF is true, all we need to point to to explain a free effect is simply the agent as a whole. Nothing “in” the agent. And this is all we need to do on extrinsic models of creation. We cannot point to anything “in” God to explain the existence of the contingent world. We can only just point to simply God – and we only need to, if LF is real.

I end with this. When positing God, you cannot automatically posit what Plotinus called an “extern.” Else that extern would necessarily follow on the nature of God. But what necessarily follows on the nature of God is of the same nature as God. That is, it is God from God, light from light. It is something eternally begotten – generated – not made. Of one being with Him.

But you may know the rest of this Creed.

*To say that God is omnipotent and wise in all possible worlds is not the same as to say that he is intrinsically or essentially omnipotent or wise. For if we hold that God need not create any possible world, then it must be true in virtue of something else other than the possible worlds themselves that God is intrinsically omnipotent and wise. That is, we cannot invoke possible worlds to ground these properties: or if we do we haven’t explained anything but have just spoken tautologically. What we need is to be able to say that God is omnipotent and wise without invoking possible worlds at all. Otherwise these worlds are the only place “where” God is omnipotent or wise, and then God would not be intrinsically or essentially omnipotent or wise but only on the supposition of a possible world. For omnipotence and wisdom to then be intrinsic they must obtain “without any possible world.” But then, what would God be powerful or wise about in such a case? Himself? Perhaps some move here could be made concerning the Trinity of Persons (e.g. God is powerful because he necessarily generates himself, wise because he necessarily knows or orders himself, etc.)

**One could posit a sort of “reflecting” whereby the DE reflects on itself and thereby generates the DI. But this would be a second act in the DE – it would be something other than the DE simply knowing itself. Therefore it would already be something other than the DE. Or else, it would be identical to the DE and be a real relation in it. It would thus be equivalent to a member of the Trinity.

A Critique of Aquinas’ 99th Question in the Summa On the Justice of Hell

I aim to critique Aquinas’ 4th reply in the ST on “whether by divine justice an eternal punishment is dealt out to sinners.” I maintain that Aquinas’ reasoning in this particular reply is either false, meaningless, or contradicts more central presuppositions he makes about God.

Here is the objection, and then his reply. From article 1.

Objection 4. Further, no one wishes that which is not desirable for its own sake, except on account of some advantage. Now God does not wish punishment for its own sake, for He delights not in punishments [The allusion is to Wisdom 1:13: “Neither hath He pleasure in the destruction of the living,” as may be gathered from I-II, 87, 3, Objection 3]. Since then no advantage can result from the perpetuity of punishment, it would seem that He ought not to inflict such a punishment for sin.

Reply to Objection 4. The everlasting punishment of the wicked will not be altogether useless. For they are useful for two purposes. First, because thereby the Divine justice is safeguarded which is acceptable to God for its own sake. Hence Gregory says (Dial. iv): “Almighty God on account of His loving kindness delights not in the torments of the unhappy, but on account of His justice. He is for ever unappeased by the punishment of the wicked.” Secondly, they are useful, because the elect rejoice therein, when they see God’s justice in them, and realize that they have escaped them. Hence it is written (Psalm 57:12): “The just shall rejoice when he shall see the revenge,” etc., and (Isaiah 66:24): “They,” namely the wicked, “shall be a loathsome sight* to all flesh,” namely to the saints, as a gloss says. [“Ad satietatem visionis,” which St. Thomas takes to signify being satiated with joy; Cf. Supplement:94:3]. Gregory expresses himself in the same sense (Dial. iv): “The wicked are all condemned to eternal punishment, and are punished for their own wickedness. Yet they will burn to some purpose, namely that the just may all both see in God the joys they receive, and perceive in them the torments they have escaped: for which reason they will acknowledge themselves for ever the debtors of Divine grace the more that they will see how the evils which they overcame by its assistance are punished eternally.”

His first reason for defending God’s justice with respect to those in hell, which is vague, is that the divine justice is “safeguarded.” This rather assumes than proves his point. For the question is not “is justice safeguarded” but how is it safeguarded? He does not say.

More importantly, if God is forever unappeased, as he says, or if the suffering of hell never appeases, then how is justice truly served? Is it then not truly served? But hell exists to display God’s justice. In what sense is justice displayed, then, if it is never fully served? For justice is that which admits of no degrees. It just is the dealing of an appropriate penalty when one is due.

Let’s put it again. Is divine justice appeased in the damned? If it is not, then it cannot be served – that is, justice cannot be evident – for justice just is an act of appeasement. Therefore it is false to say that God’s justice is displayed in the damned. On the other hand, if it is appeased, then the point Aquinas makes is simply not to the purpose and is untrue. I imagine he wanted to avoid saying God’s justice was “appeased” in the damned, however, for that word implies some finality such that the amount of punishment could finally reached. But if that was the case, punishment could in principle be at some point fully paid and continual suffering would not occur. But since hell is never ending, that could never occur.

I know some say that the damned continue to sin and thus accrue more debt. But the point remains. Either there is a point at which justice is fully paid with regard to the saved, or there is not. If there is such a point, then, what happens after that point could not itself be a result of previous punishment. Thus the damned could conceivably make a free movement towards God and repent. If you say they cannot possibly repent, I ask why. If it is because of previous sin, then you’re really presupposing some punishment that still exists in their nature which inclines their will towards wickedness. In which case, punishment was never really paid off in the first place. On the other hand, if there is no point at which justice is met in the damned, then their being in hell does not display God’s perfect justice. At most it would be but a defeated justice; seeing as, whatever ideal to which “imperfect” justice was approximating would be something in God’s mind which he was aiming at but never achieving.

But more than this, this whole line of reasoning assumes that the divine justice is not equally appeased in the just who are saved. Would Aquinas hold that those in heaven do not perfectly appease and therefore display the justice of God through Christ’s saving work? If the saved can show the justice of God, then God’s justice need not require eternally tortured souls to exist in order for it to be displayed. In fact, is it not true that God’s justice is more displayed in the saved? If it is not, then suffering souls show forth God’s justice more than the work of Christ does. But if it is true that the saved show God’s justice more, then God not only does not show his love in the lost as greatly as in the saved, but neither does he even show his justice in them as clearly. For the saved show forth more both God’s justice and his love. Why then did God create the lost, if his justice was more poorly shown in them by their own suffering than it would be by their perfection and beatitude? Did God do what he could have done better and which, had he done it better, would have rid the universe of countless souls suffering for all eternity? Did God create a hell that need not exist in order to display a justice that could more brightly shine?

Or are we to think that the divine justice is as equally displayed in both the saved and lost? But then how could it be better to be the former rather than the latter? If the goodness in the saved is their relation to God and the fullness of being in which they participate, and if they as equally display the same attribute of God as the lost, then how can their be any distinction between them?

Justice is something which does not admit of degrees. Insofar as something falls short of the divine justice, that thing is unjust, for justice justice just is the perfect instance of what ought to be present. Therefore it is not even coherent to talk about the divine justice justifying the existence of hell since it is an instance of falling short of displaying justice.

Second, Aquinas says that the damned exist so that the elect can see the torments that they were delivered from and rejoice in this. But here Aquinas has not consistently followed through his own notions of predestination and the simplicity of God. If it were possible for the saved to have been lost, then it were possible for God to know otherwise than he knows. But should God know otherwise than he knows, then God would be different than he is. But God cannot be different than he is, since he is necessarily his own act of understanding. This act extends to “contingent” truths that God brings about (Aquinas thinks.) But, since both God’s will and knowledge are absolutely necessary, it is not possible for God to will or know otherwise than he does. In which case there is no way predestination – which is God’s will – or God’s knowledge of the predestined, could be different.

Consider: if God is necessarily his own act of will and knowing, then, what God knows is necessarily true. Otherwise, what God knows could possibly be false, and either a) God could possibly be mistaken; or b) God could possibly know other than he knows. But if what God knows could be otherwise, then God himself could be otherwise, since he could know something otherwise than he knows. But God is absolutely necessary and possesses no distinctions at all. Therefore he cannot be otherwise than he is. Otherwise he would not be God, and we could trace back to something before God that was absolutely necessary and simple that explained him.

Thus, since God cannot be otherwise than his act of knowing, what he knows cannot be otherwise than what it is. In which case, whoever is saved, cannot not be saved, for then it would be possible for God to know something different than he in fact knows. But then, another reason for the existence of hell – that the saved will see what they would have had to endure had they not been saved – cannot be true.

Here’s the same point put another way. On Aquinas’ theology, all that exists, is either God – that is, the divine essence – or a creature. Now, predestination is either God and therefore identical to the divine essence, since God is identical to his attributes, or it is a creature. If it is a creature, then it could be otherwise. That is, it could either have some different propositional content in terms of who was saved, or it could fail to exist altogether. But if it is a creature in this respect, then God cannot have necessarily in himself the truth of predestination, since it is contingent. God cannot act on himself. Therefore he cannot make himself know that something is true which is possibly false (i.e. which is only contingently true.) Otherwise God would act on his own knowledge of what is merely possible and antecedently contingent and make such things actually determinate to one side of their inherent possibility. But if God did this, then he would be divided into a before and after: he would have a necessary part of himself and a contingent part. There would be a what he knows “in himself” and what he knows “after he determines himself.” This is impossible for a timeless first principle. It is also impossible on Aquinas’ own theology, where God is actus purus, wholly immutable, without any accidents, parts, or composition.

On the other hand, if predestination is simply the divine essence itself – if, that is, it just is God knowing the truth of those who are predestined – then it is as absolutely necessary as the divine essence itself. But if predestination is necessary, then it is impossible for those who are saved to have been lost. In which case it is false that they would rejoice in seeing in the damned some fate that they “otherwise” would have had to endure. For it is impossible for something necessary to be otherwise; and predestination, being identical to the divine essence, could never have been otherwise either.

Thus, both Aquinas’ lines of reasoning in defending the justice of hell are wanting. The first, that the divine justice is safeguarded, fails because it is unintelligible to say that justice is the type of thing that can be displayed imperfectly: it just is the right recompense. The phrase “imperfect justice” is akin to being “a little pregnant.” Justice is either present, or it is not. There is no in between. Thus, if we argue that hell exists in order to display God’s justice, that simply amounts to saying that it exists to display that justice imperfectly in the case of the damned – which is the same as saying that hell does not display it at all. Second, the divine justice can more fully evident in the saved than the lost. This is only false if we believe Christ’s saving work somehow fails in some respect to show forth God’s justice perfectly. But if it does, then all those incorporated into it show God’s justice. Therefore the damned show forth God’s suffering more poorly than the saved, and so their ultimate happiness in heaven cannot be sacrificed for this great good of showing God’s justice, since that justice is more perfectly seen supposing that they are eternally perfected in heaven. Third and finally, since the saved, on Aquinas’ view, fall under the predestination of God, and since God is simply his own act of understanding, and since God understands his act of predestination, it follows that the saved cannot have been lost unless God himself were different. But God cannot be different. He is the necessary principle which explains all things which themselves become different over time. Were God different – or even possibly different – you would have to trace this possibility back to some necessary first principle which explained that fact. But one part of God cannot explain another part of God. Therefore, since God is absolutely necessary, what he predestines cannot fail to occur: therefore the saved could not have possibly been lost. Thus, the second reason Aquinas gives for the existence of hell is one that is meaningless, since the saved could not possibly think – unless they were eternally deceived – that they really could have been lost, since it was not logically possible for God not to know that they would not be saved.

 

That It Must Be So

“But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” Matthew 26:54

“Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Luke 24:26

The world is all of a piece. Any part of it, whether it be a thing, a space, a time, or a thought, is connected in itself to some other part, and so on, until you have the whole. Posit any individual throughout all the cosmos – suppose the smallest mite of thinkable substance existing at any point of space or time – and, because of this connectedness, you likewise posit the whole of creation. If it were not so, the world would not be one, would not be unifiedly itself, would not be a singular creative unity of God.

The reason that governs the world and permeates its constituency is one. It is not therefore necessary. But, supposing that it is, it must be itself: therefore one. Thus when we posit the world that has God made, we likewise must posit all that belongs to it, all its entire outworking and connectedness and orientation towards its end. No one part of all of the space-time manifold of this world could be different, or this world would not be itself, would not be its own self-wholeness. This does not mean this world is necessary. It means simply that, if God makes it, the “it” that is made is all that it is, therefore includes a completeness of all its times and spaces and things, precisely where they are in itself.

To suppose otherwise would be to suppose that the world lacked its own totality. We say the world is “coherent.” But what does this mean other than that it “coheres”? Yet how could this be if “this world” could either be all of what it is – if, that is, it could include a definiteness regarding all its places and times and the matter and spirit that dwelled therein – or if it could include a non-definiteness regarding these things? The world would therefore have no essential meaning, no identity. It would not be itself. It would be merely potentiality, but never actually, itself.

A man generally thinks that things could have been otherwise than they were. He took this way to work, but he could have taken that way. He married this person, but he could have married that one. He narrowly escaped this accident, but he could have been killed.

But supposing the world is itself, and supposing it is a unified creation of God, this cannot be. When you posit the “creation” that God makes, that “creation” is something definite: its own entity. It can be construed as a single creature, an organism with space and time and matter as its constituents. Therefore the world-creature’s essence – its identity – simply is itself, spread out through all of space and time.

Still, God need not create the world. He could have existed without it. Further, he could have created other worlds. They could exist along with this one and not be causally connected to it.

All the truths of the worldcontingently

If some part of the world were otherwise, you’d have to give a reason why it was so. We think: I took this way to work, but I could have taken that way. But then we say: but I didn’t take that way, because I needed to get gas. Now what we have done is simply inserted a reason why things went the way they did. But we have not explained how they could have went otherwise.

Presuppose some action that could have been different. Now, there is a reason why it was what it was, and not otherwise. We needed gas, or we fell in love, or we turned the wheel right at the last second. Therefore, since these reasons existed, the event was what it was, rather than being otherwise – that is, what it was not. To say it really could have been different, therefore, we would have to subtract the reason why it in fact wasn’t and place it its stead some other reason. But the reason the thing occurred was there. It happened. And it happened itself for some reason, and so on. Therefore the outcome under discussion was not – could not have been – different. Unless you presuppose some additional reason: I needed gas but I had enough in the tank and I was running really late. But then again we are not showing how a thing could have been different, but only stating why it was what it was and why it occurred when it did.

You see, when we explain events, we simply multiply the reasons why they were so. Each event has its explanation in some prior event, and so on. But if that is how we explain events, and if this method is acceptable, it cannot be the case that the events that occur could have been otherwise. For an event to truly be able to be other than it was, it must be true to be able to presuppose exactly the same data leading up to the event, and posit as equally realistic, two opposite outcomes. We must be able to say, “given x, therefore either y or not y.” Now, if that is true, then there is no reason why a thing happens in the world rather than not. For any reason we give would serve as a necessitating cause. That is, if we pointed to the reason for why the event occurred, that reason would not explain the event such that the reason necessarily gives rise to the event. Even given the reason, a thing could either happen or not. The thing’s happening or not happening is equally possible.

Do we suppose we could point to a free agent to explain the event? What about that free agent, though? We cannot point to some state of mind, some internal feeling, some state of will, some motive. For all those things, remember, are not reasons which actually explain the event, since, given all the same datum, the event could either follow or not. All we can do is point to the agent as a whole and say “the event came from he agent. But not for any reason in the agent. It just happened.”

Now consider this from the perspective of God. People are fond of saying “God created because he wanted to display his glory” or “he created for others to share in his blessedness.” Yet, if creation is an utterly free act, then none of these reasons explain creation. For God need not “want” to display his glory or have others share in his blessedness. Or even if you suppose he must necessarily want these things, he can equally not act on his wants, else creation itself becomes necessary. Therefore no motives in God actually explain his freely creative act.

Thus, if we suppose creation really could have been otherwise, and if we suppose it is a truly free act, then our answers to the question of “why did God create” eventually terminate in the simple statement: there is no sufficiently compelling reason. He just did. Given any reason we could submit, those reasons could still exist and creation not come about.” In fact, the whole thing is a tautology. God created because God created. We have not explained anything.

If creation is such a free act, how does God explain it? Given God, creation either can be or cannot be. God is absolutely identical in either case. We typically think of creation as coming from something when that something has in it an internal state of intending to create. The artist wills to paint: therefore, he creates a painting. But this cannot be the case with God. For God “willing” to create cannot really be anything in God. Else God would create, simply by being God: that is, necessarily, since God is necessarily God. But then what in God, or what about God, explains the fact that creation comes from him?

Some say that creation is simply a relation of dependence. What is made depends on God. It is related to him: therefore creation is simply the world, qua dependent on God. God himself is no different whether or not creation exists. In the same way an object of knowledge is no different whether or not our minds are actively perceiving it, so, too, creation is seen as simply the relation of dependence on being related to God as the mind is related to its knowing an object.

But what sense can be made of the word “creation” if this is true? Does an object “create” my knowledge of it? If it does not, then why say that God creates the world, simply because the world is ordered and related to him? Yet if the object does create my knowledge, then does the object know that it is creating my knowledge? If it does, then, since the creation of my knowledge is contingent, then the object could also know that it does not create my knowledge, since it could exist without creating my knowledge. That is, since the object either could or create me as knowing it, then the object either could or could not cause itself to know either that I know it or do not know it.

If creation is a truly free act in the sense that it could have been otherwise, and if God knows all things, then God could know that he created or that he didn’t create. He could know either that a created world exists, or that it does not. But then God would have to cause himself to be in whatever cognitive state he is in. But how could God cause himself? He would have to exist prior to himself and act on himself. This is impossible for a timeless being, or a first principle. Or is God in time, temporally creating himself from moment to moment? But then why suppose God causes the world, since the world on its own temporally becomes from moment to moment? And what timeless principle stands back and unites all becoming existence into a unified instance of being?

Does one say that God simply knows that the world “could” exist? Given God, and supposing the act of creation is free, the world can either exist, or not. Therefore, the existence of the world is necessarily possible. God being omniscient must know this necessarily. But the world, evidently, exists. Therefore if it could not exist it exists contingently. Therefore God must also know this. Therefore he must know both that the world could exist and that it actually exists, which is a contradiction. If God knows only the possibility of the world and not its actuality, he is not omniscient, for it is true that the world exists. If he knows both its possibility and actuality, he knows two contradictory things. If he knows only its actuality, then it is not true that it is necessarily possible: for it is only contingently possible and contingently actual.

But, actually, there is a solution to these contradictions. To see it requires us understanding two things. i) Possibility refers not to a thing’s ability to be otherwise, but to its actually being what it will be, at some time. That is, a thing is possible only if it actually comes to be. A seed is possibly a tree, only if in fact it becomes one. If there is no time in which a seed becomes a tree, it is not possible for a seed to be a tree.  ii) “Possibility” also resides simply in our imagination. When we say “I could have gone to work a different way” that does not mean that we actually could have – that is, given all that actually occurred up to that moment, another result could have ensued – but that we can imagine not having gone to work the way we did. We can imagine a different result ensuing, given all the datum up to a certain point. This is simply because we are not omniscient.

Obviously we can imagine all sorts of things. When someone asks us, “what finger am I holding behind my back” we say and think things like “it could be a one or a two.” But really, the number is what it is. Our ignorance does not supervene on the reality and make that reality possibly something other than what it in fact is. Is it raining in Japan today? May be we say. But this is not true. It either is or it is not. We do not know of course. So we think the reality could be either one. But that is merely us imagining reality in different ways. The reality itself is what it is.

There is another absurdity in thinking that things could be other than they are if one believes in the uniformity of nature and a God who does miracles. Why should nature uniformly produce the same effect? Given all the same data fed into her, if everything could be other than it is, then the fact that nature continues to behave as it does is inexplicable. It may just as well behave otherwise. Remember, given that God creates freely, you can posit God and also posit absolutely anything in the creation. Do you think that God is bound to the rules of nature? But he created those rules, freely. That is, the rules need not have came about. Or was it only possible for those rules to come about or not come about, but not a different set of rules? Then God cannot create any conceivable rule? God then, if he creates, must necessarily create this way. Then we can imagine some rules which are not logically impossible but which God cannot bring about: but then he is not omnipotent, for he cannot do what we deem something not logically impossible. You see, if anything possible can possibly come about, then our whole understanding of the uniformity of reality breaks down. For it could follow a totally unpredictable pattern. There is just as much reason, given God, that nature should be predictable as that it should not be. But supposing what we mean by “God creates” is simply an instance of God creating these rules of nature, then we are simply saying that God does what he does. And, necessarily, if God does x, he does x. Therefore if God creates he necessarily creates; and what he creates is just these laws of nature.

Aristotle’s argument against the idea that all things take place by necessity amounts to this: if it were so, then deliberation would be in vain. But that, of course, does not follow. Deliberation cannot be in vain, for it infallibly produces its effect. Indeed nothing can be in vain, for all things are necessarily and inextricably connected to what they produce. In fact, an awkward consequence would follow if things really could be other than they were going to be. For, supposing a person deliberates, he still could choose otherwise, if effects don’t necessarily follow their causes. Indeed what difference would deliberation make, if we could suppose the exact kind of deliberation all the way up to the moment of the decision, and if either decision could equally come about?

Why not then conclude that all truth is necessary? I do not see what we lose. If it somehow makes the world less marvelous because God necessarily creates it, or that it necessarily exists, then God himself must be less marvelous because he necessarily exists. Nor should there be a worry that there is some “outside” force necessitating us to do some action we would not otherwise do. For there is no action we would “otherwise” do. There is only what we in fact do, which cannot be other than what it is.

Taken as a whole, the entire universe must be what it is. Therefore it could not be otherwise, and still be itself. Do we suppose that each thing has some accidental properties that it could have had, and remained the same? That God knows the essential in each thing, and also the accidental? But the accidental must necessarily still be accidental. Hence, each essential thing must necessarily possibly have all of its accidents. But then if God creates a thing with only such and such accidents, when it could have had other ones, then once again he is creating his own knowledge of the actual thing, which supposes he acts on himself, which is impossible. If an actual thing is “essentially this, with the accidents of either p or not p” then, unless there is some time in which the thing either has p or not p, the thing becomes a timeless divine idea with contradictory properties. For instance, say God necessarily knows Adam is essentially a human, but only accidentally existing. Therefore in God’s mind Adam either exists or does not exist: i.e. Adam necessarily possibly exists. But to say a thing possibly exists is to say it does not in fact exist, but it could. But then existence is not an accident in Adam, but the default and necessarily essentially true condition of Adam, presupposing God does not give him existence. But we can equally presuppose that God gives him existence. Therefore God must know both suppositions: i.e. he must know both that he freely gives Adam existence and that he does not, which is impossible.

To create a thing is to stand in a relation of causing that thing. Therefore the thing must be an effect. But if God creates, then in virtue of that very thing God has become a cause. God then has caused himself to be a cause. We say God acts on creation: this “on” seems rather to presuppose something already existing. But if God simply creates without presupposing anything, then, still, this action somehow brings about an effect – or rather it just is an effect. But then somehow God as cause brings about his own effect. That is, God somehow in creating becomes his own effect, which is inconceivable.

The problem in conceiving of God as a cause of this thing called the world is that it reduces that which is supposed to transcend the category of “things” altogether to “a” thing. If God is “being” how can he be “a” being? To put him in relation to something is already to put him in a subject-object relation, which presupposes being as that which both subject and object participate in. But then God would be finitely participating in himself, which is impossible.

I am often driven to Naturalism. What need is there for God? You have all that is – the world. It simply is. It is the great thing which we encounter: the everything that can be encountered, the all in all. When you take this reality – this all that is – and try to incorporate God into the picture, where does he go? What purpose does he serve? As a cause of the world? But why does the world need a cause? It is all that is. Further, we have seen that if God causes the world then he stoops down into the story of things that exist in the all that is. He becomes this thing that causes this other thing. But both things partake of existence and share in some bigger reality that involves all there is.

Is then what I call the world simply my finite experience of God – of “being”? Is what I call “possible” simply what my mind happens to be conceiving in relation to existence itself? This is very close to pantheism, but less problematic than traditional conceptions of the Creator-created relation.

I experience the world. I do not experience God. But the world exists. Therefore, if God is the pure act of existence, I must be, in experiencing the world, somehow experiencing God too, since the world’s existing is somehow a participation in God’s existing. The word “existing” must overlap somehow when applied to God existing and the world existing, or I could not use them of both. But then experiencing the world I do experience God.

If the world simply necessarily exists, what need is there for anything else? The principle of unity which makes all things one. We have the uni-verse. The together-thing. The one-song of all existence. There must be something that unites it all, that makes it all intelligible, that holds it all together. There must be some ultimate binder, some root, some first knowing, some foundation of all Truth. There must be a providence, a governor, a mover, a guider, behind all. There must be a singular heart to the whole thing. There has that which, as Plato said, has no opposite: that which necessarily is, and therefore necessarily explains. Trace all things back and back, and you arrive at it. You must, else all else is but instrumental and nothing is ever explained. This necessity you get to – which cannot not be – must be. Thus it has to be itself. It is itself, and since it is itself, it must be so; it must be what it is. And since it can’t be otherwise, once you posit it, all that it means, all that it does, all that it thinks, all that it binds, all that it explains, must necessarily follow and be connected to it as well.

A Yearning: A Meditation on Myself

My soul longs for a union with all that is – to have dwell in me, and me dwell in, all loveliness, all beauty, all goodness, all humanity: yea every person, every possible person. My heart longs to pour itself out and abandon itself and release itself into everything, and so find itself. I yearn to be in closest union to all I can be in union with: yet I can be in union with everything. Therefore, I long for everything.

I do not wish to, cannot bear to, leave anything behind. To let go of some relation I have to life, to existence, to humanity, to person, to animal, to creature, to factual truth, would be to let go of some part of myself, since somehow in that unique relation, I am found. I am truly present in the relation, even if it is only in my conscious feeling towards all that can possibly come into my mind, in such a way that I am uniquely. To take away a piece of what I have felt and known, would be to take from my soul some cavern, some filling place that the relation itself satisfied. Such would make me less than I am capable of being: therefore, less than myself.

I cannot understand myself. The what I am hides ever behind the that I am. It mocks me, drives me to madness, allures me, sweetly whispers to me. What am I? I scream it at the world. I howl it while lying in bed in the thickness of night. I laugh it to meaningless in the absorption of some pleasure. I analyze it to pieces in the intensity of thought.

What is behind my “me” – my image of myself that I present to myself? I can only know myself by thinking back upon myself. I have to stop thinking “through” – that is, I have to interrupt my unattended flow of thought – to look back upon the trail my thinking has just left in the sand. Yet even this looking back is not a direct looking at. I cannot get a hold of myself, cannot stop myself to stare at myself. It is a constant hitch, a constant dissolution from one moment to the next. I first simply find myself thinking something, unintentionally, and then my intention comes to bear on it. There is this ever shifting dance. One cannot be either intentional or unintentional for very long when one is examining onself.

People say sorrow is evil. But how can that be? Every emotion, be it as supposedly evil as coming straight from the devil himself, is driven to its manifestation from love. Love is the driving force as well as the goal to which all human feeling relates. Does a man weep for loss? It is because he loves not loss, but loves that which is lost. Somehow the distance between him and the object causes in him a love which shows itself in tears. Yet were it not for love – yea love unspeakable – no tears would come. To wish to abolish tears from the world would be to wish that it made no difference whether we lost what we loved. But then how could we love, if our having what we love made no difference to us? We cry, not because there is some evil in us, but because there is so much good breaking upon us that we wish to tears that we could unite ourselves yet closer to it. Sorrow is but the hearts cry and desire for more of what it believes with all its heart is lovely.

I will not touch on other emotions at the present. Suffice to say, an emotion is a thing that moves us, hence the word e-motion. But if we are moved, we are moved toward something; and if something then something, at least in some respect, good and desirable. Every motive of action, thought, feeling, will – every conceivable relation a human may have consciously towards some object – springs from love. That is, from desire. To say something is desirable is just to say that it is somehow lovely. Somehow, what is seen in the thing, is seen as worthy of love.

When I yearn for union with everything! Ah, what can mere words hope to convey here? They stagger along after thought and feeling. The brain fumbles to try to understand itself by forming “words” so as to present to itself some intelligible account of what just occurred to it. Yet what occurs in feeling and in loving, is indescribable. To the man who has never loved, what could words tell him? You may as well describe the concept of color to a blind man. Yet if a man has loved, then words do not convey to him some new reality. They merely stir up within him that which has already taken root and been felt. Words, therefore, are but the misty leftover of feeling, ever trying, and ever failing, to bring back that which was. Sometimes this is better than not trying at all, and sometimes it is not.

Likewise with “proofs,” say for God’s existence. What is a proof but simply the going back over some conscious experience? To prove a thing, the thing proven must already be present in the presentation of the proof, else we could never get to it. You can never get to some thing which you’ve never conceived, never had any notion of at all. First you must have the conception: and that, you do not prove, you simply find. “If x, then y. X, therefore y.” But we must already be familiar with what is contained in the “if” – that is, with x. Otherwise we could not proceed. A man could not understand a syllogism that started “If abracadabra” – for it would mean nothing. A proof therefore is simply the mind playing with its own past conscious experiences: rearranging them, trying to harmonize them, trying to pin them down to something definable – to some sort of after the fact must be.

I personify an object: say a flower. I look at it and feel beauty, joy, harmony. I think back upon a memory – what is a memory? – and feel warmth, love, meaning. What is this? What is occurring? I am somehow loving myself when experiencing these things. That is, my experiencing them and enjoying them is a form of me experiencing myself and enjoying myself. Yet I am not only loving myself, but loving something other than myself, the relation of the other to me causing itself even more love in myself. The only thing more lovely than me loving myself, is me loving the relation I have to that which is other than myself, for now I have more to love, yea more love itself.

I look into the eyes of a child. What wonder! What mystery, what potential, what miraculous profundity of life and newness! To know the child as carrying these things, simply is to love them, for they are inherently lovely. The word “love” therefore is used to cover all things whatsoever we enjoy, whether in thought or feeling or action or imagination or relation. Love is this infinite word which simply defines and describes our existing as perceivers, as feelers, as persons who act – who go toward some end. To describe a human being is to call it nothing else than a lover.

My mind constantly seeks to systematize, rationalize, justify. It seeks answers in which it can rest. It seeks a peace which must be so, not a mere possible – therefore shakeable – foundation. Sometimes I feel I have such a place. Sometimes I do not. Perhaps I am only describing my own feelings – perhaps I am only talking to myself – when I think and try to understand the world, when I try to say “how it is.”

Enough for now.