William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Summary Against Modern Thought: God Is His Own Essence

This may be proved in three ways. The first...

This may be proved in three ways. The first…

See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

The soup thickens. We haven’t learned much about God yet, other than He exists, is not composite, is outside time, is pure actuality and so forth. To go further, we need to expand our vocabulary and introduce the idea of essence. Well summarized by The Catholic Encyclopedia (CE), this is “the radical or ground from which the various properties of a thing emanate and to which they are necessarily referred. Thus the notion of the essence is seen to be the abstract counterpart of the concrete entity; the latter signifying that which is or may be [(in actuality, in potential)], while the former points to the reason or ground why it is precisely what it is.”.

Chapter 21: God Is His Own Essence

1 FROM what has been laid down we are able to conclude that God is His own essence, quiddity or nature.i

2 In everything that is not its own essence or quiddity there must needs be some kind of composition: for since each thing contains its own essence, if a thing contained nothing besides its own essence, all that a thing is would be its essence. Therefore if a thing were not its own essence, there must be something in it besides its essence: and consequently there must be composition therein. For which reason the essence in composite things has the signification of a part, as humanity in a man. Now it has been shown[1] ^1 that in God there is no composition. Therefore God is His own essence.ii

3 Again. Seemingly that alone which does not enter into the definition of a thing is beside the essence of that thing: for a definition signifies what a thing is.[2] Now only the accidents of a thing do not enter into its definition: and consequently only accidents are in a thing besides its essence. But in God there are no accidents, as we shall show further on.[3] Accordingly, there is nothing in Him besides His essence. Therefore He is His own essence.iii

4 Moreover. Forms that are not predicated of subsistent things, whether the latter be taken universally or singly, are not single per se subsistent forms individualized in themselves. For we do not say that Socrates, or man, or an animal is whiteness, because whiteness is not singly per se subsistent, but is individualized by its subsistent subject.iv Likewise natural forms do not per se subsist singly, but are individualized in their respective matters: wherefore we do not say that this individual fire, or that fire in general is its own form. Moreover the essences or quiddities of genera or species are individualized by the signate matter of this or that individual, although indeed the quiddity of a genus or species includes form and matter in general: wherefore we do not say that Socrates, or man, is humanity.v Now the divine essence exists per se singly and is individualized in itself, since it is not in any matter, as shown above.[4] Hence the divine essence is predicated of God, so that we say: God is His own essence.vi

5 Further. The essence of a thing is either the thing itself, or is related to it in some way as cause: since a thing derives its species from its essence. But nothing can in any way be a cause of God: for He is the first being, as shown above.[5]vii Therefore God is His own essence. Again, that which is not its own essence, is related in respect of some part of itself to that essence, as potentiality to act: wherefore the essence is signified by way of form, for instance humanity. But there is no potentiality in God, as shown above,[6] therefore it follows that He is His own essence.viii

———————————————————————–

iQuiddity: the whatness (as Kreeft says), “the essence that makes something the kind of thing it is and makes it different from any other” (Wesbster, from where we learn the rarely used synonym haecceity).

iiThe essence of you, dear reader, is that you are a man (male or female), which is to say, a rational creature (in Aristotle’s sense). But you are also more than just your essence. Some of you are tall, others are not as blessed. Some have hair on head and some wear hats. That is, as Aquinas says, you are composite, made of more than one thing. But we already know God is not composite, thus He must be His own essence.

iiiHaving or not having hair, or having or not having facial freckles, is an accident. With our without, the essence behind them is still man or woman. The Aristotle reference has him saying (what is obvious) that “we must argue from a definition, viz. by assuming what falsity or truth means.” Else we go nowhere. And that “the essence of a thing is that which is expressed by its definition” (CE, above).

ivWhiteness does not go walking about on its hind legs, i.e. it is not individualized in itself. But my white hat carries on being white because the hat carries on (continues to exist).

vPerhaps it’s obvious, but that humanity exists as an essence, and that Socrates or you is not that essence, but merely examples of it, is one point. How we know it is another, as it always is. Why mention it? Well, Star Trek fans, since our essence is being a rational animal, that essence might come in other accidental packages. See this essay by Fr Schall. Or work by David Oderburg (where’s the link?).

viThis obviously follows from the premises. But on that subject, more next week, when we learn that God’s existence is His essence.

viiBack to the Unmoved Mover, the Unchanging Changer! Chapter 13, that is. See the links from last week’s review.

viiiThis follows simply from above; i.e. don’e forget the second premise “if a thing contained nothing besides its own essence, all that a thing is would be its essence.” And do meditate on the difference between potentiality and actuality. So much flows from this distinction that it isn’t funny (as my old grandma used to say about a related topic).

[1] Ch. xviii.
[2] 4 Metaph. viii. 4.
[3] Ch. xxiii.
[4] Ch. xvii.
[5] Ch. xiii.
[6] Ch. xvi.

71 Comments

  1. Briggs,

    A word of caution. Dogma defies logic.
    Dogma states that God has a body, logic concludes that God has no body.
    Dogma states that God is benevolent, logic concludes that eliminating the world’s population with a flood is not “good”.

  2. Sander van der Wal

    October 12, 2014 at 10:03 am

    How is then essence *contained* in a thing? In the same way as in a body, apparently, because the argumentation is the same. But that means that you can remove the essence from a composite body in the same way as you can remove other parts of a composite body. And then you have a body without essence, i.e a body that is *essentially* nothing in particular.

  3. Briggs

    October 12, 2014 at 10:07 am

    Hi Hans,

    Still at it, eh. Well, look, brother. I ask you again not to read (translated) texts so literally. There does exist a stream of biblical exegesis that is not so simplistic.

    Perhaps it’s been a while since I emphasized that here we are not doing exegesis. We are not using any revealed truths. This is pure metaphysical argument. We have to attend the arguments as we have them here. And that you are not doing.

    Now that’s understandable, because these are not simple arguments. But you should make an attempt to master them. After you do, then the Catholic tradition of exegesis will make sense.

  4. Briggs

    October 12, 2014 at 10:11 am

    Sander,

    An essence is instantiated in a thing, like you being a man. Be careful throwing away what you feel is a distraction.

    Think about the essence of a triangle (this is one of Ed Feser’s favorite examples). It exists. Next think about instantiations of triangles. Any perfect one? No. But we can say the essence of the triangle is “contained” in the imperfect instantiations.

    You seem also to be implying that all that exists are material things, and that’s obviously false. Numbers exist but are not material. Etc.

  5. Sander van der Wal

    October 12, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    @Briggs

    In that case essence is unremovable, and so it doesn’t count as a part of a composition. Which makes sense, because the things that are not composites as far as we know, like electrons and photons, have essence too.

    Which means that 2) is not a proof.

  6. @Sander van der Wal:

    “How is then essence *contained* in a thing?”

    In the sense it is a real, intrinsic, constitutive principle of the thing — Aquinas is not a Platonist, but an Aristotelean — that is, substances are composites of form (which Aristotle identifies with its essence or nature) and matter. It is in this sense that essences are contained in things, not in the sense that they are proper detachable parts, spatial or other. As you notice, you cannot separate essence from substance (except in the intellect, an operation called obviously enough, abstraction; but then essence as separated from substance is a mere being of reason, not some free floating extra-mental being).

  7. @Sander van der Wal:

    The go-to modern treatment of Essence is in Oderberg, Real Essentialism. Here he is in page 84 (just a bit to give the flavor):

    “The word ‘in’ is notoriously ambiguous. In what sense are essences in their possessors? The short answer is that they are in their possessors in the very way in which form is in matter. Once there is a union of matter and form there is an individual, and the essence is in the individual immediately and with no further ontological step to be taken. Hence the way in which essence is in substance is distinct from any sort of physical containment, since the relation between form and matter is one of union, not containment. But it is also distinct from particular spatio-temporal location, if this is understood as the location of a particular.”

  8. Briggs, “Now that’s understandable, because these are not simple arguments.”

    They are not indeed and I’m not even sure that I understand them even with your excellent footnotes. As to the advice not to read texts too literally, that is no doubt good advice. But whenever I check out the exegesis on Catholic websites, what I see seems very literal and inflexible. See:

    http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/search.asp?source=/vexperts/conference.htm

    I know that this is not your field but maybe you could give an example, or link, to back up your claim. The great flood was mentioned. What is the Catholic position on this? Mostly I see evasion on this question much as there is for the age of creation question. The Catholic Church will not directly challenge scientific results on these points but will not support them either. There is often the statement that science will eventually come around to the religious way of thinking. Not a bad claim and I have to admire it, but it does rather undermine the literal versus symbolic position that you have championed.

  9. A word of caution. Dogma defies logic.
    Dogma states that God has a body, logic concludes that God has no body.

    If logic has concluded that God has no body (which, of course, does not mean that he can never take a temporal form), why are you an atheist?

  10. “why are you an atheist?”
    Because I don’t think “believe or else…” is benevolent.

  11. Oh, you think that we should have the right to reject His existence but nevertheless to sit at His table.

  12. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 12, 2014 at 8:03 pm

    the things that are not composites as far as we know, like electrons and photons
    Of course they are composites of matter and form — and of essence and existence (at least if photons and electrons actually do have existence: Heisenberg was skeptical of this.) Electrons are composites of spin, charge, etc.

    The Catholic Church will not directly challenge scientific results on these points but will not support them either.

    Of course not. The Catholic Church is not a scientific body. They might however express caution if anyone (including scientists) try to use science to endorse immoral acts, such as the way scientists used Darwinian theory to endorse eugenics about a hundred years ago. Naturally, she was attacked as “anti-science” at the time.

  13. Hello YOS,
    I probably did not make myself clear. The Church indirectly disputes scientific positions on a regular basis. It has learned caution but its interpretation of Genesis seems to be as literal as any fundamentalist church to judge by the Q & A that I linked to. I see symbolic interpretations presented by a number of Protestant churches of my acquaintance but I am having trouble seeing it in the Catholic Church as claimed by Briggs. Perhaps you can help.

  14. Thanks YOS, but these links do not seem to address the literal versus symbolic question that concerns me the most. Also, is it your claim that the priests quoted by EWTN are misrepresenting the official position? Let’s try something simple. What is the position on a world wide flood that destroyed all but the passengers on Noah’s Ark? Is it literal, symbolic, or an exaggeration of a local event? Is the Catholic position on this clear or evasive?

  15. dover_beach

    Oh, you think that we should have the right to reject His existence but nevertheless to sit at His table.

    Speaking for myself, this agnostic would not want to sit at the Table of such a Diety and would take Hell in an instant. My like minded friends agree. To each their own and all that.

  16. “Oh, you think that we should have the right to reject His existence but nevertheless to sit at His table.”

    That is of course only valid if you follow the Christian mythology which states that there is something like a table and a Final Judgement (which drops me in the pool of fire by the way).

    Let’s give the Creator of the Universe a more neutral name, say “External Force” (EF). Aquinas equaled EF to God, because he only knew the Roman Catholic mythology. Currently however an EF fits perfectly in the string theory. Another conclusion could be that the mere existence of an EF proves the existence of a multiverse.

    So please prove to me that EF is the Roman Catholic God.

  17. Scotian:

    I applaud your inquiry into Catholic exegesis. Your perception of the Church’s position as evasive is understandable. I suggest that the answers seem unsatisfactory because your questions have been improperly framed.

    For example, asking for a “simple” history vs. allegory judgment on the flood story glosses over the complexity of the text and rules out a priori the Catholic exegetical approach that you’re trying to understand.

    I’m glad to offer some clarifications to help you on your way. First, while the Church does have approved exegetical principles and a consistent tradition of biblical interpretation, she doesn’t make a habit of mandating exclusive interpretations of individual passages. (While the tradition often agrees on particular meanings within a passage, it rarely says “This verse means X–AND NOTHING ELSE”.)

    Second, since Bible passages can be polyvalent, Catholic exegesis acknowledges the four senses of Scripture, aka the Quadriga. In sum, the four levels of meaning that any given passage might contain are:

    The literal – what the sacred author is literally trying to say (this sense is primary and forms the foundation upon which the others stand).

    The allegorical – persons, places, events, etc. in one passage may relate symbolically to others (e.g. the Bronze Serpent prefigures the Crucifixion).

    The moral – the text’s usefulness for moral instruction.

    The anagogical – how the text may lead us to contemplate eternal truths (e.g. the Heavenly Jerusalem in the Apocalypse of St. John).

    It’s vital to keep in mind that a given Scripture may admit of multiple (or all) of these senses at once.

    Even when dealing with the literal sense, one must always consider the form and genre of the text. (The literal wording of, say, a poem isn’t meant to be read literalistically.)

    So in answer to your question, does the Church read the flood story literally or allegorically? In keeping with her general preference for both/and over either/or, the answer is yes.

    Catholics are free to interpret the flood story as a verbatim historical account, a transposed Mesopotamian myth, an exaggerated local occurrence, some mixture thereof, etc. The Church is far more concerned with everybody being on the same page re: the story’s moral and religious content.

    For a fuller treatment of the Church’s exegetical principles, see DEI VERBUM, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (especially Chapter III). It doesn’t get more authoritative than this:
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19651118_dei-verbum_en.html

  18. Sander van der Wal

    October 13, 2014 at 7:13 am

    @G. Rodrigues

    But then there is no point in proof 2)

    @YOS

    If you keep going in that direction, then all things are a composition of their attributes. Which will means that God can only have one attribute.

    And it might be that Heisenberg had his reservations, but in the theory itself electrons and photons are not compositions. So to reason about them, for instance in the context of Thomism, we must assume they they are indeed not compositions. Or invent a different Standard Model in which they are composites.

  19. @Sander van der Wal:

    “But then there is no point in proof 2)”

    I have no idea why one would say that. Aquinas explains himself quite clearly: “If a thing his not its own essence, then it is a composite”, etc. and etc. Modus tollens. God is his own essence.

  20. B. Gates:

    Speaking for myself, this agnostic would not want to sit at the Table of such a Diety and would take Hell in an instant. My like minded friends agree. To each their own and all that.

    Which is to say that you made the decision yourselves, not God.

    Hans:

    Let’s give the Creator of the Universe a more neutral name, say “External Force” (EF). Aquinas equaled EF to God, because he only knew the Roman Catholic mythology. Currently however an EF fits perfectly in the string theory. Another conclusion could be that the mere existence of an EF proves the existence of a multiverse.

    Dear oh dear. I’ve heard everything now; the idea that what is timeless, simple, personal, all-powerful, good, fits perfectly with string theory or multiverse. Have you been reading this series of posts at all? Gob-smacking. BTW, I’m sure that Aquinas was familiar with pagan and Islamic ‘mythologies’, thus the Summa contra Gentiles.

  21. Thanks Brian, although I’m not sure that I really understand your reasoning or that of the link that you give. Is there really a moral content to a world wide flood?

    “For example, asking for a “simple” history vs. allegory judgment on the flood story glosses over the complexity of the text and rules out a priori the Catholic exegetical approach that you’re trying to understand.”

    The flood story text is very simple and not complex at all. I also feel that the church should be able to explain its position simply and clearly but possibly the length and multi-author nature of the Bible makes that impossible.

  22. Dover_beach

    The christian God is not simple, He is complex. Which “simple” God would sacrifice Himself to Himself to allow Himself to change a rule he made Himself?

    “Hello everybody, please come back to Paradise, I’ve made a mistake!”

  23. Briggs

    October 13, 2014 at 1:31 pm

    Hans,

    We haven’t gotten to it yet, but “simple” has a distinct metaphysical definition. You must use it when talking about the finding.

    Obviously, many fields have technical meanings for English words that you have to be careful with. “Likelihood” in statistics, for example.

  24. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 13, 2014 at 2:49 pm

    Is it literal, symbolic, or an exaggeration
    Why suppose these are mutually exclusive?
    There may well have been a “bottleneck” in human evolution. Perhaps genetic analyses will shed light on the possibility.

    “Literal” means more than the naive literalism employed by fundamentalists and atheists. For example, in the expression “You are the salt of the earth,” the word “salt” must be accepted literally in order for the allegory to make sense. “You are the asparagus of the earth” would not have quite the same symbolic meaning.

    The default meanings are always allegorical; but given that, it is legitimate to then inquire as to whether they are an historical account of events.

    I think much of the Late Modern confusion stems from the dual impacts of the scientistic and socialistic worldviews. In Science!â„¢ all documents are necessarily literal in the historico-literal sense, otherwise experiments cannot be replicated or conclusions clearly understood. Meanwhile, socialism has accustomed folks to see all documents as instructional and mandatory.

    the electron is not a composition of anything
    But it is a composite. It consists of mass-energy (or “matter”) in the form of an electron. Matter+form is a composite. If it did not have a specific form, it would not be intelligible.

    The christian God is not simple, He is complex.
    In topology, a maze is simple but a figure 8 is complex. Naive literalism doesn’t work in philosophy or theology any better than it works in math.

  25. The christian God is not simple, He is complex. Which “simple” God would sacrifice Himself to Himself to allow Himself to change a rule he made Himself?

    I was right, you haven’t been reading these posts.

  26. Scotian:

    You’re very welcome. Having the integrity to admit that you don’t fully understand something is a mark of humility. In the interest of reciprocity, I personally don’t know if the flood story is historical or not. Like you, I’m keeping my mind open.

    From a literary viewpoint, the flood story is rather simple, but from an exegetical viewpoint, it’s incredibly dense. The bible’s divine and human authorship sets it apart from any other book. That’s where polyvalence comes into play. A given verse, sentence, or even word can have multiple correct meanings.

    For example, what’s blowing over the water in Genesis 1 is rendered in Hebrew as ruah. This term can mean “wind”, “breath”, and “spirit”. All are simultaneously correct. (“Wind” is the literal sense. “Breath” is used allegorically all over Scripture for God’s creative action, and creation is accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.)

    Regarding the moral content of the flood narrative, recall that the flood was sent in direct response to the wickedness of mankind. Human sin doesn’t only affect the individual, but the whole human family and creation itself.

    There’s an old Catholic theological maxim: “Unity in necessary things, freedom in uncertain things, and love in all things.” The magisterium’s job is to interpret Scripture and Tradition in terms of faith and morals. Deciding whether the flood story is a rote historical account or a whole cloth invention isn’t their primary concern. If a Catholic chooses to interpret Genesis 6-10 literally, he’s free to do so; likewise if he’s convinced that it’s pure allegory. The number of propositions that the Church mandates for belief is actually rather small.

  27. Dover_beach
    Easy way out: declare you opponent incompetent. Sheesh.

  28. Brian, the older I get the less I understand. There is a certain symmetry to life where the greatest amount of understanding occurs in the late teens or early twenties. It is an asymmetric peak as the decline is slower than the build up.

    “Regarding the moral content of the flood narrative, recall that the flood was sent in direct response to the wickedness of mankind.”

    According to the Sumerians it was the noise made by mankind who had become too numerous and were disturbing the sleep of the gods. I think that we are becoming noisy again. Don’t mind me as my position on these topics is subject to change without notice.

    “The number of propositions that the Church mandates for belief is actually rather small.”

    This is good to hear, but I am not Roman Catholic and the church that I do occasionally attend has even fewer demands. In any case, how does one mandate belief? Can an individual switch belief on or off as the circumstances dictate? This has been the big question for me. How does one believe? Are there natural believers or does everyone have this problem?

    Do you think that there are dogs in heaven? I hope so.

  29. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 13, 2014 at 8:18 pm

    In any case, how does one mandate belief?

    Simple. It’s definitional. If you believe X, Y, Z, then you are an A. Otherwise, you are not and you really ought to consider some other label because you are using A equivocally. When we say the lioness hunts impalas, we do not consider a brand of Chevy as fair game. The beliefs were decided by debate, sometimes centuries long, finally decided by consensus in the ecumenical councils. The Latin tradition allows for papal decree, but only under rigid circumstances; one of which is evidence that the belief was held from ancient times.

    Hope this helps.

  30. YOS, “Hope this helps”

    It never seems to somehow. 😉
    I think that is because you always answer the wrong question. My emphasis is on the personal as in “How does one believe?” Do you think that it might be a form of synesthesia where my belief wires are crossed? Nah, I think that this must be a very common experience and there is a lot of denial out there. It is not through lack of trying I assure you.

  31. There are triangles in heaven, the Thomists assure us, so dogs there must also be.
    .

  32. dover_beach,

    Which is to say that you made the decision yourselves, not God.

    According to your theology, God gave me that option. I’m not at all ashamed of how I’ve exercised those gifts however it is that I got them. Any God that disagrees with me sufficiently to send my soul to the Dark Place as a consequence does not deserve my worship. Hopefully it takes you less than an eternity to figure that out.

  33. Scotian:
    Your inverse age/knowledge theory is well stated.

    “I think that we are becoming noisy again.”

    Without a doubt. In fact, we never quite manage to completely quiet down.

    In terms of belief, it’s important to distinguish between faith as “the body of things believed” and Faith as “the theological virtue enabling one to give assent to those beliefs”.

    Faith in the latter sense is a gift of God. Your struggle in this regard is indeed quite common. Seek, knock, ask, and don’t worry.

    YOS:
    “When we say the lioness hunts impalas, we do not consider a brand of Chevy as fair game.”

    She wouldn’t know what to do with it if she caught it.

  34. Sander van der Wal

    October 14, 2014 at 2:08 am

    @dover_beach

    Because in 2) essence is treated as if it was part of a composite that can be taken away. If that is impossible then the argument is a mistake.

  35. @Sander van der Wal:

    “Because in 2) essence is treated as if it was part of a composite that can be taken away.”

    This is just false; Aquinas is doing no such thing. The structure of the argument is the same as for example, when Aquinas proves that God is pure act: if He were a composite of act and potency, etc. and etc. Modus tollen (*); God is pure act. but *nowhere* does he assume that you can “separate” potency (outside of the intellect as ens rationis) neither does he have to.

    (*) No it is not a coincidence that it is Modus Tollens. It has to have that general logical form due to a commitment to the Via Negativa as all that Aquinas has proved is what God is not: “is not composite”, “is outside time” (= is not localized in space-time) , “is pure actuality” (= is not a composite of act and potency) “and so forth”.

  36. Sander van der Wal

    October 14, 2014 at 9:43 am

    @ G. Rodrigues

    So, what then does “compose” mean? First it was: God is not made of parts, parts being defined as bits you can add or take away from a thing, which is a kind of change. Because if He was, they he could change etc etc etc.

    Now it appears that actuality and potentiality are parts too, as well as essence. Which is quite weird. Essence cannot be taken away from a thing, whether it is a body or not, so essence cannot be a part. And if it is not a part, it cannot be used in a composition.

    Actuality and potentiality cannot be parts either. If you take away the potentiality part, then a thing cannot change anymore, even if it has lots of other parts. Take away actuality, and the thing ceases to exist.

  37. @Sander wan der Val:

    “Now it appears that actuality and potentiality are parts too, as well as essence. Which is quite weird. Essence cannot be taken away from a thing, whether it is a body or not, so essence cannot be a part.”

    There is nothing weird about this, neither is Aquinas being some kind of obscure innovator for many (all?) metaphysicians have similar notions of metaphysical composition in *some* way or another. For example, even Neo-Platonists that have a broadly relational ontology instead of contituent as Aquinas, will deploy arguments for the existence of God based on metaphysical composition. For another example, a nominalist trope theorist (arguably, Hume could be classified as one such) conceives of substances as bundles of tropes, but this does not mean that you can separate the tropes apart from each other or from the object. And by this impossibility I mean simply this: you cannot detach a trope from the object it inheres in and encounter it, in the abstract as it were — what would such an encounter even amount to? More importantly, this is *explicitly* denied by Aristoteleans with respect to universals such as essences (*), by Trope theorists with respect to tropes, etc. The fact that you find it “weird” or whatever is your problem, not a problem with Aquinas or any other metaphysican; or at any rate, you have not shown that there is a problem.

    You can speak of metaphysical parts (I sometimes do), but admittedly this is confusing and misleading.

    If you want to see a modern defense of the immanence of essence, you do no better than to turn to Oderberg, “Real Essentialism”, chapter 4, section 5.

    (*) A little bit more precisely, what an Aristotelean-Thomist will deny is that there are no *uninstantiated* essences. Instantiated essences could still exist and not be composed with matter; but they would be metaphysical composites in other senses.

  38. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 14, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    parts being defined as bits you can add or take away from a thing

    Ever been in a bad part of town?

    Which part of the argument did we not understand?

    Divisible means extended in space. It does not mean that the thing can actually be disassembled physically into discrete parts, although it may. Take a log, which does not appear to be an assembly of discrete components. It still makes sense to talk about “this part of the log” or “that part of the log” when referring to different places on the log. A rectangle is divisible into numerous triangles; but the rectangle is not necessarily composed of a bunch of triangles attached to one another. If we regard the Parmenidean-Minkowski 4-space, this would also apply to different parts along the time dimension. For example, the unborn fetus and the elderly retiree are two parts of the same organism.

    The opposite of divisible is a dimensionless point. Modern science regards the electron to be a point particle with a point charge and no spatial extent, but this is only true in a restricted, mathematical sense. Our friend Figulus tells us than in real life, “confining an electron to an infinitesimally small space would require an infinitely large amount of energy. The electron’s wave function is governed by Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, just like everything else in quantum mechanics, and so its wave function extends over space, which means it is not a point particle in the relevant sense.”

  39. Hans:

    Easy way out: declare you opponent incompetent. Sheesh.

    Not at all. I said you hadn’t read this series of articles – and any other mateials on the subject – given your misinterpretation of divine simplicity.

    Brandon Gates:

    I’m not at all ashamed of how I’ve exercised those gifts however it is that I got them. Any God that disagrees with me sufficiently to send my soul to the Dark Place as a consequence does not deserve my worship.

    But it isn’t a matter of simply what one believes but how one acts in consequence – or not – of these beliefs. Even so, it remains that it is you youself that is choosing this ‘Dark Place’, not God.

  40. Correction.
    Hans:

    Easy way out: declare you opponent incompetent. Sheesh.

    Not at all. I said you hadn’t read this series of articles – and any other mateials on the subject – given your misinterpretation of divine simplicity.

    Brandon Gates:

    I’m not at all ashamed of how I’ve exercised those gifts however it is that I got them. Any God that disagrees with me sufficiently to send my soul to the Dark Place as a consequence does not deserve my worship.

    But it isn’t a matter of simply what one believes but how one acts in consequence – or not – of these beliefs. Even so, it remains that it is you youself that is choosing this ‘Dark Place’, not God.

  41. Sander van der Wal

    October 15, 2014 at 8:08 am

    @G. Rodrigues, YOZ

    Ok, so there are two different kinds of composables, stuff like essence that can be taken away and not cause a difference in the composition, and other stuff, that will cause a difference. How do I know up fron which is which?

    Regarding the tiling of the square with triangles, I would not consider that as composing in the sense Thomas appears to do.

    That’s an electron, but how about the photon? Using the wavelength argument, you can say that photons are quite big, for an elementary particle. But they have no problem being in the same space together, none at all. You cannot bounce one of another, for instance.

  42. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 15, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Ok, so there are two different kinds of composables
    You are still thinking of “parts” as if they were “components.” All components are parts, but not all parts are components. A physical body is composed of matter and form, but it cannot exist if it lacks either one. Forms may be essential or accidental. An accidental form can be changed without essentially altering the thing, but the essential form is what makes a thing what it is and cannot be changed without making the thing something else.
    Modern Science, which focuses exclusively on metric accidental forms, cannot grasp this. That’s why Moderns got so hung up on accidents like skin color, assigning people of differing skin color to some less-than-fully-human category.

  43. @Sander wan der Val:

    “Ok, so there are two different kinds of composables, stuff like essence that can be taken away and not cause a difference in the composition, and other stuff, that will cause a difference. How do I know up fron which is which?”

    This first sentence has it exactly backwards, so I presume you misplaced your negatives,

    Either way the answer is: as with pretty much everything else, a combination of observation and reasoning. My finger is a proper, physical part of me but I can grab a knife, chop it off, handed off to you for observation and then run to the Hospital to re-attach it. Naively, it seems to be the case that my finger is a proper, detachable part (*). But there is no sense of separating my essence from me, for I am essentially a rational animal, so ceasing to be a rational animal is in the Philosophical jargon to undergo substantial change and in the common one, it is to cease to be, to die, to croak, to kick the bucket, go meet the maker, to bite the dust, etc.

    (*) There are some thorny questions lurking here dealing with identity and parts and whatnot, but never mind.

  44. “Not at all. I said you hadn’t read this series of articles – and any other mateials on the subject – given your misinterpretation of divine simplicity.”

    Apparently “simple”, “good” and “body” have a complete different meaning for believers than for non- believers. This sounds worrying similar to Orwellian Newspeak to me, including the “Big Brother is watching you”-theme.

    I’ll be watching how “logic” gets also a complete new meaning here.

  45. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 15, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Apparently “simple”, “good” and “body” have a complete different meaning for believers than for non- believers.

    Depends on what you believe. Most of the meaning comes from secular philosophy, such as from Plato or Aristotle.
    A simple is something that is not compounded of other things. For example, most things we know physically are compounds of matter and form, potency and act, body and soul, this and that. But by analogy the term is also applied to single substances, as when a pharmacist is said to prepare “compounds and simples.” In mathematics, a maze is a simple figure while a figure-8 is complex. (But simple/complex is a different distinction from simple/compound.)
    A good is “what all pursue,” a perfection (i.e., thoroughly-made) or that which makes a thing “all that it can be,” as in “a good doctor,” “a good archer,” “a good car.” Relative to moral philosophy, the good is what perfects human nature, i.e. makes him a “rational animal”; hence, the pursuit of the Seven Strengths.
    A body is a physical thing with unity of being, but by analogy one may apply it to other stuff, such as the body of law, a body of knowledge, etc., which carry the OE meaning of the “core.” In Latin, the corresponding term is corpus, which has the meaning of “matter” or “potency” (in contrast to “soul” or anima, which is “the act of a natural body with the capacity for life; and as the first act of a natural organic body.”

    Hope this helps.

  46. Then the Holy Trinity – by definition – is not a simple.
    If God is a simple then the Holy Trinity is a heresy, as both Jews and Muslms agree upon.

  47. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 15, 2014 at 3:41 pm

    Except the members of the Trinity are not supposed to be different beings precisely because of the simplicity of God.

  48. dover_beach,

    Even so, it remains that it is you youself that is choosing this ‘Dark Place’, not God.

    Apparently I need to spell this out. My personal choice is implicit in: this agnostic would not want to sit at the Table of such a Diety. I would not want anything to do with a God who tries to scare me into obedience by threatening me with eternal damnation for the actions of a lifetime spanning less than a century. Such are the tactics of greedy, thin-skinned, power-mongering human beings with a finite mortality and limited power. If God, and God turns out to be a projection of such human foibles writ large, I will gladly refuse to submit to such a horrible creature and willingly cast myself into Hell just to get as far away from such an abysmally petty and narcissistic tyrant.

  49. Brandon Gates, I discern a great deal of boastfulness and pride in the above. I imagine a certain fallen angel felt the same way.

  50. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 15, 2014 at 10:33 pm

    I would not want anything to do with a God who tries to scare me into obedience by threatening me with eternal damnation for the actions of a lifetime spanning less than a century.

    Good thing that’s not how it works.

  51. dover_beach,

    I discern a great deal of boastfulness and pride in the above.

    Self-respect is the reason that I want nothing to do with the God that you describe. I think a truly benevolent and enlightened Being would understand that respect is earned, not commanded by threat of force. Undermining self-worth, individuality and independent thought coupled with use of violence are the techniques used by conquerors and slave owners to subdue their captive subjects, not a loving and nurturing Creator.

    I imagine a certain fallen angel felt the same way.

    As an agnostic, I do not say that you’re wrong. But your imagination is one of many things that gives me pause to wonder.

  52. YOS,

    Good thing that’s not how it works.

    Tell it to dover_beach, who seems to think that I share his palpable fear of the God he professes.

  53. Tell it to dover_beach, who seems to think that I share his palpable fear of the God he professes.

    Um, no. You don’t seem able to read correctly. I have not said anything, for instance, about a God that “scare[s you] into obedience by threatening [you] with eternal damnation for the actions of a lifetime”; that was you. What I have plainly said, repeatedly, is that if you (or me) find yourself in that ‘Dark Place’ it has been of your own choosing and you have lead yourself there. It won’t be because He’s “thinned-skinned”, “power-mongering” and so on, the Passion is testament to that.

  54. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 16, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Undermining self-worth, individuality and independent thought coupled with use of violence are the techniques used by conquerors and slave owners to subdue their captive subjects, not a loving and nurturing Creator.

    Of course not. They are the techniques used by conquerors and tyrants, and have been so used throughout human history independently of any particular religious beliefs. Although it is an amusing Late Modern American wrinkle that “undermining self-worth” came first in the list and violence a sort of afterthought.

  55. dover_beach,

    Um, no. You don’t seem able to read correctly.

    I’ll grant that reading between the lines is more art than science. But to my eyes, “I imagine a certain fallen angel felt the same way” sends a pretty clear message. To avoid misunderstandings, perhaps you should speak your mind directly and not drop hints.

    I have not said anything, for instance, about a God that “scare[s you] into obedience by threatening [you] with eternal damnation for the actions of a lifetime”; that was you.

    Take it up with the God of Abraham, because that’s Who you’re speaking for. Credit where credit is due; at least He doesn’t mince words.

    What I have plainly said, repeatedly, is that if you (or me) find yourself in that ‘Dark Place’ it has been of your own choosing and you have lead yourself there.

    What I have plainly said, repeatedly, is that I have already made my choice, and deliberately so. By my own conscious will. As in I am aware of what I have chosen, and take full responsibility for it. That isn’t pride of the boastful sense, it’s dignity. And dignity is not something to be ashamed of.

    It won’t be because He’s “thinned-skinned”, “power-mongering” and so on, the Passion is testament to that.

    Well now, Christ was in pretty much the same bind you’re in. Written on a blank scroll, the New Testament could have been truly brilliant for the very reason that Christ’s morality works better in secular society than that of His warmongering Father. That “not one jot or tittle” clause is such an unfortunate millstone around His neck, though. Without it, John 8:1-11 wouldn’t need to clash with Leviticus 20:10, and modern Christians might not find themselves speaking in ambiguities quite so often. When stuff makes sense, there’s little need for being vague.

    Not allowing my beliefs and values to be dictated to me by committee leaves me free to appreciate the parts of the Bible I think have aged well without having to reconcile them against its archaic horrors.

  56. YOS,

    They are the techniques used by conquerors and tyrants, and have been so used throughout human history independently of any particular religious beliefs.

    Haven’t we had that discussion already? I recall saying something like pure human greed and lust for power, riches and women are the main motivators behind tyranny and war. The way I see it, when religion has been a factor, it’s been used as leverage for motivating the troops as well as to boost the legitimacy of whatever despot has been able to convincingly lay claim to Divine authority. Tribalism comes in lotsa forms; take religion out of the mix and we’ll find some other banner to rally under. Etc.

    IIRC, that concept got plowed under super-quicklike when I had the temerity to suggest that my textual comparison of the OT and Koran didn’t yield discernable differences on the topic of when it’s acceptable to convert non-believers into charred mincemeat.

    Although it is an amusing Late Modern American wrinkle that “undermining self-worth” came first in the list and violence a sort of afterthought.

    We’re a screwy species that way. All men are created equal, except slaves who are only 3/5ths of a person for purposes of representative taxation. And like women, they don’t get to vote even though women are counted as whole people. Don’t bother with the Indians, they’re just squatters.

  57. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 16, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    my textual comparison of the OT and Koran didn’t yield discernable differences on the topic of when it’s acceptable to convert non-believers into charred mincemeat.

    Oh, those Jews! But it might be useful to learn what Jews and muslims actually believe and not how you run your naive-literalist interpretations of their scriptures. For some reason, Late Modern Instruction-Manualists always read other people’s books as if they were instruction manuals. Now, there may be a case to be made in some instances, but the case must be made, not simple fundy proof-texting.

    All men are created equal, except slaves who are only 3/5ths of a person for purposes of representative taxation. And like women, they don’t get to vote even though women are counted as whole people. Don’t bother with the Indians, they’re just squatters.

    Now you’re going up against the rationalists of the Enlightenment.

  58. YOS,

    Oh, those Jews!

    Oh, those humans!

    But it might be useful to learn what Jews and muslims actually believe and not how you run your naive-literalist interpretations of their scriptures.

    I just love how you pretend to know who I’ve talked to and what I’ve learned from it. I’ll summarize: no two people of any faith have exactly the same beliefs. Shouldn’t be a shocker. I got my first personal copy of the Bible when I was 12. That, combined with the fact that it was presented to me as literal truth from age 6 certainly influenced my readings of it. However, by the time I was 16 or so I realized that taking it at face value really didn’t work, and I began hunting for interpretations that made sense. Long story short; I punted when I was 32.

    Now, there may be a case to be made in some instances, but the case must be made, not simple fundy proof-texting.

    The verses I cited were instructional to the point of being procedural. I pointed out how those verses are often unethically taken out of context by critics. While I was writing, a believer quoted one of those passages out of context thereby making the competing religion look bad. Almost like clockwork. Those kinds of repeating patterns are difficult for me to overlook, and that’s one of the reasons why I left the building.

    There’s no way I can find a way to justify Judges 19-21. My parents wouldn’t let me watch those kind of movies when I was a kid, but did encourage me to read my Bible. Doesn’t add up for me.

    Now you’re going up against the rationalists of the Enlightenment.

    What else would you expect from a Late Modern Instruction-Manualist?

  59. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 17, 2014 at 8:32 am

    YOS: Oh, those Jews!

    Oh, those humans!

    Just commenting on how folks always seem to go down on the Jewish scriptures.

    no two people of any faith have exactly the same beliefs.

    No two parts from a stamping press have exactly the same attributes and dimensions. That does not mean there are no standards or blueprints. Some of the parts don’t “measure up” while others fall within specification. The traditional faiths consist of a body of beliefs to which their members subscribe. They do not consist of a poll of the beliefs of people who use the same label to refer to themselves. North Korea calls itself a “democratic republic,” but does this mean that democracies do not all have the same beliefs?

    I got my first personal copy of the Bible when I was 12. That, combined with the fact that it was presented to me as literal truth from age 6 certainly influenced my readings of it.

    Much is thereby explained. Too bad they did not give you a copy of Augustine or explain the magisterium.

  60. I think the non-Catholics above feel frustrated that they’re not getting straight answers. I think the Catholic commenters here are trying to give them straight answers, but it’s not coming through. I’m going to try.
    Q: Does the Catholic Church teach that the Noah’s Ark story is factually, historically true?
    A: No. It doesn’t teach either that it IS true or that it ISN’T true. There is no official teaching on that either way. The Catholic faith can consistently be held regardless of whether the individual Catholic is persuaded that the story represents something that actually happened, or a Jewish redaction of a Mesopotamian myth that a Mesopotamian just made up one day, or a Jewish redaction of a Mesopotamian myth that got its start as an exaggerated legendary account of severe flooding that happened somewhere in the Middle East and then got blown up in the retelling. (The last one has been my personal hunch since I read a science magazine article about major flooding along the Black Sea coast that inundated a lot of Neolithic towns some centuries prior to the estimated composition of the Mesopotamian flood legend.)
    However, since the days of the early Church, it has been common to see Noah’s Ark as an allegory for the Church itself—a ship that saves us from the flood of worldly sin. AFAIK, that allegorical interpretation isn’t required, either. But it is very common. And Catholicism (unlike fundamentalist Protestantism) is much, much more interested in having a believer reflect on the allegorical meaning as a meditative aid to spiritual contemplation than in mucking about with whether the story was historically true.
    In its way, this attitude is (very loosely) similar to that of Marx, who said that the point of philosophy isn’t to describe the world, but to change it, and to the Buddha, who reportedly said that it was a waste of time to worry about the name and clan affiliation of the archer who shot you, or about what bird the feathers on the arrow came from, or whether the bird was well fed before it died [like Colin the Chicken on “Portlandia”] or some other such idle question, when what you needed to be doing was focusing on treating the arrow wound. Right now.
    Likewise, reflecting on how the Church is like the Ark, and the worldly temptations all around you to sin are like the Flood, can deepen your commitment to the Church, thereby helping you “change the world” (in Marx’s vocab) by making yourself a better person, which comes by “treating the wound” (in Buddha’s vocab) of sin. Wondering whether the Ark story is historically true or not is irrelevant to the urgent task of treating the human brokenness of sin. There’s nothing wrong with reading about Mideastern prehistory; it’s a pleasant hobby. But it’s not crucial, like treating sin is. Accordingly, the Church, which views itself as “a hospital for sinners,” focuses its triage care on the moral meaning of the text (which can help you get to Heaven and avoid Hell) and not on the archeological implications (which are just a nice hobby for antiquarians).
    Compare this with, e.g., the Resurrection. You cannot consistently be a Catholic without believing that the Crucifixion and Resurrection were real historical events. Otherwise, the religion would be pointless. Therefore, the Church has an official teaching that those things really historically happened. If you don’t believe that they really historically happened, you aren’t Catholic. Not, mind you, because the Pope is going to kick you out. Instead, just because Catholic is an inaccurate way to describe yourself if you don’t believe that stuff. E.g., I don’t call myself a Muslim because I don’t believe that Muhammad was a prophet. It’s not because the local imam kicked me out. It’s just because, since I don’t believe Muhammad was a prophet, calling myself a Muslim would be silly. So I don’t. If you don’t believe in the Resurrection, it’s silly to call yourself a Catholic, or indeed a Christian at all. If you don’t believe that Noah’s Ark is anything more than a morally uplifting legend, then you can still coherently call yourself a Catholic—the theology is logically consistent regardless of whether that historically happened, or is just a legend. Some Catholics think it really happened. (This was pretty common in the ancient world, when there was no modern archeology or historiography.) A lot of Catholics nowadays don’t. It’s not crucial. The Cross is (as the etymology indicates) crucial; it’s the Crux of the whole thing.
    Q. How can an electron be composite?
    A. Aristotle says that material objects are compounds of matter and form. In modern terms, you can loosely think of Aristotle’s “matter” as the matter-energy “stuff” that a material object is made of. You can think of the “form” of something like an electron as the “math” that shapes the stuff.
    An electron isn’t just a random blob of matter-energy whose behavior we can’t predict. An electron’s behavior is governed by mathematical laws. The Aristotelian way of understanding that, which Aquinas shared, is that something like an electron is matter+form, which is loosely akin to saying its matter+math. Take the same amount of “stuff” (matter-energy) and have it be governed by *different* math, and you’ve got a positron, not an electron. It’s not the amount of matter-energy that’s different, it’s the mathematically lawlike behavior of the matter-energy that distinguishes the positron from the electron. This is true of any “stuff” you care to think of. Even a quantum vacuum is governed by field equations. The math is always there.
    Now formal causality isn’t just about math, although math is part of it. But math is a good way for a modern person to begin to think about it. Think of formal causation, or of “essences” (which are another word for forms) as “mathematical causation” when you’re reading some of this stuff. You’ll be wrong (there’s nothing exactly mathematical about the form “rational animal,” e.g.,) but you’ll be on the right track.
    Now, mathematically governed, lawlike patterns of information (note the “form” in that word) can be more complicated than just particle physics. E.g., particles can get together to form atoms, molecules, proteins, cells, and multicellular organisms. All of which are governed by math—you’re not just a glowing blob of matter-energy. The mathematical laws of physics and chemistry govern your molecules, including your DNA. In turn, the information mathematically encoded in your DNA governed how you developed from a unicellular zygote into a rational animal: at every step of the way, that math-like genetic information code *organized* the matter you took in via the umbilical cord into *organs* so that you would become an organized organism, not just a disorganized blob of goo. (Organization = structure = math, which is part of formal causation.) Just as the laws of physics and chemistry (which are formal causes) keep you from being a blob of matter-energy instead of a bunch of proteins, the informational content (which is also a formal cause) keeps those proteins from being a blob of goo by organizing them into a mathematically structured organism with a certain shape and certain hierarchically organized networked relationships between cells, organs, and organ systems.
    So everything you can see is a compound of matter and form, of matter-energy and math. Once you get used to the vocab, it’s actually not something you should find hard to understand or accept.
    Q. Aren’t essence and existence kind of the same thing?
    A. Nope. Some essences (i.e., some formal causes) don’t exist.
    Consider the laws of physics themselves, or the numbers that express them. You can’t cause something if you don’t exist. If e=mc^2 is part of the laws of physics, and the laws of physics are part of the formal cause of electrons, e.g., then the laws of physics exist. So does mathematics itself—the laws of physics are just mathematical relationships; if the laws exists, math exists.
    Now, the number “2” is logically necessary. (VERY roughly: if you have nothing, and then you have the logical set that contains nothing, now you’ve got two things—nothing and the set). So we can’t coherently imagine a universe/multiverse/world/cosmos/whatever you want to call it without some mathematical form of duality, of two-ness.
    The laws of physics, though, might not exist. E=mc^2 is a real law of physics; it’s a formal cause in our observed world. E=mc^3 is not a real law of physics in any part of our observable light cone; as far as we know, “E=mc^3” is not a real law. It might be true in some other part of the multiverse (if we live in a multiverse), but it’s not necessarily existent like two-ness. Contingently, e=mc^2 appears to our observation to be a real law, and e=mc^3 to be a fictional one.
    Now, that’s not just true of math. DNA, the laws of physics, etc., shape a bunch of matter into say, a horse. We call the informational pattern that structures that matter into a horse-shaped, horse-acting bunch of matter the “essence” or “form” of the species of horses. And that form gets instantiated all the time. Not so the essence/form of the species “unicorn.” We can define that, but it doesn’t enter into formal-causal relationship with any real matter to make real unicorns.
    What I’m building toward is that “e=mc^3” and “unicorn” differ from “e=mc^2” and “horse.” What’s the difference? It’s that the former set don’t structure any matter. That’s what it means to say “unicorns aren’t real.” We know what the essence is. We can define it just like that of “horse.” But the essence isn’t real. In other words, the difference between the essence “unicorn” and the essence “horse” is that the essence “unicorn” doesn’t exist. In that sense, existence is a property distinct from essence. Some essences (e.g., horse) have it, and others (e.g., unicorn) don’t.
    Q. Why should I worship a God who banishes me to Hell?
    A. He’s not banishing anybody. The happiness of Heaven consists of being in union with God forever. Now, that’s not a spatial union—it doesn’t mean the happiness consists of being in the same room with Him. It’s a spiritual union—it consists in being akin to God. God is pure Spirit. Spirit = form. Now, we said above that “form” is kind of like math. The number 2.4 is closer to the number 2 than the number 2.5. But although you can picture it on a number line, the relationship is mathematical, i.e., structural, not spatial. Eternal union with God can perhaps be pictured mathematically as the endless joy of asymptotically approaching His Perfection, drinking ever deeper of that Blissful nature by becoming more akin to it, forever.
    Now, sin is the opposite of that. It moves you away from being Godlike instead of toward it. Imagine that God really was up in the clouds somewhere, that union with God meant rising toward Him spatially, and that Hell was just being as far down into the earth away from God as you could get. Imagine further that you were trying to spatially approach Him in a hot-air balloon you’re about to launch next to a cliff face. Becoming more Christlike is akin to filling the balloon with hot air; it makes you rise Heavenward. Becoming more sinful—more prideful, more wrathful, more bitter, more selfish—is like loading your balloon down with lead. It makes you sink further and further—eventually below ground level and down the abyss of the cliff.
    Now, if you’re trying to get to Heaven in your balloon, and God warns you repeatedly to stop putting lead in the dang thing, and then eventually sends His own Son, personally, to warn you about the lead, AND to make a hot air pump available, you can’t really blame God for either (a) “kicking you out” of Heaven, (b) “threatening” you with patient, repeated explanations that loading lead in your balloon is stupid because the law of gravity doesn’t work like you apparently think it does if you think lead is buoyant, or (c) not helping you get to Heaven.
    The Catholic Church is like a physicist trying to tell you to quit with the lead and try something buoyant instead. It’s not trying to boss you around. It’s just telling you how things are. Whether you choose to keep adding lead ballast is up to you.
    Now, what is God’s nature? As Aquinas demonstrates later in the SCG, for God, his Being = Goodness = Truth = Love, etc. God is pure being, and pure being is pure love. (We’ll get there.) Now, assume for argument’s sake that God is pure Love. To asymptotically become more essentially like God’s essence, you yourself have to become more like pure Love, and less like selfishness, pride, wrath, etc.
    In other words, sin is like lead, and virtue makes you rise. No amount of virtue can allow you to rise infinitely, which is why union with infinite Love is only possible through the miraculous grace of that infinitely powerful Love uniting finite you to Himself. But it’s a pretty simple cause and effect relationship, kind of like karma in Eastern religions. And it’s rooted in freely willed choice (add lead or add hot air; add sin or add virtue). God isn’t forcing you to add hot air. But since he loves you, He’s asking you to do that, and warning you to stop adding lead.
    Note well, too, that God’s infinite Love is self-giving—He sacrifices Himself totally on the Cross. Thus, to asymptotically approach perfect Godlike love, you have to approach perfect, God-like selflessness. When you submit to God, and say with Christ, “not my will, but Thine be done,” you become more Godlike, because submission to the will of the Father, and to death on the Cross at the hands of human cruelty, is the defining characteristic of Christlike Love. So, when God tells you to obey Him, He’s trying to tell you to become more like Him. He’s not being tyrannical. He’s telling you that the hot air you need in your balloon is selflessness, because radical self-emptying (kenosis) is what Godly Love, the force behind Creation and Redemption, is made of. You can’t be Godlike without surrendering your selfish self to selfless dependence on God. Complaining that becoming Godlike in this way is “tyrannical” is like putting lead in your balloon. It’s a mistake. It’s missing the target. The Greek word for sin (hamartia) originally meant “missing the target,” like in archery. God is trying to tell you how to hit the target, how to get to Him, how to rise. If you miss the target through ignoring that advice, you commit “sin,” i.e., hamartia, i.e. target-missing. It’s not meant to be an insult to say that ignoring God’s advice is the sin of pride. It’s just a diagnosis of the technical problem your balloon is having—you’re missing the heavenly target because you keep adding the lead of insisting on asserting your own self-understanding, rather than submitting yourself to God, just as God submitted Himself to humanity on the Cross. If you don’t learn selflessness, you’ll never find your true self in union with Godself. “Pride” is a diagnostic technical term here for the target-missing behavior of anti-selflessness. Lucifer, the most perfect creature ever created, understandably had trouble submitting to God. He added a more or less infinite amount of lead to his balloon by insisting on self-assertion. So instead of spending eternity in Heaven (i.e., in union with God via having a Godlike, self-sacrificing essence) he spends eternity in the lowest depth of Hell (i.e., as an essence constituted by pure self-assertion, at the maximum spiritual distance from Godliness). Thus, by missing the mark via self-assertion, Lucifer, in theological jargon “committed the sin of pride.” Because self-assertion (pride) is directly opposite conceptually (i.e., formally/spiritually) from self-sacrificing Love, it is theoretically obvious and practically true that pride is the deadliest sin. No one’s trying to insult you. It’s just a diagnosis. “God has to earn my respect” is pure self-assertion. “I should try to please God” is pure self-abnegation, pure humility. Only the latter, paradoxically enough, makes you rise. The last shall be first. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have my own many, many sins to attend to. All the best to you.

  61. YOS,

    Just commenting on how folks always seem to go down on the Jewish scriptures.

    Just making clear I’m not down those scriptures because they are Jewish, with the added point that I see Christianity as extended Judaism, as is Islam. All have Abraham’s God in common.

    No two parts from a stamping press have exactly the same attributes and dimensions. That does not mean there are no standards or blueprints. Some of the parts don’t “measure up” while others fall within specification.

    Yet a Ford Mustang built from parts which are all somewhat out of spec would not be a fully up to spec Pinto. And then there are model years. A ’65 fastback is NOT the same car as a 2015 convertible, yet both are still called Mustangs. [1]

    North Korea calls itself a “democratic republic,” but does this mean that democracies do not all have the same beliefs?

    Some labels do have a certain cachet. I observe progressive/liberal Catholics angrily telling champions of the Old Guard that they’re not the “true” Catholics and vice-versa.

    Much is thereby explained. Too bad they did not give you a copy of Augustine or explain the magisterium.

    They were explained as tools of the devil. Many Hindus raised from the cradle surely feel similarly about the whole of Christianity. Such rhetorical tautologies abound.

    ——————————–

    [1] Despite everyone knowing the fastback is the One True Mustang.

  62. Irenist,

    Q. Why should I worship a God who banishes me to Hell?
    A. He’s not banishing anybody. The happiness of Heaven consists of being in union with God forever … Now, sin is the opposite of that. It moves you away from being Godlike instead of toward it.

    You’re echoing dover_beach’s superfluous statement, “Which is to say that you made the decision yourselves, not God.” I object to the attempt to draw attention away from my actual argument with such disingenuous statements, as well as the implied presumption that I don’t hold myself accountable for my own decisions.

    Modern Catholics like YOS, who challenge my textual literalism and tout the necessity of scriptural commentaries miss the point that the ancient Hebrews did not have the luxury of being able to read the modernizations written by Augustine, Aquinas et al. As originally described (so far as there’s any provenance to extant translations), worshiping any other God was punishable by immediate and painful death followed by eternal damnation. No second chances.

    Don’t you think a truly all-loving and eternal God would extend an eternal, not a cruelly shortened and finite, opportunity to all those who want to share Heavenly happiness with Him? Wouldn’t a God who gave us the capacity of intellect and free will likely enjoy the diversity of our individual thoughts and creativity rather than dictating conformity? The Old Testament God shares more attributes in common with jealous, lustful despots scrabbling for power and riches in a harsh desert environment of limited resources than the omnipotent Creator of an entire universe for whom scarcity and existential threats are not a factor.

    Present day cultures that don’t enjoy the same relative peace and safety we enjoy tend to espouse a harsher Deity, do they not? Which one causes the other? I think both — but consistent with the bulk of history, one more than the other.

  63. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 18, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    Modern Catholics like YOS, who challenge my textual literalism and tout the necessity of scriptural commentaries miss the point that the ancient Hebrews did not have the luxury of being able to read the modernizations

    It always seems to come back to the Jews.

    But then by this principle one cannot criticize Christians for not being Early Iron Age tribesmen.

    What people living in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages are able to imagine as metaphors for the unimaginable — and therefore what they might or might not assign to God in their writings — depends on their milieux. They were not, for example, going to use classical Greek notions of natural place or medieval supposition theory to express themselves any more than they were going to use the Copernican model or the Chinese notion of chi. They had no more experience with democracy than modern-day Iraqis or Syrians, so they were not going to imagine God in terms of Presidents or 18th cent. Enlightened Despots. They imaged God as the sort of rulers they were familiar with “only more so.” It’s the old “Supreme Being” trap.

    A bit of realistic materialism is called for in understanding texts and how they are used as cultural artifacts.

    In particular, the early Christians used the Jewish scriptures differently than the contemporary Jews. The latter obviously did not see the Ark as a metaphor for the Church — but they may have seen it as a metaphor for God’s preservation of his chosen people.

  64. YOS,

    It always seems to come back to the Jews. But then by this principle one cannot criticize Christians for not being Early Iron Age tribesmen.

    From a purely secular point of view I absolutely agree — lumping modern Christians in with ancient Jews and/or Christians is an example of the genetic fallacy. In actual practice I don’t hold modern religion responsible for the sins of its past because I do think religion is just another form of man-made secularism, one which deserves much credit for advancement of overall society past and present.

    What people living in the Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages are able to imagine as metaphors for the unimaginable — and therefore what they might or might not assign to God in their writings — depends on their milieux.

    I have considered a God that is not particular about how “He’s” described by holy writ, and is indeed not much concerned about being worshiped much less strictly obeyed. That would go a long way toward explaining localized religious traditions. Such a God may actually influence human thought through inspiration while leaving us to our own creativity and judgment about how to express and implement those revelations.

    If that’s the case, a lot of people are in for a big — hopefully pleasant — surprise. Instead of a bar of judgment, we may find more of a review in the form of “what did you learn during your 80 years away from my presence?” Maybe even, “Perhaps you could do with another go at it?” as some eastern traditions teach. It stands to reason that if I have choices here, I also had a choice to come here and to put myself in harm’s way. From that it also follows that I had a chance to not come here and go or do something else. Infinite Creator, infinite possibilities.

    Those in ancient milieux had obvious limitations we (like to think) don’t exist now. I’m confident we’re still limited in ways none of us has yet begun to imagine.

    A bit of realistic materialism is called for in understanding texts and how they are used as cultural artifacts.

    But of course, and when I look at it in those terms my present conclusion is that man is mostly responsible for what has been canonized in scripture. If God, it would seem that’s actually the point, with no one religion or tradition of religion having any sort of chosen status or monoply on authority and truth.

    In particular, the early Christians used the Jewish scriptures differently than the contemporary Jews.

    Yes, and they edited and rewrote them. Some didn’t make it into canon at all. At some point along the way that became a no-no in many circles, so changes and updates started taking the form of interpretations, commentaries, etc. Perhaps it is just my literalist fundy thinking at work, but to me that all looks more like making it up as we go than God saying, “I AM, and these are my commands.” Also known as trying to have it both ways.

  65. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 18, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    Yes, and they edited and rewrote them.
    Which ones? Do we presume there are non-edited and non-rewritten versions out there? Or is this “higher criticism” which declares some things to be edits based on preconceived conclusions?

    Some didn’t make it into canon at all.
    The canon consists of all those books that had universal or nearly universal acceptance by congregations. The ones that “didn’t make it” were simply not accepted. There was no formal mechanism for “canonizing” books. Eventually, a temporal cutoff was accepted and books written after the apostolic age were not formally included. The Traditions of the Eastern Orthodox and Western Catholic churches of course include the letters of Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and others.

    interpretations, commentaries, etc. Perhaps it is just my literalist fundy thinking at work, but to me that all looks more like making it up as we go

    That’s the complaint fundies (and the atheists who echo them) always raise against the Orthodox and Catholic churches (and the Coptic and Oriental, too, one supposes). Yet, when one reads them, one finds a solid continuity of basic thought and not a pattern of making up novelties. The problem was that most of these do-it-yourself churches were set up by amateurs who had no good grounding in Christian thought.

  66. YOS,

    Which ones? Do we presume there are non-edited and non-rewritten versions out there? Or is this “higher criticism” which declares some things to be edits based on preconceived conclusions?

    The oldest surviving copies of the Tanakh are the Dead Sea Scrolls dating from 150 BCE – 70 CE, with Isaiah being the only “complete” book in the set. Fragments for all the rest. The next oldest copies are the Codex Vaticanus and Codex Sinaiticus in Greek, oldest fragments from 2nd century BCE, oldest “complete” copies dating from the 4th century CE. Both of those codices of course contain the “complete” New Testament as well. Obviously the bulk of the “changes” would have been due to copying errors, rewording for readability, etc. Those sorts of things are defensible.

    All review for you. Point is, early Christians had two to three centuries to make ideologically motivated changes and “lose” the originals. Who planted that idea in my head? No doubt the Protestant historical critics. Were they motivated? You bet. Were the earliest Christians any less motivated? Not. A. Chance.

    Re: preconceived conclusions. Everybody born into a given religion says this about their faith if they’re devout. Converts as well. Fact of the matter is the single biggest determinants of religious adherence are geography and early childhood experiences with family.

    Eventually, a temporal cutoff was accepted and books written after the apostolic age were not formally included.

    Exactly. Which is just beyond strange to me that in a way that I find highly suspicious. Ultimately I asked myself whether I had any reason to believe that any of it was reliable. Obviously I didn’t find a yes answer.

    Yet, when one reads them, one finds a solid continuity of basic thought and not a pattern of making up novelties.

    There’s something to be said for that, and I can understand why so many people find it compelling.

    The problem was that most of these do-it-yourself churches were set up by amateurs who had no good grounding in Christian thought.

    Legend has it that Abraham and Moses were shepherds, but of course this is in dispute. Christ was, well that’s not the best example. But He made a point to recruit working class men to carry the word. Not bad for a bunch of rank amateurs.

  67. Brandon Gates,

    the ancient Hebrews did not have the luxury of being able to read the modernizations written by Augustine, Aquinas et al.

    What the Hebrews had was appropriate to their historical situation. I don’t have access to the proceedings of the Fifth Vatican Council in 3962 (or whatever), but presumably I have access to a presentation of God’s call appropriate to my situation in 2014.

    As originally described (so far as there’s any provenance to extant translations), worshiping any other God was punishable by immediate and painful death followed by eternal damnation. No second chances.

    Define “immediate.” Do you mean “at the end of one’s life”? Because the Jewish Prophets are constantly calling the Israelites back to monotheism from idolatry; that’s not logically consistent with “immediate” death for idolaters–if they’d been struck down the first time they went whoring after other gods, they wouldn’t be alive to hear the call to repent.

    Don’t you think a truly all-loving and eternal God would extend an eternal, not a cruelly shortened and finite, opportunity to all those who want to share Heavenly happiness with Him?

    Well, if universalists like Origen were correct, then Hell would just be another word for Purgatory–sooner or later everybody repents and goes to Heaven. Origenist universalism is an argument against being Catholic. But the choice between Origenism and Catholicism is logically subsequent to that between Christianity and other theisms, which in turn is logically subsequent to the choice between theism and atheism. Could you please specify which level of the argument you’re trying to engage here? If you’re granting arguendo that Christ is the Divine Savior, and just arguing that Origenism is the best Christianity because Hell isn’t consistent with Christianity rightly understood, that’s one thing. If you’re trying to make a Problem of Evil-style argument against theism generally, then I think Hell is a worse example than natural evils like disease, animal pain, etc.

    Wouldn’t a God who gave us the capacity of intellect and free will likely enjoy the diversity of our individual thoughts and creativity rather than dictating conformity?

    Your question assumes that all diversity is harmless diversity, which is question-begging w/r/t whether idolatry is sinful. Compare: Wouldn’t an enlightened state enjoy the diversity of medicine manufacturing techniques, rather than tyrannically mandating that you’re not allowed to market battery acid as cough syrup? The Abrahamic monotheisms typically assert that idolatry is spiritually deadly demon-worship. Accordingly, when the Hebrew prophets, St. Paul, or Muhammad inveigh against idolatry, they’re more like the FDA on their own self-understanding than they are like some censorious buzzkill.

    The Old Testament God shares more attributes in common with jealous, lustful despots scrabbling for power and riches in a harsh desert environment of limited resources than the omnipotent Creator of an entire universe for whom scarcity and existential threats are not a factor.

    Well, w/r/t to the human authors of Scripture: the Israelites were going to describe God with the concepts they had. As for the Divine Author: consider how much we’ve learned lately about how well it goes when you try to import Western liberal norms among Middle Easterners used to authoritarian norms.

    Per Christianity, God is one yet triune. Had Christ incarnated among a polytheist people, Christianity would have become doctrinally a tri-theism. Only the strong monotheism of Christianity’s Jewish heritage averted that. God’s purpose in bringing Israel together was to forge a people who could come to understand–and cherish–that God is One; only among such a people could Christ incarnate. Communicating to them at their Bronze Age authoritarian level was a more effective strategy for that than trying to communicate to them as you might prefer.

  68. Irenist,

    What the Hebrews had was appropriate to their historical situation.

    The problem I have with that argument is it implies God being deferential to man, not the other way around. It need not be one or the other, and in practice it most certainly is not.

    … the Jewish Prophets are constantly calling the Israelites back to monotheism from idolatry; that’s not logically consistent with “immediate” death for idolaters …

    That’s a good point, I overstated. For idolatry opportunities to turn away from idols were given. For some other sins, it doesn’t appear that second chances were offered. Leviticus 20 has a lengthy list, including adultery, putting it somewhat at odds with the NT admonition, “let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone,” followed up with, “go thy way and sin no more.”

    Well, if universalists like Origen were correct, then Hell would just be another word for Purgatory–sooner or later everybody repents and goes to Heaven.

    That feature of Purgatory is something I can agree with. It has a parallel in Mormonism, Spirit Prision, where those who didn’t receive the Gospel on earth are given a chance to learn about it and accept it. I’ve never found Biblical support for either concept. When I did my two year mission I looked hard for one since many of the fundies I was attempting to convert were reticent to accept Mormonism’s addenda to scripture. That was pre-Internet though and I confess I haven’t researched it much since.

    Your question assumes that all diversity is harmless diversity, which is question-begging w/r/t whether idolatry is sinful.

    My statement about diversity is something I consider a conclusion from premises, namely that existential threats are of no concern to an omnipotent being, rendering the concept of harm somewhat moot. Such a God would have no need for medicine, and ingesting battery acid would do no more damage than gobbling up a galaxy or three for dessert.

    Well, w/r/t to the human authors of Scripture: the Israelites were going to describe God with the concepts they had.

    Exactly my point; scripture is most consistent with authors living a limited, fragile, mortal existence and all the foibles that state of being apparently entails. Some of the options are:

    1) God is dropping hints and letting us work out the rest for ourselves.

    2) God is unequivocably telling us what is and what to do about it, but we aren’t listening or are making lots of mistakes, etc.

    3) God isn’t telling us anything and wants to see what we’ll come up with, or doesn’t care at all.

    4) There is no God and we’re making all of it up.

    As for the Divine Author: consider how much we’ve learned lately about how well it goes when you try to import Western liberal norms among Middle Easterners used to authoritarian norms.

    Nothing much different from what’s happening in the US now, just a matter of degree. Folks like me who don’t take Divine authority as a given are often looked at skeptically, even suspiciously by those who do. And vice versa.

  69. Brandon Gates,

    The problem I have with that argument is it implies God being deferential to man

    Well, there’s an argument to be made of the form “Why does an omnipotent God put up with the cruelties of human history by saving us so indirectly through Christ and His Church? Why not just zap away the problem somehow?” A special case of that w/r/t God tolerating Bronze Age social norms could certainly be presented. However, one of your core objections (and a common atheist objection) seems to be that the Old Testament God is “tyrannical.” Being deferential to man is the opposite of that.

    That’s a good point, I overstated.

    People who make admissions like that are by far my favorite people on the Internet. Bravo, sir.

    For idolatry opportunities to turn away from idols were given. For some other sins, it doesn’t appear that second chances were offered. Leviticus 20 has a lengthy list, including adultery, putting it somewhat at odds with the NT admonition, “let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone,” followed up with, “go thy way and sin no more.”

    This might be another special case of the “deferentiality” issue: capital punishment was the social norm at the time.

    That feature of Purgatory is something I can agree with. It has a parallel in Mormonism, Spirit Prision, where those who didn’t receive the Gospel on earth are given a chance to learn about it and accept it. I’ve never found Biblical support for either concept. When I did my two year mission I looked hard for one since many of the fundies I was attempting to convert were reticent to accept Mormonism’s addenda to scripture. That was pre-Internet though and I confess I haven’t researched it much since.

    As a Mormon, you presumably used a Protestant edition of the Bible, as did your fundamentalist conversion targets. Thus, 2 Maccabees 12:43-46, in which prayers are offered for the dead, would have been relegated to the Apocrypha for you. If praying for the dead is Biblically sanctioned, Purgatory is implied: neither those already in Heaven nor those already damned eternally would derive any benefit from the prayers of the living.
    .
    However, even in a Protestant Bible, you could have found the numerous references to the saints being tried by fire, like gold in a refiner’s furnace—these are all best explained by Purgatory. Here’s a boatload of Scripture cites: http://www.scripturecatholic.com/purgatory.html

    My statement about diversity is something I consider a conclusion from premises, namely that existential threats are of no concern to an omnipotent being, rendering the concept of harm somewhat moot. Such a God would have no need for medicine, and ingesting battery acid would do no more damage than gobbling up a galaxy or three for dessert.

    Idolatry doesn’t hurt God; nothing can. Idolatry is like battery acid for the idolater, whose soul it corrupts. In my analogy, the idolater is the drug consumer who doesn’t know better than to buy bad cough syrup, and God and the Israelite authorities are the FDA—promulgating and enforcing the Law to protect the consumer. It doesn’t hurt the FDA if you drink battery acid, either.

    Exactly my point; scripture is most consistent with authors living a limited, fragile, mortal existence and all the foibles that state of being apparently entails.

    I concede this point, as does Catholicism. Unlike the Quran, which claims to be a word-for-word dictation of a Divine text, or certain fundamentalisms (which treat the Bible akin to the Quran) and perhaps Mormonism (I have no idea what the LDS stance is on literalist Biblical inerrancy or the literal inerrancy of Joseph Smith’s alleged translations from the “Reformed Egyptian”) the inspiration attributed to the Divine Author of the Word in authoritative Catholic teaching like the dogmatic constitution Dei Verbum is one in which God works through fragile, mortal, foible-ful authors.

    Some of the options are:
    1) God is dropping hints and letting us work out the rest for ourselves.
    2) God is unequivocably telling us what is and what to do about it, but we aren’t listening or are making lots of mistakes, etc.
    3) God isn’t telling us anything and wants to see what we’ll come up with, or doesn’t care at all.
    4) There is no God and we’re making all of it up.

    1. This is often the case. The development of doctrine (in the JH Newman sense) works like this. So does the fact that the Holy Spirit guards the Church from dogmatically teaching error, but doesn’t seem to me to meddle much in the minutiae of Church governance or pastoral decisions—which is why He let us elect the Borgia popes, e.g.
    2. This is also often the case. People ignore the directly quoted teachings of Christ and the defined doctrines of His Church all the time.
    3. Nope.
    4. Nope.

    Nothing much different from what’s happening in the US now, just a matter of degree. Folks like me who don’t take Divine authority as a given are often looked at skeptically, even suspiciously by those who do. And vice versa.

    I’m not sure what you mean here. I will say that, although you don’t accept Divine authority, you seem perfectly pleasant to this here theist. All the best to you.

  70. Ye Olde Statisician

    October 20, 2014 at 3:35 pm

    early Christians had two to three centuries to make ideologically motivated changes and “lose” the originals.

    IOW, there is no empirical evidence of such “editing,”only your supposition that there “must” have been. They had two or three centuries to get rid of the embarrassing and humiliating execution of their leader, to make Peter appear more rock-like, to make the apostles less fearful and less slow on the uptake. To alter the denouement to something less absurd to the Greeks and less a stumbling block to Jews.

    Eventually, a temporal cutoff was accepted and books written after the apostolic age were not formally included.

    Exactly. Which is just beyond strange to me that in a way that I find highly suspicious.

    Why is that “strange”? Do we accept the writings of Millard Filmore among the Federalist Papers? By ca. AD 180, they had accepted the accounts written by the secretary of Peter (Mark), by one of the “minor” apostles (Matthew), by the last surviving apostle (John, though possibly compiled by those in his community), and by a companion of Paul who carried out traditional Greek historiography and continued the story with accounts of what the apostles did afterward. They had also accepted a number of letters written by Paul to instruct some of the earliest congregations, one apparently written by Apollos or perhaps Barnabas, to the Jewish Chrisitians, several “universal” letters, and an apocalypse against Nero. You will note that all of them were composed during the lifetimes of the founders, except maybe 2Peter, which was the late addition. There was a second apocalypse, but it was of uncertain authorship and not universally accepted in AD 180; and The Shepherd (Pastor) of Hermas, whose author was the brother of Pope Pius I and therefore while widely used, was not considered sufficiently connected to the eyewitnesses.

    I’m not sure why this is suspicious. Would an account of Lee’s Surrender written by by Grant’s aide-de-camp be accepted? Possibly, since he was present. Would such an account written George Custer be accepted? Again, possibly, since he was also present. Even one written by Grant’s son might be judged acceptable account. But not likely one written by people who were not at least close to those who were present.

    The problem was that most of these do-it-yourself churches were set up by amateurs who had no good grounding in Christian thought.

    Christ …made a point to recruit working class men to carry the word. Not bad for a bunch of rank amateurs.

    I was referring to the founders of the 19th century novelty religions — all of which seemed to share a fascination with the Old Testament and worried obsessively about the proper name for God(!), the correct day for worship, and even wrote up their own fanfic imitation of the OT! It’s the weird tendency of those who have cut themselves off from the Magisterium to constantly re-invent Christianity to their own preferences and discover that the Real Jesusâ„¢ like totally agrees with them.
    ++++++++++++
    What any of this has to do with God’s essence being his own existence is beyond me, unless it is a way of those who think God has a corporeal body to avoid the issue.

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