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Unboundedly Rational Religion

Thinking the Inheritance


Stephen Theron


INTRODUCTION: How Real Are We?......................................................4
Faith as Thinking with Assent.............................................................15
Trinitarian Philosophy...............................................................................26
The Identity of All Being(s).................................................................46
Creation, Exemplarism and Divine Ideas .........................................55
Creation stricto sensu............................................................................67
Metaphysics and Creation......................................................................83
Infinity and Created Being................................................................88
Rethinking God.........................................................................................98
From Soul to Self................................................................................110
Transcendent Immanence, Immanent Transcendence.......................120
Precepts and Inclinations ....................................................................143
Beyond Natural Law.............................................................................147
How to Deconstruct Human Rights..................................................166
Dialectical Reason..................................................................................179
Grace and Ecumenism.........................................................................187
Religion and Freedom...........................................................................195
A Cultural Basis for the European Union?....................................204



Monotheism might be regarded as the absolutisation of the absolute point of view with which
both modern philosophy and modern science have striven to identify themselves, to the point
of eschewing merely natural certainties. Thus it has in a sense preceded these two phenomena
as condition for their birth, a condition they not unnaturally seek ceaselessly to improve upon,
in an at least partial rejection. This is captured by the notion of differentiation and
reintegration as one operation, arguably the essence of the ancient three-termed syllogism.
This book therefore attempts the ultimate reintegration of recasting the
spontaneous religious movement of monotheism, of Judaism developing
into Christianity, arguably a form of atheism, in scientific or absolute
mode. Islam, where touched upon, is treated under its aspect, incidental it
may be but undeniable historically, of one of the many variants upon
It does not ignore the previous attempt by Hegel to do precisely the same
but rather builds consciously upon it. An experience of neo-Thomism
virtually unknown to Hegel is also brought to bear, leading to the
conclusion that it is Hegel rather than the neo-scholastics or Jesuits or
even Kant who develops the Thomist Augustinian Aristotelian
developments. If it was Kant who differentiated here then Hegel
reintegrated, while we here have performed a further reintegration,
centring ultimately upon Parmenides. The final position though, as
stressing human command over the material presented to thought,
freedom over being, is distinctively post-modern.
An introductory chapter loads the scales in favour of an idealist approach
in quasi-Quinean sense, in that being is called in question, as it is
throughout the book. After a chapter revising the best expositions of faith
as a possibly rational attitude the Christian discovery or intuition of intra-
divine events or processes, held compatible with divine infinity and
immutability, is treated under the rubric of a Trinitarian philosophy. This
leads to analysis of notions of being (identity in difference) and, above all,
of creation, viewing this as freed from the historic dualism which has
contradicted the necessary infinity of the first principle. Creation is not
thereby denied but seen as truly a constituent of the divine life. The
picture is thus monistic, which is to say scientific as presenting a holistic
system or way of seeing things absolutely or beyond appearance merely.
The consequences for human metaphysical and moral nature are
rigorously drawn, freed from all anthropomorphisms so as better to
illuminate the insights of religion and philosophy. The relevance for
contemporary movements from palaeontology to Church ecumenism is
brought out, while a concluding epilogue attempts to shed light on the
vexed debate on Europe in relation to the Christian inheritance. Other
concluding chapters treat of both sacramental religion and of dialectic as
the method of reason, whether in theology or in the world. For the world
without the reason is not an object of thought, any more than you can
wash the fur without wetting it, in G. Frege’s words.


How real are we? In particular, what reality has any temporal ephemeral
substance in comparison with the timeless truth (or falsity) of ideas. In this
book it is appropriate, if unusual, to consider those religious traditions, so
decisively influential upon the history of philosophy, claiming to come from
out of the world, with a special authority, consequently, as retailed by an
empowered prophet or "more than a prophet". Despite theology's
occasional claim to be "queen of the sciences" she has in the last analysis
to submit her being and teaching to philosophical evaluation, since even a
stance of theological positivism would require argument to justify it, as we
find in Karl Barth, for example.
Nor should such evaluation limit itself to a question of truth or falsity.
Philosophy is needed to draw out the meaning of the supposed revelation.
This indeed is three quarters of the work of theology itself as well. In brief,
this book needs no apology, insofar at least as any question of "eternal
life", our subject here, can be considered as remaining open. After all, for
that thesis too, of the openness of this question, there are arguments,
some better than others.

A century ago in England R.H. Benson wrote a historical novel, By What

Authority?, in favour of a triumphantly logical, and loved, Roman
Catholicism beleaguered by Tudor absolutism and English national feeling,
as well as by the theories, which some would call insights, of Luther and
other then recent "reformers". The title question comes from a scene in
the Gospels. For Benson, it seems, all authority comes from Christ-God
through Peter to the Roman hierarchy under the Pope. This, he would
insinuate, is just what Christ would not tell the Pharisees, viz. by what
authority he did what he did. In his "counter-example" of John the Baptist,
however, Jesus asks "Was it from heaven or from men?" He does not
repeat the term "authority" (exousia). Perhaps, therefore, he was not
comfortable with it and in his own life he may have been even less
comfortable with it than the evangelist, in the midst of the first Jewish-
Christian conflict, discreetly indicates.
So it is a weak point for Benson and those of his mind that his title-
question mirrors pharisaic categories, too crude and forensic for the
"prophet and more than a prophet" of the Sermon on the Mount, for
example. The Pharisees, after all, were referring to his not being one of
them or of some parallel ecclesial body commissioning him, to his not
having been through the usual school of priestly or scribal formation
ending with an authoritative commission, as still practised in the churches.
We have however little reason to doubt that Jesus himself commissioned
leaders, "shepherds", to whom he wanted people to listen. He stressed
though that they were not to "lord it" over those whom they were there
rather to serve, whether expounding those scriptures Jesus claimed to fulfil
or organising money collections, tasks that others also were equally free to
fulfil. The idea of two levels of service, of those who sit or do not sit "in the

seat of Moses", was Jewish, and there is little reason to assume that Jesus
the Jew would have abolished it. Thus the disciples continued after his
death to go to the synagogue for the prescribed prayers. It was before
such synagogal bodies that Paul or Stephen first wished to proclaim Jesus
as Christ. However the imitation of this pattern among the first Christians
and in some theologies, even to the point of reviving the idea of a
sacrificing priesthood, may well have been a development more human
than divine. The new movement maybe needed around two millennia to
realise its supra-religious character, quite apart from the need (after its
adoption by the Emperor in particular) to impose itself upon a populace
impressed by such things and accustomed, like most of humanity, to
priests and their sacrifices.1
It is remarkable, I note here, that Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth
Christian century, takes as his example of a natural law more evident
apud omnes than those secondary precepts devised by human reason
(such as private property) the need to offer sacrifice to divine beings.
What is even more remarkable is to find contemporary Thomists still
confidently repeating this example as if it were self-evident in our
secularised or Protestant world, where it appears distinctly archaic and so
little self-evident as to seem a prime counter-example to the thesis of
natural law invariance.
Perhaps Aquinas wanted to highlight that the Mass is a sacrifice,
something that is hardly self-evident. The Christian impulse, one can
hardly deny, was to abolish propitiatory sacrifice in favour of what pleases
God in human behaviour, the conduct of life. That the life and death of
Christ himself has often been presented as a sacrifice, the supreme
sacrifice, on the old sacerdotal model, is surely to be ascribed to a
theological mood only, a need for figure and analogy, for mystical types.
Thus even a conservative Christian of today such as C. S. Lewis baulks at
the idea that God wants blood, preferring to present salvation not as
"atonement" but as God's first doing for us what we otherwise would not
manage ourselves, viz. dying (and rising again). And so we find Aquinas,
again, in the heyday of the sacrifice-theology, saying that one drop of
Christ's blood was enough and more to "atone" for sins, thus undermining
the whole sacrificial paradigm without saying so.
But if a sacrificial priesthood is not needed, then one can wonder whether
that other prong of religious control, viz. jurisdiction, hierarchy, is more
than a human preference either. It was, again, the Pharisees who
introduced a question about authority. What Jesus says is "Believe me for
the very works' sake", i.e. for myself, and not as an empowered official,
even if it is true that some accounts of the resurrection stress a now
unique empowerment, inseparable from the idea of ascensional
enthronement but clearly intended, all the same, to bolster the power of
the leaders of the first Christian communities. "Whoever listens to you
listens to me."

My view of Jesus and Christianity owes a great deal to the arguments and research of
H. Küng and E. Schillebeeckx. Cf. Damien Casey’s article (on the Internet) on the fractio
panis in early Christian frescoes and the references given there (search under Damien-
Casey). See also Juan Arias, Jesus.

Thus we come to "the" resurrection. As distinct from the idea of
enthronement resurrection was already enshrined in at least a part of the
most progressive and visionary Judaism, that of II Maccabees, reflected in
the presumably typical figure of Martha in John's Gospel, as a general
destiny either for all or for "the just", as in the teachings of Qumran, for
those who had suffered for Yahweh, for his name. So it might seem
retrograde to make the possibility of rising again depend upon Jesus, as if
God could not raise just anyone, a viewpoint safeguarded in the traditional
teaching of John 5 of the resurrection of "the wicked" as well, to
judgement. But resurrection is here separated from glorification, coming
only through the uniquely just man and Son (a relation not clearly
dependent in Scripture upon a virgin birth, however the unique election, of
him who "came out from God", was to be thought of).
In some traditions, some early communities therefore, e.g. the Marcan,
there appears to have been an aversion to the idea of resurrection
appearances, made so central in later, more unified teaching. There need
be no "lost ending" to Mark's Gospel therefore.2 Perhaps the miracle for
him is the empty tomb, though in that case why would the angel ask the
women why they sought the living among the dead, i.e. if the author's
mind were that there were no dead there? The "He is not here" is not
entirely decisive on this point of interpretation, even if the traditional way
of taking it may still seem prima facie the more natural. One might want to
say that the Christian hope leads one already to live in the glory beyond
the Last Day, as when Jesus offers Martha something better than her "I
know that he will rise again at the last day", although all the generations
of Christians have been in no better case than she with regard to the
deaths of loved ones, the great triumphs of faith and hope seeming to
leave grief in place, even if we are not "as those who have no hope". But
again, the Jewish mother in II Maccabees had great hope.

Even the resurrection might not fully satisfy human aspirations unless it
were specified as a full reclamation of the past, an abiding embodiment of
memory, such as might be one of the more positive motives for the
"eternal return" idea, claimed by today's defenders of Nietzsche to be a
scientific hypothesis.3 Finding, anyhow, a reality to suffice for actual
human aspirations, or being able at least to postulate it, may be seen as
part of the investigation into our own reality as preventing it from being,
let us say, substantively Sisyphean or self-defeating, ontologically
The notion of such reclamation (of the past) can however be viewed as an
expansion of the divine ideas thesis. God, concludes Aquinas, as we have
noted, does not know created things in themselves but in his idea(s) of
them, which are, each one, identical with himself. Similarly human
memory, man being in the divine image, is of a greater dignity than a
mere power to recall a dead past. It is incidental to memory to be
Cf. E. Schillebeeckx, Jesus.
See ”Nietzsche's Metaphysics” in A Dictionary of Metaphysics and Ontology (ed.
Burkhardt & Smith), Philosophia Verlag, Munich 1990.

restricted to the past. If the future were more than an ens rationis it could
hold that too.4 The point here is that it holds things and events more nobly
and fully than does our fleeting experience of their actual occurrence. As
God is not removed from us by knowing us rather in his idea of us, where
he is total active determinant, so in our memory we give things, or are
called upon to give them, their true form and promise, forever. Nothing is
lost, which means it is embodied in resurrection, even resurrected. Thus
even a hypnotist resurrects, if only, as it might seem, from our brains,
memory of which we are no longer conscious.
Our dignity then, in concert with the mercy and faithfulness belonging to
any possible infinite being, requires resurrection beyond the powers of
nature as we know it, but natural at this ethico-religious level. Some
notions of "supernatural grace" have obscured this. Of course all is gift.
That goes without saying, and some gifts are doubtless "higher" than
others. But we should hope that "death shall not have dominion"; as did
the pious Jews of their time or Dylan Thomas in ours.
We might see then the resurrection of Jesus, the Gospel accounts, as
fostering a general hope, indeed belief, that "death shall have no
dominion", rather than as being a very particular, quasi-sacramental cause
of what is to happen at the "Last Day". We have noted already that
appearances, possibly even an empty tomb, are not essential to all visions
of Christ's resurrection-cum-enthronement as held by the various groups
among the first Christians. Similarly, the sitting "with Christ in the
heavenly places" of Ephesians can bring the Last Day together with,
telescope it, not only with an individual's death-day, when he passes "out
of time", but also, in an anticipation sure enough to make it actual, with
this very present. This surely was the seed-ground of Western optimism,
and of a dream of human dignity. Agnosce o Christiane dignitatem tuam,
exclaims the late fourth, early fifth century Augustine, transported in
contemplation of the Christian proclamation and what it entails.
Our point though is that this can apply on a view of the resurrection rather
different from Augustine's, putting the stress rather where we find it in
Kant's philosophy, which then the rising of Christ but confirms, though as
maybe the supreme instance of it. The view is not foreign to the New
Testament indeed, where they declare it is not possible that death could
hold such a man, since God is faithful, just as is said of the martyrs to this
God in the Old Testament, especially in later pre-Christian times,
increasing clarity fighting against the apparent dominion of death.
We might ask further though about that embodiment of memory we
mentioned. For Aquinas every resurrected individual finds himself "at the
perfect age", of thirty-three perhaps. Against this we have traditions of
cherubs, cupids, putti and so on, and our poetic traditions of our
childhood, "angel infancy", as itself a perfect age in a very special sense.
The typically modern re-evaluation of family situations with the stress on
respect for children, their rights, to the point of a quarrel with traditional
notions of discipline and upbringing, the desire rather to enjoy children
while and as they are just as children, seems indeed a natural outcome of

Here one can see the positive point in Richard Sylvan's "sistology", his Meinongian
complaint of prejudice in favour of the actually existent.

the Romantic idealisation of childhood found in Wordsworth or Newman
and based upon the Gospel itself. If it is complained that children are
treated as adults a rejoinder may be that young parents now behave, and
wish to behave, more like children, with more of the freedom and
immediacy of children. A child who dies, any, might need no more to
resurrect as an adult than a thirty-year-old might then need to be a sixty-
Aquinas also speaks of angels, all of whom, he argues, have the species or
natures of all things (individual as well?) imprinted on their intellects from
their creation, independently of experience, and it is from this perspective
that he can exploit the saying that men shall be "as the angels" who, it
follows from the above, have no need to "grow up". The thought is that
there is no marriage or family in heaven, no further marriage one might
think, though C. S. Lewis too is keen to dissociate the resurrection from
renewed contact with spouses, relatives and so on ("I'm afraid we have no
assurance" etc. etc.). But here we are arguing precisely against this sheer
dependence upon authority and real or imagined historic promise, not as if
despising it but as seeking the metaphysical roots in which such premises
themselves would have to be grounded, as true to eternal being. The
positivist theological talk, incidentally, as it developed in the fourteenth
century, about an absolute freedom of God, unrelated to truth (which they
mistakenly see as a conditioning factor) and hence random, is quite simply
the denial of God as anything more than an ideological cipher, in a
philosophy unconscious of itself.
If, anyhow, such species, such knowledge, are then, though post factum,
impressed upon men as well, all men and women of whatever background,
then there will in each case be a different kind of integration, if indeed
nothing is forgotten. The promise is of seeing all things as God sees them,
as he sees himself even. Eventually one would want that, maybe. Earlier
though we imagined some kind of eternalisation of our earthly experience,
symbolised in the "eternal return", though a transfiguration might be
wanted to be involved. This is not far from Biblical views, if one thinks of
the transfigured wounds of Christ, "slain from the foundations of the
world". That was his experience, after all. But then we might all be as we
die, another piece of tradition, this last moment somehow including all our
memory and giving it its eternal character, whatever that will be (the
"many mansions").
Aquinas's unbaptized babies become grave young men, or women, in a
Dantean limbo. We mentioned cherubs and putti. Is there for humans a
perfect age, except in some off-centre animal sense? Would children, in an
eternal world, suffer from not growing if "of such is the kingdom of
heaven"? Then what was the point of saying that, to offer a kind of
argumentum ad hominem? One might imagine a life of four years, of a
latter-day English child perhaps. His or her early death might be as it were
a call to just that child's state we others were only permitted to pass
through. In eternity, resurrected, he may be as on his death's day. The
garden he looked upon, his mother's face, a certain picture-book, a pet
dog or cat, all these open ever outwards as so many icons, bearers of the
absolute. Memories of evil show up for the empty poverty they are,
swallowed up in the humour of an unimaginable forgiveness, a desire to

console. He has no desire to be older, no dream of "when I am big".
Children do not commonly so dream with any desire, while the aged who
mourn for lost youth maybe lack wisdom. Youth is for them, according to
our thesis, in memory, embodied memory.
Yet such is the nature of our subject that we might as well, following a
Gospel lead, invert the whole conception and hypothesise that everyone
finds himself there as a child, instead of Aquinas's "perfect age" of thirty-
three. Concerning babies anyhow, however far towards conception we go
back in supposing eternal life, we are free to speculate, to imagine states
friendly to our thesis. These truly are the naked putti, flying through the
air, peeping through the petals of flowers, laughing and gurgling upon the
winds of heaven. Who knows, except that no one wants to be other than
he or she is? An infant death, again, is maybe a call to an eternity as a
joyous sylph-like spirit, a zephyr taking many forms, as in our childhood
books and poetry, and by quality of being not much concerned with adult
knowledge, as the Ring of Power was a pure trinket to J.R.R. Tolkien's
embodied nature spirit in his Old Forest, Tom Bombadil. There would be no
reason not to want to be Tom Bombadil.

Some will want to find this a facile optimism, dispensing with the "strait
gate", the "narrow road", though I think we can use these ideas too. It
certainly might seem to devalue or at least relativise adult human intellect
somewhat. In the ambience, anyhow, of "high" Anglicanism in which I first
encountered Catholic notions nothing seemed to people more urgent than
to pour scorn upon the conciliatory saying, "Well, we are all going the
same way, aren't we?" "No we are not all going the same way", would
snap back the irritated answer. Those were pre-ecumenical days and there
was, one suspected, often enough a tired indifference to religious truth in
the closing of discussions with that saying, though it was not found so
outrageous as the variant "It is better to travel hopefully than to arrive".
But is this universal fraternalism of the shared road necessarily a product
of fatigue or hopelessness? What if it is a triumph of hope such as the
narrowly religious, clutching their solitary talent, have lacked the
magnanimity to embrace?
Our claim is that the Christian resurrection-faith has somehow served to
unlock a more general or philosophico-cosmic insight within the historical
populus Christianus, and maybe further afield too. This emphasis was
present in the early Alexandrine school and Gnosticism had elements of it,
though always commingled with a repellent dualism. But too much of what
these people were after was rejected, perhaps out of mass-fear of the
higher literate class just as much as from a felt need for purity of doctrine.
It is significant that Luther's teaching, at one of the first crossroads of
modernity, is sometimes classed as Gnostic (e.g. by Eric Voegelin), insofar
as it makes salvation depend upon a purely mental certainty or
"assurance". Even if we cannot, even should not, ourselves claim such an
assurance (of "salvation") yet the Reformation remains a breakthrough of
subjectivity and of the subjective confidence a person ought to have,
though independently even of any putatively positive revelation maybe

enormously strengthening it (but always bringing with it the temptation to
fanaticism or intemperate zeal).
The Catholic condemnation of this assurance depends upon a very fine
point. It does not, for example, condemn the well-known stance of Julian of
Norwich, "All shall be well and all manner of thing…" All manner of thing
might seem to mean well for you and me whoever we are. Dylan Thomas,
we saw, continues the tradition that "Death shall have no dominion", the
mad shall grow sane, the sea give up its dead and so on. One may not
however assume without argument and for the sake of this paradigm that
all evil acts, inclusive of a choice of death (for others especially), reduce to
madness. It was, anyhow, always good to give vent with the psalmist to
strong hope, non moriar sed vivam, or the heartfelt prayer non confundar
in aeternam, so easily shading from the subjunctive imperative into a felt
future simple, an irrepressible assurance become palpable in, for example,
Bruckner's Catholic setting of Ambrose's Te Deum. Here we have
assurance consequent upon a strong exercise of hope, the virtue, and no
mere presumption.
There is as it were a quarrel, basic to our being, between intellect and
time. It is as if we begin to participate in a knowledge of time which is
itself eternal. Memory just in itself begins this assimilation even in the
short term, creating the possibility over one, ten or more minutes in which
"time stands still". It is unthinkable that any of experience be lost or
vanish, though it may take on a different aspect. God knows all things, we
say, and certainly truth remains. So St. Teresa was right that this our being
ought to arouse in us great desires as proportionate.

J.R.R. Tolkien, no mean theologian, spoke of God's (or "Iluvatar's") special

gift to men of death, not given to his elves, for example. Resurrection
philosophies are ways of trying to explicate how death can be a gift, and
we have distinguished resurrection from appearance events (e.g. those in
the Gospels) as being a wider notion. Protest remains, however, the
protest against death, the foreseeing of nostalgia and we have tried to
meet that with our theory of memory as fullest embodiment, as the
presence of all times. Yet the memory has to be more than memory as we
know it. We might require that the events must be as actual as when
actually occurring, as now. So a realisation of God, of the divine ideas as
our proto-reality, may negate this hesitation. We look forward to a
glorification from which this existence now will seem insubstantial.
Belief in divine ideas creates the possibility of meeting one's own image,
the Doppelgänger who is more truly myself (as God is closer to me than I
am to myself) than I am and therefore shakes my identity to its foundation
as he, who is I, passes by. But I must pass over into his life, he who knows
my childhood glories and sufferings more intimately than I do myself, like
the heavenly man of Daniel in some ways.
This feeling of possible nostalgia, betrayal of present or any reality, was
strong in Nietzsche, for whom it must always be this life, this world,
eternally projected even in its temporality, just as the life of Christ, a
certain number of years, reflects, embodies, the Trinitarian processions, so

that it is not a change in a "pre-existent" Christ. Rather, that life has
always existed, as caused by being known, it too, in the divine eternal idea
of it. But a question then is whether resurrection is not present there in the
midst of that life as a growing light (or does each day grow in memory?),
not negated by any experience of death. We only experience the deaths of
others, as we think. Even a release from great pain would always be just
that, never death, where if we know no more we also do not know it. It is
an objectification. But is this not to deny our hope? It would mean anyway
that we have to learn to love our life now, and that "to them that have
shall be given".

One becomes more and more dissatisfied with traditional speculations,

about body and soul, sense memory versus (surviving) intellectual
memory and so on. What is wrong with all these speculations is the idea of
a time after the "death of the body".
But first of all we can wonder, again, if anyone dies at all (setting aside the
idea of the body dying). We observe indeed the deaths of others, but no
one observes or experiences his own death, since it is defined as the end
of experience. This must be so, even if the heart or brain were recorded on
our instruments as "dead", i.e. no longer functioning, yet if experience
palpably continued we would have to change our notions (maybe we
would then think that life was supported by something in the liver or
Consider next the idea of the "eternal return", taken up again by
Nietzsche. The so to say poetic merit of that conception, though it is also a
serious hypothesis in physics, is that nothing is lost. This corresponds to
the love we have for our life, its memories. "Gather up the fragments so
that nothing be lost", we might want to say. If one embraces that
conception one can perhaps live through time in the awareness that all is
present all the time and beyond. One need not actually experience
sensations of recurrence. We live as it were hanging between Proust and
This was also a way of destroying the confused and gloomy idea of the
"time after". In Sweden, for example, one speaks naturally of the dead as
having gone out of time (de gick ur tiden) at the moment of death, as we
say that they passed away or, less felicitously, passed on. Passing away,
however, is in English culture seen as a vulgar euphemism veiling a
horrific reality, as is not the case in Sweden. One preserves an affectionate
contact with previous generations, whom one will eventually join.
Nietzsche wanted to say, maybe, that this life is all there is, that it is fully
sufficient, since it has infinite depths corresponding to the capacity of our
intellect as capax Dei. Thus the Evangelist said that the whole world could
not contain all the books that would need to be written to describe what a
certain relatively short-lived person (Jesus) did. We do not want to look
forward to a "future state" in which we will be strange to ourselves, having
merely changed horses as Feuerbach put it. Nor need the idea of glory be
interpreted in this way. As for agilitas and the various qualities of the
resurrection body, we should as far as possible aim at acquiring those

characteristics now. Of course the ageing, the crippled, still more those
born crippled, and therefore indeed all of us, must and should hope for
such a transfiguration, and this shows the limitation of the Nietzschean
conception. Still, it is a general rule that to them that have shall be given,
and we should all think of ourselves as having the gift of abundant life
becoming ever more abundant, everlasting joy upon our faces, our mortal
faces, and so on.
But if that solution, convertible into the possession of all of our actual or
"empirical" life in memory, maybe a memory, present memory, more
actual than our fancied present, is insufficient, and the "future state"
notion, on the other hand, is somehow blasphemous, life-denying, then
fulfilment seems to escape us.
The solution, like all solutions, depends upon our confidence in the infinite
being from whom everything comes. I mean a confidence not only in his or
her faithfulness, but in his or her being as infinite, outside of which there is
no being to speak of (though we of course speak of it since our language is
devised for and fitted to the being of our non-being)).
Thus Aquinas concludes rightly that this being's knowledge of us is
knowledge of his own thought or idea of us rather than of us in ourselves,
in the way that we think of ourselves as in ourselves. He does not depart
from the eternal contemplation of his own essence in thinking of us or
(causatively) knowing us. Indeed each (to us) separate idea is identical
with his simple essence and act of being. This of course means that they
are not really distinct and this alone makes Traherne, Wordsworth,
Vaughan or Charles Williams (or Leibniz or Nicholas of Cusa) right in seeing
a glory in each particular, "a world in a grain of sand", something which
corresponds to each individual person's natural urge to know all things and
their first cause.
God is the true idealist and solipsist. In this sense all is "stored for thee at
home" and nothing is lost. I am not firstly myself. The infinite being is
closer to me than this self, as Augustine already knew. The world is God's
dream, even after granting that a divine dream is substantial and truly
creative, just as he speaks with things and not mere symbols. His Word is
indeed a person, for Trinitarians. So we are dream figures, but born to find
our reality in his eternity. How?
We shall understand, firstly, that we sit there already, "in the heavenly
places", a truth that predestination would hint at. In this sense we have all
died before, we all look back upon an infinitely repeated life, to use
mythological terms. We are, in knowing our life, participating in the eternal
unchanging knowledge. Only joy is the rule, and peace and so on, and all
evil and failure shall be overcome. So we are never entirely in it. What else
is hope? Hope is indeed the ethical quality of this knowledge (or faith and
love: it is the same). "And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is
death." For that destruction we are of course always waiting; and yet it has
occurred already, before the foundation of the world even, deep in
eternity, which is one with necessary being.
Sunlight on the grass, on water, a child's face, a moment of music, an
insight quicker than thought, anything at all… To look is to paint a picture,
an icon, of what "eye hath not seen". It comes down to that inspiredly
simple thought, that "God is not a God of the dead, but of the living", so if

God is a God of any of our dead then those dead, out of time maybe, are
living. God, after all, cannot be seen as ignorant, so if we are alive for him
then we are truly alive and how he knows us, in his "essence", is how we
truly are. It is a matter therefore not merely, with Shostakovitch, say, of
protesting against death (his penultimate symphony) but of denying it. "He
who believes in me will never die." Nor does it seem that there is need to
interpret that belief as restrictively as has been done in the past.

Cripples, we say, certainly don't want those evils and privations

eternalized and it is said by our metaphysicians that there is no divine idea
of evil, though God has perfect knowledge of every reality. So one
postulates ideas of eternal compensation, analogous to the dead infants
resurrected to a humanity at the "perfect age" of thirty-three.
This is however in principle transcended in the Christian tradition in the
idea of the Lamb slain from the foundations of the world, or that of the
glorified wounds of Christ. This image permits the realities of just this
man's earthly life to be eternally possessed, in "glory". So why not apply
the same measure to the privations, pains, shortcomings, of us others.
This intuition, anyhow, lies behind the idea of indifference, that joys and
woes can equally be taken from God's hand, as what is best for as
belonging individually to us. Hence the folly of envy. Popular wisdom
concurs in allotting a variety of different characters, the star-signs, which
an individual should gladly accept as his destiny, as he should the day of
the week on which he is born, even though "Wednesday's child is full of
woe". This has nothing to do with the Calvinist presumption against a
general glorification; that is just what we are combating.
The big problem, holding back consciousness of this view, was always that
of "sins", of a postulated moral universe (alongside the actual one) where
infinite and hence indelible offences were committed daily. Rather as
Aristotle rated a little of contemplation as worth more than the whole
range of non-intellectual goods, so here the smallest inhonestas made life
no longer worth living. If a lust for vengeance played its role in the
formation of these conceptions historically, then a first step in teaching us
to receive without the despair of rage, with forgiveness, the wrongs that
are done us was to imagine the Lord as righting all wrongs and readjusting
the scales. He says "Vengeance is mine, I will repay". This would still have
to be reflected in his image and likeness however, and so we get, in the
Latin Christian tradition, the virtue of vindicatio.
But later we are taught that God, which is to say reality, does not take
vengeance. God forgives, and more than we do. Ultimately, the person
besieged also by this kind of evil, this deficiency or deformity of his free
action, suffers, and that more deeply than do cripples and the rest. And so
to deal with it we have the Christian remedy, the glorified wounds of
Christ, the sins nailed to the Cross, so that our "sins" too can be glorified
as transferred to him who was "made sin for us".
The question has to arise whether we cannot and should not also be made
sin for ourselves, perhaps as a response to this Christian vision, rather
than in denial of it. "Greater things than I shall you do…" As Eckhardt

teaches, one can accept and love all that one has done, I mean the fact,
the truth, that one has done it, even as one moves away from it (one
notion of "repentance"). We write loving autobiographies. This is the
opposite of wishing to do the same things again, for there one still sees
them as good. I am speaking of deeds seen now as bad, as privations, as
failures. I lovingly and gladly accept that I failed to help my parents when I
was younger and I talk to them about it. I have no special interest in
establishing that I did not culpably fail. The impulse to self-justification is
what Christianity, for example, was concerned to wipe out. It is legalistic
and sociomorphic. We are what we are and must learn to glory in that, like
the birds that sing, but who also make their efforts in learning to fly. There
is no reason why these ideas should not be applied to the great killers of
history, they too. Something like this no doubt lies behind de Sade's
suggestion that everyone should have rights over everyone's bodies. It
was his way of hinting that rights do not belong in nature. They do
however belong in law just as long as we choose to protect the weak and
others in this way as part of our vision of happiness.
An objection, to the view advanced here, that death is chimerical, might
seem to be that at least half the human race experience the cessation of a
main vital function, that needed for reproduction, "in the midst of life".
Otherwise, and as touching the resurrection, a long sleep is not felt. A
fortiori, centuries of being dead are not felt. Here indeed it is "every man a
penny", be he Plato or Wittgenstein, and in this way too time, before and
after, is neutralised. That it was found necessary to teach that the
(separated) souls of the redeemed were in heaven now depended upon
the needs of those still on earth. But is such needed, any longer, whether
or not we appeal to relativity theory? The eternal future is already and has
always been present and actual. This is the meaning of predestination, of
"sitting with Christ in the heavenly places" and so on. If the dead go "out
of time" then they are neither now nor not now. Again, we find a fusion of
the ideal and the actual, while, looking in reverse, this life is eternally
contemplated or repeated. We are there now, while we are here, and when
we are there we will not lose "here".


Faith as Thinking with Assent

One finds this criticism of "neothomism", that it simply asserts that reason
will never go against faith. Where it seems to do so we just know that our
reasoning has gone wrong somewhere. The openness necessary for the
discovery of truth is here lacking, comments John MacQuarrie (Twentieth
Century Religious Thought, London 1971, SCM; ch. 18, sect.89).
The Thomist position, however, might rather mean that we will never be asked to believe
something unreasonable. Here the view sets no restriction whatever upon thinking. It rather
makes a statement about the nature of Christian belief, containing an implicit invitation to
think the data of revelation through so that the (rational) necessity of it can be seen. Yet this
statement is also one, again, positive, about the nature of man and his thinking.
What we do find in Thomas Aquinas himself is a doctrine that reason
naturally needs a (supernatural) guidance which it must trust and rely on,
as the tides need the moon. Whether or not this guidance should ever be
construed as a limit is at least an open question, however, though it
clearly was in the system under which Aquinas himself lived. Yet the whole
event of revelation, as is more proper to just the idea of a revelation, can
rather be seen as a great opening up.
There is, besides, a conceptual difficulty in the idea of truths beyond the
reach of reason. The original postulate of a harmony between faith and
reason, if thought through, might seem to demand revision of this and
some related ways of understanding "supernatural" truths. Therefore one
might ask, in the opposite direction (not necessarily the other "extreme"),
whether they might not all be assimilable to those truths that Thomas says
are revealed only because too few men with too great time and difficulty
would attain to their discovery. the claim therefore is that they are
accessible to reason. Unfortunately there is a tendency here, hardly
discouraged by Thomas, to reduce revelation to declaring to people what
they should believe. It is as if revelation as a notion is always slipping
down and away from the original richness of an epiphany.
Once revealed truths are accepted their superior rationality becomes
clear, as the Christian Trinity, it is claimed, is a superior and more viable
conception than that of Allah. However, if we concede that some
philosopher has shown that a solitary divine person is inconceivable, there
seems no reason in principle why another philosopher might not
postulate, or urge as probable, either a plurality of divine persons or the
operation of relations within the divinity, equivalent to thought-processes
perhaps, or both.
Reason in any case has and has had a great task presented to it by
dogmas such as that of the Trinity, as the early example of Augustine
illustrates. Nor have reasonable and unreasonable ways of understanding
this mystery (which the dogma sought to identify) yet been exhaustively
distinguished. As with Christology, the careful choice of official wording
can never fully conceal that many earlier understandings of these
mysteries, inclusive of those with the highest sanction, get contradicted.

Extra ecclesiam nulla salus is another example. There is no telling, to take
a further example, how far a richer, more philosophically cogent notion of
eternity might go in modifying the doctrines and dogmas of the creation of
the world "in time" or of the "pre-existent" Christ (Cf. H. McCabe, God
The discovery, and it is no less, of evolution is a more obvious example
still of how reason is compelled to reinterpret "supernatural" truths, rather
than to submit to their dictation in the way envisaged in earlier Thomism.
Doctrines of the soul and special interventionistic creation are under great
pressure to give way to what to many seems a grander conception. In this
conception the emergence of man in God´s image and even of Christ as
definitive God-man is seen as built into creation from its first instant or, in
terms of the Hegelian dialectic, from its first postulate (we do not need to
make our temporal mode of perception essential to the process or
Here we need to relate these ideas to the historical development within
Christendom. The original impulse to definitions of dogma came very
largely from the secular authority, desirous at best of preserving peace
within his or her realm, at worst of bending Christian belief in a more
manageable direction, inclusive of altering power-structures within the
Church to harmonize with such factors as, perhaps, the Imperial move to
Constantinople or the general dominance of men over women in society,
this latter coinciding with the gradual reduction of an original metaphor of
sacrifice to a more literal sacrifice-theology in harmony with previous
Roman religious practice and a felt need for the offering of sacrifice for the
temporal security of state and society (Cf. Damien Casey…).
Thus it is only by a rather doubtful analogy that the meeting, three
centuries earlier almost, at Jerusalem described in Luke´s Acts can be seen
as the first of a series of ecumenical councils. Nor did it define any dogma,
the main achievement being that people met and learned to understand
one another. Instead, some rather minimal disciplinary measures
protective of Jewish sensibilities were passed, minimal in that they did not
distinguish between moral and ritual desiderata ("abstain from fornication
and things strangled"). Such distinction had been a main point of Christ´s
teaching, however, at least as this is recorded in the then still to be written
Discussions about faith and reason and their relation as traditionally
conducted relate to these dogmas. Today such discussion often centres
around the interpretation of dogmatic formulae. This is clearly part of an
attempt to make dogma consonant with reason, rather than the other way
round (though there, obviously, there would be no question of "making":
the harmony of faith and reason is itself "dogmatic" in form). One can thus
go so far as to find a given formulation infelicitous or misleading, never
needing to say it is wrong.
Examples here are legion, and here we are not repeating the examples of
in-depth intellectual penetration of elements of faith (not necssarily
"articles") discussed above. We are examining the more superficial but
historically acute phenomenon of reservations and revisions with regard to
entrenched verbal credal propositions.

The faith-reason presumption is perhaps that such formulations can
always be "saved" (one speaks of "saving the appearances"). But it is not
always so. Not a few theologians, it is plain, are unable to take the more
recent Marian dogmas seriously, while Hans Küng thinks that nobody
should be obliged to believe in the virgin birth, a doctrine which anyhow
wears a different face, so to speak, now that we know that the woman
contributes half of the genetical constituents of the new human being.
Jesus might seem in danger of being seen more as a Marian clone than as
one begotten of God. The Immaculate Conception, too, only retains its
sense so long as we adhere to a literalist Augustinian view of "original sin"
fast vanishing from our comprehension. These considerations in turn
demand reassessment of papal infallibility as defined in council and even a
critique of the rational provenance of this notion as such, for which Küng
suggests "indefectibility" should be substituted when speaking of the
Church, as expressing no more than our confidence in Christ´s presence
among those who trust in him as long as life, theirs individually or that of
the world, lasts.
But the two concerns, with formulae and with realities, do eventually
merge. Believers confess resurrectionem mortuorum et vitam venturi
saeculi and a second coming in glory judicare vivos et mortuos. Here
already in the pages of scripture we find interpretation, e.g. in John´s
Gospel: "and this is the judgment, that men preferred darkness to light…
because their works were evil." We may see this as part of the ongoing
effort, showing that confidence in reason that Aquinas makes explicit, to
make the tradition intelligible, first to a wider audience, then to ourselves.
One can hardly deny that a kind of spiritual imperialism ("salvation is of
the Jews", John represents Jesus as saying) underlies the development of
Paul´s thought, leading him to abrogate the Law, to interpret Christ´s
death as a destruction of the Law itself, upon which Jewish exclusivity had
been based. This leads to an intensification of the cosmic, universally
mutual community of acceptance and forgiveness recorded as preached in
Christ´s own life. Paul solves his own problems by seeing the Old
Testament, his "Bible", as more suitable for interpretation than for simple
acceptance. "These things happened in a figure" and so on, a method later
on attributed much more comprehensively, however, to the protagonist of
the Gospels himself. Thus, "as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so
shall the Son of Man be lifted up…"
At its highest point, though, such interpretation as it were negates itself,
becoming the means to a more deeply inspired literalism, as in the
(probably authentic) argument for resurrection from God´s identifying
himself to Moses, in the "inspired" page, as the God of Abraham and Isaac,
who had died. Yet God is God of the living, ergo… Awareness of
resurrection though is not here necessarily attributed to the Mosaic writer
Belief in resurrection had been reached by pre-Christian Jews in a rational
process, arguing from the consistency of divine justice in a way echoed by
Kant and even Plato, starting out from a dualist anthropology. It is reason
too which exerts pressure within theology away from a materialistically
"miraculous" view of the accounts of Christ´s own resurrection. Such
pressure is not necessarily reductionist. "Even if we knew him in the flesh

we know him so no longer." Indeed, with the eclipse of dualistically
spiritualist anthropologies by the monistic evolutionary record a
confidence in resurrection or its equivalent (what?) beyond death, of
course by the divine will or second creation, appears more clearly as a
simple religious and moral response to human existence and community
feeling, a basic intuition not other than Julian´s "All shall be well" in the
fourteenth century. Again, the interpretation passing from after to beyond
death, from a later time to an exit from time, begins in Scripture. Thus
Martha knows that all will rise "at the last day" (John´s Gospel). Jesus
replies "I am the resurrection", so death is already conquered, goodness
knows how. Omnis qui vivit et credit in me non morietur in aeternum. The
et credit in me need not be seen as a restriction but more as explication of
The appearance of Christ and his message, as indeed the appearance of
man and his eternal destiny derivable from his intellectual nature, has to
be seen as written into evolutionary history from the beginning. Obscurely,
this already lies behind the difference between Scotus and Aquinas as to
whether the divine purpose of incarnation was consequent upon sin
merely. The historicization of sin in the apparently contingent tale of a Fall
in Eden has obscured the necessity, a necessity of divine perfection of
love, of the development, perhaps best charted by Hegel who, incidentally,
offers us an interpretation of the Genesis story (hardly an account) difficult
to improve upon (Encyclopaedia, Logic 24). Here spirit and determinate
nature are as it were naturally at war with one another, even though man
is of course also naturally inclined to live reasonably, to order his (other)
inclinations. The advent of reflection, Hegel argues,

involves a thorough-going disruption, and viewed in that light,

might be regarded as the source of all evil and wickedness - the
original transgression.

The spiritual, he says, "sunders itself to self-realisation".

But this position of severed life has in its turn to be suppressed,

and the spirit has by its own act to win its way to concord again.

Hegel adds that while "we" accept the dogma of Original Sin we must give
up seeing it as consequential upon an accidental act of the first man. He
might have added that a fortiori then we must give up doctrines of the
original preternatural gifts and of the "wounds" of original sin unless,
again, suitably reinterpreted.
For Hegel "the theological doctrine of original sin is a profound truth" and
he has only sarcasm for the "modern enlightenment" which "prefers to
believe that man is naturally good… so long as he continues true to
nature." There is of course a terminological problem here. For Hegel it is
natural for man to feel the call to strive with his spirit against the too easy
path, and Aquinas´s account of lex naturalis, inclusive of the virtues
naturally needed for ardua, difficult things, says the same.
This might seem obvious. The effect, however, is that sin is
demythologized to something natural and to that extent necessary. It is no

longer an offence both infinite and gratuitous, placing us under divine
wrath. Such wrath is rather a moment in a dialectic, as indeed the very
idea of a salvation history seems already to suggest. Catholics have
sometimes decried this tendency to equate createdness with sinfulness as
a Lutheran aberration. It was this, one might concede, so long as the idea
of sin retained its full Augustinian force. Read the other way, however, we
have here little more than the Thomistic dictum that "what can fail
sometimes does".
What is important for Hegel is the uncovering of rational necessity behind
what religion presents, in narrative fashion, as merely contingent,
contingency being of the essence of narrative and narrative being of the
essence of a "salvation history", such as Christianity or Judaism, but not
Islam, presents us with.
It is claimed here that the Thomistic postulation of a harmony between
faith and reason is detachable from a restrictive ecclesial-disciplinary
context. With creeds and dogmas is associated a passing over from
affirmative proclamation itself identical with belief to a limiting definition
of what is believed itself identical with a command as to what shall be
believed, since whoever denies it is anathema, i.e. accursed.
The idea of a reason out of harmony with the creeds and therefore
erroneous was anyhow too simple where it ignored, unthomistically, the
fact that one thinks from a certain point of view, as good is pursued in
every action. Thus the criticisms of modern atheism have been
progressively assimilated by today´s believers and Nietzsche, wishing to
be the "Antichrist", becomes, even in his own estimation, "the crucified".
Not only does all reasoning lead to the Good News but reasoning itself
continuously purifies and reinterprets it, revealing even an unsuspected
necessity. This necessity indeed is why there is and can be no restriction
upon reason. Reason cannot be guided and controlled by faith, as can a
given individual´s thinking. But where what I had taken on faith shows
itself to me, after careful consideration of course, as unworthy of reason
then I no longer believe it, but either reinterpret or reject the content. It is
sometimes difficult to say which of these we do. Thus a certain
interpretation of extra ecclesia nulla salus (Council of Florence 1439) is
rejected (even by Rome in the 1950s), yet the dogma still expresses the
truth of a common spiritual life in the community of love for which we
were born.
It is a matter of a historical passage from division to unity, from duality, of
creator and created, grace and nature, reason and faith, to the one order
which reason reflects, reconciling necessity and freedom.

As soon as you are in the world of love or goodness there is

hardly any sense in opposing freedom and necessity (Georges
van Riet, "The Problem of God in Hegel", Philosophy Today
Summer 1967, XI, 2/4, p.88).

Under this dualism, of sacred and secular, lived Thomas Aquinas, Joan of
Arc (where the strain was showing) and medieval man, as we call him, in
general. for many it is the Catholic attitude, to which Newman liked to
present himself as converting, all his beliefs now depending upon the

infallibility of the church to which he had submitted. This can seem at once
sophisticated subtlety and the purest simplicity, being in fact a total
abdication. If all theologians simply submitted to the Church there could
be no theology, nor could there ever have arisen a church in the first
place. We need, again, the idea of interpretation, which is creative, like the
writings of St. Paul and those of Newman himself. Of course traditionally,
as in "neothomism", one operated in a sort of halfway-house, where this or
that was decided, and hence matter for submission (to a "magisterium"),
while one was theologically free for what remained, though only if one did
not contradict the former "truths", i.e. true propositions, as a "certain
nucleus of doctrine" (MacQuarrie). here though one lacked that "radical
openness necessary for the discovery of truth" and hence compatible with
and needed for the love of truth. For reason, as dialectical, everything is
revisable or can appear as such through being capable of being improved
upon, in a yet deeper interpretation. In mystical literature this has always
been recognized.
In fact we have experienced how the Church herself has recognized this,
as Catholic theologians take to themselves the fruits of centuries of
research by their Protestant colleagues. The revolution has extended to
the Church´s own self-understanding. We can now see how despite formal
excommunications the Christian ferment has continued in "separated
brethren", that originally somewhat patronizing phrase (a variant upon
"non-Catholics") now becoming accepted as applying to all communities.
Nor is this position contradictive of acceptance of the "Petrine office".
Peter too can be in the wrong camp at times, as St. Paul long ago made
clear. We should accept him (tu es Petrus) while requiring that he accept
us, so that we need never say "Get thee behind me Satan", as so many
have felt compelled to do, rightly or wrongly, from Jesus up to, it would
appear, the Shia Moslems (if America, as "the great Satan", is a historical
fruit of an original Roman mission to, say, Canterbury). But the Shia too
will not stick fast in this impasse of interpretation forever. They have not
yet perhaps begun to engage in those conscious dialectical exchanges of
"subjective" spirit with which we Westerners are at home, but the same
spirit, thinking itself, is at work in their history too, "objectively", as part of
the whole.
This "objective" part of the process is found in our history also and I
mentioned earlier the need to relate our speculations to that history. The
(partial) negation of the Catholic faith-command system at the
Reformation was in turn negated in the Baroque period through into the
apogee of the Romantic restorations, and we are now witnessing
reintegration. The Protestants and humanists, we might hazard, are now
vindicated as being often the Church´s truest sons. We may look forward
to a similar rapprochement with Eastern Christianity, the frequent
superiority of whose insights is tacitly acknowledged in Aquinas´s so
thoroughly Latin writings. Beyond that one can raise the question of an
integration with Islamic views and the Jewish Christian theology, eclipsed
by political annihilation and Greek speculation generally. A straw in the
wind here, Hans Küng points out, is that Vatican II implicitly accords to
Mohammed the status of prophet, while years ago the supposedly
reactionary Belloc treated Islam as simply a Christian heresy like, in his

eyes, Protestantism. After that, or concurrently, we may witness and work
for assimilation, which as mutual becomes integration, of and with "far
eastern" world views, a process already maturing well in Japan in
particular, but also in India and China.
The phenomenon of individual "conversions" can acquire in the light of
these persectives an at times rather negative quality. I am mainly
concerned with conversions to Roman Catholicism. In the Baroque period,
even during the Reformation itself, they clearly bear an aspect at least of
political conservatism, of tenderness for a departed order. Nor is there
much doubt that Catholic missionary activity is often partly motivated by a
wish to make up the numbers, and therefore the power, lost to the
dissident groups which have always developed with time in areas where
the church is more established. This was even true of England and
Germany, Augustine and Boniface responding to Byzantine coolness
toward the Papacy as others not much later did to the massive centuries-
long Islamic siege. When, later, the Portuguese came ashore first in India
and said they were looking for Christians they did not only mean the
separated disciples of St. Thomas. A rearguard crusade with an army of
new recruits is more what they had in mind, and Francis Xavier was for a
while a most effective tool, a stress on the necessity of baptism serving
both parties, the political and the mystical, rather well.
There is no intention here to deny the properly Gospel motive of such
proclamations, easily descending though it does, among more primitive
peoples, to mere proselytizing backed up by what can seem to the
miracles. Still, failure at home promotes renewed effort abroad, in Church
as in state.
Thus Thomas More, not a convert of course, yet a prime case of
martyrdom for individual conscience, in part died protesting loyalty to the
hitherto established order. "I die the King´s good servant; but God´s first."
That the point at which the established order was questioned was that of a
marriage is purely incidental, though certainly the right to change partners
(or churches) is widely accepted today, and is distinguished in both cases
from the "whoring" condemned by the Old Testament prophets.
The "ideology" behind the conversions, the dogma backing up their
political stance, and one does not need to be a Marxist to see it in that
way, was belief that the Roman Church was the church founded by Christ,
the one true church. The Protestants countered with their doctrine of an
invisible church. This idea has lately gained more and more acceptance
among Catholics, to the point where the idea of a visible institutional
church, never formally given up, becomes in everyone´s perception
relegated more and more to the sidelines. One began by speaking of those
who are invisibly members of this visible Church, as it were halfway to self-
contradiction, then of a "baptism of desire" so extensive as to render
actual baptism a mere form, then of anonymous Christians, an originally
liberal expression in intention but now seen as insulting to those who do
not regard themselves as Christians of any kind.
That these or similar developments or at least that development as such
was bound to occur was a well-kept secret until it became acute for John
Henry (later Cardinal) Newman nearly two centuries ago now. Yet it was
already implicit in Augustine´s definition of faith, of believing, offered at

the end of his life, as "thinking with assent" (De praedestinatione
sanctorum 2.5, PL44.963: "credere nihil aliud est quam cum assensione
cogitare"). For thinking is a movement, a process. The retirement of the
orthodox, after the first few generations, behind ritualized credal
repetitions was from the first in conflict with the thinking which, says
Augustine, just is believing, so that in that way living faith is inevitably an
irritant. To think of something, especially thinking of it continually, is to be
ever transforming it.
Attempts at reconciliation, of thinking and creed, were mainly restricted to
mysticism. For we have seen how even in Thomism the theologian was
barred from thus thinking what was defined or canonized. Well, the official
Church later came even to canonize people! The process allowed or
tolerated within mystical life and literature, however, in the Church, is not
philosophical or sapiential in the normal sense. Rather, one begins with
the verbal formula and stays there, attempting to go behind it into dark
regions of unutterability. According to St. John of the Cross these are to the
credal statements, inviolable as these are, as gold to silver. A variant on
this, or one way of expressing it, is the constant repetition of a phrase
such as is noted in the Philokalia, along with the teaching that this will
bring enlightenment.
Repetitiveness, we know, can be life-giving or enhancing. It is the method,
in music, of many composers, such as Schubert, but it is not thinking. If
there is process, if mystics do get anywhere, then it is at the cost of
thinking, though the surprisingly insightful remarks orthodox mystics have
often come out with lead one to think that they do a lot of thinking on the
quiet anyway.
It is this process of consenting thinking which is faith which we are
claiming has a naturally centrifugal, uniting tendency, thus lending the
requisite necessity of fulfilment to the Dominical prayer, ut omnes unum
sint. The definition also confirms our opposition here to the idea, even
Thomist it might seem, of faith as a limitation upon reason, an idea
demanding two orders of truth, such as Augustine too firmly espoused,
though this definition demolishes such a possibility in principle.
For it is reason itself, thinking with assent again, that profoundly modifies
faith. Therefore there is only one order. Faith is reason. Why then did
Augustine and others think that there were two orders, two sources of
truth, philosophy and authority as Augustine says (De ordine II5.16;
PL32.1002)? Well, there are the enquirer´s first encounters with the
believers and their leaders. This can be construed as coming across an
authority. It is an authority in that case coming from God, from the
invisible world, not from any political or legislative source in the normal
sense, so the idea of authority is here used analogously. There is even a
hint of the primitively magical, of seeing the spiritual principle or God as
literally a king (and thus "of this world"), what Berdyaev would call
For in reality this encounter is subjectively the same as, or very similar to,
encountering a new book. The enquirer, like the reader, is free at every
moment to proceed further or to withdraw, shut the book (contrary to
what I said in "On Being So Placed", New Blackfriars, September 1980). If
one becomes convinced of its value, and this is what is called, by a certain

presumption, the gift of faith, then one determines, maybe even binds
oneself, to read on. In the Christian or religious case one will read on, go
on thinking with assent, for a lifetime at least (hence the saying that the
world cannot contain the books that could be written about what Jesus
said and did).
What Augustine obscurely understood, with his fides quaerens intellectum,
and to a large extent practised, comes first fully into the light in Hegel´s
philosophy. There it becomes plain that we are not dealing with occasional
exercises, as with Anselm´s speculation (already pointing to the future in
its stress on eliminating not just doubt but the possibility of doubt). We are
dealing rather with the living substance of reason which is faith where
reason assents anew to what it has once accepted. All conversions are in
this sense "intellectual". Maybe reason accepted on authority more than it
could "see" for itself. But this is something quite normal for reason, as it is
Augustine´s merit too to have pointed out. For him religious faith differs
from other knowledge and philosophy on the side of the object believed,
not in the kind of knowledge, a view reaching back to Justin Martyr and
beyond. We may be sure, anyhow, that the faithful mind will strive to think
what is thus accepted, as Hegel does with the trinity and the creation,
following indeed in Augustine´s footsteps. Hegel´s bias, however, is in
favour of bringing out the ultimate necessity, for reason, of what is thus
believed, whereas Augustine, more superficially perhaps, would rather
stress a contingent character in the believed articles as depending more
entirely upon an initiative hidden from us. Yet it must be that God is
necessarily a trinity if he is such at all, and the world proceeds from that
necessity of love which is one with freedom, as the Hegelian dialectic will
After Thomas More we mentioned, discussing conversions, Cardinal
Newman. The assessment of the greatness, or less than greatness, of this
figure, as he has become, depends, it seems to me, upon his view of what
he was doing in "submitting" to the Roman Church. Was he, in a word,
looking backwards or forwards? Well, we should remember that he took
the step in unity with an explicit confidence in development, such as we
have been discussing, even if he accorded only a more restricted
legitimacy to the process, not recognizing, for example, the contributions
made by "heretical" groups. He may have seen the Church as the true
home of development, might have agreed with Henri de Lubac that
Catholicism is not just a religion, but "religion itself". Yet the notion of a
"true home" of just development and its defining openness is restrictive,
perhaps equivocal or contradictory of itself in genuine Hegelian fashion.
Perceptions have changed, regarding not so much heresy (though that
too) as the heretical person, in what is itself a development, perhaps a
meta-development, of the dialectically interpretative kind which we have
been discussing here. The word has a root meaning of choice (hairesis),
reflecting the concern, even horror, of the first close-knit Christian
communities at those who appeared to pick out from the common tradita
just what suited them individually, besides adding personal touches of
their own. but we have made it clear that there is no possibility, where
belief (thinking with assent) is alive, of not doing this. There are of course
socially or communally imposed limits, more stringent in one age than in

another, something stressed by Newman when he meditated upon
"opportuneness", a distinctly pragmatic category and hence open and
liberal at least potentially. It was at any rate hardly illiberal of him to wish
to forestall a definition of papal infallibility under this pragmatic rubric.
One can wonder, anyhow, how deeply such pragmatism entered into the
overall structure of his beliefs, as when he said in effect that if and when
the doctrine is dogmatized then we shall have to believe it. Such belief, as
lying under the compass of a person´s will, easily degenerates into an
ideological system in the sense of a tool for domination, built up of the
things we must say or "confess", whatever we may think, thus destroying
the ground-idea of belief we have found in Augustine. But these
tendencies in the concepts themselves need not be attributed to Newman
personally, with his quite distinct background, which included, for
example, an early Tractarian attachment to the idea of the arcana Dei as
lying among the Church´s patrimony, such arcana including of necessity
not only practices but also doctrines it could be advisable or just more
devotionally respectful not to proclaim publicly. Support for such a now
unfashionable view was adduced from the Pauline distinction between milk
for babies and meat for adults in the faith. On such a view the Pope might
well without contradiction be considered as having done better if he had
kept his putative infallibility to himself!
Newman, anyhow, was open to development, presumably without limit,
and so we can interpret his conversion as a step forward in the dialectic of
fuller understanding, while recognizing that he saw the liberalism of his
time chiefly in a negative light, as destructive of all belief. We do ourselves
need to ask how the developing, all-comprehensive project of
interpretation destined to take in all peoples, which is the Church, is to be
distinguished from such liberalism. Alternatively, were Newman and
others, such as Pope Gregory XVI, in the encyclical Mirari vos, wrong about
The liberalism Newman wished to condemn "overthrows the nature of
opinion" (Mirari vos), reducing assent to assertion as free choice (hairesis
again) of an individual no longer seeking to know truth, in unity with it if
not necessarily in submission to it, but only to assert himself. We may
certainly see liberalism´s emergence as a dialectical revenge upon those,
including Augustine, who wished to see truth exclusively in terms of a
submission, an act of justice rather than of spontaneous love, or without
the leaven of such love at least, since justice too is good. Finding the truth
must in the end coincide with being at home with oneself, as Hegel
expresses it.
The true, interpretational view, on the contrary, never loses sight of the
fact, the truth, that enquiry is a search for the other in its true and
undiminished integrity, even if at the end of the day it would wish to
confess that such a goal lies ultimately at the heart of the enquirer´s own
personal being or self. What is decisive is the predominance of intellect, of
thought, over will, a key Thomistic thesis.
For Newman then progress, the future, even "the life of the world to
come", lay with the organized Catholic Church rather than the somewhat
petrified Protestant sects of his day. A problem was that religious praxis
was out of tune and sympathy with modern secular civilization, and this

raised difficulties for Newman´s pronounced piety. In the Catholic world,
by contrast, the Church and the clergy still dominated. In the end we shall
have to reserve judgment about Newman´s conversion. He certainly felt
that Rome always has been and always would be right. How he would
have reacted to Dostoyevsky´s parable of the Grand Inquisitor we do not
Closely allied to the idea of heresy is that of heterodoxy, the following of
another teaching. We have found that often what is heterodox later
becomes orthodox, is synthesised or assimilated, sometimes with at least
an appearance of replacing previous views, as in the modern Church´s
espousal of the French revolutionary ideals (affirmed as Gospel-derived by
Maritain sixty years ago, however).
The upshot of all this is that we are, to borrow a phrase of Wordsworth´s,
confronted with "the workings of one mind". As for mind, thinking, it is
surely more natural to think with assent than to withold assent from one´s
thoughts. Faith then, as Augustine defined it, is a most natural thing, the
natural attitude we might say. being so natural, it cannot form a separate
order "above" reason. For what can really be above reason if it is with
respect to his reason that man is in the divine image? "Above" is clearly a
metaphor, perhaps for what reason is not yet in a position to know.
Conversely, everything is shown to reason, the "passive" intellect, by what
is outside it, as nature, or just being alive, declares God, and in this way
too we have just one order, where everything is given as to a believer.
Again, the dogmas of faith seem all to be no more than a class of things
we cannot yet see unless told of them by others more privileged. When we
see God we shall certainly see that God is, necessarily, a trinity, if indeed
the dogma has so exhaustively captured the intra-divine life. We have
after all our just reservations about Chalcedon (a parallel with the Nicene
and other trinitarian definitions) and so we should be open to the
possibility of fresh winds of interpretation making a future understanding
with those seeing themselves at present as non-trinitarians a more hopeful
project. This again would not be a matter of abandoning anything so much
as of putting things in a better way. The foreseen development is hardly
likely to be more radical than Aquinas´s assertion that ipsae relationes
sunt personae, which many might wish to assert retains only the name of
person without its substance, to say nothing of Augustine´s earlier but
even bolder revolution in Trinitarian thought.
The same meta-interpretation could be given of Rahner´s view of the
doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, viz. that the removal of a certain
magical, that is to say unintelligible, element is not equivalent to a
reduction of the doctrine, just as the appearance of human soul and
intellect, having by its nature an eternal destiny, is not reduced when one
claims an emergence for it in the natural because unified unfolding of
evolution. Rather, one enhances one´s perceptions´of the natural, of
nature, itself as proceeding from the divine thinking ab initio (cf. van Riet,
above). So much then for faith and reason. As John Paul II said recently,
they are two wings. But the only two wings that are of any use or truth are
a pair which sit on one bird and flap together as one where either of them
is alive at all.


Trinitarian Philosophy

"When I was a child I thought as a child," St. Paul tells us. The grandeur of
his thought lies in this, that he only refers to his individual life here so as
to contrast life in this age with that of eternity, when "I shall know as I am
known". Still, when he was himself a child he did not know that, come to
maturity, he would put away what he then thought.
When I myself was a child, for my part, I had an intuition to which I feel I
can no longer appeal. I felt then that I did not know why I, just I, existed. It
seemed I was chosen as one of a finite number, and indeed this awareness
lies behind doctrines of predestination, being called and, just therefore,
"justified". Already in one's natural feeling of individuality one sensed the
contradiction, that if, namely, one lived in a society of alien individuals,
finite in number, then one was alien to oneself. One had either to deny
these other selves or become them, discover that one had always been,
was essentially, one with them. Already here though one would pass from
finitude, the limited number of individuals, to the universal. Here too,
already, the absoluteness of time is denied. One had yet to discover what
one is essentially, though this imply that one never was an ignorant child.
St. Paul puts away childish things to the extent that he, St. Paul, as he had
become, never was a child, even if he had once "materially" been it.
Infinity, that is, does not perhaps change the past, as Peter Damien
required, but it negates it. It negates pastness.
Of him whom faith confesses as God-man, however, we have record as a
child. One may wish to imagine him then, too, feeling thus alien, "thrown"
into life, but one cannot, since this thought contradicts itself. Or, if he too
comes upon his necessity as discovering it, then we are no different in that
respect at least. We discover our unity, our vicarious substitutability, with
all rational beings and others besides. This is in virtue of the universal, of
the reason that is our consciousness, our thinking.
This absolute reason or spirit was represented in earlier times as the
theory of a "common" intellect. Against this it does not though seem
sufficient merely to counter that "it is evident that it is this man who
thinks" (Aquinas). For this evidence is, again, merely the natural sense of
individuality which, as philosophy discovers from the time of Heracleitus,
is not merely productive of contradiction but is in contradiction with itself.
It is for this reason that the same Thomas Aquinas can allow that more
than one individual human nature can be hypostatically assumed (Summa
theologiae IIIa 3, 7 ad 2um), as it is also why the absolute religion can turn
upon nothing less than the deification, necessary as declaring the
essence, of man taken universally. The dignity Christians acknowledge is
objective. Thus intellect is not common, as if fortuitously, to a finite group
of individuals, thus become as it were a bunch of clones, but necessarily
universal and thus transcendent, man, any man or woman, being capax

It is a matter of seeing things from the divine or absolute point of view.
The effort to do this is what distinguishes philosophy and, indeed, science.
For God, indeed, there is none other, except otherness as it may be found
within his own rationality, through which alone, it will be claimed here, can
absolute reason either think itself or within that thinking think every
possible "contraction" (Nicholas of Cusa) of itself which might be called
Some5 complain of this approach, trying to take the absolute viewpoint,
that it falls short of affirming the ontological reality of created things. We
reply that this reality is not to be accounted for by an analogy of being
which would enslave the absolute to our linguistic categories merely. Once
it is seen that this analogy declares our being to be analogous only, and
not God´s, who alone simply is, then the game is up. We exist in God or
not at all (St. Paul again). Thus when Aquinas affirms that God knows his
creatures only in his thought of them and not in themselves it follows that
they therefore are not in themselves. Here he commits himself without
saying (we need not say without seeing) so to absolute idealism, as it later
became. This is underscored when he declares each of these ideas or
thoughts of things identical with the divine knower´s essence (Summa
theol. Ia 15). What are these ideas, Cusanus as good as asks, but the
various diffusive contractions of infinite goodness? So of course those of
them that are or become conscious must thereby come to realise the
identity of their consciousness and reason with the absolute, since this is
the way of truth?
There is no reason, furthermore, for these ideas to be intentional of being,
as are our finite thoughts. Being too is an idea to which infinity contracts
itself, ceaselessly and beyond recall, though freely. This explains why it is
said, by Eckhart and others, that God does not, cannot, exist in separation
from ourselves, whom he has "loved with an everlasting love". Ours is an
eternal and truly divine idea, not as constitutive of God´s reality, like the
one divinely begotten Word, but as thought by God in the freedom of
eternity to which, however, as thinker beyond all shadow of hesitation, he
is necessarily related in identity. This is at once vocation, predestination
and justification. In this setting alone is human freedom to be explained. In
the divine mind we and all our actions are conceived as free and this, the
solution of Aquinas, is enough, again within the position that to ourselves,
apart from the (divine) idea, there is no real relation, i.e. we are not real, if
infinity is infinity.
It would seem that scientific explanation today approaches ever more
closely to this absolute idealist framework. Thus the Big Bang theory, more
forcefully than the Genesis account, reflects the dialectic in which the
categories of reality are spun out of reason with inner necessity, beginning
with undifferentiated being. In this analogous case one begins with a lump
of high density undifferentiated matter, though this seems an oxymoron.
Matter becomes indeed self-contradictory in the latest physical theories.
However it is attachment to the notion of matter, as "material" or "stuff",
which has led to that total perversion of Aristotelian hylomorphism found
E.g. C. Bruaire, L'être et l'esprit, Paris PUF 1983; Richard Gildas, "Examen critique du
jugement de Hegel sur la notion de création ex nihilo" (article on the Internet, posted

in traditional theologies of the soul as "infused" into pre-existing matter,
as if matter without form could actually be anything receptive of infusion
or anything else, or as if soul were a para-material thing. The same model
is applied to the genesis of man himself. One seeks to determine at which
point in the creature´s evolution a soul was infused such as would
constitute it as in the divine image and likeness, a sea-change hardly likely
to disturb those hominid recipients in their vital and desperate hunting
activities. The point sought however is evanescent, though not merely
because, as Teilhard de Chardin remarked, beginnings will ever elude us.
The point is dialectical, rather. Spirit is projected historically as constituting
man in self-contradiction because the dialectic or logic into which absolute
spirit contracts for our perception and assimilation itself proceeds by, itself
is, the progressive surmounting of contradiction in the "return". This is an
eternal return indeed, though ever-present and not as repeated myth or
narrative, of all things finite to their negation which is self-transcendence
in the one truth (reditus).
At first, therefore, the idea of an "infusion", quietly put aside, was replaced
by the palaeontological observation that homo sapiens, or maybe homo
sapiens sapiens, appeared with startling suddenness. Well, it will maybe
always be true, from our viewpoint within "nature" (itself however a
"petrified intelligence" according to Schelling or Hegel) , that intellect
"comes from outside". This though is the Aristotelico-Platonic dualism of
which Cartesianism was the extremest because last gasp. We have,
therefore, to transcend this "natural" viewpoint, whether in faith or
philosophy. This we fail to do when we delimit the spheres of reference of
these two, intellect and nature. We must rather distinguish them by their
emphases, methods and provenance. Otherwise we have a closed system
of natural causes attributed post factum to a totally transcendent
"creator", which (whom) our own independent being then unhappily
contradicts. Such an impossibly independent production is deemed more
worthy of the producer and even seen as the emancipation of philosophy
(and science) from religion. Philosophy though was ever free and ever
There was of course the episode of homo Neanderthalis, possibly
genetically unrelated to us, but human and so presumably "ensouled" all
the same. But he was killed off and as it were murdered in his very idea
(till the bones showed up), though kinship extends here beyond genetic
abstractions to the proven community of work, art and culture.
Lately, however, our uniqueness as outsiders or lords in an alien realm is
being further eroded, and to a qualitative degree. Evidence has been
found of the humanity and spirituality also of homo erectus, the merely
hominid predator who, far from simply parasitically feeding upon cadavers
scorned by others (Lewis Binford´s theory), subdued the whole earth it
seems, establishing himself, to the tune, admittedly, of a putative six
hundred thousand individuals merely, at every habitable point.
Spearmarks upon bone and other relics indicate how he pursued the larger
herbivores into the frostiest climes, constructing weapons often with a
finish and beauty beyond utility. Whether this was to impress young
females, like those astonishing avarian builders in Australasia, or due
simply to his (her) innate reason and spirituality are hardly alternatives.

The qualitative difference made to our thinking, as to that upon which we
think, consists, rather, in considering that the history of human spirituality
and culture now seems to be required to be extended at least thirty-fold
beyond the previous calculation of around forty thousand years. Homo
erectus flourished for around two million years. "Mind and consciousness
have much deeper roots than have been assumed."6
Already Teilhard de Chardin had summarised for us how some animals, in
beginning to go upright, found paws, freed from other needs, developing
into all-purpose hands. These freed the mouth and teeth from the pressing
needs of defence or other such exercises of strength, so that speech could
develop. Concurrently the relaxing and disappearance of the jaw muscles
encircling and binding the skull released it for the expansion demanded by
the brain inside it to develop its hundred thousand million nerve-cells in
response to evolutionary pressure. Just so the skull itself had originated as
an excrescence of the vertebral spine anticipating that same cerebral and
spiritual future.
But even to Teilhard it was clear that no mechanist or blind Darwinian
account could bring order into this astonishing concursus causarum,
despite his talk at times of a life-force. The whole development was clearly
being thought out, or rather was thinking itself out, according at least to
our routine misperception which philosophy must of course correct. An
infinite being, it is easily seen, will be transparent to itself at all points.
That is no more than is meant by absolute self-consciousness. The
dialectical unfolding we call logic is the human time-bound analogue of
Infinity is infinite synthesis, but it must also be, in itself, perfectly
analysed, without darkness. The sense of mystery is a creaturely emotion
only, which however we can be sure of retaining as long as we want it,
since the want itself is the sense, as in other fields. In nature then spirit as
perception, of itself or others, lets itself freely unroll or be manifested. We
talk of thinking here in analogous extension of our own highest power and
the merit of this is the connection with otherness in identity. For we define
knowing and hence thinking or contemplating as the subject himself
"having" the form of (being informed by) the other as other. This otherness
in identity affords the link and necessary causal analogy with that
otherness in identity which the divine nature itself must inwardly
constitute as condition of ever thinking anything other than itself at all.
This is the superiority of this model over that of emanation rather than any
clearly closer relation to divine freedom, which might after all be
defensible on either model.
The consideration, incidentally, that God is not compelled to speak his
Word, even though he constitutes himself in what is ineptly called the
divine nature in so doing, gives the strongest incentive to avoid
characterising God, infinity, in terms of being. For being is never separable
from essence even where essence is finally identified with it. The absolute
is primal freedom and in choosing itself it has chosen us too, "in him" as
religion has it. This did not occur in some vanishing past. The "speaking" of

Professor Dietrich Mania, Jena (Forschungsstelle Bilzingsleben bei Erfurt). Cf. Der
Spiegel, Nr. 6/2.2.04, for a summary of this research.

it as I write, in an affirmation corresponding to my own, is absolute reality,
identity in difference. This expression not merely gives no licence for but
expressly refutes any charge that the Trinitarian processes and the
processio ad extra (creation) plus the compensating reditus are
confounded. Rather, it is their analogy alone which makes the latter
process possible. This is underscored in the absolute religion of incarnation
by the reference to a new creation, an exitus and reditus on the pattern of
the old. This relational process is itself constitutive of that very speaking of
the divine Word by which God is God. It is, that is to say, infinite and
therefore necessary.
So we see the preparation for or indeed the very life of early man, or of
man simply, stretching so much further back into "natural history", in a
more seamless unity with it than we were previously able to imagine.
Consequently it becomes clearer that what animates both him or us, each
and all, and the whole striving evolving universe even now passing over, in
consequence of spirit´s necessary domination, from slow biological ascent
to an intellectual convergence swift as thought, is one consciousness,
absolute and without limit. Other accounts, more or less static and dualist,
even where they promise a resolution divorced from all present
experience, despite calls to "life in the spirit", fall away. But this is no new
age. It has been open to every philosopher in his own time and each has
seen it in his own way. His categories may now seem to us insufficient and
unfree, but for him they opened the door to the ever new world to which
we are all called, not indeed to be found across the Atlantic any more than
at the tomb of the Saviour. The symphony played back to us from that
world rather, its joyous rhythm, beckoning like the goddess and mother of
us all, whose womb we never left, draws us ever on, back to our future,
her ambrosial fragrance all about us.


The aim here, now becoming more prominent, is to underscore the

necessity, also for philosophical consideration, of intra-divine relationships,
be they Trinitarian or something similar merely. They must be of a kind
expressible as identity in difference, that very relation, that is to say, in
terms of which human cognition and intellectual life was classically
analysed. More ambitiously, however, as fulfilling our practical needs as
well, identity in difference can be presented as reconciliation, knowledge
overcoming alienation. As far then as our present project is concerned,
building, it is plain to see, on that of Hegel, it too can be characterised

No dualism, not even a dualism of systems, can satisfy him. He

aims at unity, not a flat unity, excluding difference, but a unity
differentiating itself; for him true being is reconciliation.7

Georges van Riet, "The Problem of God in Hegel", Philosophy Today, 1967, p.86.

This view of Hegel´s thinking as the apotheosis or simple making absolute
of ecumenism ("true being is reconciliation") gives adequate background
for presenting him as a philosopher of the Trinity. He is not thereby a
Trinitarian philosopher, as there are Trinitarian theologians. Augustine, all
the same, is the clearest predecessor, in the West at least. Aquinas is
maybe closer in respect of system and even of content, yet he follows a
method, unknown to Augustine and rejected by Hegel, which is
consciously theological, demanding a "dualism of systems". For the
principle of reasonable authority included in Augustine´s philosophizing
was formalised by Aquinas into a methodical separation from it of
"theology", one of Aristotle´s names for metaphysics nonetheless.
Hegel will claim that the authority of reason itself negates that authority
through which it conceived the possibilities it can now confirm.8 But
Aquinas had no thought, in his time, of transcending the dualism, even if
there are sufficient indications in his work prompting to a review of the
traditional account of the two harmonised but formally separate spheres of
faith and reason, as we have indicated in our first chapter here.
One might want to ask what it is that makes Trinitariansim an advance
over simple monotheism. A solitary person, without relations is
unthinkable, argued McTaggart in proof of atheism. The rejoinder
appealing to the three persons9 is less than convincing if regard is paid to
equivocations upon the term "person", however, and McTaggart may be
otherwise answered. His claim, though, might still go to show that infinity
would necessarily diffuse itself, in the freedom of love and goodness, as
we have indicated above.
Pantheism, anyhow, has proved a repeated tendency of religious thinkers,
seeking to avoid the surd of God and non-God, whereby the infinite is
reduced to the finite since the latter is seen as having actuality
independent of God. Here any attempt to present God as the All fails,
floundering in apophatic fog.
The only thinkable solution, therefore, is a God containing this principle of
otherness, instantiated in any creation, within himself. This is what Hegel
realised in an exercise of pure reason, even if achieved through the
experience of Christian tradition he had behind him.10 By birth and
circumstances he was a Lutheran. That we have today an increasingly
Hegelian Catholic theology, therefore, gives delayed credibility to the
conciliar decree on ecumenism of forty years ago now.
Again, God, any true God, must contain, as a divine "moment", otherness
or other-Being which is yet not outside himself, the divine unity. This
situation is reflected in the ordinary process of human knowing, where the
knower has in himself, as one with himself, the form of the other as other

Cf. Aquinas, Summa theol. IIa-IIae 1, 5 for a similar view.
As in P.T. Geach´s Truth, Love and Immortality: An Introduction to McTaggart´s
Philosophy, London 1979.
Cf. G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind (tr. J. Baillie, pp. 750-785); The Philosophy
of Fine Art (tr. F. Osmaston, vol. II, pp.297-324); Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, tr.
E.B. Speirs and J. Burton Sanderson (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd.: London,
1895). The German originals of these and other texts are available in various editions.

(Aquinas´s Aristotelian formula), thus transcending any scheme of
individual closed substances.


One used, in the Catholic camp, to hear talk of Kant as "the St. Thomas of
Protestantism". Hegel might rather claim that title, however, provided we
make clear, firstly, that St. Thomas is not the exclusive property of post-
Reformation Catholicism, secondly, that Hegel is by no means limited to
his Lutheran "denomination".
We have been, often, unconscious of the pressure against any meeting of
minds here, aggravating the already conscious excluvisms of philosophers
and theologians both, secular and sacred. Thus even Karl Rahner
complained, in Sacramentum Mundi in the 1960s, that the doctrine of the
Trinity had seen no development since the Council of Florence (1439).
Here Hegel, who strove to "think the Trinity" in a way continuous with
Augustinianism and yet effortlessly creative and original, is entirely
overlooked by just the man who, as professional theologian, had been so
ready to incorporate Hegel´s epistemology and psychology generally. Here
today though we should look for totality and unity, "that all may be one",
not just omnes, as in the Gospel text, but omnia.
The Christian world has been split for centuries as between the so-called
economic or salvific theories of the Trinity developed mainly by the Greek
Fathers from the scriptural texts and the "immanent" Trinity, immanent as
life essential to the godhead in itself, explored in Latin by Augustine,
having Marius Victorinus as precedent and therewith a merely adjusted
Neoplatonic worldview innocent of history. The differences of approach
later crystallized into the filioque dispute which otherwise, St. Thomas
insists, need have presented no problem to the Greeks.
The intellectual need thus to "thematize" the Trinity in terms of
immanence should not give rise to a kind of second or different Trinity,
offering a choice like that between corpuscular and wave theories of light,
so that we cannot think both at once. In thematizing history itself the
Hegelian dialectic at least softens the problem. "In the fullness of time God
sent forth his Son" (St. Paul, Letter to the Galatians), a mission in deep
identity with the eternal and necessary procession, with all that that
implies for human life in relation to "spirit", its destiny and inner essence
from the beginning.
But does this dialectic, attributed indeed, if in an unknown proto-mode, to
absolute spirit itself, keep clear of some kind of vast pantheism? For
philosophical thinking this is not of course to be excluded in advance,
impatient as we may be of the misunderstanding. As regards any wish to
soften the problem (of two Trinities), it would certainly be odd if the
immanent Trinity thus reproduced itself in the history of salvation
(missions) without any coalescing of these two frames. History, after all, is
within divinely eternal knowledge, which thinks it and is never surprised by
it. It is matter for regret, therefore, that the question (quaestio) on
missions (missiones) is tacked on to the treatise on the Trinity in Aquinas´s
great Summa with all the appearance of an afterthought. History, even

salvation history, and sapiential speculation were just not yet integrated in
his time.
Before God comes into the world (as man), if he should, the world has its
being in God, as St. Paul put it. The world is in God. This is a simple
requirement of infinity, of which even Neoplatonism’s emanative
hierarchy showed itself forgetful. The point is made independently of
Christian appeal to a revelation, though the latter is by no means to be
excluded from philosophical consideration either, both in concept and as
realised. How can there be a world beside God or other than God?
Pantheism refuses even the question as impossible. Traditional defenders
of creation, we may today call them creationists, simply assert that there
has to be respect, alertness, for the alterity of created being.11
In fact we can only begin to think such a world as we have if we first
postulate that there can, indeed must, be otherness within the divinity
itself. Rather, in seeing the world we see the necessity of (and not merely
for) this. Of course human thinking can only pursue this line after first
experiencing otherness in the human world, above all in human knowing,
where the other as known becomes one (intentionaliter) with the knowing
self. This just is experience, consciousness, viz. to "have the form of the
other as other", to have it thus as one´s own to the extent of being
"informed" by it. The insight was never the exclusive property of a
reductive idealism, which stressed only one side of things. Yet the self
does indeed become, or is constitutionally on the way to becoming, the
world, so that the world is his or her world. Aristotle saw this, before Hegel,
seeing the soul as "in a sense all things", while just this ability to claim all
finite being as one´s specific environment and "prey" (as it was for homo
erectus overrunning the globe though even Alexander shed tears when
hearing of worlds he thought he could never conquer) was seen by
Aquinas and others as the mark of spirit.
Yet anyone thinking thus must not close his mind artificially to the
existence of theology and of revelation-claims, such as maybe he himself
accepts and believes. They supply him with just the key his thought was
searching for, perhaps. This will not though disqualify the possibility of his
being able to ground this key philosophically, speculatively, thus
vindicating the necessity it always had to claim (here we have the old
programme of credo ut intelligam giving way by an inner necessity to
credo et intelligo, or just intelligo or even, for Aquinas, scio). Christianity
cannot but claim that the Trinity, God, is necessarily a trinity. Speculation
henceforth had to leave an opening for just this necessity (even if Islam
might seem still to wish to close it) and therefore quite naturally to
attempt to show it as far as this may be possible, the project of Augustine
and others.
With Hegel, however, Augustinianism might seem to be rejoining the
Greek emphasis on salvation economy, we noted, as the Trinity, in his
pages, comes to expression "in the fullness of time" exclusively, although
only because the unfolding of time is our symbolic mode of perceiving the
real and divine series we apprehend as the dialectic:

E.g. Bruaire, op. cit. pp. 136-137.

This was not a chance time… but determined in the essential,
eternal counsel of God; that is, in the eternal reason, wisdom of
God; it is the notion of the reality or fact itself, the divine
notion, the notion of God Himself, which determines itself to
enter on this development…12

The new factor here is idealism, specifically absolute idealism. Philosophy,

in the Christian culture, has learned to define its task as thinking from the
divine point of view or, which is the same, as transcending the natural
attitude, thus ascending to truths otherwise hidden. This is a process first
begun in pure religion and its associated contemplation. "My thoughts are
not your thoughts." Of what kind then are those thoughts? Not to ask this
would not be reverence but, rather, a simple lack of interest.
This is what makes philosophy a "specialised" science, viz. a taking of the
divine or absolute point of view rather than an application of specific
techniques and skills, at times over-stressed. Thus to react against the
latter by re-defining the perennial philosophy as "systematised common-
sense" merely is to give away the main point, the mark of philosophy as
absolute, universal, divine. Thus it first appeared among the Greeks and
other peoples, and thus Porphyry characterised the Jews, from whom
salvation is claimed to come, as a nation of philosophers.
If then one does not wish to divorce an immanent from an economic Trinity
then time itself must be seen as an unfolding, a coming into view (for us)
of the fullness of absolute spirit. This is what lay behind Herbert McCabe's
objection to Raymond Brown´s talk of a pre-existent Christ. Instead he
affirmed an eternally existing Christ., beyond any before and after.13
In the Augustinian tradition, one feels, the divine life is still seen through
Neoplatonic spectacles, in a way that is not integrated with what we can
learn from the scriptures and what they record. Clearly, all the same, it
brought a new dimension of understanding to the original, more purely
exegetical Eastern tradition. History is not yet seriously seen as lying in
God’s controlling hand, human freedom being necessarily posterior to
determinate divine knowledge and (prae)motio physica, as Aquinas
explains (and as Augustine in principle understood as well), his insight
being better preserved by the Calvinists and Hegel than by the powerful
Jesuits of early modern times. In fact it is his doctrine here which most
closely anticipates the necessity of absolute idealism, as does Augustine’s
insight that “there is one closer to me than I am to myself.” For when
Hegel is accused of the “mad dream” of being God, as in an early paper of
Rahner’s, it would be more true to describe him as seeing the individual
human substance as an illusion to be overcome. It is in this sense that
consciousness is divine, total, of the all. It is God whom he makes so
entirely sovereign, as infinite.
The contradiction, anyhow, between immanent and economic Trinity, remains unresolvable so
long as both sides hold fast to a putative creation independent of God as having its own
independent being, into the definition of which God does not enter though he causes it. He
comes rather down to it from outside. Yet in fact the Trinity is disclosed in history because
Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, tr. E.B. Speirs and J. Burton Sanderson,
London 1895, I, 85.
Herbert McCabe O.P., God Matters.

history is our symbolic perception of eternity which is God (and not a milieu or “duration” in
which God finds himself).
We mentioned otherness, negation and the Trinity as positing otherness in God. The question,
simply, is how would the infinite being come upon any idea of “creating” finite beings,
negativity, being other than, if he had nothing like that in himself? There would have to be
some kind of analogy, apart from the bare analogy of being itself, concerning which one must
anyhow make the reservation that nothing is as God is, that any “other” entity is more unlike
than like God, with respect to its being in particular. Being not, or being other than God, while
still being something, must also have its divine counterpart, this is to say. Once given the
infinite being there is no nothing outside of it out of which (ex nihilo) any other thing might
Some have wished to explain negation as arising with materiality and its extension,
connecting this with Aquinas’s (third) transcendental concept, aliquid or aliud quid.14 But
what has to be explained then is why there should be such matter. The finite qua finite, Hegel
finally states, is always contradictory (of its “idea”, as he further clarifies – the scholastics
were content merely to allow for the “imperfection” of matter, Hegel draws out the meaning
of this, viz. That each thing is indeed both itself and another thing, or contradictory).
What can move infinity to produce finite being? We cannot simply appeal to generosity, for
why does generosity take just this form, if bonum est diffusivum, not of just anything, but sui,
of itself, and to whom is it being generous? The elephants cruelly killed by homo erectus?
One thinks of Newman’s reference to the impenetrable mystery of the brute creation. How is
one generous, anyhow, to the as yet non-existent? There has to be a likeness here with
infinity’s own life, or super-life, since life is or has a defect, Hegel argues. It is only the first
form of the Idea, becoming more perfect as knowledge (mediation) and ultimately as the
Absolute Idea which is spirit. It is life itself which was for Newman incomprehensible
mystery, though he should have seen that here the Idea as a process is first and immediately
presented for understanding, though its reality falls short of it, the soul or form having the
body, as it appears to us as not transcending life, for its reality, so that it is not freely self-
conscious as spirit but with parts outside parts.15
Sinilarly spirit is in itself beyond being, in freedom, becoming being just inasmuch as it thinks
being for us, in an idea ultimately identified with its essence. The divine being is already a
contradiction. Hegel has plenty of precedent here.
In truth infinity has to include every possibility, an infinity of finite possibilities. Therefore we
“live and move and have our being” in God. It, infinity, cannot be only a simple white light
which fails to refract thus infinitely. In this sense creation is necessary, which does not
however make it unfree. Infinity is pure, self-positing freedom and it is quite conceiveable,
perhaps required, once again, that it only comes to itself in one and the same act as a
processio ad extra of its creatures. It is this freedom which the fourteenth century nominalist
theologians were first beginning to grasp. It is unfair to berate them for promoting atheism if
what they were discovering were infinity’s own options of negation. Atheism also, anyhow,
has shown itself to be a moment in the dialectic, one perhaps of extreme apophatic
Messianism, where the self-proclaimed “Antichrist” proclaims himself “the crucified”
(Nietzsche), or where God dies, as at the beginning of our era.
Again, the creature cannot be in the same sense. Creatures are his immanent thoughts, since in
his thought of them alone are they known, his thought which is them therefore. This is a
straight consequence of Aquinas’s denial of a divine knowledge of creatures in themselves, as
he insists at Ia 85, 2 (of the Summa) that we know things in themselves. From this indeed

L. Elders, “Le premier principe de la vie intellective”, Autour de Thomas d’Aquin, Vol. I,
Tabor, Paris 1987, esp. Pp.192-198
Hegel, Encyclopaedia 216.

necessary position it can only follow that things are not in themselves. It follows from this
that any possible creation has to be derived from the very idea of the infinite. In the end we
too who think it are ourselves each that infinite, in our idea, the notion, in unity of spirit.
But the having of ideas, this faculty, must be derivative upon one idea, one word, which it is
of the essence of infinity to speak, speaking every finite thing too in that Word which is his
self-alienation, reunited with him, however, in the joint spiration of the Holy Spirit or third
person (donum). Here is the return upon itself, pattern for reditus, in the immanent Trinity,
such as would not occur thus divorced from and transcending creatures if the Spirit were sent
merely through the Son (true though this also is) out upon creatures. Yet it by this that they
return to God, in spiritu, and so the Hegelian model tends to lessen the impression of two
views as between et and per. The Spirit, that is, is sent out to consciousness already in deep
identity with the Word, and so they breathe it back to the Father as he, the Word, does, life in
the community truly participating in Trinitarian life. Hegel, with his three kingdoms, is heir to
the Cappadocian fathers, to Maximus, to Eriugena and Cusanus, finally, via Eckhart, Böhme
and even Leibniz.
The three kingdoms are of course in part suggested by the triplicity of the dogma, as is maybe
the whole “triadicity” of Hegelian philosophical structure. It is not easy to find any treatment
of the question as to why there are just three persons, in the absence of which one might
wonder whether Hegel too has not been merely content to hang his thought upon the
deliverance of canonised tradition, uncharacteristic though this would be. Arguing for
otherness in God and postulating just two “processions”, three relations, might seem two quite
different things. Aquinas indeed makes clear that the plurality of assumed natures he allows
possible could not entail a plurality of assuming divine persons, though here too one might
wonder if he is not dependent upon the dogma as the dogma, in turn, was surely initially
dependent (though one can allow for unspoken insights) upon the two missions recorded in
Scripture as manifested just two thousand years ago, certainly long after the time of homo
erectus, that is to say! Demonstration, if any, of the necessity of the Trinity might seem then
still to rest upon the analogy with human intellect and will which, however, is a mere begging
of the question, as Augustine would have been the first to admit, since nowhere did he set out
to demonstrate this necessity which the Trinity must possess. Here we would have to focus
upon the three “kingdoms” postulated by Hegel as exemplifying or embodying the absolute
religion which, with de Lubac (“Christianity is not a religion; it is religion itself”), he sees
Christianity as being. These three kingdoms correspond to pure thought (God reveals himself
as Trinity, i.e. as positing of self, negation of self and return to self in his own eternal
essence), phenomenal representation (the same threefold movement, but in the world, of
incarnation, death and resurrection at a given historical point) and subjectivity as such (this
movement as lived in the community, the Church, here and eternally).16 They are not, he
repeatedly insists, really distinct, and the third recapitulates the two first “kingdoms”, thus
establishing their truth though it itself proceeds from them. Hegel identifies just these three
“moments” or happenings, whether interior or “outward” (but there is no “outward”)
indifferently, remarking that the distinction might seem to be made extreme by talk, Biblical
or theological, of divine “persons” though this is overcome by the divine unity, denying
tritheism, each moment presupposing the others (here he takes distance from the identification
of divine liberty with arbitrariness of action which saturates religious discourse). The Trinity,
as affirmation, negation and negation of negation is reconciliation in itself.

To know that God is three is to know that otherness is in God himself, and that it
is overcome there. This truth is the absolute truth… It does not constitute a
mystery… All the activity and content of philosophy consist in knowing that God
Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion III, 3-6.

is the Trinity. We saw it… in the System, particularly the Logic, where this notion
of the absolute Idea, of the God One-and-Three, was elaborated without express
reference to religion… [but] Philosophy is reflection of an experience. And Hegel
knows very well that the notion of a Trinitarian God is born of the experience of
Christianity. But for him this experience is not contingent. As with reflection, it is
the work of Reason, the manifestation of spirit in history. Each philosophy, as
each religion, comes in its time… Also, in his eyes, the affirmation of the
Trinitarian God… stems directly from the philosophical order, and the task of
showing the truth of it belongs to philosophy.17

We may wish to reserve judgement. Another Hegelian, McTaggart, concluded from the
dialectic that absolute reality consisted solely of finite spirits, certainly more than three, who
love one another and indeed, once the Hegelian identifications (albeit in difference) have been
made the opposition between theism and atheism, again, can seem to have become decidedly
muted. But this too is an ancient problem for Christian apologetics.


What one comes back to, unwillingly enough, is the question, identified by Heidegger as
fundamental on any explanation, as to why there is something and not nothing. Appeal is
made to the surprisingness of being. A dog, indeed, may seem quite unnecessary. Not so twice
two is four, however, or that the whole is greater than its parts. These thoughts, and they are
thought, are necessary anywhere and everywhere, and whether there is anything or not.18
It is true, maybe, that our concepts and thoughts are derived one and all from sense-
experience, as it is true indeed that reason is present in sensation, as quaedam ratio. It is also
true that our human way of presenting thoughts cannot be other than as intentional, that all
thoughts are of something, of some being, no less. Indeed, the thought is itself a sort of re-
enacted existence, ens rationis, to the extent even that every predication is an identification
effected by the copula est, the meaning of which, as asserting truth, can never be fully
separated from a predication of being. These truths, often ignored in the Fregean logic, are not
overthrown by it.
But this proves nothing. It only shows that we humans see things and have to explain things in
terms of being, taken from the existence of the phenomenal world. Existence is a species of
which reality is the genus, McTaggart will point out. For being by itself is not phenomenal.
Parmenides, said Hegel, and this was “the true starting-point of philosophy”, conceived the
absolute as Being (and hence changeless). But in saying “Being alone is” (there is after all
nothing beside it) thought seizes itself and makes itself an object for itself. There is no
ultimate thing which is being which could be at stake here.19
We might specify, rightly maybe, with Aquinas, that our proper object is first and foremost
material being, ens mobile, but that is a remark about us, about the subject, and it specifies a
misperception if we find our idea of matter involves contradiction. It is in fact the absolute
itself which is seen as, prior to philosophy, thought thinking itself. This is why philosophy,
also thus characterised, is essentially an engagement in identification with the absolute. This
characterisation, however, overcomes being altogether in favour of absolute reason. It is mere
Van Riet, op. cit. P.81.
J.E. McTaggart, Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic, 1896, ch. 2, insists that these very
thoughts are something, are being, but he may well be at odds with the Hegelian
theology here. Cf. Ecyclopaedia 87, “this mere Being… is just nothing.” The medieval ens
rationis or “as if” being is close to the Hegelian conception here. Being is the first
postulate of thought, even thought of non-being.
Cf. Hegel, Encyclopaedia (Logic) 87.

irrelevance to insist that we have to see this as something, some being. It does not, for
example, prevent thought from asking with urgency why there is something rather than
nothing. Being is an idea too, even if it is an idea of the ultimate act even of an idea. It is not
self-evident for thought and cannot as such be removed from question. But the idea, as
involving questioning itself, is necessary. To that extent nothing, nothingness, is an
unrealizable idea, as Parmenides said.
As divine thoughts, ideas (there are ideas of us and these are what the Father knows in
knowing us, so that is what we are: the mere habit of intentionality seduces us when we
duplicate the “ideated” reality here), we do not compete with infinity. Analogy of being here
is a logical doctrine only. In truth we are not, except “in” God. But to our plurality
corresponds a plurality, a difference, in the divine unity, of procession and relations, although
as regards procession ad extra (creation), God has no real relation to whatever thus proceeds.
This clearly means that “ad extra” never meant what these words signify. They serve only to
distinguish the refracted or “contracted” divine ideas from the real Trinitarian relations. The
rational processes of our experience form our closest analogue of these relations.
So the Father (the absolute principle from which all fatherhood is named) knows eternally his
Word, i.e. he speaks it, and his creatures, freely devised, in that Word. Therefore he is never
without his creatures, eternally spoken (creation changes nothing in God). He is thus
essentially Father to them also, as he would not be if they had been a mere afterthought.
But we are, as conscious, sons, not by an ordinance of scripture merely, but by the exigences
of reason, itself the divine ordnance, each consciousness being the world and God, infinity,
capax Dei. What I am capable of I require for my perfect being and will thus grow up to it.
The identity is naively expressed by Boehme and others when they posit God as an abyss of
freedom merely before creating. This contradictory position is overcome when it is seen that
there is no such “before”.
Thus being, though posited, might still not be (as we say), even if necessary being is posited.
This, Aquinas´s objection to the Ontological Argument, is also the proof of infinite freedom in
God. But when a thought has been uttered it stands forever, and an eternal thought stands
eternally. Nor could our own thought be uttered if it did not already thus stand. The ladder of
sense-experience from which it rises to consciousness is thus kicked away.
On this ground our immortality is decided. Whether we live or die we are the Lord´s, say both
Job and St. Paul, and certainly whether we live or die our thought stands, the thought of us,
and it is in reason therefore that we have our reality, more abiding than granite. It is in the
same way that God was called God not of the dead but of the living, and on this ground
Abraham and Isaac live still. Thought is living and thought thinking itself generates
everything (“life” is used analogously here) because, as we, being-bound as we are, must
express it, thought is everything.

To sum up, the religious doctrine of “creation out of nothing” depends in form upon the
extrapolation of human intentionality upon infinite intellect. God however thinks absolutely,
he does not think of this or that as items as it were waiting to be picked out by this divine
searchlight.20 For Aristotle this thinking of himself by Nous somehow passed creation by,
individuals in the first place being unworthy of any providence21, though as final cause it
indeed moved the heavenly bodies, and there were other unmoved movers, indication that
“God is not a thinker, God is a knower” insisted E. Gilson. Thinking suggests more
powerfully all the same a creative thinking up of what is not otherwise there, though we
must abstract from associations of discursive effort. Thus this divine act is prototype of all
our knowing too, as a cognition causative of its object. Still, it is not random, but
necessarily dependent on the “ground”, and this is what Hegel stresses.
A reading contested by J. Maritain.

infinity was not yet at issue. Hegel shows how the Trinitarian relations extend into the reality
of all that is or can be thought, thus themselves, as eternally active relatings, accounting for
creation, of course ex nihilo as outcome of infinite freedom. This freedom is not a process of
selection from a larger fixed class of possibles. That would indeed be inexplicable, a surd.
Things are only possible because they, or something connected to them, are actual, and they
are only actual as divinely thought. Infinity itself, God himself, is the ground of anything that
is possible.
Hegel considered pantheism a stupid doctrine, and was correspondingly indignant to hear
himself accused of it. It is perhaps correspondingly stupid to suspect everyone who addresses
the problem posed by God and creation, infinite and finite, of pantheism, and worse than
stupid to burn them alive in Christendom’s capital just four centuries ago now, a rather short
time. Copleston, in his history of philosophy, writing with studied indifference about this
shameful and brutish episode (as if it were the victim´s fault, primarily), just goes on
repeating the word “transcendence” with as much subtlety as a learned parrot, despite
previous intelligent exposition of Nicholas of Cusa, Bruno’s model, and even Eckhart and
Transcendence, once again, is not infinite if a created world stands over against it as if outside
of it. Transcendence is infinite if all “else”, everything “contracted” (Cusanus) and finite, is
within transcendence and thought and known by it, be it thought as existing or in some other
capacity. This is merely consequent upon the truth that, necessarily, transcendence can have
no real relation to anything as being outside of it. Such a thing, therefore, is not outside of it.
This indeed is why there is no real relation. The conclusion is inescapable that we, creatures,
just are those divine thoughts, each one of which, Aquinas confirms, is identical with the
divine essence. This is what the philosophers have taken seriously, from before Aquinas
through Eckhart, Cusanus, Bruno, Spinoza, Leibniz, Hegel and beyond. It is not then,
ultimately, a case of “spirit in world” but of the world in the spirit, the direct contrary of
pantheism in other words and much more like the prophet’s vision of the world in relation to
God as less than a drop of water in a bucket.23
As for immanence the simple truth is that transcendence is not itself without being
transcendent to the point of being wholly immanent. More than wholly, we might say, for the
truth is that immanence as a category here falls away, since we have gone behind the
appearance it represents. There is a time, wrote de Caussade, when God lives in the soul and
there is a time when the soul lives in God. So it is here, the intuitions of religion being
confirmed in a rational philosophy.
“I am he who is. You are she who is not.” The concept of analogy is anyhow elastic enough
for its denial to be its final explication. But to escape paradox here the acceptance of the
dialectic is required, of a movement or development of thought where things are said
differently (and in apparent contradiction) from different points of view, not every point of
view being available at every time or place. This has been apparent to our theologians at least
since Newman, and their attempts to understand doctrines and dogmas are not usually written

Bruno’s “condemnation for heresy was perfectly understandable, whatever one may
think of the physical treatment meted out to him” (F. Copleston, History of Philosophy Vil.
3, Part 2, Doubleday Image, New York, 1963, p.71. For (p.67) “the inner movement of
Bruno’s speculation was towards the idea of divine immanence, and so towards
pantheism.” The “and so” is breath-taking. In contrast we read, in the previous chapter,
that “Nicholas (of Cusa) was not a pantheist but his philosophy… can be grouped with
that of Bruno.” So fine is the distinction between cruel red flames and a benign red hat! It
was the intervening Reformation trauma which distinguished the two thinkers’ contrasting
fates rather than degrees of “immanence”.
Hegel claimed that Spinoza’s philosophy was more truly an “acosmism” than

off as “rationalisations”, though this is how Copleston in places characterises parallel attempts
by philosophers, i.e. “laymen”, in the early modern period to understand such Christian or
Jewish doctrines as that of the creation.


We can best situate our discussion now by referring to the theological background, compactly
presented in Aquinas’s tractate on the Trinity in the first part of his theological Summa. Hegel,
of course, was aware of this background, in general at least, as of a discipline dependent upon
ecclesiastical guidelines, though he found this to be the weakness of “positive” theology:

Such theologians… know as little of God as a blind man sees of a painting, even
though he handles the frame. They only know how a certain dogma was
established by this or that council; what grounds those present at such a council
had for establishing it… The question as to what is a man’s own personal
conviction only excites astonishment.24

In between the opposition between faith and understanding (in Hegel’s negative sense) he
inserts the ideal of speculative reason, which will generate not a new theology but a
philosophy of religion, which may or may not respect the Christian message. If it does then,
while differing perhaps in method and principle from the theology of St. Thomas, it will differ
hardly at all from theology as practised today. Here one recognises a duty often to surpass the
thought of a Biblical author, even or especially when “merely” interpreting. A judicatory
function is exercised. Thus identification of “private judgement” as the Protestant, anti-
Catholic principle now appears somewhat specious.
Hegel all the same would concur that any insights we might have into intra-divine Trinitarian
or analogous processes are dependent upon historical Christian experience, as we noted
above, since this is just what he tries to understand. Thus he would categorise this experience
as a necessary moment in an unfolding dialectic, whether of all history or of the history of
philosophy. In this way he understands the statement, St. Paul’s insight, that God “sent forth
his son”, with all the self-understanding of man that that entails, “in the fullness of time”.
He does not, that is, set out to prove the Trinity rationally so as then to find this happily
confirmed by Christian revelation.25 Rather, he interprets this revelation as a necessary
historical dialectical development towards absolute religion, which he identifies, on
philosophical, rational grounds, with Christianity. He makes here a distinction between
religion and philosophy, “absolute knowledge”, which is a version merely of the Augustinian-
Anselmian duo, rooted in the early Alexandrian theology, of faith and understanding. He then
sets out to “think” the Trinity, proceeding thus both in the Lectures and in The
Phenomenology of Mind (this later section of this work gives the lie to those who would
identify his view of Christianity with the earlier section on the “unhappy consciousness”,
actually a critique of medieval Christianity (in some of its forms) specifically.
This progress by kicking away ladders, after all, is found also in Aquinas, when discussing
data of faith in principle knowable, and which we may thus know, and not merely believe, at a
later date. Gilson shows how the impetus to proofs of God in the Christian philosophers is not
independent of that Exodus “revelation” unknown to Plato. But insofar as a credo ut
intelligam applies to all articles of belief there seems no compelling reason for categorical
insistence that some articles are intrinsically opaque to human reason. If they cannot be

Hegel, Lectures….., 41-2.
On the concept of divine revelation, cf. The Phenomenology of Mind (Baillie’s
translation), pp. 760-761.

proved coercively to analytical understanding they can and should become ever more
transparent to speculative reason, in Hegel’s terminology.


We have placed the emphasis here upon processes (ad intra). This term was adopted by
Aquinas as part of his point of departure from authoritative scriptural texts (ego ex Deo
processi, cf. Nicene Creed, procedit). For Hegel, however, it is entirely natural within his own
philosophy, in which the absolute spirit is somehow in process or, at least (an important
distinction) seen in process by us, since this is what we are to understand the actual process of
nature (as we now, more clearly than in Hegel’s time, know it to be) and of history to be, viz.
A representation conformed to an absolute series, such that this process may in itself more
truly be logical or meta-logical, above time and change.
Aquinas assumes, in faith, that there is such absolute process, though he pretends a question:
utrum processio sit in divinis, really only asking in what way this can be so. He concludes that
it is to be understood, accipienda at least, secundum emanationem intelligibilem (Ia 27, 1).
Such a processio remains in the subject like someone’s thought when he is uttering it (utpote
verbi intelligibilis a dicente). This is Augustine´s classical view, though that is not mentioned
here, since Aquinas wants to argue the claim on its own merits as far as possible. Augustine’s
catalyst, in fact, was Marius Victorinus, who fifty years earlier had written his own
“psychological” account of the Trinity based on the Neoplatonic theory of the human soul
accepted by him and the Greek Fathers back to Justin Martyr, who took from Plato the
distinction between God in himself and God in relation to the world (the logos) when seeking
to explain the processio also declared in the Gospel of his near-contemporary, John.26
Thus Justin stresses rather the “economic” Trinity. Aquinas, anyhow, objects, whether to
Arianism, Sabellianism or to any “subordinationism”, that all explanations of divine process
in terms of causality ad extra, the production of an effect, fail to postulate process within God
himself, fail, we might say today, to see God himself as process (ipsae personae sint
relationes, i.e. relations of origin; process, that is, as eternal or as if in an instant, like
Wordsworth’s “stationary blasts” (of waterfalls) perhaps. So for Arius the Son proceeded as
God’s first creature, even if “before all worlds”, for Sabellius the Father himself proceeds into
the Son, his effect, he, God, only being called Son as taking flesh of the Virgin, called Spirit
as sanctifying men. Here there is no real process. It is as if for the Son to come forth in the
world as equal to the Father he must first come forth within God, i.e. if the former is to be
possible. But “first” in what sense?
Having assumed process at the outset Aquinas is thrown back upon immanent processes
remaining in the agent. He employs the cryptic phrase, attenditur processio quaedam ad intra,
bringing out how analogous the term is. Processus might have been more neutral or suitably
abstract than processio had he not had to keep in step with the scriptural imagery. Anyone
who understands produces something in himself, a verbum cordis or conception (already
suggesting generation). Divine things should thus be understood according to the likeness of
the highest creatures, ourselves, secundum emanationem intelligibilem specifically, though in
the end, as Spinoza warns us, we can understand nothing as to the nature of what we are
pleased to call divine understanding or will, save, if the reasoning is correct, that they are one
with the divine essence (already enough to overthrow the assumption of “likeness”
In the divine life, Aquinas goes on to say, this verbum, as expressing the one adequate thought
of himself, sole and total reality, is necessarily equal to and undivided from God thus become
generator (“Father”, though one wonders why not mother). A second procession, of the Spirit,
Justin, Dial. 55ff.

will later be postulated and one will be asking if, whether in Aquinas or in Hegel, this step is
truly taken with understanding and not as a rationalised camouflage of sheer reliance upon
tradition. The same applies to the claim that the divine processions ad intra are thereby
completely enumerated. This of course is before we, and Aquinas (in the following tractate),
take up the other procession, of creatures from God, called ad extra although really there is no
outside, God being limitless.
Hegel’s strength here is his showing that what are also processions, namely the missions, as
those of the second and third persons (Per hoc autem quod aliquis mittitur, ostenditur
processio quaedam missi a mittente, Ia 43.1), are one and the same with the immanent
“processions” actually constituting God himself, no doubt a self-constituting, like a
“consuming fire” maybe. These are thus manifested in such a way that they would not be at
all without these manifestations, nor indeed without our progressive understanding of them.
Such missions, however, appear almost as an afterthought, we noted, or appendix to Aquinas’s
tractate on the Trinity, even though all the premises of the larger project are taken from just
these missions as recorded in scripture, the psychological comparisons constituting something
of a subsequent rationalisation, if in a non-pejorative sense. Aquinas, anyhow, might claim his
own right to a bit of ladder-kicking, these being just the eternal truths to which the Gospel
events first gave us access, though we later ground their plausibility independently of these
What Hegel does is to bring out how these structures of absolute consciousness necessitate the
world within the former´s self-understanding. No longer do we have merely some religious
events and claims prompting to a speculation about God as in the image, in our thinking, of
man. We attempt now to see, from the divine and so only true viewpoint, how such thinking
just is the world we all know. Even created being itself, far from being a second divinity
contradicting the first, is really a divine a divine idea, contained in the thought that thinks
itself and thus, since this is simple, one with the divine essence. This is in perfect accord, as it
happens, with St. Thomas’s teaching on the divine ideas at Ia 13 and elsewhere. Nor is the
procession of the Word reduced to that of creation. Rather, and quite naturally, the latter is
analogous to the former. Only thus is the procession of the Word manifested in history
(mission) describable as the new creation. But as touching its newness, novum modum
existendi in alio, that is to say the hypostatic union (or the indwelling of the Spirit in the
Church), this is under the aspect of time only, with which God has no real relation. God is
thus not thinkable apart from the hypostatic union, and neither, therefore, is man. Hegel is not
fully original here, but has a precedent in much of the Fathers, from Maximus to Eriugena,
Eckhart, Cusanus, Leibniz.


Regarding absolute idealism, it is not really, paceMcTaggart, so much a question of denying

the “reality” of matter as of denying the truth of the finite. Matter is real, as we are real, i,e,
within our own “created” discourse. Though of course it is only in the uncreated infinite that
discourse and reality are one. Matter is an idea, a divine idea, along with extension and the
rest. Now there is no reason at all for divine ideas to be intentional, like ours, requiring two
tiers of reality even from the divine viewpoint, viz. His creation and his creation when
thought of, e.g. if he should close his eyes! The ideas, the essentially uncoerced divine
thinking, that is the creation. When Aquinas said that God knows us only in his ideas of us he
might as well have said we are those ideas and dropped the “only”. Of course someone might
prefer to say that if so then there are no ideas, only emanation and not a thinking at all. That in
turn though is only allowable if it encapsulates something as high (or nobile) as, or higher
than, personal free thinking, as exemplifying what is spiritual, spirit.

Even being, therefore, our being, is an idea or part of one and as such identical with the divine
being (i.e. not the intentional idea of being, but being which is an idea). The religious notion
of creation ex nihilo actually clings on to the image of making something out of (ex)
something. A kind of pre-being is presumed. It is as if God, in stretching out his hand to say
“Let there be light” subjects himself conceptually to an over-arching concept of being which
is given before him, more primitive than he. But this cannot be so. The infinite includes being
as it includes anything else and the fact that being is not a kind but, say, the actuality of kinds,
makes no difference to this all-inclusiveness. So not only can being not be common to God
and creatures, it is not detachable, is not even abstractable, so as to be apart from a supposed
divine nature. God is infinite, and not merely the infinite being, ultimately a contradiction.
This we discover, of course, after asking after the existence of God – the ladder again! The
infinite contains everything and thinks the world, inclusive of being, within himself. We
don’t, can’t go anywhere. It is closer to us than ourselves, we can only realise more harmony
and unity as all thoughts of the finite are gathered in the one proceeding Word, a speech
containing all other spoken things but not refracted as they are. Identity in difference once
It may be that the infinite in some way chose to be being (as we have to say) in and with
creation and that apart from this he is firstly, in dialectical (one cannot say ontological, still
less temporal) priority, a kind of abyss or maximum of freedom, as Eckhart or Boehme
suggest. In this sense Spinoza’s causa sui seems even nearer the mark than the Thomist-
Aristotelian uncaused cause or necessary being. If a God thus prior to being were to be called
an ens rationis then he would be this not as not really being but as really beyond being as its
The reality of numbers, apart from their imagined existence, is similarly explained. There is
though no particular number series. Number is rather series as such, absolutely, series which
is both the principle of the dialectic and the prototype, in the dialectic, of all time, space and
developmental change. Number is the essence of going on to the next unit or whole (integer),
in whatever way. You say one, then secondly one plus one, then thirdly that plus one again,
the ordinals showing that there is no serial reality behind number. There is no “particular”
series of the numbers as naturally enumerable.
The Trinity though does not instantiate this series, being simply otherness re-identified or
negated. The series in fact is closely bound up with what we see as material being, with its
accident of quantity. Aquinas posited ens mobile as our proper object but ens is quite possibly
essentially mobile or material, in flux. The absolute though is not therefore nothing, but
beyond being.


Hegel, we noted, speaks of three “Kingdoms”, of Father, Son and Spirit, corresponding
respectively to the pure thought of God’s eternal essence, its representation by incarnation,
death and resurrection in history and, thirdly, the subjectivity or inter-subjectivity which is the
communion of the Church, now and forever (Lectures III, 3-6: this would be already the
invisible church, of course). One might think that one had, again, a variant of Sabellianism
here, God, Father, under three aspects. For how is philosophy going to demonstrate, even
allow for, the distinctness of the Second and Third Persons?
The key lies in what was said about otherness being found in God himself. Such otherness is
not to be known, not ever, by speculation about transcendent being in itself or qua
transcending the world, in a state of separation (which would here be the same as abstraction).
God is never in such a state of separation. Hegel here is in company with Eckhart and many

others, such as the prophet who represented God as saying “I have loved thee with an
everlasting love.” The idea is not new.
Hegel, again, is not intending to prove the Trinity, or the divinity of Christ, but to show their
meaning. Indeed he appears to consider in a sense that once these mysteries are even
suggested or proposed to us their inherent power of truth reveals a philosophical or spiritual
landscape in some way no longer dependent upon their happening to be true or not, as it were
contingently. Truth inheres in them as conceptions, rather as by the ontological argument
existence would inhere in God.
There is also suggestion that God first becomes real through his appearance, his begettal, in
Jesus. Now as it stands this is contradictory. God requires prior being in order to appear in this
way. Unless, or except, this begetting, this appearing, is itself what and all of what God is.
This is the thinking, the pure act, the ever new, “stationary blast”. This is why “all things were
made through him” and nothing without him. All of God is here. But all of man too. Hegel
remarks how the universal idea of man was not at first thought, so that slavery was possible.
Christianity though is

The religion of absolute freedom. Only in Christianity is man respected as man, in

his infinitude and universality… the principle of personality is universality.27

Here is the answer to those who find that “individual personality” is ignored by Hegel. We are
called to become God, who is the Idea, and only hereby do we become persons.
Thus in Jesus, for the believer, God’s eternal process, which is Spirit, is revealed, this being
indeed the axis around which the whole temporal succession of history is conceived. In and
around this utterance, this eternal processus or processio, this relation, all is spoken at once
and without any cessation or potential suspension of divine knowledge of this all, the
analogous processio ad extra being causally encapsulated, though in “absolute liberty” and
resolve (Encyclopaedia 244), within this quiet furnace of generation which is our God.
God dies, as we do, and rises again, God who is man and who for Hegel has found or declares
himself first and essentially in man. Nor does this commit him to any “Patripassianism”, fear
of which in the past, however, led many to see the crucifixion as a kind of side-show in the
divine life. But the negative is a divine moment, as is the subsequent negation of the negative,
the historical sequence being inseparable from the eternal affirmation of that life which is
Trinity. The “finite, the negative, is not outside of God” (Lectures III 98), even if he did not
take evil into himself. St. Paul will say, all the same, that he was “made sin for us”, something
fully catering to the intuitions of a Goethe, for example. In Jesus finitude, natural humanity
even, are overcome. The universal, the Idea, the notion, is defined as goal for each man and
human. Hegel only warns against confusing the simplicity of the notion, its absoluteness, with
privative simplicity of origins, which would prohibit being led “into all truth”. “Greater things
than I shall you do”, though “without me you can do nothing”.
The decisive point for the Hegelian philosophy is to see this process not as concerning the one
man, the historical individual, alone, but by him and in him all humanity. This is to enter the
“Kingdom of the Spirit”. In religion one dies mystically with Christ in baptism, one is
incorporated into his mystical body, the Church. Now in much theology today it is stressed
that the Church is not itself the Kingdom (of God) but the sacrament of the human race.28 And
so in philosophy we find not so much mystic or “pictorial” sacraments as thematization and
universalization. “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these you did it to me.” This
saying lifts a page out of absolute idealism’s book. It is what any Christian, no, any human
being, should feel. The insight has been achieved that “we are all responsible for all”,
Encyclopaedia 163.
Cf. H. McCabe O.P., The New Creation.

something our United Nations organization, like the organized Church here, formally
recognises, though this was indeed also the ideal, the raison d’être rather, of the Christian
Emperors of old, however much “unhappy consciousness” may have been muttering around
the place, as we still find it today. Still, progress is a fact, not least in philosophy and
philosophy, as they strive towards each other in a passion of mutual assimilation, never
definitively achieved.
It is not only God’s essence but man’s essence too to be this reconciliation of contraries, of
kenosis and glorification. God and man are thus, thus far, one. This is the challenge, that true
being is identity in difference, is spirit. “God is love.” The connection of spirit with love (as
with knowing) is fundamental, as the atheist spiritualist McTaggart witnessed.29 Such final
understanding of the abiding yet overcome contradiction within us (identity in difference) is
the “Kingdom of the Spirit”, into which mankind enters having once but tasted of these truths,
just as on the ethical plane a humanity having once understood the proposal of a “civilization
of love”, fraternity transcending the earlier ideal of civic friendship, can never again deny or
renounce this goal, in the warm words of the Frenchman Jacques Maritain.30
As for Jesus representing all and each of humanity, Aquinas himself allows that God, here the
Son, could, and therefore can, assume more than one human nature hypostatically. By this
concession we are already open to this more modern world where spirit hovers between
theism and atheism indifferently. God is man. Man is God. Except that to say that God is in
man is not atheism. As Hegel puts it, in the absolute or final religion, which he identifies as
Christianity (not merely with, as if simply ideal, but as, concretely), man is no longer in
bondage to an alien lord. “God is the God of free men” (Lectures II, 222).
The heart of the matter is the identity of the two Trinities, economic and immanent, of
practice and theory we might say. As and when the human subject understands that he is in
God and God in him, that nothing is alien to him, as one with absolute Spirit, so he or she is
at-oned, united with that eternal moment of generation and “spiration” which is God, eternal
process. Each and all of us are in each and every one of us (the prayer of Christ), along with
all things else, by a divine “contraction”, Cusanus once claimed. God never existed apart from
me because he eternally purposed me. This does not make my creation less free. It is what it is
to be a Son, not a slave. I belong by right (of gift) to the household and am not taken from
elsewhere. Paul’s Judaism led him to mute this, but we are not adopted merely. We are “born
again”, in what is our true and eternal birth, the “natural” birth belonging to that general
misperception of our being as temporal and material which idealist philosophy combats.

This will make the contradiction within a putative “evil spirit” all the more intimate.
Christianity and Democracy, Bles, London 1944.


The Identity of All Being(s)

Theodor Adorno might seem a critic of the approach taken here, of the
discovery, that is, of the extremest immanence implicit in infinite
transcendence. He sees it as an illegitimate and at bottom vulgar
transference of sacrality upon the ordinary. He speaks of

A determining doctrine of the I-thou relationship as the locale of truth – a

doctrine that defames the objectivity of truth as thingly, and secretly warms up
irrationalism. As such a relationship, communication turns into that
transpsychological element which it can only be by virtue of what is
communicated; in the end stupidity becomes the founder of metaphysics. Ever
since Martin Buber split off Kierkegaard’s view of the existential from
Kierkegaard’s Christology, and dressed it up as a universal posture, there has
been a dominant inclination to conceive of metaphysical content as bound to the
so-called relation of I and thou. This content is referred to the immediacy of life.
Theology is tied to the determinations of immanence, which in turn want to
claim a larger meaning, by means of their suggestion of theology:…… In this
process, nothing less is whisked away than the threshold between the natural and
the supernatural… The thorn in theology, without which salvation is
unthinkable, is removed. According to the concept of theology, nothing natural
has gone through death without metamorphosis. In the man-to-man relationship
there can be no eternity now and here, and certainly not in the relationship of
man to God, a relationship that seems to put Him on the shoulder… Thus in the
jargon transcendence is finally brought closer to men: it is the Wurlitzer organ of
the spirit.31

Adorno of course knows that the original posture of Hegel arose out of Christology, that of a
universal identity in difference, as studied in our previous chapter. The substance of his
revulsion here is a preference for transcendental sacrality of the old type, which Hegel
declared in contradiction with itself, a way, indeed, of keeping God comfortably far away for
everyday purposes. Precisely the dialectic shows that the objective world, the world of fact, is
not what it seems, an insight which it (i.e. Hegel) praises Descartes as being the first to bring
to the centre of thinking, thus inaugurating or at least thematizing critical philosophy. For
what, after all, are facts (facta, Sachverhälten, Tatsachen)?


From the standpoint of Aristotelian realism the notion of a fact is inherently ambivalent and
thus an easy target of criticism. Is a fact objective or subjective? Does it lie around like a
substance? It does not. It can seem to duplicate the structure of language which we should
seek rather to get behind. Every fact, thus viewed, involves a relation, parallel at bottom to
that between subject and predicate. But since this is a logical relation of identity how can a
real fact possess it, since it will have either two or more non-identical constituents or just one,
T. Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity, transl. Tarnowski & Will, Northwestern University
Press, Evanston 1973, pp.16-17.
upon which identity will get no handle? Thus facts, once accepted, can only be represented by
a different logic from that of subject and predicate, which must predicate wholes of wholes, in
Aquinas’s words32, only because predicate and subject “stand for” (supponunt) the same thing,
albeit differently. The Fregean function with subject as “argument” makes its appearance. The
whole philosophy of Hegel, on the other hand, with its roots in Eckhart, Cusanus and Leibniz
(and of course Kant), is built around a notion of identity in difference which possibly more
than merely mirrors that identity of suppositio of predicate and subject.33 For a Fregean the
predicate, the “function”, can stand for nothing real in the world. Nor do we have there a
world of separate substances, but a field of relations rather, requiring a “relational” theory of
meaning. Words only have meaning in a sentence. But here again, the Hegelian notion, as
ultimate figure of reality, is of a relational whole with which each apparent part is identical.
The Hegelian logic, it is necessary to note, is not itself this vision of the notion which that
logic identifies and discusses. The logician, that is, is indeed concerned with “the being of
things” (cp. Aquinas, logicus non considerat esse rerum) but not in order to confine it within
the structure of logic. Hegel’s logic analyses a reality of which logic is but a part, and essence
and hence essentialism are but a step on the road to the notion, or up the ladder which one will
kick away. There is thus complete accord here with the Wittgensteinian theory of family
resemblance, according to which meaning has no necessary connection with universalist
essentialism but has to outgrow it.
This is in perfect accord with our argument previously that the abstractive faculty is the badge
of the weakness of our intellect, rather than the intellect’s essence. It is, rather, individuals that
are first, that is divinely conceived, this being why it is they that exist, while of the absolute
itself nothing abstract is to be predicated, not even existence. Existence, that is, is an
abstraction and the primacy of thought consists in its not being originally intentional, as
Aristotle saw, saying that thought, the absolute Mind of Anaxagoras, thinks itself only.
Paradoxically, this truth entails that there is nothing else, though it be itself beyond being. The
Wittgensteinian analysis shows, ultimately, that our linguistic bondage to being, from the
copula to the actus essendi, involves no discovery of some ultimate quasi-essence. Even
Cajetan saw this, though one can question his assumption that there is therefore an “order” of
existence separate from essence, such that “act in the order of existence plus act in the order
of essence do not give substance” (the Scotist misreading of Aquinas) “but existing
substance”. Reality, rather (of which existence is merely a putative species), might consist of
the formalities of an absolute thinking not however reducible to our formalities of essence.
Form, that is, once liberated from the hylomorphism applied to an ens mobile built upon
“matter”, whether principle or “stuff”, emerges as absolute, recalling, it may be, the Plotinian
seam in philosophy.
We have, that is, to envisage a universal which is prior and therefore not abstracted. This is
the true absolute universal, and this difference can attach also to a Platonic form, as the good
(or the tall) itself, rather than goodness or tallness as generalising our linguistic attributions of
quality (or substance). This is preserved in Aquinas’s insistence that esse is an act, the “to be”
of infinity not being the “to be” of anything else.
The claim that thought is prior to being, that thought gives reality its pattern, issues then in the
holism of the notion, where everything is inter-related and so to be thought truly must be
thought all together without separation and even, to be absolute, all at once. In reality,
therefore, no element or individual is separable from its multiple relatedness. It is that
In De ente et essentia.
Among Scholastics this identity is explicit in Vincent Ferrar´s treatise De
suppositionibus in the fifteenth century, but it can be shown to be implicit in Aquinas. The
claim that the predicate has no ”supposition” (does not ”refer”, to cite a questionable
equivalence) reads back a Fregean frame into this earlier logic (cf. S. Theron, ”The
Supposition of the Predicate”, The Modern Schoolman , 1995).

relatedness. These relations, too, are ultimately one, which as infinite must wholly fill each
part, each aspect rather. We have here a simple continuity of type with Trinitarian theology,
where the persons are the relations, the relations are the persons.
This final resolution of our own thinking is guessed at and pre-figured in our “natural”
attitude, above all in unitary pieces of music not put to the service of some particular drama or
comedy. Here no part is itself away from the whole and nothing, not even the whole, is a
thing, a substance. The auditory vibrations, the instruments, the players, causally necessary to
its production for us, have no part in its meaning. A person might become familiar with such
music through the medium of radio or tape or gramophone, or through permanently concealed
speakers from where it fills the air, never learning how as an empirical reality it is produced.
Thus some peoples have enjoyed a full participation in erotic life without ever knowing or
needing to concern themselves with its causal link to the periodic birth of children. Absolute
thinking, similarly, brings forth the Word, and “in” or “through” the Word the child which is
creation, not however by a separate “decree” (or “ordinance”) of actualisation beyond that
thinking itself., as the following chapter will make more clear.
Of this ubiquitous relationality, therefore, the subject-predicate relation is but one instance. So
it is not the case that everything acquires this relational colour just in so far as we have to talk
about it, the explanation then offered for this being that we have to (re-)identify what our
abstractive intellect was compelled to separate, to abstract, in its very act of apprehensive
understanding or conception, thus establishing the truth at home in the judgement. As logic
moves on, rather, to being an ontology (logica docens) it appears that this propositional
character, predication, saying something of something (else), is all of a piece with that web of
relations in symphony which is the whole, seen by us as facts and events, the cat’s being on
the mat more real, because more true, than just the cat, although that reality too is not
complete until all is considered, the time, the locality of the mat, its colour, the provenance of
this and all cats from reptilian and other antecedents as well as what future manifestations
they, and this cat in particular, as set for “the fall and rise of many”, are founding.
As indicated, the whole which these relations embody is not itself to be thought of, in
regression, as a thing, “the universe”. God, the absolute, is viewed in the absolute religion as a
locus or field of relations. The relation of the Word, as of Begetter (Father), issues in creation
of which incarnation is the figure and first or “new” instance, the “new creation”. The
generation of the Word is not separate from this incarnation (“pre-existent”) in the
“economic” Trinity. Thus God is not to be conceived without his creation, freely and lovingly,
but by the same token truly, willed.
The wish to see creation as a thing apart from divine transcendence, as wholly itself in itself,
and only in that way truly a gift given, is the ground for the unhappy consciousness, best
typified in Spanish Counter-Reformation Catholicism, to which however John of the Cross
supplied a sufficient corrective in his day. God is the all and we must “go through that which
we are not”, the “veil” (Psalm of David 104) of creation. Beauty is never seen without its veil,
except perhaps after a final marriage at the terminus of .thinking.
This terminus itself, however, will not be impoverishedly static but more like a dance of
constant life in which the same figures return in constant freshness and of which liturgy is the
representation in anticipation, expressed in all music, all theatre, all poetry or psalmody,
coming to expression (not “performed”), celebration, in a place bounded by living paintings
and marbled, liquidly mobile sculptures, ourselves.


Once the idea is raised that, viewed from the standpoint of eternity, history is a transmuted
dialectic, then the way seems open to viewing the experience of the Jews, the Bible, as an

attempt to reconcile our world, the creation, with infinity which, as Hegel says, overlaps and
includes the finite (on pain of ceasing to be infinite).34 Reconciliation is indeed a main theme,
sin being what declares the need for it, though this sin is finitude simply. The hope, in
Biblical, Pauline terms, is that God shall be all in all, but nothing could lead a man or woman
to hope for this unless it were the insight that, beneath appearances, God is all in all. The
whole effort is to see reality from the divine or absolute standpoint and not merely from our
own. This is also the effort of all science and, even or even more, poetry, to say nothing of
For Hegel the Incarnation will finally appear as necessary rather than miraculous, this step
being itself the absorption of religion into absolute knowledge, of “the fullness of time”. The
reconciliation itself of creation and infinity, of time and eternity, here appears as that which
the efforts at reconciliation were demanding. Nor need such an appearance be unique. There
are even indications that it could be co-extensive with thought, with thinking individuals in
their coinciding true selves or, hence, self.
Christianity, as absolute, is not one more religion of the old type. It is even at times viewed
from this older standpoint as an atheism. “Where is thy God?” was a taunt suffered of old by
the (probably) exiled Psalmist. This uncertainty, really an openness, comes to fullest
expression in the incarnate person himself. “I and the Father are one.” At the same time he
teaches us our own identity, from the absolute standpoint, with him and with one another.
“Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these you did it to me”. “Love thy neighbour as
yourself.” “I in them and they in me.” “You too are members one of another… the body of
Christ.” At least our canonical sources are at one on this point.
The primary negative moment in life is death, that of which a free man thinks least, affirms
Spinoza. Precisely freedom must overcome or absorb (sublate) death, by choosing and
determining the occasion of its occurrence, in Nietzsche’s view of things, which indeed
recalls the Johannine witness, “No man takes my life from me. I lay it down of myself.” This
was at the same time determined by the actions of others involved, which though, in context,
is but to say that it, this choice, determined their actions, as God once hardened Pharaoh’s
heart. Pharaoh was none the less free for that. The freedom, of the incarnate one, lay in the
affirmation of the absolute pattern, this step being, again, the absolutization of self. “I will
have mercy and not sacrifice.” The negative is plain. Thus the incidental cruelties of that
death, taken on in the name of all, are there because of the will to the universal, to draw all.
The explicit, unfaltering love is the only sign that this he. Yet it is not a sign, for “no sign shall
be given”, but itself an embodiment of the absolute love and freedom behind any thinking or
absolute speech, reconciliation namely, as much as an imperative of self-perfection, “my joy”,
as a finding of self in the other. “Believe me for the very works’ sake.” We can see here how
doubt itself, as an attitude of hesitation, is neutralised. “Even if we have (or have not) known
Christ after the flesh, we know him so no more.” An exclusive appeal to the extrinsic
inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture can deprive these texts of their power, which is the
power of achieved reconciliation, an inauguration of what is henceforth the known movement
of history, which, we have seen, is finally a trans-historical series. “All times are his.”
The impression of a perfection of insight here, of expression, leading to a sacral exclusion of
the material concerned within a temple for special adoration, upon, maybe, a special or holy
day, is of a piece with the tendency to identify, and therefore absolutize or separate, classical
periods within art, music, literature, even history itself, with its “golden” centuries. But
“greater things than I shall you do” comes the corrective and even “sins against the Son of
Man shall be forgiven”. For “you will be my messengers” to the extent that “whoever listens
to you listens to me”, a text robbed of its metaphysical depth by those appropriating it in order
The Scholastic adage, plura entia sed non plus entis, states the paradox accurately

to stifle spirit. It is actually the self-abandonment typifying absolute knowledge, of self in
other. “You call me master and lord, and so I am”, but still I wash your feet. Who has
understood this act, not reducing it to a piece of play-acting patronisation? The absoluteness
of such an act, of negation of self in passing into another, could only point to a divine
intervention from outside were it not that the insight involved is accessible to each man’s
reason, were it not that there is no outside, just as, oppositely, from within the absolute, we
said, there is no outside, no literal processio ad extra. What seems to proceed outwards is
actually, under this aspect of externality, nothing, and hence, in another terminology, only
analogously being, not even known or related to by the absolute. For it is there, in him, her or
it, that we have our being and not in our fancied independent selves. Our freedom is his
freedom, ever various and without limit. This is what it means to be, essentially, an image of
something else and not simply made in imitation or likeness of it. Man discovers himself as
likeness only, though even from the beginning he guesses at the deeper truth (“I have said you
are gods”), and his whole history brings to light this latter until, “in the fullness of time”, that
which is only or absolutely image appears, to be endlessly repeated as living itself endlessly
in the world. “Of myself I can do nothing.” I am nothing of myself. In this spirit of self-
renunciation, of the particular, Hegel writes his philosophy, Francis declares the divine
totality, Thérèse has no virtues. It is not arrogance or megalomania, this departure of the
empirical ego before the absolute self. The same supra-personal totality is palpable in Aquinas
and it is indeed the meaning of the professorial dignity properly manifested. In music too a
divine voice can speak, taking over from the individual “composer” who listens as one
recording bird-song. The centre is everywhere, the path oneself. This is freedom, “of the sons
of God”, it was said.


We touch a profound chord, truth as poised between the ethical and the historical. Beauty is
truth, said one, while Pascal urges his wager. By the fruit the tree is known. Behind this lies
the primacy of tradition, of a tradition. Fear of relativism hides these things, as it hinders
retreat from or transcending of the miraculous, plainest badge of objectivity, in denial,
however, of spirit. In a clash of traditions the best man wins, though the struggle may be
protracted. To this extent the factual, like nature, is normative and “ought” is after all
grounded upon “is”, simply because it is in reality another name for it. This however can
work in the other direction. If Mary ought to have been assumed into heaven then she was.
This is an assumption aptly named, it may be, but only because it sits at odds with the realist
objective ambience of so-called positive theology in which it was made. Such occasional
forays into dialectical necessity, however, quasi veritate coacta, are inevitable. “It was
impossible that death should hold him”, even if we be presented with a contradiction in
This contradiction, anyhow, constantly accompanies that appearance of absolute reason in the
world treated here as necessary. The lord who is lord precisely because servant of all, the first
last, the last first. “Greater things than I shall you do,” again, and it can indeed appear as if
man has, by will and power of absolute infinity, conquered God and thus attained to his own
truth. “That all may be one, I in them and they in me.” The inverse equivalences subvert all
hierarchical order. “I am come that they may have life”… “and this is life eternal; to know
God…” One knows by being, by unity, by identity in difference. The texts sing out as if for
the first time.
These texts now. One can raise the question, Christ or his interpreters. The words and actions
of one who did not write, unless in sand, are presented in writing as a set of mutually
complementary theologies, always something more than those separated out by a later

generation of religious leaders, claiming harmony with infinite spirit in virtue of office
merely. It is only when we think though that the voice of reason is heard within us. Later ages
are still presenting their own versions, inspired by an original Messianism reaching up to
Marx, Nietzsche and beyond. Again the spectre of relativism blocks the way, though it is but a
negative, insufficient name for reconciliation. Each man’s truth is indeed being saved, as it
has been recognised that it has to be.
He must increase, I must decrease, said the Baptist of him that was to come, who in turn said
it, in effect, of his disciples, who must be “clothed with power from on high”, such grace,
however, being effectively, as full freedom, their very own. As we become possessed by the
absolute self we discover by the very same movement our own necessity and eternity, in no
sense claimed by a spurious empirical self once we “pass over” from death to life.
The true answer therefore to the query raised above is that there is no true choice between the
incarnate absolut and his interpreters, inclusive of ourselves today. Nor is further proof needed
of that original reality, the Word handled by men, than our own attitude and accomplishments.
It is accomplished, it was accomplished, it will be accomplished. This is the lesson of reason
and not merely of faith, though this be the “victory that overcomes the world”.


“When God shall be all in all.”

This final Pauline vision then is surely a celebration of identity. All being is God, one type of
pantheist might say. This is the reverse of that, saying that God alone is, a truth that finally
becomes manifest, historically because dialectically. The analogy of being as an ontological
doctrine, along with the corresponding doctrine of creation, loses the force of this sovereign
identity, which however must be, and fails to explain it.
Here is the true focus for the necessity (not less free for that) of the divine ideas, a divine
thinking, God being indeed the thought that thinks itself and, accordingly, his own thinking.
God, for that matter, is not compelled (God the Father) as by a natural necessity to generate
his Son (here the analogy of speech should be recognised). God is that generation, is identical
with absolute generation (Thomist enough, ipsae relationes sunt personae). What do we see
in the world but generation, the divine thinking which is God himself, both revealing him and
yet covering him, as generator, infinite and so hidden, with a veil? “This also is thou; neither
is this thou”, this being the very principle of contradiction which is simply the finite in face of
the infinite and yet, by the same token, the annihilation of the finite as consisting in the denial
of identity, which alone is.
Identity, we noted, is also reflected in a true theory of predication. Here the copula is taken as
affirming identity in being (it may also deny it), any truth of a proposition or thought being
affirmed in the same act (actus essendi, veritas propositionis). Predication follows upon an
original abstraction (in which our thought comes to birth, again historically because
dialectically) from what is everywhere identical and as it were puts it back together again,
thought having superior power over “all the king’s horses and all the king’s men” (in the
nursery rhyme). Being alone is. This means that any being is identical with all being; that
means that being has no parts. Hence I am not a part of God, but I am not God either. Hence
Augustine’s insight into “one closer to me that I am to myself”, now seen as effectively
negating the phenomenal ego. Seen thus there is a kind of necessity in my being, which is not
my being, called in theology predestination, which Aquinas showed well enough does not
suppress freedom as we experience it. We become free in identification with this necessity
which is infinity. The surd of our experienced contingency is resolved in this necessity and
not by appeal to a theologically degenerate voluntarism. “In God we live and move and have
our being.”

Now if Paul was thus Hegelian then so were Aristotle and Aquinas, as Hegel always claimed.
Indeed they were Hegel. “I in them and they in me”. Identity, the badge and goal, historical
because dialectical again, of love. What else is shown by saying, with Aristotle, that the
sensible is one with the sense sensing, the intelligible one with the intellect understanding?
On this Aristotelian ground Hegel sees the failure of Fichte and Kant. They did not overcome
the antithesis of subjective and objective and find themselves “at home in the world”. God
remained “mere object... over against subjectivity.”, not “our true and essential self”35 Anima
mea est omnia. So anima mea is no longer anima mea. This would be the conclusion of what
religion calls a process of sanctification, historical because dialectical. In the beginning is my
end. I am then seen to be the way, moreover.
In knowledge the subject is identified with the object. He takes to himself the object and
makes it his own, subjective, without any connotation of limitation or imprisonment in self.
Such subjectivity is the acme of objectivity (itself no longer limited, “dark and hostile”). This
is what we do in listening with growing appreciation to music, which is, like everything, a
communication. The same is true of all knowledge and thinking, inseparable from love (will)
as uniting in identity with the object thereby become subject, members one of another indeed,
historically because dialectically. History, that is, was the divine thinking which, if identical
with the divine essence, as all the ideas must be, ipso facto negates what indeed is a
succession of phenomena, viewed absolutely, where “one day is as a thousand years”. It
thinks only itself, all in all, and I am not I.


The ultimate dualism, in our thinking about these things, is that between being and idea. This
too must be overcome in any integrated view of reality. When Wordsworth saw nature as the
workings of one mind he saw it thus in virtue of his intuition of its vivid being, the black
drizzling crags and so on. Ultimately, being itself is the utterance, the thought of this mind,
which therefore includes being as itself beyond it. Or, uncreated being is beyond created
being. The choice of terms conveys the same. Mind speaks being, is the being that speaks
being, while in the infinite reason nothing is a mere ens rationis.
Here is the place then for some reflections on this ultimate point, which are certainly no
discourse on method merely, nor even a statement of axioms, but rather of a beginning in
which all is contained because validated or confirmed by all.
“I am more sure of the existence of God than that I have hands and feet”, wrote Newman, in a
statement disconcerting to Thomists. For them one is sure about hands and feet, reasoning
from them to God as cause. As a prelude to this, however, they need today to dismiss
idealism, to establish a realism, taking as an evident axiom that real material being (ens
mobile) is what first engages the mind. Efforts are made, in a measure successful, to show that
this realism is not naive and that, correspondingly, the Cartesian new start belongs rather to a
process of late Scholastic decadence. Today there are varieties of “transcendental Thomism”
rejecting this paradigm. Thereby, though, they merge, or should merge, with the more right-
wing Hegelianism.
For Hegel idealism and the philosophical spirit are co-terminous. Absolute thought thinks
itself, said Aristotle in apparent agreement, though the being of the world seemed to remain a
separate datum for him. The Christian thinker, however, post-Anselm, was open to thinking or
contemplating the “good infinite” which, he had no doubt, “destroys” the finite, destroys, he
means, our unreflective conviction that the finite is self-evidently real. A latterday Parmenides
(whom Plato called a giant), Hegel will cliam that it cannot be real, is untruth (at odds with its
“idea”), since infinity demands this, a point that Sartre will address in his own way. It is worth
Hegel, Encyclopaedia, Logic 194.

noting however that Hegel’s approach to Aristotle, one of positive interpretation, was
effectively that of Aquinas though the latter did not thematise it. So too he would take
Aquinas in so far as he knew him, and also Kant, without whom his own achievement,
showing what Kant “should have” meant, is not thinkable.
The Thomists, and Church tradition as a whole, seek to escape this destruction by appeal to
“analogy”. Analogy, however, does not cut very deep as anyone who tries it will find. It
explains how we can talk about infinite and finite using the only language we have, designed
or developed for the finite. It cannot however perform the reverse operation once we have
discovered God (and spoken of him in necessarily analogical language) as “all in all”... “in
whom we live and move and have our being.” That word “in” is especially crude, as if God
contained us as might the sides of a decidedly finite box, which would surely have to be
contained in something else.
The persective of Genesis, with its doctrine of “creation”, seems hardly to go beyond this. The
aim was to show that material bodies, visible in the sky or elsewhere, were not gods, not
sacred beings, and this was achieved by declaring them to be non-sacral bodies, as it were the
alienated, lifeless products of a mere workman (a “demiurge” as a contemporary Greek
claimed) who, however, was able to breathe his own life into some of the bodies. For the
Hebrews the maker was God himself, who took his divine rest when things were ready and is
maybe still taking it. Of course there are ways of demythologizing this picture, as Augustine
was not the first to point out.
It was important for Aquinas too to stress a duality of creator and created, having an
analogous being therefore, as against the contemporary Manichees (Cathars) who denied the
goodness of matter, God’s creature. For matter to be good it had to be, Aquinas assumed.
Many have seen the birth of natural science in this doctrine, which was also Aristotle’s, for
whom being is substance, observable substances consisting of “informed” matter.
A deeper penetration of Aquinas’s discourse can indeed show that matter, as Hegel will say,
does not exist, at least on its own. He calls it a created necessary being, but he means here
(and his language, though not confused, confuses... as does anything written with one eye,
even a saintly eye, upon unimaginative censors) no more than a necessary potentiality. One
can indeed ask whether God “created” potentiality or whether it simply follows necessarily
from omnipotence.
For Teilhard de Chardin, too, there is no “dead” matter. He speaks of the evolution of matter
and it is indeed becoming apparent that the evolutionary frame of thought demands a more
unitary scheme, in which we do indeed live and move and have our being in God, all in all.
For mind thinking itself nothing is given or could be given as outside of it. The position is
glimpsed in Aristotle’s depiction of the soul or mind as “in a way all things”, again. Absolute
mind indeed first thought the world, and still does, within itself, knowing itself as imitable as
Aquinas puts it. But imitation as a word is just a variation upon “species”, the representation
or apppearance that every idea is, even qua idea. And in the case of absolute mind, he has to
grant, each idea is identical with thought itself, with simple divine act, esse, on his scheme.
He will also say, compelled by his premisses, that God knows us or any creature not as they
are in themselves but in his own idea of them (which as idea is one with himself). But he will
neglect the apparent consequence, that if so then we are not in ourselves, since the divine
knowledge is also causative of our being. He would have to say that God also knows us, or
chooses to know us, as being outside the sphere of his more normal knowledge (of ideas).
This, in such a case, possibly but not obviously contradictory, would be the divine idea of
creation as such.
Aquinas maintains against Muslim fatalists that a God who could not create, could not create
free beings in particular, would be less admirable as a God, not infinite in fact. This does not
folloow though if it is ever a question of a creation incoherently postulated or self-

contradictory in its concept. An orthodox Christian or theologian would be bound to elaborate
a doctrine of creation not thus contradictory. It could be claimed that Hegel has done this.
Hegel then might even help to show, by his nown dialectical principles, that Aquinas (and
even maybe the Bible) is not contradictory either, or not more than on the surface. The same
might apply to the doctrine of the analogy of being, found ultimately compatible with the
Gospel affirmation, “There is none good but God”.
Hegel is often written off by Thomists as one blind to the glory of being, the actus essendi,
one who pairs or equates it with (the idea of) nothing. Being, for Aquinas, is perfectio
perfectionum omnium, while Hegel writes, in the course of criticizing Kant:

Neither we nor the objects would have anything to gain by the fact that they
possessed being. The main point is, not that they are, but what they are, and
whether or not their content is true. It does no good to the things to say merely
that they have being...36

This might seem to be just the common or garden essentialism that Aquinas overcame. Yet
even for him it is form that gives being. One has first to be something, a what. While if the
form itself has or is an actus, then is not mind or nous, for Hegel too, the actuality of all these
acts which reflect it? What he denies, rather, is the actuality of matter as an “in itself” or

We are chiefly interested in knowing what a thing is: i.e. its content, which is no
more objective than it is subjective.37

Nor should we forget that the category of a thing, etwas, also finds its place in his dialectic. It
is not, that is, set over against the ideas, which, for him, would be to set it over against God
and thus limit or destroy the infinite.

Hegel, Encyclopaedia, Logic 42; see also Wissenschaft der Logik I, 1, Kap. 1Ca,
Anmerkung 1, “Der Gegensatz...”, Werke 5, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 1969, p.84.
Encyclopaedia, eodem loco.


Creation, Exemplarism and Divine Ideas

Whether we count ourselves Christian or not our problem, in a context of

all-embracing (if always provisional) understanding, is that of God and the
world. This is a more profound puzzle than that of caused and uncaused. It
requires, anyhow, that we now examine the doctrine of creation,
concerning which much has already been said in the course of our
treatment of Trinitarian notions or of the pervasive identity in difference.
Creation has been a subject of philosophical meditation since Plato and
earlier. The Christian creatio ex nihilo is just one version of it, although we
ourselves might be interpreted as bringing out what can or cannot be met
by that version in particular. We can admit though to a touch of that
ecumenical ambiguity or open-endedness inseparable from dialectical
thinking, such as we have claimed all thinking to be, as lines travelling up
a cone are all and each destined to converge.


The notion of creation cannot be taken into our mental inventory just as it
is traditionally delivered to us, as if the question “Was the world created?”
admitted of as simple an answer as “Was this landscape man-made?” This
example itself might require initial qualification, of course. We might ask
whether the landscape was made intentionally or in the sense of coming
to be, unintentionally, through some other human activity. Indeed it might
seem difficult to find any question allowing of no demur, as lawyers and
dialecticians know. “Is this a dagger I see before me?” asked the fictional
Macbeth, and of course it was not. He still went on to say, “Come let me
clutch it.” A more simple question, asked of the present author by a
prefect at his prep school, “Was that you talking?”, was spontaneously yet
discriminatingly answered by him with “Not necessarily”. It was enough to
preserve him from retribution on that occasion, oddly enough. Questions
are often hard to answer, it seems.
Thus the openness of concepts used in judgments, which are the matter of
questions and answers both, negatively distinguishes our knowledge from
direct perception, rather as all the possible names for colours, however
long the list, fail to match up fully with any shade given to such
perception. The much-maligned vagueness of concepts need be no more
than a sub-species of such a general openness. This feature of judgments
does not disappear at a supposed higher level, where we might employ
more general concepts, like “coloured” or “chromatically coloured”. For we
can always envisage a case where we must ask, “Are we to call this
coloured or not?” Nor is the ambiguity ever safely restricted to the sphere
of language alone, as if we could preserve an infallible abstraction of
definite essences, to which scientific language should strive to conform.
We do not know clearly when a tree becomes a bush, though we perceive
the vegetable before us in its full particularity, just as we do not know if

God, whom we maybe apprehend with clarity, exists or not (he might
super-exist, as we might be no more than dreams). Nor is the colour red,
as naming an idea of ours, exempt from either vagueness or openness,
while the judgment that God exists succeeds upon a question which some
thinkers consider impious, or somehow erroneous, ever to raise. Creatures
exist, while God is, or both is and is not, they say.
So the feature of vagueness applies with full force before we come to any
second-order thematization of terms, or considerations “in second
intention”, supposing we could ever be sure of when we were doing that or
not. Thus, if we return better equipped now to our topic, we find that the
question “Was the world created?” will not be effectively cleared for
resolution by countering with “It depends on what you mean by ‘created’.”
It does so depend, but not exclusively, since we can distinguish as much
as we like but still not come to an end of things.
Creation, first of all, is an idea taken from our perceived activity in our
human world. It has been the custom to add that in God’s or the world’s
case we mean a creation from nothing. It is then claimed that this is the
only true or pure case of creation, a bringing about even of time itself and
not therefore occurring within time or implying any change in the creator.
This traditional view, however, does not take in all the consequences that
our thinking must then go on to allow for after disclosing what is generally
then claimed to be an infinite and hence intelligent being, not merely self-
caused but “necessary” in himself. This conception is by no means as
paradoxical for us as some analysts have claimed. Thus the schoolboy’s
conception of necessity cited above was by no means restricted to the
logic of statements. He rejoiced rather in the freedom of a universe in
which he had not necessarily been talking, unskilled as he may have been
in the ambiguities of the scope of logical operators like "necessarily".
Contingent talking might be hoped to escape the net of the prefect’s
system of justice.
Well then, to both illustrate and be more specific (two intentions clinging
obstinately together when threatened with delimitation), it is admitted
that God, as free from ignorance, knows and so (though even this is not a
risk-free inference), in some sense, thinks. Therefore he has ideas,
patristic thinkers incautiously concluded, as any creator (artifex) forms
ideas of what he might or might not bring about. In the most general case
the infinite being selects from his stock of ideas, his imaginative fecundity,
the best possible world. On a more voluntarist version of this he selects
the one that most pleases him, while retaining his knowledge of the
unrealised possibilities, like a Wagner saddled with the detail of the
symphonies he might have bequeathed to us instead of those operas.
We have ideas. We distinguish these ideas negatively from reality. An idea
is just an idea, a fairy story, it may be, like Meinong’s golden mountain, or
perfect justice or beauty, or “tallness itself”, or Hamlet the Dane. We
further distinguish particular from general ideas. What though warrants
assuming a similar division in the divine nature? This is simple or
incomposite, it is generally argued, not as lacking the richness of a
composition but as transcending the possibility, presaging decay, of
dissolution into parts. Such transcendence entails that any divine idea is

identical with the divine being (esse) and nature (essentia), as these two
themselves are identified.
Here it should be already apparent that a divine idea does not fall short of
reality as human ideas do. It is actual, not a merely possible being or ens
rationis. Yet Aquinas partially assimilates divine ideas to Platonic
exemplars, metaphysically and even temporally prior to creation, not
created and so no longer external to God. In fact there is no potential
being since this phrase simply refers to what might be but is not. God, he
also claims, can have no real relation to what are yet called his creatures.
He knows them rather as it were indirectly, in his own ideas of them, such
ideas being each and every one identical with himself. Perhaps then they
mirror one another like Leibnizian monads.38 Do we have here in Aquinas
ideas-talk comparable to his soul-talk, preparing future philosophical
revolutions in pre-revolutionary language? Is he himself compromised?39
If though there is, as I believe, all reason to retain divine ideas as actual
products, then they constitute a real processio ad extra (at least as a
procession distinct from those of the Trinity) in and from God. Creation
though and the divine thinking are no longer then clearly distinguishable
or separable, St. Thomas's identification of all and each of the “ideas” with
the divine being notwithstanding. Either way God will be knowing himself
as freely imitable. The knowledge itself is free, offering no opening for a
faculty psychology here, or a compulsion upon knowing. It is itself
creative, like all of him.
The ideas, if postulated as arising or occurring in, with or by the
proceeding Word (per quem omnia facta sunt), can in no way be additional
to internal processions, impossible without divine ideas for Bonaventura.
As nonetheless distinct from this one Word they could be taken as ad extra
in the sense that whatever reality they have, as really postulated, will be
other than divine, a creation in fact. God is imitable in countless ways, but
calling these ways ideas is misleading, whether as identical with or other
than the divine nature. We cannot, anyhow, take the ad extra phrase at
face-value, since in reality there is nothing that is outside God. We should
accept the Pauline intuition that “in God we live and have our being”. If
anything were outside God or had being independently of God then the
divine being would not be infinite. God can will things to be, surely, but not
by the fanciful paradox of freely limiting or holding back his own being and
power. The analogy of being, the doctrine, means that created being is not
being in the same univocal sense, however we ultimately account for it. So
far we concur here with the idealists as to the unreality of matter, with
Kant as to the illusoriness of space and time, our journeys by rail or rocket
Ia 14,5: alia autem a se videt non in ipsis, sed in se ipso, in quantum essentia sua
continet similtudinem aliorum ab ipso. The argumentation here does not justify the
intrusion of similitudinem. Therefore we say there is nothing other than God and his
essence contains all things, unfolded for us according to our finite and "dialectical"
manner of apprehension. If what is outside God would only be understood inside God then
nothing is outside God.
Thomas Gornall S.J., in an appendix to his section of the old Dominican translation of
Aquinas’s Summa theologica (it had not yet been rechristened), deprecated St. Thomas’s
inclusion of a quaestio on the Augustinian divine ideas, fully integrated with the rest of
the Pars prima though this has every appearance of being.

This apparent denial of the possibility of creation in the traditional sense
by no means places a limit upon the divine power, as Aquinas often
objected. We have, rather, an intrinsic or conceptual impossibility as
contradicting the unity of the ultimate reality, the unity “we call God”,
outside of which there is nothing. Deus meus et omnia, my God and all
things, not merely my God and my all.
These reservations about the processio ad extra are partly met by the idea
of the reditus, the return to God of all that has come out from him. St.
Paul, like many in antiquity, takes up this thought. All shall be, at some
future time, delivered to the Father so that God shall be “all in all”.
Meanwhile created reality “groans and travails”, the nearest the Apostle
came to our evolutionary concept perhaps.
Some take this as some kind of historical apocalyptic within “salvation
history”. There follows though an irresistible telescoping, mirrored in much
Protestant theology, of any thinkable creation with some kind of “fall”. This
Origenist idea was rejected by the orthodox. To avoid this we have to
conceive the reditus dialectically, as part of a process of thinking, divine,
human or both.
In the perspective of eternity this circular history, of exitus and reditus,
either once and for all or forever repeating itself (not a real alternative
outside of mythology), is complete and has to be so. What we perceive as
a temporal series has in reality therefore to be some other type of
matching series. It could correspond rather to the refraction of a beam of
light into many colours or to the performance of a symphony, since this
too depends for its apprehension upon a supra-temporal grasp of the
whole. Our subjective experience can also be seen as a series of
inclusions, the earlier events being successively included in the later in a
supra-temporal intensification.40
Our symbolic mode of perception thus singles out each finite creature or
event, including ourselves. In fully appreciating or grasping the infinite
being with which we are in or as idea identified (according even to
Aquinas) we would need to transcend or correct this mode. It follows that
we normally misperceive our own being as exclusively an emergence
within what we have been accustomed to see as the created world. We too
must return to God, but dialectically, as seeing that that is where we have
always been. If the ideas of us which God constitutively knows, are
identical with God, then God too is identical with us as we too must be in
some way identical with one another, though not, as a (somewhat
mystical) body, without our own type of relationes internae.
This is not so far from a traditional understanding as might be feared.
Regarding the incarnation Aquinas allows that more than one individual
human nature can be assumed, though he considers that it would detract
unfittingly (IIIa 4, 5) from the dignity of Christ as "firstborn among many
brethren" if every human nature were assumed. But if we can suppose two
Christs then we can suppose two or more million. These would all be the
same person and suppositum for Aquinas, but it is clear that our analysis
here entails a general overhaul of all our concepts of person and
Cf. P.T. Geach, Truth, Love and Immortality: An Introduction to McTaggart's Philosophy,
London 1979, pp.154-161. One might consider, if less plausibly, including what are
experienced as later events in the earlier.

individual. We are committed today to less hampering baggage than was
yesterday's conservative orthodoxy when it comes to a response to first
generation Christian pronouncements such as that we are "all one person
in Christ", who called us not servants but friends; nothing said there even
about younger brothers or disciples. Rather, "greater things shall you do
than I have done".
When it comes to a consideration of the aptness, through congruity, of
human nature for incarnation we are not lest favourably placed, on
Aquinas's principles, than he was, even if we would rather see intellect as
an intrinsic fruit of biological evolution. This is "no longer a mere
hypothesis" conceded Karol Wojtyla from the papal chair in 1996.41
Aquinas though admitted, in contradiction of his own hylomorphism, an
"infused" spiritual soul (infused into what?). Teilhard de Chardin too
thought, or felt pressed to say, that beside the evolutionary record of the
world's reaching self-consciousness in man we need a metaphysical or
dogmatic guarantee of reason's transcendence of nature when
interpreting palaeontology and coupling it with our human experience.42
Regarding incarnation, however, Aquinas appeals simply to reason and
intellect as capax Dei, not necessarily in the Augustinian sense of a
transcendent ability to attain absolute truth but, however this may be, as
having a capacity for knowledge and love of God. We as language-users
and thinkers show that we have that capacity. This suffices, whether for us
or for Aquinas, to state that human beings are on this planet uniquely apt
for a personal union with the divine nature (secundum esse personale)
and not a union through activity alone, as with some possibly divine horse
or dog (Ibid. 4, 1 ad 2um). All we suggest here, as against Aquinas on the
face of it at least, is that our created existence too, like any created
element, is a divine thought. Existence is to reality as species to genus.
The cleavage between essence and existence that Aquinas pinpointed is a
feature of specifically finite or "created" thinking. This is the true
significance of their identification in God.
In the divine life, all the same, the processio ad extra can be considered
separately from the processio of the Word (or that of the Spirit) as a
process analogous to human thinking or systematic knowing. It cannot
however be considered as being thus separate or even as distinguishable
within a spurious divine conceptual scheme. Yet the products of thinking
are thoughts, verba interiora, “workings” of a mind. Nothing else appears
coherent. Even created existence, again, has to be one amongst other
such “thoughts”. Aquinas concludes, for example, that God is love from
the premise that God is (perfect) being. But does he show that that is the
only or a privileged way to view the matter? We may doubt it, along with
the “philosophical” interpretation of the famous Exodus text. Divine
thinking, by contrast, is implicit to the utterance of the one infinite Word,
and thus far entails divine ideas. But then, if they cannot be intentional or
exemplary, we have all around us the divine thinking, the “workings of one

Cf. George V. Coyne, S.J. "Evolution and the Human Person: the Pope in Dialogue".
We might rather accord this relation to transcendence to nature as a whole,
substantially the Hegelian move. The argument against "naturalism" establishes nothing
more specific than this, moreover.

mind”. We ourselves, all things, are within it. Freedom has to be explained
from there and not beforehand.
In the divine thinking, again, existence is a thought like any other. The
contemporary discipline called sistology reopens the field for this position,
kept hidden when it is said that God knows all the things which are but
even the things that are not, considered though only as potential beings,
whether or not they have been or will be (Aquinas). Elsewhere however
Aquinas asserts, if ambiguously, that whatever can be (actually) is or
becomes at some time. His discourse, anyhow, seeks to bring all that is
divinely known under the definite and thus restrictive concepts of being
and time.
But one can equally say that being is an irrelevant contemplation at best.
What we have in experience is a developing dialectic of ideas indeed.
These ideas of necessity unfold from one another and in an infinitely
extended universe every possibility might be realised, though there is no
need to commit oneself to this, which is anyhow infected by the realist
concept of “realisation”. The ideas themselves rather are real, as ideas,
though there is no call to treat them therefore, confusingly, as a species of
being (entia rationis).
Thus the realist will say that the creator intends the order of the universe
(Ia 15, 2) as his final aim. It is rather that the ideas unfold in series,
according to our perception, with an intrinsic necessity, as representing
the divine thought apprehended by us as temporal (and even spatial)
thinking. The realist by contrast concludes to a total duplication of each
and every individual thing or state of things as the set of their rationes in
the divine mind. Not only so, but he exactly replicates our human division
into theoretical and practical thinking, for example. Creation, as practical,
requires first a knowledge of the eternal idea within as participating the
divine essence, prior to the free production of that of which, by the double
schema mentioned, it is the idea or exemplar. Where possibilities are
concerned, however, we have the ideas as rationes only, not as
exemplars. Knowledge of them is speculative. These purely speculative
ideas are even multipliable by considerations about God’s understanding
of his own understanding, such as his idea that he understands many
things! There are besides two types of knowledge of things possible but
not presently actual, vision where they were or will be at some time and
therefore have distinct external being (sic), simple understanding where
they never were and never will be.
The divine ideas themselves, rather, are embodied around us, in refraction
of the divine simplicity, as the "material" universe with all its inherent
conditions (yet for Aquinas there is no divine idea of matter distinct from
that of composition or a plurality of parts). There is no duplication of
human mental processes in God. Evolutionary biology makes it easier to
see this clearly in a way that qualifies without needing to negate the
Augustinian application of psychology to the divine life.
It will be objected that God does not, for example, bring about an infinite
torment of the just by knowing its (physical) possibility. One could reply
that God does not distinguish the physically and metaphysically possible.
That his goodness should torment the just thus is as impossible as that
three threes be eight. There are not in reality physical possibilities which

are metaphysical impossibilities, i.e. what is metaphysically impossible is
not physically possible, while the merely logically or syntactically possible
is an immanent category of human speech alone. Even for Aquinas there is
no divine idea of evil. Thus, to bind us the law of non-contradiction too
must be metaphysically founded. I shall not argue this further here.43 What
is real, and hence divinely known, is a man considering the supposed
possibility. As for spiders with twelve legs, or hobbits, they may exist
somewhere. They may be past or to come, as omnipotence might realise
any dream or nightmare of ours. It may be that their being imagined by a
man is itself the appearance of these particular divine ideas. Nor can we
discuss further possibilities which no one has imagined. We are aware, in
fact, of an infinite sea of possibility and it is only on the realist hypothesis
that we are obliged to break it up into discrete ideas or rationes. Aquinas
indeed says that there can be no other idea of the genus than as in the
various species, i.e. not as exemplars; nor, we might wish to say, of
species other than in real individuals, real because just these are the
ideas, one sparrow after another, so to say. At least analogously there
need be no determinate idea, as ratio, of what does not come to be. That
remains in the infinite sea where speculation (or whatever divinely
corresponds to it) is at home. But in general there are not, we say,
exemplars or rationes other than the things themselves. They alone are
the divine thinking. There can be no scheme of possibilities independent of
the divine power and will, which God would be obliged ever to
contemplate. The divine mind is able to think existence in a way that
reaches right up to the reality. So there is no need there for esse as a
second absolute principle. Our awareness of life, of existence, may be the
sheen and power of the divine idea itself which we are, divine indeed as
being one with the essence. This, too, is why there is no place for nothing
in the divine mind; it is a category mistake to conceive God as wondering
at his own existence.
In this way philosophy rejoins the Plotinian and Parmenidean stream (of
insights), valid for all time, after a first encounter with a positive theology
possessed of limited speculative motivation had forced a differentiation
now requiring that reintegration to which we would here contribute.
It is anthropomorphic to think of God’s knowledge as divided up into
speculative and practical, a consequence of the ontological dualism,
signalled by the “analogy of being” doctrine, between God and creation.
One goes on to speak of a speculative knowledge not only of natural and
divine realities but of what is in principle practicable but “at no time”
comes to be. Human creating as "practice" is essentially an application of
form to “matter” (Ia 14, 16). Divine creation is contradistinguished against
such making. Yet apart from the analogy there is hardly place for the
speculative-practical distinction. It is helpful to think about the angels,
whether or not we accept the notion of such beings as usually envisaged.
These “immaterial substances” are identified by Aquinas with species, this
being the only way to preserve their quasi-individuation and hence reality
in serious thought. One goes on though to compare them with the number

But see our ”Does Realism Make a Difference to Logic?”, The Monist, April 1986, 69, 2,
pp. 281-295.

series, just as we have postulated a series of dialectical necessities behind
the apparently temporal. But there is no way that some numbers might be
left out of the angelic host as being merely speculative. Having come so
far we might as well assert that the infinite being or nous confers angelic
reality by his thought of it, if it ever is or can be so thought.
As for “ever”, the whole argumentation is time-dependent. The
speculative is identified by appeal to what “at no time” is made. Our
contrary vision, however, is established at the start by a firm appeal to
divine thinking as not merely beyond but bringing about our misperception
of the series as temporal. We find ourselves capable of overcoming this
misperception, as Copernicus overcame Ptolemy, to hold by Kant’s sturdy
So we are returned to the unrealised possibilities which we have argued
inseparable from the undifferentiated sea of divine omnipotence. Infinity
itself is endangered indeed by the rationalist idea of the rationes of things
possible as somehow prior to infinite mind as requiring acknowledgement.
Thus we find Aquinas saying that the ideas are specified by their objects.
Since however these objects first come about by means of the ideas as a
necessary condition there is strong appearance at least of self-defeating
circularity in this reasoning. In dialectic, by contrast, all things are to be
“gathered up” into God in a finally valid intuition of the whole series as
one, as the refraction of the beam serves merely for spectroscopic analysis
of the pristine whiteness. Creation viewed as a production distinct from
self-thinking, we have finally to say, does not and could not take place. It is
the divine splendour or sheen itself that is diffused all about us and not its
shadow, as we ourselves are that which we worship, the “true self” as
some have put it. This, we hinted above, is not alien to Christology. In a
sense we are each of us necessary, as representing Christ, a Christian
might say. None of which, as an interpretation, need prevent us from
confessing that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
He certainly did, and he did it “in the beginning”, i.e. not in the beginning
of “the heavens and the earth”, which renders the initial phrase vacuous,
but “in the beginning”, a beginning that is ever with us, as it is with God,
“the first” and the last.
The doctrine of divine ideas is entailed by the project of separating God in
his transcendence from a contingent and hence unnecessary creation. The
world proceeds however from an inward necessity of divine love which, as
necessity, in no way restricts the divine freedom, any more than human
reason restricts human freedom. God of course knows all things as he
knows himself and his power. He does not on that or any other account
need to have ideas of things such as we do. For he knows these things just
in knowing himself, not so much as imitable (an idea got from the
presumption of an “external” creation) but as, we have suggested here,
refractable, not into parts (being has no parts) but into modes of variously
limited being. Form, the limiting agent, may provisionally be taken (in
principle we cannot know how it happens) as continuous with that scale or
series traditionally postulated only in the case of the angels. Evolution,
however, discourages us generally from thinking in terms of the discrete or
discontinuous series talk of ideas suggests. On an accelerated film
dinosaurs pass over into birds and birds are passing, no doubt, into

something else, or disappearing. Such effusion fits better the unity of
infinite being, a liquid cataract of intelligence getting ever hotter until, as
evaporating spirit, it ascends again to the heights from which it came.
The reason for postulating divine ideas, with Plato’s legacy already to
hand, was that God creates knowingly, and “everything known is in the
knower” (Aquinas):

The essences of things as existing in the knowledge of God are

called ideas…. to the consideration of knowledge there will
have to be added a consideration of ideas (Ia 14, Prol.).

Yet Aquinas admits that God knows by his own essence, which is the
likeness and exemplar of all things. Thus Gilson and others see the
referring to this exemplariness as “divine ideas” as a mere non-functional
deference to Augustine. If we counter that ideas are needed to reconcile
divine simplicity with the multiplicity of the world we find ourselves caught
in that circular reasoning we mentioned. One is thinking of a precise or
separating knowledge of distinct particular things as needed before an
order between them is brought about.
We say, however, that the order we see just is the divine idea of the order
of the universe, this being why we see it. Comparisons with human
builders are not germane. So what our denial focuses upon is not divine
omniscience, which we affirm, but the exemplariness of both Platonic
ideas and the divine essence with which Aquinas identified them. This
exemplariness is not (we should avoid saying “was never”) an internal
intention of what is external, as in our human thinking and the sense-life
from which it has evolved (by courtesy of the divine thinking). What was
called external lives rather within God and a truer way to avoid
identification is to deny any separate being to the creature, from which of
course we first get the notion of being. “She who is not” cannot be
confused with “He who is”, if we allow St. Catherine her apparent sexism
for the moment, as it was also said that none is good but God alone,
participation notwithstanding. The creation is compared more justly in the
Psalms to an insubstantial “veil” with which God covers himself. As infinite
God is necessarily hidden from human and finite knowers to whom he
would otherwise lie passive and this in turn entails something like the
"veil" of creation, an unfolding process, indistinguishable from our own
“created” reality. The reditus, to which we naturally aspire, can only be
conceived as a divine initiative which the conception of an unfolding of
divine thinking, perceived by us as temporally ordered, readily allows for. It
was there in germ in our self-consciousness, the fact of such
consciousness, from the beginning. If we sit now with Christ in the
heavenly places we did so then, notwithstanding the Apostle’s caveat that
our own resurrection has not yet occurred. Any “not yet”, on a proper
understanding of eternity, cannot refer to a putative future divine action.
But nor is human freedom compromised, this belonging yet more than
anything else to the divine thinking, finding indeed its analogue, as
physics and biology have taught us, in all the chance and hazard with
which nature, the “workings of one mind”, is at home. This in itself
suggests a great difference between order as intended by God, to which

Aquinas appealed, and the human idea of what makes for order. One
cannot assign to the specific imperfection of matter what turns out to be
constitutive of the order of the “material” universe as such, living or non-
living. Created freedom and chance can be real without restricting the
absoluteness of an infinite providence.
The connection of ideas as needed for knowledge with a painful
evolutionary emergence and exercise of knowing is all too clear, when we
speak of them as intentional. Sometimes though the term names simply
our knowledge, not the means by which we know, called species,
representations. Aquinas postulates angels as created with all the species
of things innate to them, the only alternative to abstraction from sense-
cognition if only God knows things through his essence. This conception
shows again, all the same, that for Aquinas ideas are none other than this
essence in God. As realities they belong with finite created beings. Later
philosophy called them representations, what I present again to myself.
Angels need ideas as engaging with things outside their finite selves, but
they have no means of getting them. Nevertheless this having of the form
of the other as other, knowledge, was taken, as openness to external
reality, as the mark of spiritual being. But with knowledge lacking
empirical confirmation, an a priori input, is not the angel less well placed
than we to be sure of what he knows? Any a priori must determine
intellect, curtailing the freedom essential to genuine judgment. The
angelic intellect, for Aquinas, is neither passive as open to discovery, like
ours, nor active as creative, like the divine. Strange creatures they are
indeed, only appearing plausible through a divorce assumed at the outset
between body and spirit, which we here overcome, claiming that divine or
absolute thinking is disclosed to us finite beings, as we are disclosed to
ourselves, in spatio-temporal form. At this level there is no cutting up of
man into body and spirit. Rather, as we rise critically above this frame of
mere appearance we discover ourselves, and “matter”, as wholly spirit. A
critical investigation of Thomistic angelology might well provide the key
needed for making this transition to a post-classical view of things.
Once convinced, if we are, of the infinity of a first being, we analogically
ascribe knowledge to that being. Such knowledge, however, is far from
entailing the positing of ideas in God. Really we can do no more than deny
ignorance in such a being. His freedom from ignorance might take a form
totally unrecognizable to us; or it might be more like a man’s “knowing”
his wife than anything either visual or propositional. Knowledge was after
all classically seen as a union of knower and known.
Unfortunately, having disposed of the older view we cannot run to a new
one as readymade. A point of connection might be Aquinas’s statement
that God understands himself and all things in one act, which is the
generation of the Word (Ia 34, 3). We say, without being able fully to
explain it, that in and with this act of self-understanding in love divine
intelligence “refracts” into the processional dialectic of ideas traditionally
called creatures insofar as they are not coerced from the divine mind. This,
as reflecting without comment our simple experience of a breaking-up of
an ideal unity, seems less adventitious than suddenly talking of a factive
or operative understanding, just as we in our world have such a thing.
Humanly speaking then these are ideas in the sense of contents and not of

(intentional) species. What distinguishes them from God is an inherent
nothingness or evanescence (brought about just by making the distinction:
Aquinas correctly identifies each idea with the divine essence) which of
course we in our language call being. God uses no language, speaks but
one Word. His communication is his self-diffusion all around us. The
generation of the Son by a necessity of divine nature (non potest non
esse) posits no compulsion in God. Similarly, the degree of tightness or
looseness, necessity or contingency, with which this diffusion around us
unfolds as expressive of the divine wisdom is not decisive for its distinction
from the divine nature. What counts is its finiteness, of which spatio-
temporality is the guarantee, when rebutting the facile charge of
pantheism. And even if, or though, spatio-temporality is appearance only,
yet it is this very appearance, this nothingness (almost a Heideggerian
active nothing), extending to all we experience, which serves to
distinguish what is popularly called creation from the divine being. Nature
itself, as seen by us, is absolute thinking alienated from itself. Any being it
has it has in God, as St. Paul says. As thinkers we can become conscious of
The reason for postulating the divine ideas was that God knows what he is
creating. We say, however, that creation is itself this knowing or, as it
appears to us, thinking. So we retain ideas, not though as internal
intentions of the external, but as the creative productions of mind thinking
Our account of actuality, therefore, is different. It must be admitted,
though, that our comparison of all that is possible to an undifferentiated
"sea" is not finally satisfactory. There are definite enumerable possibilities,
as alternatives. So an infinite being must after all have definite knowledge
of them. What one cannot say is that these alternatives stand there before
the infinite being as determining infinite knowledge.
So we have to say that God originates the possibles just as he creates the
actuals. Both are his thinking. Thus any possibility that can occur to a
human being is a divine thought, along with the whole scheme of logic.
This commits us too to the claim that the laws of logic are within the divine
choice. He thought them without compulsion by them in his being, as
necessities for us. This may lead us to reconsider Peter Damian's claim
that God can change the past.
These states of affairs are only possible if actual being is not the "proper"
divine effect as Aquinas identified it, but just a quality or essence, or even
hyper-essence, forming part of some of the divine thinking. The "sheen" of
reality, again, is not hereby lost. God thinks that too. This can be so if God
is himself seen not as pure being (a notion more adroitly criticized by
Hegel than he was given credit for among neoscholastics) but as beyond
being altogether, then rather as pure form. This view no longer identifies
divine essence and existence, though it might allow actus purus. Rather,
preserving the simplicity and incomposition of infinity, God is God and not
even existence, a creaturely quality or mode, even if it be the "act of all
acts" knowable to us, is to be attributed to him, forma formarum.
This is the element of truth in theological voluntarism, unphilosophical
though this has often wished to seem. We might though still wish to ask
how a God of pure form comes down on the right side of the love,

goodness and truthfulness we so cherish. Well, we do not deny divine
being but see infinity as transcending being. Thus just as the possibles lie
in God's choice, so is it his choice what he will be (cf. The Hebraist reading
of the Exodus text as "I will be what I will be"). This fits well the insight of
Eckhart or Boehme, or Nicolas of Cusa, taken up by Hegel, that it is with
creation that God chooses to be the definite or even "contracted"44 being
we know from theology or, faith claims, revelation. Just so are goodness
and truth God's choice. Such a view need not refuse identifications of the
transcendentals. Goodness is still being as presented to the will, but these
and creation are equally chosen in a primordial abyss of freedom.
Yet these things, in Hegel and elsewhere, still proceed from an inner, non-
coercive necessity of love, according freedom and love therefore more
"formality" than being and goodness. This would have to be explained in
terms of a self-love adhering to any kind of freedom and hence to God, a
situation for which Trinitarian faith and theology offer an audacious model,
scandalizing many other theists.
Love here is prior to goodness rather as Aquinas places mercy before
justice in God (Summa theol. Ia 21, 4). So we appear here maybe as less
radical than the voluntarists and not to be identified with them insofar as
our account of freedom is itself intellectual, even though our account of
intellect can appear, to some, voluntarist. For the voluntarists hating or
commanding hate at will was a divine option too. They knew the letter of
the relevant texts.
The possibles are here reclaimed as under the control of the infinite being,
each possible, we have to go on to say, then being one with the divine
essence, remembering that this latter term, now more awkward than ever,
signifies nothing definite. This might seem to place bounds upon any
critique of "the things which are" or their alternatives indifferently, a
problem felt already under an earlier Thomism. In fact a competent ethics
and theology can resolve the problems, problems along with which God, in
his thinking, in the speaking of his Word, has originated solutions.
The possibles, like the world and the principles of logic we find ourselves
"discovering", issue both from the divine thought, his free-thinking. This
freedom means that there could be things, thinkings, even after we have
dismissed an independent class of "thinkables", that he does not choose to
think, and this does indeed suggest a power to change what we humanly
accept as the past. "I will remember their sins no more." Why not? It may
seem to pose a problem for truth- theory but the objection cannot be
claimed in advance to be insuperable.

This term has a most apposite ambiguity here.


Creation stricto sensu

Something should be said about the major role accorded to Hegel’s

thinking in our discussion here, whether of creation or the previous, closely
related themes of Trinity and identity in difference. We are presenting
Hegel as a kind of continuator of Thomism, perhaps as the first
”transcendental Thomist”, although we shall see there is good reason to
eschew this phrase as denoting any legitimate phase in philosophy. Those
calling themselves transcendental Thomists in our own time appear as
precisely not in continuity with Thomas Aquinas, whose name they often
borrow for extrinsic reasons. Lonergan or Rahner have about as much
community with Aquinas as do Grisez and Finnis with him in the restricted
area of natural law. It is a fictional community which they wish to keep up
and the more traditional Thomists find little difficulty in showing that they
are proposing something entirely different.45
Those traditional Thomists themselves, on the other hand, find themselves
naively stranded in a dogmatic time-warp when they imagine that
thirteenth century answers can be made to show an intrinsic superiority to
the ”childish stuff” (Herbert McCabe on Hume) of later philosophers.
Rahner was thus far right to see neoscholasticism as a nineteenth century
political movement, now defunct.
It was Hegel who said that the claim of Kant to deprive the human mind of
half of its patrimony would drive many back to the natural or naive
attitude of common-sense realism, whereas he, Hegel, could show the
philosophical vision towards which Kant, disdaining common-sense, had
pointed the way. In similar vein Hegel points out that the impression is
false that Aristotle reasserted common-sense claims against Platonic
idealism, since on this matter of idealism the two Greeks are united
(anima est quodammodo omnia). He himself in his philosophy very largely
follows Aristotle (and therefore Plato) and this above all is the common
ground he shares with Aquinas.
Scholastic philosophy did not of course die or even wane with the Middle
Ages (when did they end?), to be restored by Romanticism only. There is a
Protestant scholasticism with which Leibniz is in direct continuity, as he
was with Nicholas of Cusa, admirer of the Dominican Eckhart. The counter-
reformation scholastics, Suarez or John of St. Thomas, are well known.
They above all have made Aquinas appear as a particular Roman Catholic
figure. Aquinas, we claim, gathered into himself Aristotelian and patristic
wisdom, a universal man as Goethe was, differently, after him. Within
philosophy, however, the next great ”universal” figure is Hegel, also, we
claim, a Christian thinker. Such an eminence can appear as much among
Protestants as anywhere else, just as in principle Avicenna (or indeed

E.g. Robert M. Burns, “The Agent Intellect in Rahner and Aquinas”, The Heythrop
Journal, Vol. XXIX, No. 4, pp.423-450.

Augustine or Descartes) might have risen to the same heights. These are
commonplaces of ”ecumenism”.


What was the deeper reason for Leibniz’s claim that this creation we are
considering is the best of all possible worlds? Not mere ”optimism” surely,
nor even a reflection upon divine absoluteness to the detriment of divine
freedom, since God can create any world he chooses, as Hobbes
emphasised and Leibniz would not have denied.
Rather it was a more vivid sense that the world proceeds, quite naturally
but not therefore determinedly, from the divine thinking, in effortless since
absolute possibility or power, as a kind of exteriorisation, a processus,
which has no internal or sufficient reason for being partial or less than the
It is not that there might be choice between alternatives of equal value, as
if they already existed in idea, as in human finite thinking. For the ideas
are not merely uncreated, but identical each and every one with the divine
essence, says Aquinas.
All the same the doctrine of the best of all possible worlds signals a
different relation between God and world to that found in the popular way
of viewing creation. For this resembles nothing so much as Plato’s myth of
the demiurge or workman, the ex nihilo qualification merely making of this
First Cause some kind of magician. Leibniz’s dictum looks forward rather to
Hegel’s view of nature as the objectification of spirit, with roots in the
older doctrine of process-emanation and reditus, to where ”God shall be all
in all”. Emanation indeed was always an open enough notion to which the
teaching of creation did not needed to be opposed.
The world seen thus approximates more closely to God’s word, to what he
speaks. We can think of those more ”economic” doctrines of the Trinity,
again, which stress how the procession of the Word derives, as it does in
our thought, from the ”coming out” (kenosis) which is the Incarnation, this
Word in whom and through whom ”all things were made”. This Word had
no literal pre-existence but is eternal, i.e. beyond before and after. This
notion of the eternal sweeps up the dialectical development of history too
as a whole. ”All times are his”, alpha and omega.


The question concerns absolute idealism in general. In a recent exchange

in the journals ”factual idealism” (as of Sartre, Heidegger, Schopenhauer,
Merleau-Ponty) is judged coherent but false whereas absolute idealism (as
of Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, Bradley, Royce) is both ”false and
incoherent”.46 Smith argues for realism and, incidentally, considers it ”not
a helpful move” to imply by redefinition that Aquinas was an absolute
idealist. Yet this move would put Hegel in succession to Aquinas as the
latter succeeds to Plato and Plotinus while Eckart, Nicholas of Cusa, Leibniz

Quentin Smith, “Reply to Vallicella: Heidegger and Idealism”, International
Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 231-235, New York 1991.

and even Kant provide links in what then becomes a chain. The move, that
is, is called not helpful as seeming to unify a temporally coherent
opposition to Smith’s atheism. In other contexts it would clearly be helpful,
provided there is anything in it, as we have argued here.
McTaggart’s would be an example of factual idealism, not mentioned by
Smith, implying the sole reality of a state he calls heaven consisting of a
number of finite spirits who love each other. There is no other absolute or
God. Smith, anyhow, considers absolute idealism incoherent because finite
beings, as thoughts of the absolute mind, could not themselves be
thinkers as many of them are. They cannot instead be parts of that mind
since an infinity cannot be the sum of such parts, nor can it include them
as having something over as proper to it alone. For then they are not
posited by that mind as idealism requires. McTaggart has a similar
argument against our being parts of God, whose existence he accordingly
Smith thinks to refute Vallicella’s claim that absolute idealism fulfils
classical theism, since this too requires ”that every non-mind be posited
by the absolute mind.” Smith retorts that free choices (and
representations) of finite minds are not (continuously) created by the
infinite as are these minds themselves as substances.
But here he is simply wrong, misinformed. A large body of theists,
principally the Thomists, teach that God creates and pre-moves the free
choice.It is free insofar as God detderminatively knows it as free, rather
than otherwise caused, say. Where absolute idealism and theism then
would differ, if at all, would be not over this point of created freedom vis à
vis creator, but on different views regarding created vis à vis uncreated
being in general.
But here Smith himself seems prepared to assimilate continuos creation to
a divine thinking, as I would myself be inclined to agree. For just as the
status of created being vis à vis divine being is problematic (both cannot
be truly being in the same sense), so we have no grounds to assert that
divine thinking, the ideas produced, should be negatively distinguished
from real production as is our creaturely or human thinking (intentionality).
This applies whether we call such thinking speculative or practical; the
application of this distinction to infinite intellect seems anyhow on the face
of it unwarranted anthropomorphism.
One feels sympathy for Hegel’s claim that idealism is the philosophical
posture. It is in us, not in God, that there is a discrepancy between
thinking and reality, that a logic of instruments of understanding (of the
res) is needed, using ”materials” painfully abstracted from the senses in a
way that proclaims our animal ancestry. All this bespeaks finitude.
We are quite clearly not parts of an infinite being, since such a being
would have to be simplex if it is possible at all. Aquinas shows this well
enough. On the other hand Smith has no reason for claiming that a
particular human mind cannot be a consciousness if it is nothing but a
”posit” in the Absolute Mind, nor does he know the degree of similarity
between that and supposing, inconsistently as he claims, a humanly
fictional character with a real, i.e. non-fictional mind. Suddenly we have
never heard of analogy.

In reality the same difficulty exists with created being as Smith highlights
with created freedom, and which Aquinas resolves by appeal to divine
omnipotence and omniscience combined, doctrines at one with that of God
as ”pure act”. Our freedom never surprises God. He makes it to be what it
is by ”knowing” it in just that way. The free act is a created act; otherwise
there is no infinite being. Aquinas is as uncompromising as any Calvinist
here, but less rationalist and univocal. It was of course too much for the
Jesuits, or many of them, such as Molina, when the theme became
highlighted in connection with sixteenth century discussions about grace,
a factor inhibiting the Pope of the time (De auxillis) from explicitly
reaffirming the Thomist (and Augustinian) view. This view though leaves
created freedom unhindered since uncreated freedom can never be in
competition with it. The Sartrian dilemma, that either God exists or man
does, just cannot arise. Development of the more robust view, as distinct
from simply reasserting the antique version of it (Bañez, Del Prado), was
left to Hegel, in the line of Eckhart, Cusanus and Leibniz.
Similarly, our being adds nothing to God, for the obvious and inescapable
reason that we are not in the same sense. For this is the sense, not merely
quantitatively arithmetical, in which divine and created being are
incommensurate. Therefore theists must freely admit that divine being too
is not being in the normal human sense of the term (just as we are not real
as God is real and he can, says Aquinas, have no real relation with us).
”God is not being; God is freedom,” says Berdyaev accordingly, with
plenty of precedent in Pseudo-Dionysius and elsewhere. ”My God and all
things”, affirms St. Francis, while for John of the Cross God is simply the
All. There is no proportion; that is the common denominator. There might
be merely an ”analogy of proportionality” where we wish to talk about
God, a theory systematized more by Cajetan than by Aquinas.
All this applies to any possible God, that is the point. The at first sight
bizarre notion of the identity of any of the divine ideas, countless in
number, of both actual and possible things, of all parts of all wholes,
individually with the divine essence and hence, it would seem with one
another (the basis for love and mutual coherence, system, actually no
more than the Parmenidean insight that being has no parts) can only be
meant as a reflexive treatment of our thought about God, inasmuch as we
feel bound to say, with Aquinas, that simply as being a knower he has
In reality, in divinity, that is to say, there are no such things. There is God
and the world related to him, we suggest, as his thought. The doctrine,
inescapable, that God has no real relation outside of himself is in fact the
doctrine, in unconscious form, of absolute idealism. Yet whereas Aquinas
makes each divine idea identical with the divine essence he is very clear
that the divine act of being is unique and apart from the acts of being he
ascribes to each and every creature.
Indeed we talk in terms of being, including our own, but this being is, has
to be, ”in God”, not absurdly as a part of God on the divine level but as a
form of divine knowledge, self-knowledge, refracted though rather than in
imitation. For why should God imitate himself? It is refracted rather as a

kind of self-analysis, extensionally47 so to say, in verbo, which is then put
together again (reditus), this process being itself an analogue or maybe an
even closer reflection of the Trinitarian processions.
In declaring himself, his (her, its) Word, by a necessity of nature, this being
the essence of mind as such, God freely explicates himself, by an exercise
of love and wisdom, in the manifold we experience as the creation of
which we form part but which is really the divine exitus, experienced
under the forms of time and space as thinking, a dialectic.
But in the world’s becoming aware of itself in us as thinkers God comes to
birth in us human beings. The identity of each reality with divine being is
closer, more personal, in our case. We are one with him and with one
another, the totality existing in our consciousness alone, it might seem. All
this is foreshadowed by the Incarnation doctrine, however literally true or
not it might be considered to be in itself.
We can talk of created being, the cardinal glory of Thomism, but we can
talk too, more truly, of the nothingness of creation apart from God’s own
manifestation of himself. Glib talk of analogy veils the stark actuality here.
To come upon God is to come upon total reality.
Now we call God Mind, as somehow more absolute than if we spoke of his
being and ours. But mind too is a notion taken from human life. God
cannot be denied to know, but his way of knowing cannot be pinned down.
All our knowing is limited by the object, with which at best we identify.
Nothing corresponds to this in the divine case. Therefore absolute idealism
cannot either literally represent divine reality. Talk of the Word too was
taken from a contemporary philosophical stream, of the Son from
contemporary patriarchy.48 Spirit-talk is a Homeric or Hebraic analogy with
human breath. Our most solid ground is that if infinity, since there is
nothing outside to limit it, and the properties infinity must have, such as
no parts outside parts, all being together and at once. It must be ultimate
reality, but such ultimate reality, the history of philosophy shows, need not
be absolute being. Absolute freedom and unity are less dismissible
candidates, as are power and freedom from ignorance. Maybe even love is
in the choice of this freedom. Being quite thinkably comes in with the
dialectic we have for centuries called creation, which we then project back
on a First Cause. Being might be the especial mark of what depends upon
this infinite reality.

Hegel comments on Spinoza that “he does not define God as the unity of God with the
world, but as the union of thought with extension... not Atheism but Acosmism”
(Encyclopaedia, Logic 50, Wallace p. 105-6).
That it is Son and not daughter poses a potential problem for Christian development. A
massive favouring of the male sex seems inescapably involved to which Marian devotion
makes no difference at all, unless to stress the disparity, easily leading to a questioning of
the historic incarnation in respect of its uniqueness, not in principle necessary as Aquinas
for his part makes clear in the Summa theologiae IIIa. A line for the future may well be
open here. However, Aquinas adds that such a plurality of individual human natures
would all be united to the same divine person, if we prescind from possible incarnations
(allowed by him) of the other two divine persons, in which case the Holy Spirit, for
example, might fittingly assume a female human nature. Aquinas though considers it
more fitting that fewer rather than many such incarnations would occur, whereas it is
clear that here we have already envisaged a general coincidence, convergence rather, of
human and divine.

In McTaggart’s system, again, there exist only spirits, presumably finite, in
love. One can protest at the absence of a ”reason of being”, such as
infinite reality postulates as within itself as ”self-explanatory”. Of course
the only reason for postulating this infinity is as condition for our own
awareness of life. This might seem at first contingent to our
understanding, but we have already stated an identity of each of us with
infinite reality. The conclusion, that ”all are one”, seems plain. Our true
self, the true self (atman), is necessary. This is the only answer to the
question, raised previously, why do just I exist? One has a lot to
remember, the Platonic intuition being thus far correct. Time is illusory,
whatever the nature of the dialectical series it reflects. Nor, as is widely
just assumed in philosophical writing, does denial of time destroy freedom
on the Thomist pre-motion view.
It is worth noting the consequences of thinking of our acts as being free
because God makes them so, knows them to be so, wills them in just that
way, as opposed to the idea that freee action is action in complete
independence of God. Such a belief, which we also find throughout the
Bible, where it is God who works in us, who even hardens Pharaoh’s heart,
implies the total and continuos ontological nearness of God as our own
deepest reality in its ultimate explanation. He is intimately involved even
in a simple game of dice with all the choices he moves us to make, thus
causing our defeat or victory, with all the social or human or domestic
consequences. We feel him just at our side, or too close to see, all the
time, and this is the root of a very special confidence or hope we may
have, as Job had.
By contrast the other doctrine, born of a metaphysically insensitive and
brutishly authoritarian theology historically, signals loss of this sense49, a
withdrawal from or, some might perversely say, of God, though we can
always return. It is perhaps the dialectical anti-Christ moment, a move into
extrinsic ideology. But Christianity may have embraced even this within its
dialectical historical development, for a time.


So now, after these preliminaries, when we return to considering Hegel’s

philosophy of creation we have to decide whether he is reducing the
affirmation of creation as found in Christian doctrine, for example, or
simply explicating its sense in relation to all other truths, such as that of
the creator’s infinity. Really this dilemma, if it is one, applies to the project
of theology as a whole, be it Aristotle’s theologia or Rahner’s investigation
of themes such as the inspiration of scripture. The underlying assumption,
or conviction rather, is that the teaching of religion is not a final
penetration as to what things really are. This assumption, however, does
not entail that any existing or even possible theological insight could be
final. Thus the positing of the Trinity is the positing of ceaseless process.
So it is a weakness of the interesting article by Richard Gildas 50 that he
does not make this key question explicit. He assumes, rather, that Hegel
As is brought out in a study of Western Christianity by Rudolph Steiner where he
connects this loss with the person of Pope Nicholas I, the “Great”. The near-contemporary
Libri Carolingi might also be cited, however.

has offered an alternative account of finite reality, giving it less of an
”alterity” from God than does the traditional doctrine. The prior
assumption to this is that one can unreflectively understand in full what in
fact this traditional doctrine has to tell us, in which case no analysis would
be needed at all, or at least not on certain points. The roots of this
attitude, when not merely naive, lie in a conception of belief according to
which each ecclesiastical definition or pronouncement closes off a given
area for speculation or meditation once and for all, as if everything there
were now fully understood. But the spiritual man judges all things, it was
said, and such an attitude is indeed unspiritual, unecumenical and, I would
judge, unpatristic. One might call it the ideological mode, into which good
and loyal people can fall out of fear of losing what they have.
Gildas’s first paragraph, indeed, breathes a more positive spirit, showing
Hegel as wanting to make ”the rational content” of the doctrine appear ”in
its truth”. Creation, he points out, is engendered neither out of God, by an
”alienation”, nor out of some pre-existing matter. It is another being, in
”ontological discontinuity”, not, he says surprisingly, to be equated with
an effect as such unable to decide its own characteristics and manner of
being. Nothing is imposed on the creature since it is ”without reserve
given to itself”. In no way the origin of its own being, it is fully ”the origin
of what it will make of its being.” Creation is the manner of origin of
radically autonomous, free beings, for it ”originates an origin”. At this point
Gildas asks what is wrong with creatio ex nihilo, as if assuming Hegel to
have faulted what Gildas himself has just presented in ”philosophical
discourse”. In this discourse, however, no account is taken of any idea of
an analogy of being. Yet apart from this analogy God alone IS. Therefore,
again, he has no real relation with creatures (as they have with him from
their viewpoint), not even in his knowledge of them, since he knows them
exclusively in his ideas of them, each of which is identical with his
But as there is an analogy of being, so there must be an analogy between
divine and created freedom. They cannot be the same, and on the Thomist
analysis, we repeat, an act is free because and only because God, as
omniscient, determiningly knows it as free. Part of our purpose in this
chapter, indeed, is to demonstrate the continuity between Hegel and
these Augustinian and Thomist perspectives. Thus for Augustine ”there is
one closer to me than I am to myself”, indicating God as my intimate self
almost, or the atman of Hinduism, in whom we live and move and have
our being, again. There is not much ”ontological discontinuity” here. For
that, indeed, one must go to the Molinist theologians, historical precursors
of deism and related untenable positions, rooted however in late medieval
notions of the libertas indifferentiae. Thus Gildas writes that ”le créateur...
donne à la créature de pouvour se tourner ou non vers lui” (my emphasis).
He appeals for support to Lévinas, who, with the Hegel scholar C. Bruaire,
is claimed to be a ”notable exception” to the tendency after Hegel to
reject creation stricto sensu:

Richard Gildas, Examen critique du jugement de Hegel sur la notion de création ex
nihilo, on the Internet at

La limitation de l’Infini créateur, et la multiplicité – sont compatible
avec la perfection de l’Infini. Elles articulent le sens de cette

What has to be shown though is why Hegel’s theory does not ”articulate”
the sense of this compatibility, asserted merely here, or why it should be
seen as rejecting creation stricto sensu. Is not this phrase being used
merely to assert the received doctrine, held unreflectively rather than
strictly, in any philosophical sense of this term. To make a comparison, -
there is a strict or absolute sense of moral obligation which however, after
analysis reveals that ”every precept is given for some end” (Aquina, ST Ia-
Iiae 99, 1), is yet found to be lacking in sense, this being precisely the
Hegelian critique of ontological discontinuity, a phrase simply mirroring
the popular unreflected notion of transcendence, with sociomorphic roots
in ideas of sovereignty and royal power. In fact nothing is discontinuous,
not a sparrow falls to the ground, the hairs of our heads are numbered and
so on.
C. Bruaire is cited as finding Hegel insufficiently ”alert to the alterity of
created being”. Yet Bruaire acknowledges that Hegel in his philosophy of
religion ”resolutely defends the difference between the Son and the
created world”, while in an earlier work not cited by Gildas he shows how
what Hegel sets forth is not pantheism but an analogy between
intratrinitarian life and divine ad extra activity. Both are ”necessary” in
their respective ways and somehow circular or returning on themselves,
the Word belonging to God’s essence, the creation manifesting that
essence.52 Aquinas, similarly, treats both under the rubric of a processio.
The creation, for him, is destined to return to God in reditus matching the
exitus, while for St. Paul the point of the proces is that ”God shall be all in
all”. This is straight prefiguring of Hegel on the part of both writers, the
only difference being that what they treated historically he treats
dialectically, believing that from the viewpoint of eternity history becomes
a dialectic or, we might say with McTaggart, a series only misperceived or
misjudged by us as absolutely temporal, since neither God nor his
knowledge and will change.
One might therefore parry the critique by saying that the Molinists, or
Gildas and other protagonists of the libertas indifferentiae are
insufficiently alert to divine infinity, seen by Gildas as somehow exceeding
its human ”concept”, to which he finds Hegel to exclusively attached. He is
of course right that one should progress from knowledge of things in our
notions of them to knowledge of those things in themselves 53, which
however is precisely what Hegel strictly attempts in his treatment of
creation. Why then should he not do it in the case of the infinite being?
This tendency to explain creation stricto sensu as a kind of self-limitation
on the creator’s part can look like a mere flat importation of religious
paradox into philosophy:
E. Lévinas, Totalité et infini, essai sur l’exteriorité, Paris, Le livre de poche, coll. “biblio
essais”, 1994, p.107.
C. Bruaire, Logique et religion chrétienne dans la philosophie de Hegel, Paris: Ed. De
Seuil 1964.
Aristotle,Metaphysics VII-IX.

L’origine, en créant, ne perd pas son être-origine, mais renonce à son être-cause,
ce qui est tout différent (Gildas, p.7).

Here we have the denial of praemotio physica correspondingly preparing a

statement of the libertas indifferentiae. So we have God as être-origine of
our own origine or originating power in freedom, achieved by God’s
renoncementof his universal causality. But it is just this which is totally
impossible, which is why the Thomists assert that divine and created
freedom are analogous, not univocal, a divine motion preceding or
encapsulating every motion of mine, inclusive of my willing, thus making
me act freely. This is what Gildas is objecting to, rather than to anything
specifically Hegelian. God does not in creating renounce anything, an
anthropomorphic notion if ever there was one, inspired though it may be
by kenotic notions of the Incarnation, though these have always been kept
strictly apart from any idea of ”patripassianism”, i.e. that God as ”origin”
suffers, renounces.54
The Pauline liberty in which Christ shall have made at least believers free
is anyhow for Hegel a discovery of what we really are. To this extent the
previous Law was imperfect, given by God or not, and this is in fact the
position represented in the Gospels, ”You have heard... but I say unto
you.” The Incarnation, that is, is no more a historical contingency than is
the Fall of Man.55
Gildas seems to relate Hegelian necessity to some kind of logical
determination of concepts, ultimately of ”the concept”, and some kind of
relation there may be. One has however, again, to be sensitive to the
analogies of necessity, vis à vis freedom, for example. Thus there is the
necessity of propriety, aesthetic almost, of what is becoming (condecet) to
the divine goodness, such as ”that other things should be partakers
therein”.56 For either thinker God does not create by arbitrary decree. In
Van Riet’s previously quoted words,

As soon as you are in the world of love or goodness, there is hardly any sense in
opposing freedom and necessity. Furthermore, the human notion of freedom
cannot be transposed to God without correcting it....
Divine freedom, that is, is not a libertas arbitrii but absolute, also a
Thomsit Augustinian position.


We mentioned religious paradox. This is a kind of admission of rational defeat which

Hegelian dialectic, with its identity in difference, goes some way towards overcoming. It
seems that Gildas’s notion of creation goes no further than to assert just this paradox, such as
we find it in many professions of faith. Behind it though lies the inadmissible idea that in
creating God somehow works against himself. This is the same as the Molinist idea of
freedom, as a kind of divine abdication rather than the closest imaginable divine union with
“this... in Christ Jesus who, though he was in the form of God... emptied himself, taking
the form of a slave... Wherefore God has exalted him...” Philippians 2.
Hegel, Encyclopaedia, Logic 24.
Aquinas, ST Ia 19, 2.

human nature. God, the origin, univocally and hence impossibly shall have set up the creature
as origin.
This set of notions can be found taken a step further in many of the
theologians considered in, for example, Hans Küng’s The Incarnation of
God57, Excursus V. They are not found in Hegel who, again, develops
independently the view of divine and human freedom in ordered relation
as it is found in Augustine and Aquinas. By this view, as found either in
Hegel himself or in prominent Hegelians, every created entity is known
divinely in the divine idea, which in every case is identical with the divine
essence. This is also pur Thomas Aquinas. In the case of the rational
creature a genuine identity with the divine action (motion) has to be
placed as the natural term aimed at, as the true self or atman, again. It is
in this sense that he or she is capax Dei, there being no other way such a
capacity can be envisaged than by becoming what one is thus capable of.
So there is no conflict or irreconcilable opposition between divine and
human freedom in Hegel, as if God has to die so that man may live, i.e.
not sacrifice himself so much as just disappear, as more than one of these
theologians sees it. Hegel’s is the Augustinian ”closer than I to myself”
rather. The possibility of that and of God, plus their compatibility with the
reality of individual finite personality, belong and must be judged

Christianity is the religion of freedom. Not of man’s freedom without

God or against God, but with God and by God. Freedom of God and
freedom of man are complementary.59

Regarding any questions about grace, this notion is thus one of

intensification of the original notion, a kind of special friendship with God,
as Aquinas rather dualistically puts it. One might also speak of eventual
individual identification with the absolute or deification, participating the
divine life. What else can be meant by indwelling? Certainly more than
friendship, though it include it.
The idea of grace as the perfection of freedom was first systematically
developed by Pelagius, who need not have been the Pelagian Augustine
saw him as. That grace is everywhere or even that all is grace is a
Herder, Freiburg, 1970.
Insofar as McTaggart’s finite but timeless spirits are bound together by absolute reason,
in consequent mutual love, his denial of God might not be thought to amount to much.
This is a question we will leave open for the present, merely remarking, with Aquinas, that
God is but the preferred name we give to the ultimate reality or first cause, which
Aristotle had already called nous. If “I am the absolute source” (Merleau-Ponty), then
indeed I will be God, as many Sufis would cheerfully agree. It is a dizzy prospect,
however., and insofar as I am finite pure untruth, in Hegel’s words. Regarding dizziness,
however, we should add that just as some wish not to characterize the infinite as God, so
some would not wish to put Hegelian reason as absolutely first, finding Dionysius superior
to Apollo. This is perfectly allowable and well illustrated in the music contemporary with
Hegel, “a greater revelation than the whole of religion and philosophy”, said its greatest
practitioner. The dialectic is material to all these forms of the ultimate, divinity, reason,
ecstasy, dance, as names taken from human life. For in the infinite Apollo and Dionysius
are one.
Van Riet, Ibid. P.80. For Aquinas, cf. CG III 149; S.T. Ia 105, 4; Ia-Iiae 10, 2; also Ia 14, 13
ad 3; Ia-Iiae 10, 4 ad 3 and D.V. 23, 5 ad 3.

commonplace for many theologians today, from Rahner downwards. Thus
for Hegel not even the Incarnation is a special revelation as if by some
extrinsic prerogatave, as if not corresponding to any discovery made by
humanity, he might as well say made by God in man, at that stage of its
development as manifested in time on man’s side. Yet for Hegel
Christianity is the one absolute religion, demonstrating that man as man
was always capax Dei. Thus de Lubac concurs that it is not a religion but
”religion itself”.60
It is because Christianity first reveals man as man, in the ”son of man”,
that it has served as the historical basis for a universal democracy, for
what are called the rights of man as man, as well as for universal freedom
and love:

Only in Christendom is man respected as man, in his infinitude

and universality. What the slave is without, is the recognition
that he is a person: and the principle of personality is

Here is Hegel´s reply to the charge of belittling the individual, who for him is fulfilled and
liberated in the universal, in respect for man as man.
The doctrine of the timeless Trinity arose, by way of interpretation of
earlier written records, from consideration of the phenomenon or
appearing of Christ and the subsequent sending of the Spirit as it was
experienced, viz. as an inward witness as of another person. The two
aspects, immanent and economic, are seen by Hegel as one. How could
they not be? The otherness which is in God, and there negated, is the
determinate otherness of finite humanity. This is what the Incarnation, as
believed in, shows or declares. A man is (was) kept hidden in heaven, in
the scritural metaphor. This is what it means, what alone it can mean, to
say that Jesus is God with us, showing

That the human, the finite, frailty, weakness, the negative, is itself a divine
moment, in God himself... in its character as otherness it does not hinder unity
with God.62

This otherness though is to be transcended, as the eternal truth of resurrection shows.

Trinitarian life and encounter with and overcoming of otherness are thus one and the same:

In this truth the relation of man to this truth is also posited.63

H. De Lubac, The Drama of Atheistic Humanism
Hegel, Encyclopaedia, Logic 163. Maritain makes the same point in Christianity and
Democracy. On this view the tension with secularism or atheism is as endemic, as
belonging within Christendom, the West, as was the medieval conflict between Church
and state. The United Nations is a European or Western creation.
Hegel, Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion, SW (German text) Vol. 16, pp.306-7. J.N.
Findlay, Walter Kauffmann, and some other interpreters exhibit a Procrustean ignorance
of this and the corresponding texts in The Phenomenology of Mind (tr. Baillie, pp. 750-
Ibid. P.324.

This is the significance, the secret, of man’s natural desire for the infinite, eternal and
universal, as intrinsic to his intellectual nature. For upon these exchanges intellectuality itself
is founded, the evolutionary emergence of the abstractive power assured as the infinite’s
internal finding of itself in the other. Otherness, that is, has to be intrinsic to it as infinite.
Thus one reason that the angels of scripture are amazed and puzzled by this is that it
undercuts the very raison d’être of non-human finite spirits. Man, endlessly negating himself,
comes here to see that such contradiction in self-transcendence is constitutive. Identity in
difference is spirit, as in the Trinity. Thus one finds oneself at home in God, not a slave but
free, meeting oneself in God. This, it is claimed, is freedom.

So far as this subject which is inherently infinite is concerned, the fact of its
being determined or destined to infinitude is its freedom, and just means that it
is a free person, and thus is also related to this world, to reality as subjectivity
which is at home with itself, reconciled within itself, and is absolutely fixed and
infinite subjectivity.64

What dies on the Cross is everything particular, every distinction. What counts is man as man,
and it is as such that men are united to one another in love. We have here a kind of rationale of
the liberty, equality fraternity slogan coined in Hegel’s lifetime, and which Maritain insists we
cannot go back from without ”great scandal to humanity”.65

This is the revolutionary element by means of which the world is given a totally
new Gestalt.66

What this means is that the Incarnation is not to be understood as a paradoxical divine
abdication but as the full revelation of God and man together. It is as if for Hegel this
revelation has come about through the Christian event in history, true enough, but is now itself
understandable independently in consequence.

This incarnation of the divine being, its having essentially and directly the shape
of self-consciousness, is the simple content of Absolute Religion... In this form
of religion the Divine Being is, on that account, revealed. Its being revealed
obviously consists in this, that what it is, is known.67

The Biblical text (we cannot be sure of the author’s identity) speaks, of course, of a divine
emptying, kenosis, as part of showing that God’s power has made things to be so, by a taking
of the manhood into God as a later Church document has it (Athanasian Creed), rather than,
more profoundly, that it reveals that things are so. Thus we get the appearance of a somehow
contingent labour, resulting from man’s sin in some versions, though the felix culpa can be
differently interpreted, as the frailty (falsity for Hegel) of finitude, for example. This is in fact
the difference between religion and philosophy, which means that those theologians who
would thematize just this kenosis, of the ”pre-existent” Christ, in their theologies ipso facto
fail to offer a theology, remaining at the level of paradox and unilluminated mystery. Our
vision of the world is not transformed. Thus the pre-existence notion builds upon an
unreflected notion of eternity as temporal duration. For Hegel this kenosis of God is one with
his speaking of his Word as other, already a negation, in which all that goes to make up this

Ibid. P.341.
J. Maritain, op. cit. pp. 36-37. .
Hegel, op. cit. P.298.
Phenomenology of Mind (Baillie), pp. 758-9 (my emphasis).

world is spoken, so as also to be reconciled again in the Spirit, as in the Trinity the ”negation
of the negation”. The Trinity is in fact reconciliation in itself and this is the significance of the
ecumenical movement of our times. This, anyhow, is the process of assigning meaning, which
is the task of philosophy, to this paradox of a contingent kenosis.
Those theologians, again, who prefer to give a brute emphasis to this kenosis merely see man
and God as opposed, just as the Molinists, or the earlier proponents of a liberty of
indifference, saw human and divine freedom as in essential conflict, preparing the way for
Sartre’s dictum that if God exists then man does not and vice versa. But man exists in God.


The theologian Hans Küng, in his engagement with Hegel68, holds a kind of middle position
here. In the later Existiert Gott? he seems to understand and accept the Thomist solution
regarding human freedom’s relation to divine omnipotence. But in the book on the incarnation
he simply assumes that the Incarnation is a change in God. Thus he had wanted to argue that
change is not forbidden to God. He is right there of course, but God will know the change he
chooses in advance, so to speak, so that in his simple incomposite being, which is one with his
knowing, there will not be change. This will apply a fortiori to any eternally foreknown
change of himself, supposing that that were consistently thinkable. He is not in time and so
does not enter time at some temporal point in his own life. But Küng is similarly doubtful
about the necessary finiteness of compositeness, in the teeth of reason, so to say, the result it
seems of a residual crass Biblicism still keeping this theologian from a genuine philosophy of
Our immediate way of imagining time in relation to eternity, that is, is simply assumed here
and Küng is pleased to exhibit K. Rahner’s complicity in this approach.69 Historicity is then
suggested as an extra transcendental predicate. One can indeed say that our history has to be
analogous to something like history in eternity (the Trinitarian reconciliations), though this,
for Hegel, rather makes us rethink history as a kind of dialectical series not, as rational,
essentially temporal.
Immutability does not mean that God is already fully actualized and therefore is impotent to
do more. He actualizes himself in the eternal present in which he is forever uttering his Word,
actus purus therefore. For a theologian to disregard this as profane assumption is not
legitimate. God is not now living in a time after the Incarnation, whereas once he lived in a
time before it. One says the same, after all, about the act of creation, viz. That it entails no
change in God. All times are his, it is said in the liturgy, and a breviary hymn, more fancifully,
describes Adam’s face as fashioned to the likeness of Christ’s, taking the latter as first, as
having priority. The divine deeds and the divine intentions are not distinguishable. Nor does
recognition of this render God incapable of distinguishing our past from our future. In this
sense he knows what time it is now, as I type. Yet it could also be that we ourselves make our
present now too absolute in relation to our past and future nows, as if it were univocal with
the divine now. It at least includes all past nows, something the Nietzschean eternal return
might help to bring out and which is certainly required by the Hegelian notion as the perfect
state of consciousness.
Thus Hegel would be right to make the agony of Jesus in some way eternal (the ”lamb slain
before the foundations of the world”) in the sense that also that moment is more primarily
known by God in his eternal idea of it, if things get their reality from God’s knowledge of
them. Its negation though would also be eternal.

Hans Küng, Menschwerdung Gottes, Herder, Freiburg 1970.
Küng, op. cit., Excursus V.

We have our being in God not as sharing in the eternal divine being, totally incommensurate
with us. Change is but an extended analogy of the changeless as fully actual. Extension is the
composite analogy of spirit. One can ask though if spatial extension, parts outside parts, is the
uniquely necessary expression of potentiality or finitude as such. Or is matter a contingently
separate divine invention? As against this, we have had the tendency to accord matter to
angels, because they are finite.
That the divine kenosis is purposed and done eternally would be compatible with seeing it as
a response to sin, all being contained in the divine originating knowledge. Thus philosophy
too might include it, getting behind talk of the ”foolishness” of God. Man is the mystery.
God’s eternal involvement with man, with men and women and, surely, children is reflected in
our minds and experience as historical, since infinite transcendence brooks no restriction. This
is why philosophy must transmute our naive perception of the historical and not the other way
round, imputing change to God.
Küng, anyhow, is not merely saying that all history centres upon Christ, but rather that this
centre is the centre of divinity, that God speaks his eternal Word with a view to or as existing
and suffering as man in one and the same act. Man is not some contingent afterthought, even
though we are God’s free creation. In fact one should not find God unfree regarding even his
own existence, as if finding himself ”given”, and this is the point of the causa sui doctrine.
So insistence on divine immutability has nothing to do with ”fear of change”, though if even
God were different in the past we would lose the past. There is no connection with rigidity, as
with a changeless object in this world. Immutability follows from infinity, actus purus,
totality of act in one inclusive present, i.e. one eternity. The present here is analogy for
eternity, and not like our present, which hardly exists.
God knows my death eternally, so he can know his own death in Christ thus, causing the
temporal reality to which he himself has no real relation.God knows things as changing
without himself changing, and the Trinitarian relations and the act of salvation are the same,
as indeed every divine idea is one with the divine essence. Christ had glory with the Father
before the world was, as John has it, and obviously never lost or left it. This is the reality
behind the no doubt legitimate, even inspired kenosis-discourse.
Time though is more an image of eternity than its negation, as one series, say the passage of
minutes, mirrors another, such as the series of numbers (though number is rather the principle
of series as such). For Scotus Eriugena creation, as a theophany, actually is God’s (one) act of
knowing himself. This is the thrust of saying that God does not know himself apart from his
creation, which seen thus would not be a denial of God’s inherent self-luminosity as a
thinking of thinking. God’s knowing here, correctly, is not separated from his acting and
making, is as such causative. Aquinas will add that this is so only where God knows things
(chooses to know?) as being, but we can question whether he knows things in any other way,
as if placed before a shopwindow of possibles he did not himself create. He is aware of his
omnipotence simply.
Küng goes on to consider recent attempts in theology, all sharing his own blind spot to just
Hegel’s strengths, though Küng’s book purports to be an introduction to Hegel’s thought as
”prolegomena to a future Christology”. He starts out from Paul Althaus, for whom acceptance
of ”God himself in the Son” simply entails that ”of course the old version of God’s
immutability breaks down.”70 Karl Rahner merely confirms this, fideistically, despite some

The Word became flesh. And we are only true Christians when we have
accepted this...

References to be found in Küng’s text.

As if there no possibility of ambiguity on ”became” here, such as not just Hegel but Aquinas
is alive to. Rahner adds that

It still remains true that the Logos became man, that the changing history of this
human reality is his own history....
This insistence in no way alters the classical position Rahner has just, with some irony, stated.
He wants to make of the assertion of the lack of any real relation of God to the world a
”dialectical statement”, one not envisaged in the Hegelian dialectic though, perfected as it is
in the absolute.
The impression given by Rahner’s words is that God is constrained by infinite love to a for
him highly unnatural action, of kenosis, just as his creation of a free creature is, except on the
Augustinian-Thomist hypthesis, an unnatural abdication. For Hegel things are simpler; the
Incarnation, the coming of Christianity as the absolute religion, are necessary and thus,
ultimately, congruent with all else. The ”kingdom of the Father” or Trinitarian life, and the
”Kingdom of the Son”, its phenomenal representation by the incarnation, death and
resurrection of the God-man, are neither separable nor distinct. The same applies to the
”Kingdom of the Spirit”, which is this life as subjectively at home with itself in the
community. As essence of the Trinity, so identity in difference, reconciliation, infinite love,
the magnalia Dei, are supremely natural to him.
Von Balthasar too, also in this Jesuit post-Molinist tradition, takes kenosis literally as a kind of
choice of God against himself. He speaks of a doctrine of immutability ”such that the
incarnation is regarded as exceptional” (by whom, though?). But for Hegel God was always
human, man eternally known. Yet Balthasar even speaks of an ”eternal aspect of the
historically bloody sacrifice of the Cross”.
Certainly Karl Barth too is right to point to the difference between Jesus and the false gods
imagined by man but we see that these theologians have somehow all missed the mark. The
tradition of Aquinas is continued and better integrated with other knowledge in Hegel, as
theology as a separate, sacred system yields place to philosophy of religion, something
already done by these theologians but done less well. Their witness culminates, for Küng, in
the noble figure of Bonhoeffer, in whom however the idea of an overcoming of an original
conflict of importance between God and the world is most pronounced:

What a strange harmony he found between the ejection of God from the world
come of age, the autonomous secular world, and the revelation of God in Christ,
in which God permits himself to be thrust out of the world and on to the Cross.71

Yes it was strange, as if the whole business of Christianity was to free men from a falsely
servile religiosity merely, rather than essentially to perfect them, a process of course involving
rejection of that:

We cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi
deus non daretur. And this is just what we do recognize – before God! God
himself compels us to recognize it... God would have us know that we must live
as men who manage our lives without him.72

There seems, with respect, deep misunderstanding here. There is nothing paradoxical about
our relation to God, rightly understood. God is the absolute consciousness to which we are
ever approximating, and we all find our unity there, in Christo, who had to be ”buried in the
Küng, op. cit. p.552.
Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, London 1971.

grave of the Spirit” (Hegel), negating all finite value in favour of the infinite and universal,
thus affirming man as man, more fundamentally than any representation of this as ”bloody
In a word, we are witnessing a kind of side-show here, derivative, we claim, upon Molinist-
type inaginings. The question raised by this controversy in the early seventeenth century was
precisely that of the absoluteness of God, and this is the aspect under which Hegel treats of
him, with more clarity as to the issues involved than was shown by the religious authority at
the time of the De auxiliis dispute. If it was fear of offending the Jesuits which stayed the
Pope’s hand then (he needed their help against the nascent Protestant movement in Venice),
then let us not repeat the error. Hegel, anyhow, continues the Dominican tradition, whether or
not Dominican stalwarts, defenders of praemotio physica such as Norbert del Prado, have
always or even often been aware of this. ”Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and
so to have entered into his glory?” asked the stranger on the road to Emmaus. It is the stranger
Hegel’s merit to have laid bare the internal necessity implied here, not a mere fulfilling of
arbitrarily inspired texts, but a necessity reaching into these texts themselves as bearing upon
how God, man and the world are.


Metaphysics and Creation

We need to set forth now a synoptic view of the main positions

adumbrated up to now. Then we will step back a little in order to consider
more directly such topics as the divine proto-motion underlying created
freedom and others before eventually coming to ethical and practical
We began with immortality, faith and the Trinity. Now in his book on
McTaggart73 Peter Geach refers at times to the Christian Trinity. Thus after
saying (p.54) that the Father and Son are distinguished just by their
mutual relations he specifies this to mean that “being a father” would be
an exclusive description of one divine person (he does not say “being
Father” in view of McTaggart’s principle of sufficient Description, whereby
any substance is describable without resorting to proper names). But
Geach adds the rider that the above phrase would be a (McTaggartian)
sufficient description “if nothing else existed beside the Trinity”.
This is a convenient launching-point for the ground I want to cover here.
Once this ground is covered I believe Geach’s statement here to be at the
least misleading, in so far as it might seem to deny that in fact nothing
else does exist beside the Trinity.
The infinite being which the Father (like the Son and Holy Spirit) is cannot
share existence or any other quality. Beside God there is and can be
nothing. Any serious doctrine of creation has to keep that truth, which
might at first seem to negate creation’s possibility, firmly in the
If we retain the Trinitarian dimension as part of the supposed whole
picture, then the sufficient description envisaged will be one of the Father
as begetting the son, also called his Word which he speaks, a Word which
is one in being with its utterer. There is no moment of eternity, of divine
life, which is after or before the speaking of that Word, in which all of
infinity is uttered and subsists.
We have here a substantive procession within God to which the procession
of creation is at least analogous. But since God is changeless (he is never
in potentia to anything) then from God’s side the processio ad extra of
creation also is eternally actual, that is to say simultaneous if not
coincidental with the generation of the Word. It is surely in this sense that
all things were made through (per quem) the Word as being spoken, or in
the speaking of it.
What Geach has to say here, incidentally, about “Cambridge changes”
being applicable to God as real changes are not does not resolve the
puzzles here simply because even these are a matter of a change in God’s
knowledge, and that is a real change in God; Socrates’s change from being
taller than to being shorter than Theataetus is not thus real. God however
cannot be said to have potential knowledge of the boy’s later maturation.

P.T. Geach, Truth, Love and Immortality.

His knowledge of the temporal has to be timeless and so whatever reality
time has must be amenable to that.
This position should not be affected by our perception, if we think we do
perceive it, of the world as beginning. Indeed the same consideration
applies to any item in the world, including each one of us, in view of the
creator’s changelessness.
If there are two concurrent processions the one has to be an analogy of
the other, if they are to be kept separate at all. They are certainly distinct.
Yet it has only proved possible to conceive the two processions, ad intra
and ad extra, as apart from one another where one has conceived of
eternity (inadequately) upon the analogy of time, as if the Word were
begotten “before” time (ante omnia saecula), which “began” with creation.
In fact it is time which is secondary, and a symbol or filtered vision of
eternity, certainly not merely its opposite or denial. Memory, our abiding
memory of things, is the sign of this, a memory, perhaps, which can even
probe the future.
In begetting the Son, since this is eternally being effected and yet is
eternally perfected (i.e. not only being perfected), at an ever new first and
only quasi-moment (it is important that although “all at once” it is not
literally a moment, which as minimal is somehow its very opposite rather),
God the Father conceives and thus creates the world, eternally perfect,
finished and fulfilled. In conceiving this his perfect image, the Word, in
which he knows himself, Mind knowing Mind, God’s almighty power and
freedom (the freedom expressing the power, the power effecting the
freedom) educe the fruits of this absolute self-knowledge. These fruits are
our world, expressing nothing other than how the infinite principle freely
and without hindrance or effort chooses to know himself.
He does not choose by limitation, but absolutely, declaring his “glory”, his
infinity. This is also the principle of the Christian Incarnation, that all of
uncreated divinity, be it being or something other, is manifested in the
particular. It is manifested for us in a series of aspects or ideas, any one of
which is one with the divine as such. This is really so. The created principle
of particular and universal, whereby our minds haltingly grasp reality, is
overcome within the infinite.
Thus a divine idea could not be like a human idea (though the reverse
might hold). It could not have that reduced being over against things
which our ideas, as mere species, must have. A divine idea is, as an idea
(it is not in itself a mere ens rationis but only as we distinguish it in our
human thought). So whatever intentionality can be ascribed to such ideas
will not resemble our finite intentionality. It is an intentionality of creation,
of itself with or without existence indifferently. This is because it is already
thought divinely, if it is an idea at all.
Existence, in the sense of created existence, is for God an idea like any
other. He thinks of some imitations of himself as existing, others as not. It
is wrong to call the latter class possibles. They are as much actual
creations as the other, just as in our world the tale of the golden mountain
is as actual, as a tale, as Buckingham Palace.74 But our tales are lifted from
On this view ontology is a branch of sistology or ”the general study of items in
general”. Cf. Richard Sylvan, ”sistology”, Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology,
Philosophia Verlag, Munich 1991, pp.835-837.

possibles which the divine tales, made out of nothing, have made to be in
our world. This situation cannot be projected back onto God, who is in no
For talk of possibles suggests that such things, actual non-actuals, are
anterior to God. It seems part of the same error when we speak of
existence as his proper effect. Nothing exists as God exists, and talk of an
analogy of being makes this yet plainer. We have a notion of God as
absolute being, ipsum esse subsistens, arrived at after appreciating the
limiting function of any attribution of essence. The famous Exodus text
might seem to support such a vision but Hebraists prefer the version of it
as “I will be what I will be” rather than the “I am” version, though we do
not need to insist on this. This stresses the divine freedom, as do the views
of Boehme and, mutatis mutandis, Hegel that God somehow freely
becomes something more definite with the creation. This view, if freed
from any primitive literal view of eternal time, harmonizes with what we
said above. Creation is in fact the eternal thinking chosen by the Absolute.
Eckhart too stresses that we should never think of God as apart or
separate from his creation, though we should certainly distinguish God
from it. “I have loved thee with an everlasting love”, the canonical prophet
hears God saying to Israel. God does not change. But we do. Or is change
an illusion?
God does not change. But as omniscient he knows change. Yet our real
changes do not change him. So his knowledge is not changed when we
pass from A to B. He is not “outside” time, since he is not outside
anything, there being nothing for him to be outside of. He includes it, not,
of course, as making a past, present and future moment equally present,
but he includes it as a certain analogy or imitation of his transcendent
eternity. It is thus that he has chosen to form such an idea as time.
We said that a divine idea is not to be distinguished negatively as against
a divine creation. The changes we, in our mode, experience are thought
eternally and not “all at once”, which is itself a temporal measure, but
more as in the timeless harmony of a painting. Time corresponds more to
our seeing (inclusive of doing) more and more of the painting, ever actual
to divine knowledge, which our consciousness, our knowledge and action,
progressively unveils, always preserving the earlier “moments”, or at any
rate they are preserved, also where consciousness seems to fail. The
prima facie objection that if time is not real neither is freedom by no
means holds. Aquinas long ago showed that our freedom has to be
consonant with divine immutability, who should therefore be seen as
making our actions free by his mode of knowing them (e.g. as
undetermined by secondary causes).
Change is itself just one of the divine ideas. The idea of the good, for
example, is another one, as indeed, we have wished to point out, is the
idea of being. This is by no menas “abstracted” from the divine existence.
Here we are forced to see the priority of mind, nous, thought, over being.
It is only for us that being is the reality as against thought, simply because
we have thus been thought. Thought is and has been attained to with
difficulty in the world.
To identify God with being, actus essendi, might thus be to reduce the
infinity. The “idealist” conception presents less difficulty. We need to see,

for one thing, that all the ideas are creations, not something placed in God
or necessarily there. He himself thinks with all his energy and power all
the alternative things and scenarios which our logic then discovers to be
necessary. The laws of this logic though are not laws of the divine being
(as some logicians and others have urged), which is above laws and the
very idea of them. No law captures as identical with it (lex aeterna) this
being which is above all law. God is freedom as, some say, grace and
therefore the divine goodness itself is freedom, while divine faithfulness
itself is a mode of the metaphysical transcendence of immutability, a
humanly thought mode based upon our own ethical experience. Thus we
transcend the discordant notion of a universe of values.
Freedom, for our thought, is certainly a category. It is not so in itself,
however, and some would wish to say the same of being. Being though is
determinate, and in appearance at least a necessary being would be all
the more thus determinate. For the infinite to be determinate, however,
would seem necessarily to require a further reason, though we might
firmly diagnose this necessity as an infirmity of our finite thinking. We
postulate rather a lack of determinateness which is not a mere nothing but
an infinity, capable of anything. Zero lacks all finitude, but it is at the
opposite extreme to infinity. The one proof, for us, of the goodness, the
fecundity, of this infinite is this world itself, which it thinks. God is thinking
us, and he is not then putting us into existence by a spiritual operation
distinct from this thinking. He chooses, rather, to think us as existent, as
he chooses all his thoughts, not from a preassemblage of possibilities but
in his infinite power. In this sense “he chose us from the foundation of the
If one ask, what is this thought of existence which can never issue into
reality, i.e. into some second reality beyond the divine thinking, then the
answer is that it is thus this existence which we know and enjoy and, so to
say, taste. In our world there is this chasm between being (actually) and
non-being, which is precisely the glory of created actuality. But this is
precisely and only the meaning of the idea in the divine mind, one with the
divine being if we will, which is anyhow a prior and more literal reality,
which we may also hope to “taste”. There is no such chasm there. It is just
one of the things God thinks or thinks about, as you might find it in a
novel, and one can wonder if the idea of there being a divine word or
words for these thoughts has not obscured the transcendent difference of
his thoughts from ours in the way we have explored here. These
perspectives simply follow from, for example, the claim of Aquinas that
God has no real relation to us or any outside thing, i.e. there is no outside
Are we then God? No, we are nothing, what is not. Yet my idea, the idea of
me, is one with God, with the divine indivisible being, which, we have been
saying, is freedom. In that way I am God himself and there was nothing
before me. This is the union of opposites and reconciliation of
contradictions that has been spoken of, antinomy signalling the mind’s
If I am an idea in God’s mind then how is this idea an idea of me? We
could ask the same of the figures in our dreams, who are indeed
insubstantial. In Scripture though we have events which at the same time

are signs, and that is the case here. The world of what are to us things,
“rocks and stones and trees”, is “the workings of one mind”, but a mind
transcending ours at all points.
We are not denying that God can create real being, as we know it. Nor is
this so much a denial of the Thomistic vision as its dialectical
development, already partly traceable in the history of philosophy, which
in this way shows its unity as an experience more clearly. There is no
difference between divine intentions and divine deeds, in consequence of
the infinity.


Infinity and Created Being

Faith merges proportionately into vision. The same is true of divine

intentions as related to divine actions, often called decrees, perhaps
regrettably. They are one and to contrast them75 is anthropomorphic. Any
felt need to salvage human freedom, arising perhaps from neglect of the
perspectives treated here, must be addressed as from within the prior
truth of infinity, omniscient, unchanging, never passive.
Praemotio physica, as teaching that God the omniscient originates any
secondary causality whatever, is the only position not contradicting divine
infinity, at least within Scholasticism. Molinism and associated positions,
such as the later deism, are mere apologetic stopgaps upholding an
incoherent position. God becomes a kind of finite idol, dividing the
religious mind, a political ideology even. So the true successors developing
Aquinas, and Augustine, as seeing the allness of God, are rather Eckart,
Nicholas of Cusa, Spinoza and Hegel.
Many Thomists, however, as we have seen in the two previous chapters,
maintain that these later non-Thomist writers deny creation. They do not
allow that the way the world is represented in absolute idealism, say, can
be claimed as an interpretation rather than a denial of creatio ex nihilo,
even though they allow much latitude to Aquinas himself on what careful
thought will show is the very same point, when he teaches that the whole
scriptural pattern of God as father of his people is analogous, God in
reality having no real relations with anything outside of him, as if it were
The two accounts of creation both claim to be that indeed, but they are
conceived with an idealist and realist epistemology respectively.
Connected with this is the seeing of creation by Thomists as the
production of being specifically, something not stressed in the idealist
account. But how far are Christians committed to such a realist
epistemology? Is being, esse, uniquely transcendent of all thinking, divine
or human?
Realism is associated with the possibility of certainty76, though this is just
what is contested by absolute idealism. Such realism is simply the natural
attitude, which it is the specific task of philosophy to get behind, supplying
a more certain because more thought out alternative. This after all was the
programme of Descartes and just for this, and the related stress on
consciousness, Hegel acclaims him as the founder of modern systematic
The return to scholastic notions imposed itself irresistibly upon people
alarmed by the prison of scepticism into which Cartesian method, as
developed by Hume and Kant, appeared to have cast them. One tried to
forget what in modern culture one cannot forget, viz. that all our structures
As does P.T. Geach in Providence and Evil (Cambridge 1977), following on his stress on
the reality of time.
Cf. Paul VI’s Credo of the People of God, c.1970.

of thought are forms of consciousness, thought by a conscious ego.
Progress in understanding evolution reinforces this awareness though.
Attempts have been made, e.g. by Fregeans, to see this as a confusion of
thinking, which is logical or non-empirical, with psychological phenomena.
One belittled the maxim nihil in intellectu nisi prius in sensu77. Yet there is
no thinking without sense-experience and experience is the life of our
consciousness specifically. For Thomas conversio as phantasmata
accompanies all thinking.
Even being is a notion. The word names a notion. As such its
phenomenology must be investigated. It is not an alternative to it, as
escaping its net. Thomas admits as much in his criticism of the Ontological
Argument. Hegel’s absolute idealism, an alternative not probably having
occurred to Thomas, claims to give our knowledge a more secure base, its
true base, than does the natural attitude. This base is absolute reason,
called God (lex aeterna) in religion, in which our reason participates to the
point of an identity.78 It is incumbent upon reason to try to see the world as
infinite Mind sees it, to see it truly, that is. This is the aim too of religion
and mysticism, even perhaps of ethics, humility being the virtue of truth,
says Aquinas.
For Hegel all the great philosophical systems are true as far as they go.
They stand merely at different points in the developing dialectic. So earlier
philosophy should be interpreted in terms of later. This is also the attitude
of today’s theologians to their canonical texts. Thus might Thomist realism
and creationism be interpreted in terms of absolute idealism.
Regarding being as transcending all thinking, our second question, one
might give priority to freedom rather, as suggested in Neoplatonism or by
Eckhart, Nicholas of Cusa and others. God is not being, God is freedom (N.
Berdyaev). One can also note that Aquinas and others were influenced by
a reading of a famous Exodus text, seeming to give God’s name as he who
IS specifically. Today’s Hebraists, however, favour the meaning ”I will be
what I will be”, almost a refusal to give a name.79 It has a clear meaning of
freedom only. Being is rather assumed as ancillary to conventional
predication than especially posited.
Freedom in Thomism is closely associated with intellect, access to the
universal such that one is freed from particular material determinations in
thinking or other behaviour. The clear vision of necessities is an
achievement of this freedom, not a limitation of it.
The difficulties of this account of God are not greater than those in terms
of absolute being only. There one denies both that he is causa sui and that
he somehow finds himself in being. A consistent ontotheology will see
even freedom, however, as a prime characteristic precisely of being, along
with intellectuality or spirituality. Being here includes freedom, while we

Cf. P.T. Geach, Mental Acts, London 1957, pp.19, 20, 78. Hegel too points out that this is
wrongly attributed to Aristotle (Encyclopaedia, Logic, Wallace, p.15). He claims though
that, rightly understood, it should only be asserted in conjunction with its converse, Nihil
est in sensu quod non fuerit in intellectu, thus uniting thought’s suprasensible necessity
with its conscious quality. The transcendent dignity of logic is upheld in both schools.
Not revolutionary pantheism but in the tradition of Cicero, De legibus II, 4, 10.
At Philippians 2,9 Christ is said to have been given the name which is above all names,
not above every other name merely.

are saying that thought includes being. One might suspect we were
dealing with manners of speaking merely, a choice of models or,
resptrictively, conceptual schemes. But for the Thomists being is central. It
is God’s proper effect, the highest likeness of God even, his original
emanation and the idea of all ideas.80
The causa sui doctrine need not however imply a divine process from
potency to act, being an eternal decision or decree. God affirms himself.
Simultaneously he affirms, thinks, a world within his Word, otherness
reconciled, generated within himself eternally and not in a putative past.
He speaks it now, ever new. To conceive God is to conceive this. For there
is no necessity over and above God, no fate. Thus God’s constitution as
Trinity is in no way imposed, like the necessities of nature. In this sense
there is no divine being anterior to the being of the world. God chooses to
be and to make the world simultaneously. Nor was their necessity in this
choice of necessities. Yet all these ideas, as one with divine essence, are
one with primal freedom. Mind, whose habit is otherwise to range among
determinate finite natures, sees that this must be so and must witness to
what it sees, even to itself, beyond the antinomies.
Although these properties, ideas, are one with the primal freedom yet they
can well be described as essential to spiritual being also. Yet being is a
concept. We are thinking being here, though it has to be understood in
itself and not only in our notion of it 81, just as we are doing with infinity. We
are not thinking freedom in the same way, as object. Freedom is the
condition for thought as such. We knew freedom before defining or
thinking it, as our consciousness, when being was for us an abstraction.
Yet we can still say that the being of God possesses one before we think it,
as affirmation of being connects every predication, a problem not resolved
by the equivocal doctrine of the ens rationis, or being that is not being. So
we have to say God is not being. We cannot say God not-is being, only it is
not the case that, which preserves the same being-structure, as would
N(God is being), as aimed at the being or occurrence of negation. But
language shall not limit us.
The Neoplatonic play with two distinct negative particles does not take one
further on the main point, though it serves to mark an unimaginable
otherness, which however simply is, yet again, as Schönbergian music
remains horizontal. The Thomists deal with this by the assumption of an
analogy of being, itself only analogous to such analogies in the world,
however. This would make creation independently subsistent as it cannot
be. Anything finite is thus far false. The infinite is all truth. That is what we
must say, if adding that it is being might be extrapolated from ens mobile.
Anything finite, like the ideas, must be identical (in difference) with
infinity, if it is at all. This is what Thomas said indeed of the ideas, going on
however to say that they are diversified by their objects, as if these were
anterior, a somehow circular position..
Cf. Alma von Stockhausen, “Das Sein als Gleichnis Gottes”, Indubitanter ad Veritatem
(Studies offered to Leo J. Elders, ed. J. Vijgen), Kerkrade, Holland, 2003, pp. 406-423.
Thomists in general tend to stress the sheer numerousness of the angelic creation as a
way of stressing the spirituality of being while canonizing albeit belittling material
Cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics VII et sequ.

Besides, if we say being is spiritual (or free) we make of the predicate an
anterior or more general quality which being merely exemplifies. If we
begin with spirit there is no such dualism; the question of being is
suspended or bracketed. Spirit though would be causa sui not as spirit but
as being (cause as reason of being), as in Neoplatonism. Scripture
approaches this conception in the story of the still small voice heard with
difficulty by the prophet. The Lord is not in the earthquake and other
manifestations of being (they are in him), yet there could not be an
intention to limit or restrict God here.
The question of why there is spirit gets no grip, since it is not asserted that
spirit is. Spirit, the absolute, is the condition for asking the question,
thinking as prior formally to any raising of the question of being. This is
what is necessary. This is logic, necessity as prior to necessary being, as is
infinity itself. The objections to existential Thomism begin here. Non alio
modo est, sed est, est, also Parmenides’ position, along with the insight
that being has no parts (identity of all being). We have to say that God
himself makes this affirmation prior to Augustine and the others, a
determinative decision, however, like all divine affirmations. I will be what I
will be.


Aquinas drastically rationalizes the Biblical affirmation that in God we live

and move and have our being.82 It only means that we are contained and
conserved by the divine power83, since this is the only way we can be in
God while also in our own natures. The more direct way of being in God
refers to the propriae rationes only, one with the divine essence. This is
miles away from the Pauline notion. For him God should and will be all in
all, whether we view this historically or dialectically, though failure to view
it dialectically has made it easier to ignore. Scripture here sits rather loose
to history, as when it is said that we sit already with Christ in the heavenly
places. Dialectical philosophy confirms what the sense of infinite power
always prompted to, incidentally also confirming Hegel’s own philosophy
of history specifically.
In the reply to the third objection of the article just mentioned we find that
all that keeps Aquinas from saying that things are more truly in God than
in themselves, as he ought since he says that that is how God knows
them84, is their materiality:

Si de ratione rerum naturalium non esset materia, sed tantum forma, omnibus
modis veriori modo essent res naturales in mente divina per suas ideas quam in
se ipsis.

Apart from wreaking apparent havoc in advance upon his angelology in

the Summa and a fortiori his demonology (Satan more truly in God! A
Goethean intuition foreign to Aquinas), this gives materiality a weight
Acts 17, 28. Paul’s words may be a Lucan memory of a Greek poet. The witness, to the
bond of religion with philosophy, would be all the stronger for that.
Aquinas, Summa theol. Ia 18, 4 ad 1).
Ia 14, 5.

inconsistent with a perfect infinity. Or we must interpret him as stipulating
a defect of finitude as essential to individual reality. This though illustrates
a tendency to restrict divine ideas to the universal:

Quia de ratione rerum naturalium est materia, dicendum quod res naturales
verius habent esse simpliciter in mente divina, quam in se ipsis, quia in mente
divina habent esse increatum, in se ipsis autem creatum; sed esse hoc, utpote
homo, vel equus, verius habent in propria natura quam in mente divina, quia ad
veritatem hominis pertinet esse materiale, quod non habent in mente divina.....

St. Thomas would clinch this by appeal to a builder’s more noble picture in his mind as less
real than the ignoble material house he actually builds. But the divine mind is not
contradistinguishable against reality as is a created mind. It is in every way prior to it. One is
reminded of Darwin’s arguing for natural selection from the human selection of dogs for
breeding, just the point at issue.
The Greeks saw matter as a prime datum upon which spirit worked like a sculptor. Creationist
thinkers only went halfway in demolishing this analogy of a workman. One falls back into an
idea of matter as formless stuff (a contradiction in terms), though one otherwise explained it
in terms of potency and perishability, parts outside parts (hence quantity). Aquinas mentions
Plato’s homo separatus where he should be considering the ideas of individual men and
women. These ideas are of their forms, not first individuated by matter, even if matter should
be the condition for their individuation, i.e. what we call matter just is the community of
individual beings, many in one species, thought eternally. We cannot assume that God thinks
of the (intensional) species man, as we do, an ens rationis Aquinas agrees. Matter too then is
something thought, firstly by us.
This is what it means for God (or us) to be spirit, not so much that he or she thinks the world
as it is, takes being as a whole for his province (as if it were already there), but that he thinks,
period. Thought is above being, divine. Life according to reason is thus enjoined, right.
So it is false to set matter against truth. The words here jam on Aquinas’s page. His esse
materiale negates the divine infinity, imposing on us a pointless duplication and degradation
of our reality. We are not after all some builder’s house or anything like it. The relation of
creation, real from our side alone, has to be seen differently. We have our true being where
God is related to us, in his thinking. Any other being therefore is misperception merely. What
we see are the workings of a mind. That mind is anterior to its workings. To see then truly,
integrally, would be to see that mind. This is neither pantheism nor acosmism, the one
negating infinity, the other the cosmos. We are saying what the cosmos really is. We are also
saying that all things, the ideas including ourselves, are severally and fully one with God, as
does Aquinas.85
The idea of matter is no other than that of change and hence of time and space. Aquinas goes
on to say that natural things have uncreated being(!) in the divine mind, where however they
are not in themselves, in se ipsis. How then do they have this being? Of course if we are in
ourselves then God can think us thus also, while if he does not know us in ourselves (his
knowledge is causative) then we are not in ourselves in this sense (i.e. as contrasted with our
being in idea in God). We are then images, views, of God purely, formal signs indeed of a
divine speech. There is no material substrate that can be considered on its own outside of our
abstractive way of thinking and perceiving, resulting from our finitude merely (another
difficulty with the ”material” concept of an angel). Divine words have no sound separable
from their meaning. That God thinks matter, wills it, is highly paradoxical when stated thus,
but less so than the crass idea that matter places a limit to infinite thought, or as if such self-
Ia 15.

contradiction (ontological discontinuity) were to be of the essence of of creation even when
philosophically considered.
Identity with God is continuous with the well-founded religious view that God is wholly
present in each detail, as Christ died wholly for each individual. This returns us to an
omnipresent praemotio physica. God is not only the author of the freedom of our acts but he
makes each of them free that he knows in just that determinate way, viz. as free or as issuing
from him without other determinant intermediary in other words. Here we have a relative
discontinuity, caused by contiguity with himself. One cannot posit an absolute discontinuity,
just as there cannot be two gods.
The Thomists have never been able to reconcile this position fully with the free perpetration
of moral evil. God operates either as cause or, even for Molinists, alongside the physical
sinful act. In Thomism the self-determination of the human will is itself attributable to God.
The recourse to what are called permissive decrees only for what is lacking in human acts,
that privatio boni which is sin, does not convince, seeming rather to surrender the hardwon
consistency of the general position. Everything happens, rather, as God wants it and so it is
better to conclude that whatever contradicts the position is a misperception, a ”brutal mirage”
(Mallarmé). For Goethe or Hegel it is plain that God includes evil and moral failure in the
scheme of things, while what we perceive as an isolated sinful act is in reality a part, a
moment, of a more comprehensive unit or series, ultimately the series which is the whole
dialectic, anterior to space and time. For the Christian Christ, at the centre of this dialectic, is
”made sin for us”. It is however possible philosophically to question the very concept of sin,
opposed as it is so directly to the full scope of the divine will. That is to say, there is no
”infinite offence”, great as the evil may be.
The idea, feeling rather, that the wickedness or ill-will (malitia) of sin demanded in
satisfaction nothing less than a maximal quantity of suffering on the part of the God-man as
divine person is a barbarous superstition besides being logically clumsy, infinite physical
suffering for infinite moral wrong. It falsely rationalizes metaphors of sacrifice employed in
some canonical texts. Aquinas, while not venturing to discard the forensic paradigm of
satisfaction, remarks that a drop of Christ’s blood would more than suffice in propitiation.
Why blood at all though? The whole kenosis, birth, infancy and so on is reconciliatory in
itself; the death Christ died was freely chosen, in God, as fitting, as apt for arousing love,
Aquinas, for example, urges, and indeed for reconciling us to the death to which we are
subject as finite beings.
If our offences are infinite then sinning is the only way to approach infinity from our side and
Satan inevitably steals the show, in Milton, Tolkien or elsewhere. Much better is the view of it
as idiocy or even banality86. Forgive them for they know not what they do. Nor need degrees
of ignorance be denied. There remains always an element of getting it wrong, the Socratic
moment so to say, implied anyhow in the very notion of privatio boni. Anyone who would
want to sin could not see it as that simply.
Such a view is the best cure for the awed quasi-admiration often brought by newsmakers and
their audience to scenes of terrorist or pedophilic cruelty, wilful war and the like.
Demonization in general is to be avoided. Christianity teaches us to judge neither ourselves
nor others but to forgive without limit, like the divine forgiveness which does not wait upon
the various ingenuities of ecclesiastical machinery devised at least in part for the purpose
down the centuries. As an elderly Jewish gentleman was recently recorded as saying, when a
need to convert was urged upon him: ”Of course God will forgive me. After all, I have

Hannah Arendt’s final assessment, moving from the view of it as metaphysical in the
sense of “radical” evil, in The Origins of Totalitarianism, to that of it as imperceptive
banality in Eichmann in Jerusalem.

forgiven him.” He that has ears.... Pecca fortiter was no doubt a cry from an exasperated man.
But now it is time to stop exasperating people.


Saying that things are as God or absolute knowledge thinks them, that as infinite his thought
determines all things, is the true way of understanding what in theology is spoken of as God’s
knowing all things by decree. The knowing is the decreeing, the willing even, though all these
terms, even knowing, are analogous as applied to God, which is a back to front way of saying
that we do not really know.87 The notion of decree pictures God as legislating for a future, a
constricted divinity indeed.
We seem at the midpoint of a series, misperceived as absolute time, where we groan and
travail with nature, seen in its spatial aspect by contrast as ”petrified intelligence”. Seeing
things one at a time, things which only escape falsification within the whole (as science itself
emphasises), we feel the creator has no care for the sufferings of sentient beings, set to hunt
one another to survive, though we know in conscience we are all ends-in-ourselves. Thus far
though we are already one with the last end, to which we must otherwise be sacrificed indeed.
War and other needs externalize this contradiction, between perception and philosophy which
transcends (aufhebt) it. The wise man, as aware of this, will know what is to be done. There is
no need to mythologize about God’s powerlessness or his having removed himself from the
world, a bogus or finite transcendence.
We found a connection between such impoverished or contradictory views of transcendence,
which as such really includes effortless immanence, and the self-annihilating idea of sin as
infinite offence. Sin ought not to be. We have no help in ourselves against it. Man is an
unnatural species which sinned itself into existence, it is affirmed. This dimension of religious
apprehension though does not belong to philosophy, to absolute knowledge. As witnessing to
a historic fear and slavery it is not essential either to Christianity, the absolute religion or
religion of free human beings, as Hegel unoriginally claims, of sons in New Testament terms,
This is realised though at the end of the dialectic which salvation history reveals itself as
being. Thus the relation of sonship fills the Gospel accounts also of Christ’s life before the
redemptive death, the two moments being linked as declaring what no man has seen, the word
itself making clean. As infinite it is as effective as action, is indistinguishable from it. Thus
history is itself a dialectic, something first manifest indeed in this very salvation history or
even in the very idea of such a thing.
The sons of course are not a class exclusively or even preponderantly of Hegelian
intellectuals. Every soul gets what it expects, as the little nun said, heeding bravely the call to
put off the old and follow where insight leads, spirit working in us. There is no need to raise
abstruse problems about grace here, so flattering to the theologian. ”The grace is in the free-
will and the free-will in the grace.”88 Nor need spectres of gnosis, gnosticism, be raised. That
truth makes free is a primal saying, as operatio sequitur esse, also and above all in the mind.
Those who see are best able to cary vessels around the place with honour, refrain from
gassing people and so on.
Again, we are not saying that God cannot create, or only in that case a world without real
secondary causes. They are as real as our freedom. We are saying what it is for God to create,
as does also Aquinas in his Summae. God, as pure act, is thought, Aristotle clearly saw. What
we call being, as act of acts, is the created equivalent to divine thought, in contracted form.
Thus fatherhood is said to be named from him, he alone is to be called good or
perfect......, who who is as well she, beyond but never below the personal. There too, it is
in him, as all in all, that we “have faces”, though the sense then in which he “sees us face
to face” would be that of that closer identity the phrase itself excludes.
Baron F. von Hügel, Selected Letters, Dent, London 1927, p.91.

This equivalent must really be an identity, otherness reconciled which yet, as otherness, is
creation. God really has just one infinite idea or notion, himself, but within this all freedom
and contingency has to be thought. No necessity restricts creation. It is identity in difference;
the difference is sufficient to rebut charges of pantheism, manifestly contrary to all that is
intended here. This also is thou, neither is this thou; the favourite phrase of Charles Williams
the so-called muddler cannot be discarded. It is pure Parmenides; being has no parts.
Creation is not, that is, a totally separate or analogous order which has both to be affirmed in
its separateness and assessed as adding nothing to divinity, as penitus nihil. This is the famous
unhappy consciousness, an emptiness into which denial of secondary causality only sinks one
further. Against this the popular religious view of it as a special and contingent divine labour,
crowned with man in the divine image, is a kind of halfway house, subjected to a self-
contradictory view of transcendence apart from immanence (in fact we are rather immanent in
God than God in us) from which the truth of Incarnation brings progressive deliverance. In
understanding it we are ”led into all truth” in a dialectical process down the centuries, the one
who understands understanding also that he is possessed, is not himself, an old Socratic
insight. The self is absolute. This is the breaking down of walls of which the Apostle speaks
and the foundation of all mutual esteem, of mutuality.
Immaterialitas est radix cognitionis. Thought through, this phrase means that although among
material realities knowledge is to be explained in terms of being, intentionality, yet in the
spiritual world, i.e. ultimately or really or actually, being results from knowledge, as God is
one with the thought of himself. Absolute knowing,however, is one with will as will is one
with act. Thus truth is ultimately above being, as what lies open and free. There is a truth of
things, as Anselm emphasised. I am, but I am the truth, not merely when you understand me,
but in myself as such. We cannot rest in a position treating a non-thing as a duplicative quasi-
thing (the soul, immaterial substance). There is a certain potential coincidence with the
Fregean or post-Fregean doctrine of the thought. Insofar as hope in the promise of
resurrection is held out as overcoming the felt unsatisfactoriness of this position for human
destiny this can be understood not as a mere restoration with improvement of the present
material show but as insight into life in the spirit. God, after all, does not lack a body, having
rather a solidity transcending extension (of which putative matter prior to the Big Bang would
be an analogue). Knowing, ultimately, is life in the spirit, as it is love. Only so is nothing lost,
which indeed is the substance of the promise, something it has in common with the doctrine
of the Eternal Return, which thus finds here its interpretation too.
One can indeed stress that God is sheer actuality, the actus essendi, but this need not be seen
as specifically massive impenetrability, as a kind of material equivalent to the itself perhaps
somewhat material ideal of positivity. Light without darkness is a better image. Here one
recalls how Sartre portrayed consciousness, ultimately freedom, as an absence of being, a
hole. This was in the service of a generally pessimistic philosophy with which absolut
idealism has little connection. The basic recoil from or step behind being may, however, be
retained, each man’s truth playing its part in the real system. This will be being itself pointing
beyond itself, like the signum formalis of realist epistemology. What you did to the least of
these you did to me and he who sees me sees the father, who counts each hair, grain of sand
and sparrow. Consider... To say though that being has no parts is to indicate the same position.
For Sartre these ideas function in favour of what he calls materialism, whereas we say they
indicate a more fundamental reality, i.e. that material existence is itself to be understood
immaterially as knowledge itself is the life and substance. Matter is thus not so much the
lowest grade of being as being is itself the portal to truth, open and free. Monism is the
common factor. Thus we have explained created reality generally as divine thought in
contracted or refracted form, as the Leibnizian monads, for their part, were also explained,
having no parts as Parmenides affirmed of being, again. It is indeed the question of parts

which casts doubt upon the coherency of the natural perception of matter, parts and parts
within parts ad infinitum.
This could mean therefore that there just is no divine thought of matter, except insofar as our
misperception of stuff is itself known. The human idea of extension would also be relativized
to just that, whatever be the case with number (not in divinis for Aquinas). If, however,
otherness, the thou, is a necessary divine trait, then number is the abstracted reflection of that,
which is also the origin of negation and the aliud quid both, as well as of the possibility (not
the actuality) of finite creation. We stressed earlier that it is anthropomorphic to see divine
ideas as commencing with abstractions, or even more with non-abstracted abstract universals.
This is the case with our own dependent intellectuality, which should rather lead us, however,
to see sensations as our first ideas. ”The ego is a differentiated part of the id”.89 But
differentiation, we have claimed, is dialectic. Cognitio sensus est quaedam ratio.
Is there then a divine or absolute idea of being. Our idea of it is got from the misperceived
material world, ens mobile, and then applied supremely to spirit, the First Cause. But spirit,
God, knows himself as himself only, as absolute, not as being. Us he knows as forming this
abstract notion, being, existence, act, in our striving to ascend to him. His ideas, again, are we,
each of us, though he knows too, precisely as our human ideas, the objects of our
consciousness, chemical elements and compounds, illnesses, sciences, sparrows. A sparrow is
an object for us, though so is a chemical compound. Here we approach McTaggart’s system.
The question between us is whether human spirits are contained and unified as ideas in the
absolute spirit or if they alone can be real.
McTaggart rejected God on the ground that a solitary person is impossible. Yet in Trinitarian
thought God is not solitary. Our own speculations on God’s optimal immanence reinforce the
point. For a theist the love that bonds the immortal spirits, who are all that exist and that
eternally, is itself personal. As not being a se or self-derived they find their being and centre in
this suprapersonal absolute. This is their ultimate identity (in difference) with one another. If
there were no analogy of being all things would be one, said Aquinas, and in a sense they are.
Nor does anything forbid that one or more of them should be identical with that all-uniting
love in some more absolute way.
Of course if one denies God then one has, within idealism at least, to deny the material world
and all objective surrounding reality. At least none of us remembers making it, though I still
do not know if my self is not the true self, as in a way it has to be (so as not to be false). Here
enters the hypothesis of multiple or re-incarnation, not so much belittling the body as
asserting that it is misperceived. Even Aquinas allows that the true self can be multiply
incarnate, no matter whether simultaneously or successively, and this too removes person
from body. The body is a cypher of spirit, as is time of eternity. Its harmony and self
correspond to a unity without parts, approached in the notion of form, while its ailments
reflect finitude, for which death is not so much violent as natural. It is natural to leave life in
this way rather than merely vanishing into greater light, like Elijah or Mary in the tradition,
but not Jesus, ”made sin for us”. Alternatively the objectivity of death might be denied as
never experienced by any subject, like the limit to space which cannot be thought as it returns
upon itself. We would then misperceive it in others, the conviction of popualr religion. She is
not dead but sleepeth, said truth, though he is understood as really raising the daughter of
Jairus and not merely resuscitating her. Here people pass away or go out of time, the remains,
Aristotle asserts, being only equivocally their bodies.
To the extent that the self is the true self it made or thinks the world. We do not though affirm
the image of this self as being re-absorbed in the whole as drops of water in the ocean, but
rather the identity in difference of each self with the absolute. This would seem the most

Cf. R.D. Laing, Self and Others, Pelican Books, 1971.

plausible basis for love between selves, its discovery, as the finally true ethical or, it is the
same, ontological substance.
We attempted above to free divine ideas from their Platonist connotations as if abstract
universals were prior to and hence more real than individuals. What is thought absolutely,
rather, is the self itself, our own multiplicity corresponding in veiled mode to its infinity. This
mode is precisely the veil of creation., is creation. So the individual is not absolute but finds
himself, herself, in others in a mutually indispensable relation. It is thus that my spirit
expresses ”the spirit of the age”, inevitably. The human power of abstraction, along with
human abstractions generally, are therefore thought absolutely, but without the absolute
making any abstraction in so doing, since such a need is the very badge of mental finitude,
beginning in our perception of likenesses in things. This is so even though we cannot explain
how features are repeated as if essential but without exemplifying some abstract or general
origin. They are, rather, a repeated imitation. Love, again, is not that generalized property our
language names but divine energy, neither particular nor general, in this like the universal
which is neither one nor many, sustaining itself and all else in itself.


Rethinking God

And why not? We must all wake from our dogmatic slumbers, periodically.
Dialectic is none other than this as a principle. In the past, anyhow, one
has argued for infinite being (it can only be one or unity) since nothing
outside it can limit it and something, we know, does exist or is being, at
least we ourselves.
Could God exist without the world? If not, how is he still God? We, answer, the world is
created in the free necessity of love, from all eternity. Love is our name for the diffusive
cohesion of the actually infinite or that which is only thought after all negatives are removed.
To restrict divine consciousness to solitariness, as if of one creature, is negative, hence finite.
McTaggart was right there.
It follows, in view of what we said in our previous chapter, that each one of
us has always existed, somehow identical with the divine essence, like any
divine idea. If a stone could but think and feel then it would have to
conclude to the same. Table Mountain in South Africa is a constant divine
conception, even though not a substance in Aristotle’s sense.
When we say infinite being we really mean infinity simply. We do not know
straight off if this infinity, as ultimate reality, takes the form of being
exactly. Nor do we know what being we have.


The material world has always been a great mystery for those starting
from spiritual, infinite being and mind. One sees this in Aquinas, who in his
conception of the resurrection excludes all but the bodies of the
redeemed, the beauty of which must compensate for the non-resurrection
of animals and plants. One sees it also in the Biblical account of creation,
actually a blending of two or more accounts, in which God might seem
reduced to a kind of workman, though unlike an artifex (Aquinas’s
comparison when positing a divine ”practical” reason) or demiurge. Most
of created reality, for Aquinas, is angelic or spiritual. The resultant
question about God’s life apart from or before creation, once brushed
angrily aside by Augustine, remains actual.
In the conception of Teilhard de Chardin the material world is itself
spiritualized, though this can just therefore approximate to a Leibnizian
form of mentalism or idealism, though with more stress on unity. The
thrust of such a world is to become conscious of itself in the human mind.
No dualist intervention or ”infusion” (of a soul) is felt as needed, the
question of the transcendental validity or truth, in that sense, of our
thinking not being raised. Yet it has often been claimed (e.g. by J.B.S.
Haldane) that survival value is independent of truth. Is it though, entirely?
What works is, thus far at least, true.
This mentalization of matter at a certain stage of its complexification is
short-circuited by any assertion of idealism or mentalism. Here there is no
problem of dualism or of an interruption of evolutionary continuity simply

because all is anyhow a perception, that is to say rather, in the illusion of
objectivity which constitutes matter, misperception. It is part of this
misperception on the part of the spirits which we (or I) are to posit our own
material bodies and thus, as necessarily following at a certain level of the
dialectic, their evolution from lower life-forms conceived of as somehow
approximations to ourselves, in the mind of a creator, but historically
developing into us in a misperceived temporal history complete with those
fossils which would then have to be left as discoverable.
Such a picture holds under both pluralistic idealism, of monads or persons,
and absolute idealism or monism. The problem of the evolution of the
subject disappears when evolution is itself subjectivized. One can however
also allow for a certain development or evolution, conceived though
dialectically and not realist-historically, of this subjective consciousness
itself, which thus invents a deliberate logic only at a certain point along
the series, progressing from a certain primordial clairvoyance (R. Steiner’s
suggestion, either coming from or assimilable to an idealist frame).
These perspectives arise from the attempt, the wish, to see things from
the divine point of view. This, the reverse of hubris, arises out of a sense of
the futility of the creature’s thinking God, making God the necessary but
essentially extrinsic cause and guarantee of the creature’s perceived
world. In a sense this is the project of philosophy as such, where man
responds to the call of his intellect to transcend himself. Man either needs
(Chesterton) or does not need (Marx) God to be himself, but the call is to
transcend such self-assertive or species-fixated humanism by letting
humanity be ”taken up into God”, as the Athanasian Creed (ninth century)
had it, and as was the true thrust of Christianity at its most philosophical.
The happy life on earth was pointed to through awareness of its
insubstantiality, we were to be as spiritual and airy as the flowers of the
field, yet in some way, or just therefore, indestructible, whether or not
through the positing of a three days’ interval.
It is in a sense quite obvious that from God’s viewpoint matter cannot exist
as we see it. The doctrine of creation seems to depend upon the Jewish
(dualistic) affirmation of matter, the dust or not-God that is man. The
stress upon a spiritual creation (angelology) in later Judaism and in Greek-
Christian thinking already blurs the lines of a creation. God and his angels,
one said, his in some more intimate way than are we animal creatures,
apart from the pre-destined favour of incarnation.
There was always a mystery about Aristotle’s separate substances,
perhaps conceived on the analogy of nous itself, themselves, like nous,
being unmoved movers, identified with pure existent forms. The forms or
ideas are supposed to be principles of individualized substances otherwise,
the individualizing principle being matter. Yet it would have been simpler
to see the materiality of a thing as just our way of (mis)perceiving it, its
individuality. These individuals, we have suggested, are divine thoughts.
But if so, what about those thoughts we call universals and general ideas?
These, after all, it now seems fitting to think, are less rather than more
divine. Thus there is no divine idea, perhaps, of a universal nature of any
kind. What there are are divine ideas of our human ideas of such natures.
Every divine idea can thus be seen to have that concrete individuality we
call existence. By this system we will find either that there is a divine idea,

possessed eternally, of each of the dinosaurs or that there are divine ideas
of such ideas of dinosaurs as we have, if indeed the material world is all a
misperception of ours, we ourselves being as eternal as any of the divine
thoughts. This, however, McTaggart’s conception, might seem to revive
the difficulty about angels. This is only so, however, if we retain the idea of
matter as the principle of individuation which we criticized above. For our
suggestion was rather that matter was our perception of an individuality
already in place, as it is for those loving spirits which McTaggart argues to
be the only reality.
Rightly interpreted the Letter to the Hebrews might seem in line with our
views. The Son, it is there said, was made a little lower than the angels.
But how could he be, if they were in truth anything more than hypothetical
constructs? To which of them, indeed, the Letter’s author goes on to ask,
was it ever said, ”Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee” (Psalm
110)? Yet he knows that in parts of the scriptures the angels are called
”the sons of God”, who shouted for joy at the creation. It is as if a world
prior to this one, God’s own world, had to be presupposed to the positing
of this one. Only if there is no world, but simply God and his thinking, do
we escape the seemingly a priori pattern of God as king within a world,
God then ”making” a world. Indeed on some interpretations of Genesis the
angelic and material creation are two parts of one operation.


Being is, non-being is not. So there is no non-being, i.e. there is nothing to

bound or limit being. So being is unlimited, infinite.
There exists no non-existent, nothing limiting the existent. Hence the
existent is infinite.
These arguments ignore distinctions we might make between being, or
even existence, and reality, or the finally actual. They do perhaps establish
an actual infinity, though this would not be an actuality deprived of all
potency, in the sense of omnipotence. It is only if viewed temporarily,
though, that this potency would entail potentiality and hence change.
Independently of this probable anthropomorphism, however, the actually
infinite cannot be denied absolute freedom, a freedom constituting, in its
unwaveringness, all necessities and primarily its own. There is no meaning
to necessity independently of this freedom.
Freedom here means will, as first condition for actual thinking, itsexistent
reality. Such thinking is an actual issuing forth or development,
representable by us either as temporal or as dialectical, though we can
see that it must be beyond either of these. Our dialectic is a reverse
recapitulation of what has issued forth, but there is no cause to assume
symmetry between this reditus and an eternal exitus (this is yet more
evident that the asymmetry between thought and nature postulated by
Aristotle, ancient champion of the thing-in-itself or hule.
Where was God before he made the world, Augustine was asked. No one
thought to answer that there was or is no before. But if one asks what is
God other than the world then the answer must be, a whole which as
infinite is more than, transcends, the sum of the parts. So the parts are not

its parts. As infinite it has no parts. This is apparent to thought and, again,
thought itself, as recapitulating the whole, is never a part. Here there
cannot be and so are no parts, except as stages of a dialectic perfected in
their annihilation, as here. When once the world is seen in the grain of
sand the sand rejoins the whole from which, however, it was never truly
This is the meaning of sayings such that only God is, or is good, or that ”I
am he who is; you are she who is not”, or Deus meus et omnia as also of ”I
am” simply.
We speak of spirit, ”God is a spirit”, and think at once of a thinking thing, a
thing or being that thinks (res cogitans). This is a dualism. Spirit has rather
to be actual thought, one with the thought or ”notion”. In this way alone is
it pure form. Form is not really substance; form rather gives being as prior
to it.
What could spirit be unless the thought itself which it thinks. Each spirit is
then but one thought, itself as reason or mind. There is then identity,
interchange and substitution between us all, in God.
On this view being becomes as it were relegated to what we perceive as
matter but without any denial of spirit, which is thereby raised above
being. Of course another way of speaking about being, such as the
Thomistic, is always open to us, or will be as long as we as it were
necessarily ask what is spirit, what is God. But this in itself suggests,
demands, the possibility of rising above what is thus reduced to a manner
of speaking, by contradiction and resolution, in freedom.
”God is not being, God is freedom” (Berdyaev again). There we have the
contradiction. Spirit thinks itself. Spirit is not an object, but pure act. Yet
Aristotle, like McTaggart, postulated finite spirits or ”separated
substances” less than absolute. Here though, by the above reasoning, we
find the conradictions inherent in everything finite. Rather, ”in God we live
and move and have our being,” i.e. not outside of God, ”closer... than we
are to ourselves.” We are not those independent selves from postulating
which we start out. It would be truer to say that the infinite thinks itself in
an infinite number of ways, including thoughts which are themselves
thinkings, our finite selves. Yet every divine idea is one with the divine
essence, necssarily as infinite transcending all composition, but thereby
and ipso facto transcending all being, a situation also described, however,
as the ”analogy of being”. That is, it is analogous with our perception and
speech of being, not merely a being above all being known to us. This is to
place a limit in our thought upon the infinite, which is contradiction still.
True spirit, true reality, not being a thing which thinks, is itself thinking, not
a thought accomplished, a if by another, but thinking, active. For us what
is active is still in process, but that which transcends the piecemeal
condition of time is generation itself, as unbound. In knowing this we know
ourselves as necessarily posited, beyond contingency whatever we
ultimately are or are not.
What we have here, one might want to say, is simply a new way of
speaking, a more accurate way, this observation buttressing the Hegelian
claim that all philosophy, perhaps even everything said, has its truth (a
remark prefigured in Anselm’s De veritate). The dialectic completes what
was attempted in the ”ontological argument”, viz. the removal at the

highest level of a duality and hence mutual contradiction between thought
(spirit) and reality, as also between necessity and freedom.


The analogy of being properly applies to the analogy beyween beings in

the world. It means simply that ”each thing is itself and not another thing”,
while at the same time each thing is, the ”bond of being” whereby the
centre is everywhere, identity in difference.
There has been much talk mof ”analogy as a rule of language”. This was
called by Cajetan the analogy of names, and it is accordingly a more
specific topic. It might also seem less immediately concerned with
understanding the world. This, all the same, extends to our talk about it
considered as talk (as studied in logic) and, in particulat, to our talk about
God. Everything we can say about God is ”only” analogous, one routinely
This applies even and especially to the statement that God is, though not,
one inclines to think, to the statement that it is true that God is. It is true
that God is as it is true that I am sitting now. On the dialectical horizon,
however, there could be looming the possibility of questioning the univocal
notion of ”the true”, which will apply only to the absolute or the whole.
This topic of the analogy of names is important for the profession of theology, clearly. But if
we now look, within theology, at the cause of that linguistic situation we find it is caused by
our coming upon the notion of the infinite being, as one, a unity.
The infinite, in Hegel’s language, destroys the finite. There is no place for finite being
alongside infinite being as if adding to it. Even the doctrine of divinely analogous being is
clearly itself an analogy of first-order analogy: God is not analogous in being to an elephant
just as a given elephant is analogous in being to a mouse or even, though some would deny
this, to another elephant. Yet even in these analogies of being between finite things the being
of one thing does not add to the being of another or to an imagined amount of being
considered. Being is limited or contracted by essence alone, not reduced quantitatively. Thus
the esse of the child does not increase as he or she develops as ens into a man or woman.
So it is mere choice that after discovering infinite being we continue to call finite things
beings, as indeed natural science (holism) tends in its own way to confirm, though we extend
this even to the finite as such or as a whole, the world. We choose to let the term analogy
extend to what are more unlike than like another, viz. God and the world, as image is as such
totally unlike exemplar, the stone statue or picture nothing like a man as any man is like to
another. In this way we are living pictures, this being the basis, among other things, for a
spiritual interpretation of scripture or anything else extending, as symbol, beyond allegory.
The sceptics of old reached a point of silence since, they would believe, nothing can be
asserted. There have similarly been those who witnessed to infinite being by silence.
Thus the scholastic doctrine that being, as the most universal category, is the uniquely proper
effect of the universal cause expresses a mere preference for keeping one’s thinking man-
centred, centred on the finite. One might equally claim that God cannot bring forth being,
because he alone truly is. The celebrated imitations he makes of himself are his thoughts, in
verbo, in which alone, says Aquinas, he knows his creatures, i.e. in his own thoughts of them,
and not in themselves, as Aquinas expressly declares. Yet he does not go on to say that then,
by all logic, the creatures are not in themselves, are not ”outside of” God, as we saw in our
previous chapter. The real relation we, from our side, are said to have to God is not ultimately

real if we ourselves, in comparison with God, are not real. It is only analogously real, again a
choice of language.
This divine viewpoint is expressed in the Gospel. ”Why do you call me good? There is none
good but God”, or in Catherine of Siena’s ”I am he who is. You are she who is not.”
These perspectives might even help understanding of the call to deny oneself and be ready to
go into death, claimed by Hegel to be the mere counterpart of life in a Cusanian coincidentia
oppositorum. Such a doctrine springs from experience, appreciation, of infinite being.


We find the Thomistic distinctio realis (between esse and essentia) often set against any form
of idealism. Esse is the perfectio perfectionum, the ”first act” of anything real, a richer
concept therefore than existence.
Here though we betray that it is all the same a concept, something about which we talk, id
quo as well as id quod. McTaggart declared that reality and existence are related as genus to
species and it is hard to see why esse too should not come down on the side of species there.
It is at most an interpretation of the real, not fully coinciding with it in idea, which the
celebrated primal intuition of being has already made, perhaps on the analogy of the empirical
matter of sensation. Thomas identifies it with Aristotle’s pure act and, analogously, with the
first act of anything, even of the separable or at least distinct form itself which is also defined
as the first act of a body specifically. Aristotle himself though would seem to have held back
from this identification, seeing the pure act rather in terms of thought or a thinking, in this
case thinking itself exclusively. Not only so, but the whole theory of substance as ousia, as
reality, goes out from the gradations of unity, of oneness, in the substances concerned; the
more complex and far-reaching the unity, the higher on the scale of being or ousia, i.e. the
higher, more noble (a derivation from gnobilis, as such things are ”more knowable in
themselves” but not to us90), more divinity-approaching is the substance. Thus far Aristotle
was open to the Plotinian development, for example.
It might therefore be wrong to see Nicholas of Cusa or Eckhart (or Rahner even) as missing
the peculiarity of the Thomistic esse as esse proprium of any creature, having a
”complication” of its being with the essence, just because it is really distinct from any essence
and something above essence as giving it reality. Yet this ”as” immediately confers upon esse
an essence, at least according to the form of our thinking.91
Hence if God is a thinking (and on what grounds can we deny that?) then esse too has to be
brought into the class of his ideas. The auxiliary Thomistic principle of the analogy of
being,again, would hide from us this necessity. Yet by this very principle the ”being” of God
remains more unknown than known, more unlike created being than like it, so that a merely
linguistic decision could be being made which we are not bound to follow. The otherness of
God could go beyond that of any other being specifically, as might, indeed, seem more
consonant with his infinity, though this too is of course itself an idea. It is not an idea though
set in performatively contradictory fashion against any membership in a class of ideas, asis
the thought of esse. It is rather a denial of essence (having denied esse now in some way) if
essence is indeed, as Thomism teaches, the first limiting principle in anything.
Seeking all the same for a divine essence, Thomas fastened on esse, precisely that from which
it is otherwise really distinguished. But if they are really identical, if, that is, essence is not
nonsensically suppressed in God (cf. Non aliquo modo est, sed est, est) then God must also be

The link with Hegel here is his seeing it as philosophy’s specific task to attain to what is
thus more knowable and not merely to catalogue what is already apparent to us.
Cf. F. Inciarte, Forma Formarum, Karl Alber, Freiburg 1970, p.14.

said to be pure form, form as such, which opens the way to an idealism which is, however,
It also leaves God the freedom to posit himself, in line with that sounder interpretation of the
Exodus Hebrew text, one understands, as ”I will be what I will be”. Apart from or ”before”
creation he is a principle, say rather an abyss of freedom, Boehme, Cusanus and Eckhart
concur in saying. Now freedom names, or has, an essence which might seem more limited
than that which, we see, even esse as conceived of has to have. But in saying this we forget or
ignore that we have no notion, no experience at least of an esse that is not conferred as a limit,
such as freedom truly intended can never be. Thus when we try to think of the infinite being
exclusively in terms of esse it is hard not to see this being as somehow determined to be this
being, or to be being, even though we must verbally deny it. That being too must say, I am
what I am and there is nothing to be done about it, whether or not he adds ”Praise the Lord”,
and appeal to analogy is all that is offered to save us from contradiction. I am not as you are.
Why not then accept the position that esse, like existence, is a species of the genus reality?
This, after all, was achieved in the Neoplatonic philosophy, which there seems little cause to
go back on. Not all Christian philosophers, either, took up esse in the new, Biblicist way
celebrated by Gilson and others.
In God we live and move and have our being, says St. Paul again. He does not say here that
God himself has being in any analogous way, nor need he. This would seem to be rather
excluded, that there could be any analogy at least in the way of being, whatever we say about
the being itself (of God). Of course to say that God is freedom is to attribute being, so long as
we hold fast to a Thomistic predication theory, but to say we are compelled to speak by
analogy is not itself to attribute analogous being (to God).
In any case the real analogous being, from God’s point of view, would be our own, not the
divine. The way is thus open to deny that we have true being in the divine or, which is the
same, in the ultimately real sense, as Berkeley and Hegel both saw in their different ways.
What is decisive is that the decision about idealism, especially that in relation to creator and
creation but applicable also to reality in general (and not merely to knowledge, as in the
Kantian perspective), is to be prepared and taken at a more fundamental level, in relation to
perceived causalities even, than any considerations about real being, esse proprium and so on.
Here we accept that a prior reason may be a prior cause. But all the Thomistic reasoning and
insight can take place in man as a stage in the absolute’s self-explication along that series
which we experience as culturo-temporal. Or, if we take greater distance from a possible
confusion with ”process theology”, we should think rather of such reasoning as included in
that divine idea which is, we have claimed, man, this and that man, the thinker.
A certain family likeness with the nineteenth century, primarily Italian philosophical
movement of ”ontologism”, popular in Church circles before the revival of Thomism and a
Holy Office clampdown may be sensed. For that movement too, like the thought of Feuerbach
to which it is paradoxically close, derived from Hegel. Moreover, as a consciously Catholic
variant of this it must occupy some of the same ground as our attempt, like Rahner’s and
others’, to develop Thomism along the lines of these idealist perspectives or even to bring
them out as, we have claimed, actually latent in the thought of Thomas Aquinas.
The main common factor is a re-stress upon the divine immanence, bring God closer to us in
line with our oft-cited Pauline text but in our case in no way reducing divine transcendence.
We have proceeded, rather, by stressing the lack of independent reality in the creature. This
view of things amplifies the degree of transcendence while, paradoxically as it might seem,
reducing its potential for alienation since there are no longer two systems in conflict. There is
reason to think, however, and in contrast to this, that the ontologist movement tended to close
the opening to transcendence, such claims being made as that God is known to all so that
nothing is known without this knowledge or, startlingly, that the divine esse was the same as

esse commune (we on the contrary restrain from a literal or unexamined acceptance of esse
commune as a created reality). Which of the two movements is more consonant with the
thought of Hegel himself is also an important matter to get clear about.
The orthodox speak of two acts of being, of God and of the creature. The point is, they cannot
be such acts, cannot be being, in the same or even a remotely similar way. A response to the
physical world disclosed to men the existence of infinite being, which must be an or the
infinite being. After an intermediate period where one attempted to chart the relation between
finite and infinite, during which it was inter alia made plain that the infinite can have no
relation with the finite, we have in the modern period come to see that the original discovery
of the infinite called upon us to see things from the infinite’s or absolute’s point of view, the
effort to do this being in fact the proper and sole task of philosophy.
The world does indeed form a coherent system. That was the ambiguity of Kant’s thing in
itself, which has to be taken seriously. In fact while seeming to follow Fichte in simple
rejection of this Hegel has in fact identified it with absolute consciousness. Against Kant one
argued previously, with Aquinas, that iudicium sensus est de re, that there was no sense in
supposing some physical and therefore sensible object more authentic than the actual sensible,
defined indeed by Aquinas and Aristotle as one with the actual sensing, already there
indicating an immoveable residue of subjectivity, an abyss between the world and the-world-
known-by-me, the former being proper object for an absolute consciousness only, even if it
should happen to coincide with ours at certain points.
Already then it was plain that the absolute object would not be sensible or, therefore, physical
in the sense of material, though surely physikos in the sense of aving a nature, being more
than logico-conceptual. In fact the thing-in-itself was already showing itself as unable to be
object at all, but one all-embracing subject which, however, as infinite and hence knowing
itself through and through would in that case be simultaneously object and indeed self-
expression, as in Trinitarian theology.
The absolute dualism of spirit and matter corresponding to modern philosophy’s first attempt
to think things absolutely (an aspiration significantly stigmatized as angelism by Thomists
such as Maritain) never had much to commend it. Living men render impossible the
opposition of soul and body consequently required. This is but a new variant of the self-
alienation familiar in earlier spirituality. God is removed from the world as having being apart
from him. But man, as made to his image in his soul, has to be removed from the world too
and hence from himself as at home in the world. We were told we ”have” souls that we have
to ”save”. The soul can contract blemishes of which we are unconscious, in contrast with the
Virgin free from all stain. All the theologies of grace or, still more, those of sacramental
character postulate this unseen, unfelt centre to our human actuality, all else being thus
rendered peripheral and hence leaving ourselves peripheral to ourselves, alienation indeed
from which only an obedience beyond all understanding, in the name of tradition, can deliver
The notion of matter, Berkeley’s ”idea” of matter, thus becomes hard to sustain. In saying we
are formed from the dust of the earth the Bible seems to stress our finitude and, from the
divine or absolute point of view, our insubstantiality. Spinoza has to be right that there is just
one substance absolutely, but not maybe that it has absolutely a material mode. Matter viewed
thus is at least on the way to becoming coterminous with finitude, provided we can maintain
the impossibility of createdely finite ”pure” spirits mentioned above. One would only deny
matter to them as part of our denial of matter generally, our view of it as a negation of infinity,
the partes extra partes following directly upon that, since anything incomposite at once
transcends space and therefore matter, impossibly, unless it were infinite.


So strong is the judgment in favour of idealism as philosophy’s proper mode in Hegel and
some others that we find the suggestion that nature, though an undeniable reality, is in some
way a disadvantage, an alienation, for mind. One would have expected rather that
acknowledgement of natural reality would have served to curb rather than intensify the
idealist flight.
But no. For Hegel nature is the idea in a ”self-estranged” state, one of

Diremption into existents external to one another in Time and Space, out of which it
must raise itself to complete self-consciousness.92

What lies behind the judgement, the inclination, in favour of idealism is the aspiration to see
things from the divine, which will be the absolute point of view. This is what the analogy-of-
being doctrine refuses, not so much insisting upon seeing God from our point of view (a
confessedly self-defeating enterprise) as never having conceived of an alternative. For that is
left to theology, with its doctrines of the beatific vision, a vision lent us, in the nature of the
case indeed, by the divine grace itself of the lumen gloriae. The point is that quite apart from
or prior to this great hope there is a moment, which ought not to be suppressed, of our natural
intellectual consideration of the truth of God. This truth, it is felt, implies absolute idealism in
the sense of there being no reality independent in regard to God, who is ultimate reality nad,
indeed, reality ultimately.
Orthodox theology approaches this truth in teaching that God is not only, by free choice,
originating cause of any and all creation, but sustaining cause in any given moment, the
created reality only standing firm as long as God wills it. This idea will not itself stand firm
longer than our willing it either! If we steadily contemplate it we will see that it is not
compatible with the assertion that it is intended to buttress and make possible, namely that
creation is by God’s will an independent reality. God cannot will, in the nature of the case,
this one real case indeed, that something he creates shall stand independently of his will. The
doctrine of freedom too, we have remarked, is subject to this proviso. What it means in
general is that we, from the divine viewpoint, i.e. in reality, subsist in the divine self-
awareness, call it thinking or willing. We are not apart from this absolute and what we mean
by reality in our created ambience is contained in and harmonized with that.
This might, one may wish to say, leave everything the same as before we hit upon it. But a
truer way of thinking is already an improvement in general well-being and vision. Besides,
the divine majesty and infinity is better served, just as when one improves the music in
church services. Connected to this, the divine nearness to the creature, to ourselves, is thus
better brought out, hence better proclaimed, hence more nearly felt and reverenced ”through
all the changing scenes of life”.
Thus we have disposed of being, the last obstacle and foundation of our alienation. God does
not cause being, any more than he causes himself, though he is maybe what he chooses to be.
We must leave this unresolved. He lives his life, thinking himself, at once integrally and
refractedly, but always wholly present to the point of identity in any and all these refractions.
This the truth of the doctrine of the true self, which is God alone.
Thinking of creation, one can ask oneself, does it befit infinite being, this idea of producing,
causing a world. Bonum est diffusivum sui, taught the old neoplatonists, and Hegel has tried to
bring out the necessity, in the sense of a purely intrinsic impulse, in all the divine operations
(maybe a better term than ”works”). Of course what comes from within God is supremely
free, but it is also, as inevitable, necessary. God does not invent; he pours forth simply,
J.N. Findlay, Hegel: a Re-examination, Macmillan: New York 1958; Collier Books, New
York 1966, p.269.

perhaps not so much imitating something circumscribed as showing an effusiveness intrinsic
to his reality. There is no end to him in any direction, to his fecundity, in that speaking of his
Word, that is as infinite, the very speaking, as he himself is.
But if what we know as things are his words, his thoughts, then it seems clear that he does
not, like us, think propositionally. This is easy to accept if we accept the account of
predication as an identification of what was initially abstracted from a whole. God’s
knowledge of propositions is of the latter in the minds of men and women, while those
necessary truths, say that three threes are nine, add nothing to an all-encompassing thinking of
three, or of nine for that matter. But is God obliged to think three? Aquinas locates plurality
and negation with the transcendental concept aliquid, read as aliud quid. This, however, only
comes in with human thinking, and as such God knows and wills it. As such one can, we
noted, allow the possibility that the laws of logic are within the scope of the divine will. This
fits in with our conception of God beyond being, who both is and is not (Nicholas of Cusa),
who is reality (and so perhaps me on) rather than being, who is firstly freedom.
To approach the matter afresh we might grant that God knows himself or herself as imitable in
an infinity of ways. But he is free not to actualize all these ways by thinking of them, since
the possibility is something he holds exclusively in himself, as the power of his choice and
election, not finding it elsewhere. Thos he does actualize are ipso facto If he thinks them he
knows them and they are, as his creatures, his thoughts. There is just no reason to see him as
postulating possibles to himself, like a groping human artist. Possibility itself not merely lies
under his command but is intrinsic to him as power, from which it is indistinguishable.93
When we say that God can do all things we do not refer to a collection of things which are
uniquely possible to him alone. For all things proceed from him in the first place and have no
reality else.
So if it is indeed necessary that he have thoughts, which he knows within himself as identical
with himself, then these thoughts are none other than the created realities and so idealism is
If then we ask why God cannot conceive of something without actually making it we are
thinking anthropomorphically. Outside of our human world nothing is made and there is no
artifex. The divine conceiving is at once a giving birth, an actualization.
But since each idea is identical with the divine essence each ”thing” (in fact an idea) reflects
all other things, as in Leibniz or Hegel. This is why things cohere in a system, in harmony, in
love, as in the ”one mind”. What really exists then is spirit, and spirits. For what is that love
that joins them but ”absolute spirit”, exemplar of them all. This truth subsists even in


In answer to the question whether animals and plants will share in the resurrection Thomas
Aquinas replies in the negative. The reason he gives, that there is no separable or immortal
soul-form, as with intellectual beings, to found identity with what dies, concerns us only
indirectly here. It is clear, anyhow, that there is no question either of providing new animals
and plants in that final, definitive and everlasting state. For in answer to the objection that
much of worth and beauty will thus be lost Thomas replies that any such loss is more than
compensated for by the beauty of the bodies of the redeemed.
This reply, I suggest, is highly significant. This final state, after all, cannot be but normative
and, in a sense, normal. For animals and plants we might as well read the whole material
universe. Nor should we be misled by talk of bodies. Aquinas’s anthropology, we know, is
unitary, not dualist, the human spirit being responsible for all that is in the body. That he
The potentia which Aquinas wished to distinguish from it finds no place in the absolute.

envisages a disembodied deprived interim is as much due to theologico-biblical sources as to
anything in his philosophy. An Aristotelian might say, the soul is the man, without meaning
this in the dualist Platonic sense.
If there are no animals and plants then we can be sure that these bodies are not of that sort
either. Consistently thought through the picture invites us to conclude that animals and plants
are not real as we are real. They are evanescent, like all the world of matter. A coincidence
with pluralist idealism emerges. For McTaggart reality consists of spirits who love each other.
That is what we have here too, plus that they are one in God, the infinite being. For
McTaggart all else is misperception, and here too we say it is evanescent, a temporary
delusion or dream. Temporary because temporal, Aquinas will say. For he hardly considers
questioning the reality of time (the citadel of eternity, from which all time is viewed as though
at once, escapes the more usual objections if time is viewed as our misperception, or at least
subjective perception, of a more basic series).
It is perhaps not to great a distance from the love the atheist speaks of here to the God who is
love. But this God then will have created only these spirits, with their ideas, perceptions and
misperceptions. Indeed we claim here that they are themselves divine ideas and thus far
identical with the divine essence, as Thomas reasons concerning the ideas. God thinks them
directly, and not through ideas of ”possibles” as we might do. There are no merely possible
persons. Thus far the mere dignity of personality is enough to overthrow the divine ideas
doctrine in its usual form.
All that is propositional is thought by created, ourselves. The same is true of all that is
abstracted. God’s thinking is extremely concrete and particular, in no wise inferior to or
coming second to some more immediate reality. He thinks beings, in the sense in which we
use that term in our world, nor does he think a bird in abstraction from its redness. Why
should he? The universal he thinks only in thinking one or other of us. He paints the
landscape without first putting it together. It is the artist that must catch up with him, arriving
at that unity and harmony intrinsic to God and all of his life as unity and harmony themselves,
beyond predication.
Christians have the pattern for this in the generation of the Word, a person. There is never a
suggestion that an idea is formed of this divine person prior to his generation, of course by an
inner necessity of divinity, but this does not seem to be a reason why there is no prior idea.
God does not cast about among possibilities in the way here imagined.
One direct consequence of this idealist view is at least to question the descent of man from the
animals, animals which have no part in the resurrection (or in the world of McTaggart). Nor,
unless we are dualists, can we allow the disharmonious and mechanist notion of an ”infusion”
of a soul into an already constituted animal or zygote. Animals are like pictures which we
make along the way.
And so we return to other notions of man’s origins, theosophist perhaps, or downright
Biblical, though with some difference. Notions held by Origen may come to mind. For
McTaggart we spirits are timeless. For Rudolph Steiner and his associates we have descended
or developed from beings, men, of a different kind, less rational, more clairvoyant, ultimately
of different shape or more evidently the pure spirits we essentially are. It is difficult to see any
other way to go here; that is the point, plus the point that Aquinas, representing orthodoxy,
urges substantially, by implication, the same view.


God would not, could not be transcendent unless he were totally immanent. That is what has
been brought out here. It is therefore a real question whether he could be totally immanent
without being transcendent, as pantheists might assert.

If he is infinite then he must be the cause of every cause, the being of every being, and the
real analogy is taken from his actuality. Are finite causes, finite beings really such? Is there
even finite truth without an admixture of falsity? A or the promise of the Hegelian dialectic is
that there is not, and this dialectic can therefore be claimed to result from vital apprehension
of infinite being, such as was less systematically announced in those called mystics, though
such witnesses arise still.
A further if related question is whether, all the same, God needs the world in order to be what
he is. Hegel stated, as did Eckhart and Boehme that God would not be God as we understand
God without the world – but an abyss of freedom, says Boehme, while Eckhart anyway says
”God is nothing” (considered as separate, existing alone without the thought identified with
him) and Nicholas of Cusa is equally paradoxical. That there might be a reality behind mere
existence is also asserted in neoplatonism (the me on). Thus the claim that existence is a
species of the genus reality, no more. As such it is emphasised indeed in Thomism, i.e. as the
best way of viewing reality, not a mere equivalence since one argues for it. Fregeans use the
same frame from the opposite side when they speculate about thoughts without thinkers.
But that God necessarily creates a world does not mean that he needs to create. A necessary
effect, of love, say, or goodness, is not as such a need of love, nor is it a limitation upon the
lover’s freedom, once again.
It could also be, perhaps should be, that creation as world, system, is set by its creator to
become a perfect or adequate image of himself, rather than just a mirror in which he sees his
image. Nor need just one determinate (it would be pre-determinate) such possible best of all
perfection be envisaged. Here we will have full analogy, but never identity, between the
internal procession of the Word fulfillling the requirement for otherness and reconciliation in
God and the external procession of creationas other, set upon the path of reditus, its own
reconciliation, the omega point. This requirement is indicated when the creation is posited as
made through the Word specifically, and seen in the Word. Conversely, the infinite being (as
the self-explanatory, which nothing else as more ultimate can limit) would be indicated
through there being just any world at all. Yet that shows that the world would just therefore, in
view of such witness, have to be the or a perfect analogy.


From Soul to Self

A paper published over twenty years ago now94 sought to stress the
insolubility of the problem of the existence of just this self which I am, or
of the self which you, a definite individual within the finite number of
those which ever have existed, are. I concluded that this problem was no
different from that of the existence of the world, so that for similar reasons
it could only be referred to the incomprehensible freedom of a first infinite
cause and creator.
This may have been all right as far as it went, but perhaps the more
important part was what I did not see was still to be added. I was indeed
surprised to find that one or two people whom I regard as wise had no
appreciation of the problem, answering me, for example, in terms of
personal history, who one’s parents were, for example, as if the same
mystery did not attach to each of them and, more nearly, as if the whole
world could not have gone on without me, those same two people either
generating or not generating some other child at the very same time they
generated me, ot at any other time. Neither astrology nor genetics can
have the last word in the constitution of the self.
Now why is this not obvious to all? Here I come to my answer as to that
more important part of the explanation which I mentioned above. Those I
consulted were, as I was myself, either philosophical realists or realists in
the sense of taking the natural and unreflective attitude. We thought in
terms of a world of objects, even if we should choose to state that God
(object of thought at least) is not an object and other paradoxical things.
Above all, we treated each self as an object, this self that exists, a
contingent object. It was indeed the contingency, this lack of sufficient
reason, which led straight to the naked will of God.
In theory of course one knew that God has known and loved each one of
us from all eternity. We then went on to attribute necessity to all the
possible beings known to infinite knowledge, from which he freely and
hence contingently selects a finite number for actualization. Here, one
may remark in passing, there is a certain failure to see that this fancied
possibility is not other than the infinite divine power itself to create as it
wishes. That alone is what is necessary. I am not selected out of some
larger set.
So if one does speak of an election something other is meant, namely that
one is a part (though God has no parts), an expression, of God, that God is
in one and one is in God. He dwells in us and we have our being in him.
That is why one exists, not because of a gift to a nothing (this indeed
cannot be expressed, there being no recipient prior to the gift) but
because one has always been there, in the divine mind. This is the unity of
the self and God, just as our appropriation of the world in knowledge is a
kind of re-creation of it, or rather it is a being present at its creation.

“Other Problems about the Self”, Sophia (Australia), Vol. 24, no. 1, April 1985, pp.11-21.

In fact if there is otherness in God, as the Trinity as a doctrine of the divine
”processions” or proceedings exemplifies, then there will be a proceeding
ad extra too, a kind of mirror of the Son’s eternal begetting on the
Christian scheme, and this has to be a creation out of nothing. This
creation is just the one in which God expresses himself, as he does in his
images, ourselves. Why do I exist? I exist as with God in idea from all
eternity. That is my irremoveable stake in actuality.
There is a parallel to this in our thinking about the material universe or nature. Succeeding to
the naive or supernaturalist view of the creation in all its specific detail we have the
evolutionary explanation, supported by the fossil record, together with analogous
cosmological speculation supported by observation and measurement of, for example, an
expansion from a central point. But these explanations lead us back to a beginning needing to
be explained in the old way, i.e. to be left unexplained, the only conclusion being to a divine
fiat, even thought this is at variance with the whole previous way of thinking, a ”God of the
gaps” indeed, leaving us with two analogous, discontinuous realities.
This is again to stop halfway. If we arrive at this infinite eternal being, the
creator, then we know that the centre and origin is there and should try to
think this. Then we would see that the otherness that creation embodies
(and which we find in creation) must, like everything else, be prefigured in
the divine or absolute unity, who therefore must also contain a plurality, at
least of relations. It is upon and to one or more of these relations that the
external relation of creation must succeed, a creation which, though, is not
identified with God, but always remains nothing apart from him. It is as it
were his veil, his many veils, or, from our point of view, his
”objectification”. Time too appears thus as the veil or image of eternity,
obviating realist puzzles about its beginning which ignore the fact that a
beginning is an intra-temporal concept.
What this amounts to is an extension of philosophical or scientific
explanation to creation, the becoming of nature as a whole. This is not
derived from Christian doctrine but gives, rather, support to it. The realist
theology of creation does not so much explain it as argue towards it,
though the theory of the divine ideas contains the germ of an explanation.
These, however, if relations, express only the quasi-logical relations of
identity within the divine mind. The power of creating, of making the other
as such, needs to be led back to a permanent generation of the other
within the divine being itself, since it is only in and together with such
generation, obviously occurring continually and not once and for all in
some fictive divine past, that the external going forth of creation can be
We are offered, usually, the picture (this is what it is) of a divine hand
guiding the development from above, from outside, so that life should
occur, for instance. A more unitary, hence more plausible and eo ipso
more satisfying view is that of an inner development of what is already
there in germ, going back to the beginning. Time then shows us the world
becoming conscious of itself and so, increasingly, conscious that it is
conscious, thereafter in innocent regress. The senses develop, in
dialectical interchange with the living being’s survival needs, a sensitivity
to light (apprehended by the creature as a whole or formally: or perhaps
the sensation first happens to it and then it uses it. Or does it strive to see
before seeing? Sight can anyhow not be divorced from the will to know

where danger lies, where the food is, etc.), touch, smell. What was the
world before these senses existed, even that of touch, world that so
mysteriously corresponds exactly to just these five senses or so? Was it
what science now discovers it to be? With the same measurements? Like
the waves that could be corpuscular, the randomly uncertain particles,
must not the measurements too be, as it were, to our measure? Finally,
what is the status of this ”before”, viewed outside of human perception or
absolutely? We have, after all, accorded a definite age to the world.
Could man have arisen naturally, from within, or must the intellect have
come ”from outside”, as Aristotle said? The senses would be the base,
quaedam cognitio, the vis aestimativa yielding to the vis cogitativa, the
latent power to grasp a quod quid est, woman perhaps, or man.
Immateriality indeed, abstraction, but then we must ask, are there no
immaterial beings in nature, in the realm of objectified spirit? Is being
itself material, that being which cannot both be and not be? Yet we have
already raised a doubt about its materiality, its mass, its resistance to
pressure, before there was any sense of touch. Was it visible before eyes
were postulated? Was there light to accompany the degree of heat,
quantifiable in terms of energy, which however can equally be taken just
phenomenally if anything can?
If it is just the world that knows itself we have a circle. Must not knowledge
judge it from outside, freely? Even in the act of postulating a monist
system? Or else it seems we must take the world as an absolute,
inseparable from the indwelling God.
We might say, the intellect comes not from outside; it comes from inside,
but it comes from it as a whole, since this is what defines intellect, viz.
that it grasps and names the universal (kat holon). This is why man, each
human being, was spoken of as a microcosmos, a (the) world in miniature.
Thus Hegel speaks of ”an individually determined world soul”.
The world grew gradually conscious This is to say his soul, and therefore
his self, is his own. Hence the hypotheses of his coming from elsewhere.of
itself but in virtue of the logos indwelling from the beginning. ”What is the
world without the reason?”, Gottlob Frege rhetorically asked, his question
leaving open which arose within which. This logos, source of all, has to be
infinite, since there is nothing that could limit it. It is clear that man has a
special relation to it, of a reflected universality able in principle to
interiorize or ”think” all things. Any further evolution will retain this, just as
life or sensitiveness is never gone beyond.
Here we have an alternative to the jarring picture of a special creation and
infusion of each soul. It is just this universalizing power which , as ad
opposita, includes the freedom in virtue of which each new human being is
a new beginning, whether or not generated by parents. This is to say, his
soul and therefore his self is his own. Hence the hypotheses of his coming
from elsewhere, be it only from the hand of an external God in a unique
way, when in fact his freedom, which these theories would explain, is
immanent and constitutive, finally conferred by the developing energies of
the world itself become conscious.
With this the whole paradoxical idea of a substantial form which is yet
itself a substance is no longer needed, such need having ever been its
only plausibility. There is therefore much less reason to postulate other

separate substantial forms to,, angels or ”separated substances”, though
there was never any absolute need to identify God’s messengers
( angeloi) with this notion.
Man reigns in the world, God’s free but by no means contingent or
incidental creation. For he is truly the objective externalization of the
infinite self, as the doctrine of the incarnation expresses. So we hope for
salvation and life from the dead. The world is from the start divine, ”full of
gods”. Divine transcendence, from which nothing is hidden, demands total


It is difficult to reconcile how Aquinas speaks of how things are with his
saying that there creation follows from God’s knowledge of them. God
cannot know things as other than they really are since his knowledge of
them is constitutive. One must then distinguish the way of speaking from
the way of being thus intended. So, after saying (at Contra gentes I, 11)
that ”first” and ”highest” are a way of speaking of God relatively Aquinas
adds that there are no real relations to creatures ion God. It follows that
God is not really the first or highest being. Either he alone is being or he is
(as we say, predicating) beyond all being.
But to say he alone is being comes close to making him the being of
creatures, which is self-contradictory for Aquinas (I, 26). He has an act of
being as does anything else, with which however he alone is essentially
identical, i.e. unlike anything else. This is God’s uniqueness. It is, however,
being without a subject, ”pure act”, since the subject is the be-ing. Is that
still existence as we understand it? There occurs act which is not an act of
anything. From this proceeds creation, in relation to which alone divine or
infinite being is necessarily postulated.
Freedom is a quality at once spiritual and intellectual, as in unconditioned
judgment. So the necessary being is unconditioned, his externalization
free. Whether or not this creation begins, as finite, there is no before this
beginning, when God, eternal, was alone. He does not change, but nor
does he need this creation thus, as actively thought, freely proceeding.
This human form, made in God’s image, is whole and bodily. It is
groundlessly dualistic then to see just our bodies as fashioned, evolved, in
response to animal needs. Thus our human form cannot be placed only as
term of creation. It must, as unconditioned intellect, be crown and cause
from the beginning. The whole animal life-system, in that case, must be
imaged and begotten upon this form, the face of Christ according to which
Adam’s face was fashioned being prior to the reverse evolutionary relation
as the deeper truth. This is the only way to account for man as natural,
and not an angel held in by an ape. Human actuality, therefore, requires
the inversion of the world.


The idea of the infusion of the soul (special creation) bears witness to some special status for
the species man, to a privileged access to truth, as of one made in the divine image. Yet the
attempt to see this as a gratuitous gift of a soul to an ape is itself gratuitously dualist, carrying

over into an evolutionary perspective, with which it jars, a crudely unadapted relic of an
otherwise superseded magico-religious view of the world where everything was thus directly
created. Yet even within this earlier account special creation of the soul was argued for in
man’s case alone, if we prescind from the postulation of angels. In their case their knowledge
itself, of the species of all things, was as specially created as were they themselves.
But where such a postulation, of a soul from ”outside”, is needed we
clearly have a world in which God, the spiritual, is not present. Aquinas
denied that the rational soul could be transmitted by material generation,
understandably. There is an individuality to eahc soul as destined for this
body, though it is the soul itself that makes of the body a this such that it
can receive the soul. It is in that way that matter is said to be the principle
of individuation. There are tensions and unresolved questions here.
Let us forget for a moment the claim as to reason’s antecedent spirituality
or immateriality, able to have the form of the other as other. Such claims
impose dualism, mind dematerializing matter in the act of understanding
it. We might recall Heraclitus: ”all things are full of gods”. It is not after all
with a part of him that man understands but substantially, as that which
he essentially is.
An idealist could claim that in a sense this dematerialized form with which
the mind unites is what anything essentially is. As nothing is purely matter
so there is no matter, merely finitude. In nature we see spirit, the Idea. For
what we observe is a natural process culminating, to date, in creatures
able to reflect and understand, aware that they are aware, able to
investigate and explain this very process, uncovering the universal and the
necessary. There is no question of some higher, more absolute knowledge,
before which such (human) knowing has to be justified. It is its own
warrant and is understood as such.
In this light, to postulate a special intervention from outside in the case of
this intellect is just to deny the truth to which it bears such compelling
witness, viz. that nature is a vehicle and expression of spirit, issuing by a
natural necessity in such reflexive power of comprehension, this power we
call soul or spirit. It is to degrade nature, as a creation specifically, while
pretending to a higher spirituality. We do not understand nature; nature, in
and through us, understands herself. Nature is not God. Through the
process it, and we ourselves, are drawn up towards God, the transcendent
to which we are open because he is ”closer to us than we are to
Maybe, theologically, each one of us is ”foreknown”, but ”from the
foundations of the world” in that case. The world is such as to bring forth
us, me, in due time. No special creation is needed. I am that baby which
comes forth, and I show by the freedom of my intellectual nature in itself,
progressively, that the whole world and its infinite creator generate me
along with my parents, with a necessity transcending their not essentially
intellectual act. There is here indeed a special appearance, which the
doctrine of special creation (of the soul) tries to capture.
This is the kind of thing though that would happen naturally when nature
reaches our stage of complexity, bending back upon itself in
understanding possession. The capacity, again, is within nature herself.
Nature herself, therefore, the physical, has its being within and suffused by
God. One could only call this acosmism (Hegel’s characterisation of

Spinoza’s system) as against an outlook in practice habitually denying this
divine suffusion, this transcendence with out limit overflowing into total
immanence. Nature has no being over and above the divine being in any
comparable sense, as if she had some private life, like a citizen of reality,
in which it was not the business of the state to interfere. Thus the realist
Aquinas was compelled to conclude, again, that God knows us in his idea
of us and not in ourselves, for we are not thus independently in ourselves,
except insofar as the self might be identical with God, infinite and
There is thus no need for special creation. In us, simply, self-conscious is
reached and life (bios) has done with the biological as its form of growth.
Special creation can only be postulated if we see intellect as a separate
part of man (anima mea non est ego). It would be absurd to say that we
were specially created bodily in a way unknown to dogs and cats. A
natural development of intellect is possible, since it exists. Only this claim
preserves divine infinity, such that God is immanent in and contains all
creation. Just intellect, its emergence, leads us to look back on the rest in
that light. The evolutionary principle itself is rational, as rational as the
geometry of a spider’s web. Things survive, exist, to the extent that they
partake in that rationality or are true. Such reason though, thought, is, as
first, unbounded, infinite. That is why creation is free as reason itself, the
In a sense I (any I) have created the nature I look out upon For just as
there is no proportion between infinity and the finite creature in general,
so there is no proportion (beyond certain analogies) between intellect and
things lacking reflective capacity for the universal in particular. Felt too
strongly, this gives rise to the dualism of matter and spirit, a position
contradicted by the emergence of the one from the other in which it lay
sleeping, as of flower from seed. In a sense there is no proportion between
flower and seed either. Just as most seeds do not become flowers, so most
sensitive creatures do not transcend themselves towards intellect. This,
however, happens at the level of species, whether one or several being for
palaeontologists to determine. The need though for the two accounts,
mechanist and teleological but each expressive of the other, remains, a
work of infinite cunning.


Thought and knowledge are indeed dialectical, but only up to a point. This must be so since it
follows that this assertion too will be dialectical and not simply absolute. All things flow. The
more they change the more they remain the same, identity in difference of both identity and
difference themselves, which are thus not themselves, exclusively. Thinking, that is to say, as
spirit, never rests.
We have been considering the thesis of Aristotelian dualism, that the soul,
intellect, nous, ”comes from outside”. This follows from the premises that
mind ”can know the natures of all bodies” and that what thus knows
cannot itself be a body since knowledge, as identity with the other, would
then be stopped, its own body as paremphainomenon getting in the way
of the total openness envisaged, the having of the form of the other as

other. It is left unclear in what sense if any this now immaterial intellect
can have its own form or be something in any way at all.
This can though seem a compelling argument for dualist spiritualism. Thus
it is used, for example, by Joseph Pieper , 95 who contrasts the subjective
environmental world of animals to the real total world known by the
absolute spirit and knowable, in parallel, to the created finite spirit of man,
precisely in virtue of spirit, defined as openness to all being.
Now spirit is also a master-category in Hegel, who, however, does not use
this argument for a ”substantial soul”. Spirit rather brings forth the whole
of nature and matter does not really exist. For Teilhard de Chardin the
evolution of the whole earth and universe, living or non-living taken as a
whole, is a process of psychogenesis. Soul and mind come from below by a
directed process for which but a small twist in his thinking is needed to
make it dialectical, complexification spanning as a term both temporal
development and reason’s taking apart what exists as thought eternally,
the complexity lying in the mode of analysis, of unfolding (explication)
We do not need dogmatically to deny the reality of the infused soul. With reference though to
the first remark, above, about dialectic we must notice that the pressure of the Aristotelian
argument, in conflict with the ever more richly confirmed unitary scientific picture of
evolutionary continuity, itself brings forth a questioning of its own main premise, in a
dialectical change of direction. What exactly do we mean, how far are we justified, in
claiming that the intellect can know the natures of all bodies? Conversely, does not the
improbability of finding a harmony between this absolutism and an ever more compelling
relational account of knowledge and meaning compel a nuancing or rethinking of the
The key notion here is knowledge, as in knowing what something is. This
though is always in terms of knowing what some other things are. Yet we
are familiar now with the situation of not being able to know the nature of
each and every body or particle, in quantum physics, every unknown
affecting the quality even of our grasp of the universal, for that matter. In
association with this we have a seemingly intractable debate about
whether these particles are unknown in themselves, of merely random
provenance, or, less radically, their true natures and supposed individual
etiology are forever inaccessible to us. Similarly it is not decided whether
the choice we have of representing particles as either waves or as
corpuscular is decidable as a matter of intellectual truth or as a mere
matter of convenience.
This situation is a ”straw in the wind” in our context here. Can the knowing
of the natures of all bodies be fully separated from our finite concerns of
the moment when we apply our minds to the question? This aspect need
not be seen as acting a practical contaminant to the project of theory.
Theory, rather, as a notion, has suffered through not having been able,
historically, to be placed in the context of that dynamic emergence of
mind within evolution in the course of a struggle to survive to which our
knowledge now bears witness. Inherited predicative structures of
languages also now require constant transcendence, a consideration

Joseph Pieper, Was heisst Philosophieren?, Werke III, Meiner, Hamburg 1995, pp.15-70.

rather weakening the force of traditionalist objections to a logic (the
Fregean) which ”can’t say what something is”.
Behind this question as to our ability lies that of the object. Are all things
knowable in themselves, even to an absolute spirit? We seem returned to
Plato here. Omne ens est verum, maybe, but what if some beings (and not
merely doubtful propositions), as it seems in their beginnings at least, are
equivocal as between being and non-being. Teilhard emphasises this
hiddenness of beginnings. It is common ground that to be a being one
must have an essence. But essence can be indeterminate at the start, as
the emergence and co-relatedness of species and even genera tends to
confirm and as is yet more marked at the non-living, more weakly
individualized level.
Pieper and Teilhard use concepts of interiority and interiorization
respectively. To be alive, Pieper claims, is to have an interior in the sense
of a power of actively relating to, interacting with, the environment, as do
plants. Teilhard de Chardin extends this notion to anything whatever. The
divide between matter and life, still more spirit, is relativized. Thus it
seems a matter of choice, again, whether to class certain viruses as living
or non-living. But matter here is upgraded to spirit and not the contrary.
Essential for Pieper, for Thomists, is the idea of immaterial substance. The
stress, however, depends upon identification of matter, by contrast, where
substance is first encountered, as antithetical to spirit. This idea entirely
evades human evolution as witnessed to in palaeontology and in the
emergence of all other species.
For Teilhard de Chardin evolution reaches a critical point which he term
”reflection”, when one knows that one knows, and which he compares to
the qualitative change produced in water heated to the critical
quantitative intensity of 100 degrees. The question is not raised as to how
”absolute” this new stage is or can be known to be. Does knowledge reach
right up to the reality? Its doing so was the premise, we saw, for the
ancient argument.
Yet such coming from outside, as a notion, depends upon the contrast with
”dead matter”, which can be repudiated antecedently if matter and the
earth is alive or pregnant with life. Regarding Teilhard’s reflection,
however, there are many coincidences. Thus the primate, in adopting an
erect posture, frees his hands for an all-purpose ”handling” which in turn
frees the jaws from their usual animal functions which had in turn
demanded strong maxillary muscles confining cranial expansion (this
original protuberance upon the spine). Once remove that and the
possibility of greater brain-enlargement is given, the assumption being
that the central nervous system centres in the brain (in all animals), upon
which the power of thought depends in direct if indefinite proportion.
Theoretically it might seem that a corresponding organ might develop in
some other region or way in an animal remaining quadruped, say at the
neck or belly, or in some creature that had avoided the specialization of
becoming vertebrate and these alternatives reduce the impression of
coincidence. Intelligence was just ready to come out in some way or other.

We suppose, after all, that what in our perception is fore-ordained is known
and determined eternally as freely occuring, by reason’s cunning again.96
Thus the superiority not just of man but of the primates depended upon
their keeping undeveloped less specialized bodily organs so as not to be
tied down to determinate behaviour (e.g. if their hands had become claws)
at variance with the free play of what was to become intelligence.
If we return to the question of unevolutionary absoluteness, what is meant
by the power to know the natures of all bodies? The mind is declared able
to infallibly grasp the quod quid est, what something is, though not in the
sense of an absurd claim to scientific omniscience. Rather, error comes in
with the mind’s second act, the judgment, but never with concept-
formation as such. A concept is got by abstraction if we refer it to
universals, but it can also be of individuals, such as the moon, or our
friends, and this we might share with less reflexive creatures. Later
philosophy would see it as a content of consciousness rather, prior to any
making of judgements.
Indeed if our central category is reflection, self-consciousness, then the
question of absolute knowledge is not raised so sharply at the beginning,
being rather attained at the end, as in the structure of Hegel’s The
Phenomenology of Mind. I look at what I hold in my hands, as I eat
perhaps, and am aware that I am looking at it. I remember and muse on
what I have seen. I ask myself questions. In the practical sphere each
individual takes some responsibility in providing for himself, but if he takes
a coat, a furskin, with him as he leaves the cave it is because he knows as
a truth, even as a theoretical truth, that it will get colder in the evening.
Returning to the quod quid est, it is evident that we know what we know.
Prehistoric man knows that the moon looks like a golden melon. If he
declares it is one or of similar size he commits an error of judgement he
had the means to avoid. The conceptual power, that is, is self-validating as
far as it goes. In this indeed it is little more than an extension of the sense-
power. For there is no point in speaking of a more real nature of sensible
bodies than what we sense. Sensible bodies, that is, are the bodies
sensed, a situation applying also to observation with a microscope.
Thus the Scholastics had to postulate intermediate powers between
sensation and knowledge, such as a vis aestimativa and even a vis
cogitativa as a specifically human refinement precisely of sense, without
which intellect could get no purchase upon the world. It is plain that the
discontinuity there was in form of presentation alone, homo sapiens
building smoothly upon his inheritance.
When I write this I am aware that I am writing and of what I am writing. At
intervals I look back so as to keep my grasp of the whole, in relation to
which I understand and determine the direction of the lines I wish to write
next. This is, if one likes, an absolute truth, an absolute reality, because
immediately given in awareness. That, and nothing else, is the claim of the
quod quid est. To buttress it however one needs to be free of the confused
theory that one perceives perceptions. One perceives things, which thus
become percepts. It is a matter of my situation whether what I perceive on
This Hegelian term is of course something of a joke. It simply means that infinite mind
determines its posits undisturbed, do we what we will, since it alone is what makes us
both to will and to do.

the road is Pierre, a man, an animal, a moving object or just some
disturbance in the (perceived) landscape. Queries regarding certainty may
always be raised and spiritualistic absoluteness may be related to some
confusion as between certainty and truth, even before Descartes
thematized it. Conversely, one may indeed have the form of the other as
other, but this other is hardly ever the form of the whole other (and even
when I recognize Pierre who knows if what I know is the essential man?).
The sense-form as grasped by us or animals is already of a piece with this;
neither of us, as Aquinas admits elsewhere, so simply or easily grasps the
nature of any, let alone all bodies. We know rather danger, or a colour.
That we could do so, given world and time, well that is indeed not a power
given to animals in their present state, but they might well be on the road
to it, be it once admitted that our pre-human ancestors were thus in via.
There is development in an individual; there is development in a chain of
So one might wish to say that to be able to know the natures of all bodies
is no more than this power of awareness. The reflective power transforms
the association of likenesses into the abstraction of a common species,
Aristotle’s battle-formation, to which we give a name capable of extension
to an indefinite, even infinite number of related individuals. Intensionality
just is, in fact, the mirror-image of reflexivity, by which I can know the
whole world just as an object of my knowledge.
But there is nothing absolute in this so far. It is then man’s world. Yet what
is true for man is true. Just so, what the dog judges good to eat normally is
so for him. It is only that he does not know he has made that true
judgment, but just eats. Therefore we see his estimate as no more than an
inferior analogue of judgment.
By the inner logic of such concept-formation one can add perception to
perception, building up a picture that in time could amount to knowledge
of the natures of all bodies, though maybe never exhaustive. This
possibility of being known was therefore endemic to reality from the start.
The created, pejoratively named material world, with its ”parts outside
parts” and, above all, its innate impetus towards life, again coming from
within, was set to culminate in some kind of ”omega-point”, if not to
progress ever onward. Thus the universe is nothing other than the matter
of life, a principle of it. It is not therefore the theatre merely in which some
abstract life-force plays out its drama, contingently.


Transcendent Immanence, Immanent Transcendence

Thus efforts are made to free the reality of the soul from interventionism, as if nature were not
instinct with the divine presence. Instead, spirit and the spiritual are attributed to nature, no
intervention then being needed. Nature thus has to be full of gods, a vision such as
Wordsworths (the thoughts of one mind) taken seriously. There is no need, either, for this to
clash with the scientific approach.
God is transcendent, sure, if infinite, but there is no need, in fact it is
contradictory, to affirm this at the cost of immanence. Thus the creation
story affirms that the planets are not gods; but they are not thereby
reduced to heaps of secular rubble. We sit rather in the heavenly places.
What we call matter is spirit refracted. Thus God does not lack a body.
Rather, the impenetrability and hardness of things increase as they
approach the spiritual.
To deny interventionism is to make a more whole-hearted commitment to
spirit than before. One no longer professes allegiance to an invisible world
negating this one, but sees this one as the outer hem of the one
intelligible reality:

O world invisible, we touch thee.

The soul is nature, the world, come to consciousness of itself and yet
immortal. We are sons of God who is truly the soul and heart of the world,
which dwells in him.
Christianity never denied that the world was full of gods. Flowers, said
Christ, were more gloriously dressed than Solomon, and what is such glory
but divine presence, shekinah? Likewise he carelessly affirmed the
immortality and resurrection of men, of us who have gods, a God, like
Abraham and Isaac. God is present, knowing our needs, because so close
to us. The Spirit teaches us all things. This Spirit is not really miraculous.
God is always closely present to our thoughts and to nature. For only by
union with such a present Father could Christ still the storm. Similarly, we
should see death more positively. This lies behind saying the child is not
dead but asleep, like Abraham and Isaac again.
Art should make it possible to see this, an easy and natural and therefore
true belief in spirit as living with the spiritual and eternal. Religion in the
sense of a dogmatic and obedient commitment, a dull observance or
superstition, is far from this. Non moriar sed vivam.


Love and knowledge, like will and intellect, are often taken together as the
two chief powers of the soul. They complement and reinforce one another,
active intellect itself inclining to and loving its object. Yet they can negate
one another too, as happens where the inclination born of knowledge, the
desire which is life’s own thrust, essays to terminate further enquiry, as in
the choice of a marriage mate. This termination is called resting in the
beloved. A contemplative life can be defined as a whole in terms of this
rest. Thus even study, scholium, is leisure or otium, which being busy
negates (negotium).
Such rest, however, no mere pause, achieves without effort what knowing
and thinking have to strive after. For ”What do they not see who see God?”
Loving, however, is not on the face of it synonymous with seeing. Yet it
relates closely to knowing, as in the old saying that Adam knew his wife,
when he possessed her in love that is (if we presecind from any aspect of
prudish euphemism). In this sense mystics have spoken of the dark
knowledge of God, dark because not propositional or predicative, God not
being before the lover as an object apart from him. Such darkness is thus
closer to the goal and form of knowledge, viz. identity as grasped in and
through the two-termed judgement proposed by language but going
beyond it, the id quo.
We approach this resolution already when we think of active knowing in
terms of consciousness. This is by no means a falling away from
philosophical abstractness into psychologism, for the latter error can be
overcome independently. In consciousness objectification, born of an
isolation of the subject which is itself the denial of knowledge, is
overcome, the universal whole itself becoming conscious. Yet it is truer to
say, this whole which is itself true unwavering consciousness, as infinite, is
active wherever consciousness is found or, indeed, engendered.
To rest lovingly in this universal consciousness would be, however, to leave
the world of concepts, if these are human products born of a finitude
extending to an original immersion in unthinking matter, as it seems. For
this is properly no longer that condition of immersion as it would be as
such, but the representational form adopted by finite consciousness to
depict, that is to say to objectify, its own finitude as the means of coming
to know it for what it is, consciousness needing non-consciousness or
materiality to that end.
This though is finite mind’s goal and is the same as its realisation of the
infinite. It is not its habitual manner of operation. Discovery of the goal,
however, transforms the view taken of the stages along the way,
henceforth no longer central or solid. Centrality and solidity are properties,
rather, of the goal. Therefore reason, our thinking, once apprised of this, is
transformed in the direction of a dialectical dance, without fixed points
gained once and for all. Reason is by nature set towards a goal which
transforms its point of departure, as it comes to understand that the goal
is not truly a goal, but its own unchanging presence to itself.
This process, this life, however, has also the character of the particular
becoming universal, the ego knowing itself as without limits and thus as
one not only with all other emirical egos but even one as absolute. Any
movement of love, it follows, and not onle an explicitly philosophical eros,
is similarly a superior knowledge, of identity beyond predication, the
difference overcome or reconciled, which if not broken off is an entering
into rest in the beloved, or into the beloved simply.
Such rest, however, if maintained in constant purity, must terminate our
present phenomenal existence. Forms of shared diversion exist to prevent
this, within projects of life together, the deeper truth however remaining,

that love is as strong as death (Song of Songs), death dialectically
signifying here the gateway into life and thus unlimited, infinity.
This goes through only after it is explained how this properly infinite love can attach to
anything finite. In awakening love the finite object awakens or makes present the love of the
infinite for itself and one, two or more people as a unity can be a focus, place or situation
where this boundless love will be present to itself, eucharistiacally or in some other way. In
our life of symbols, images and speech the central stage for love is the interpenetration of
male and female, used both for itself and for understanding related unions of the soul with
God or of God with humanity, the Bride. For with us infinity is not given but has to become


If now we are saying that the universe becomes conscious of itself in man
then how do we derive human dignity from that in a way comparable to
that yielded by the notion of the infusion of a soul. We would seem, first,
to need the idea that the universe, which includes ourselves, is an entire
reflection of God as, so to say, his total output, the external procession,
though finite, being in some way proportional to the divine Word. Direct
proportion we have denied, so some other way is meant. The two
processions are at least proportional in both being processions, ultimately
from the Father or First Person, for a start.
Or we must see the world as ensouled in some way. This is an alternative
to the intellect’s coming from outside, shining as an infused light upon
matter, its abstractive power first making matter intelligible. Here, on a
monist view, intellect comes from matter, no longer purely potential
therefore. It could not come from ”dead” matter. Not only would the seed
of life be contained virtually within matter but intellect would be contained
virtually within any manifestation of life. Intellect would be the norm,
reason in the world.
Being is normally, even normatively, intellectual and strives towards
cognitive consciousness of self and all else in itself. This is even the
ultimate sense of life within nature. Biological existence is a transition of
the first matter, the stuff of creation, to intellect, the idea. Each part first
drove towards increase of life and ability, greater control of its
environment through knowledge, until the whole world became its
province, already heralding the care for a common life in the total
universe. Now therefore these parts come together in a unified effort of
understanding and life indeed. Each part mirrors the same whole, offering
it to every other part.
What we see is not matter but finite forms, essence limiting being. This is
the necessary condition of the finite creature, which progressively
diminishes as we become more actualized, until the infinite being is all in
Every little plant on our earth, growing from its seed, offers us an image of
this. But whereas the plant realisesits potential from the nourishment it
draws from the soil, creation as a whole is sustained by the infinite, in
which it has its being and only reality, being nothing without it. To
acknowledge progress in evolution is to acknowledge the all-sustaining

role of the infinite which as infinite is necessarily intellect through and
Intellect therefore would necessarily appear in creation. We call its
appearance man. That is, intellect did not appear in just man. Man is the
appearance of intellect, and therefore of conscious will and love, qualities
already found only partly consciously in animals and the sympathetic
harmonies of plants and trees, as perhaps also even in the natural
arrangements of rocks.
Now the bearer of intellect is always a person, who thinks in function of his
individual being. Thus a thought is more than a proposition. As become
individual, like the infinite being, it is each time like a full copy, not a mere
vestige, of him. It, he or she can therefore be thought of each time as
willed by him in a special way different from the non-intellectual individual
animals or plants. Each person is in a sense the whole world; there can
therefore be nothing fortuitous or contingent about the being of any
person. He or she rather is set, each one, towards infinity, just as much as
is so within the dualist account.
The dualist account, however, asserts this favoured destiny in the teeth of
an uncomprehending nature, the vision of which clashes with the felt
transcendence (of man). But monists read off the normal rule and primacy
of intellect from nature and read back into nature, from man, its indwelling
seed of life and into life its indwelling intellect.
It must be, if we consider, that the whole univers is one unified process in
pursuit of its goal. Each little creature scurrying about its business
imagines, to the extent that it can, that its own individual affairs are all-
inportant, not seeing the whole.Yet it is right insofar as its own fulfilment is
necessarily identified with that of the whole which it mirrors.
Why though is there this distance between the beginning and the end of
the universe? Why were there ever dinosaurs? It could be no more than
the natural process of intellect, moving upward from the simplest forms.
For we are passing from viewing the soul of man as especially infused,
from outside, to seeing intellect as the universe becoming conscious of
itself. Intellect, that is, is a process, as is man, humanity, with which each
of us is identified. Human dignity remains what it was, if not greater. What
changes is the immediacy of the participation of the universe in that
dignity. In either case the individual human is an appearance, a locus, of
absolute thinking, thinking itself. The development of the world, from
simple to complex, from the chemico-physical to the biological to the
intellectual and spiritual reflects the building up of logical thought from the
simplest elements.
For this account to match up to the universality of intellect, however, we
need, again, the definite affirmation, not always clear on the earlier model,
that the universe, the creation, is an entirely adequate representation of
absolute Mind, in whatever sense the finite creature can be adequate to
the infinite creator. In Christian terms, the Word, as perfect utterance and
processio ad intra, finds its perfectly composed analogy in the processio
ad extra, creation, spoken eternally in and with the eternal begetting of
that Word. This is the sense in which, necessarily, we have the best of all
possible worlds, i.e. that in which the divine freedom exercises the fullest
scope. There is no moment in which he does not create the whole world.

Therefore each moment contains every other moment. Memory, an
absolute property of intellect, is the effectual sign of this, whereby intellect
is in a sense all things, quodammodo omnia.
The world then has to be seen as ensouled and more than ensouled,
bathed in, penetrated and upheld by the divine light, the light of active,
causative intellect. It is a presence closer than that of ourselves to
ourselves. The reality of created being shines forth in our minds, and
hence in itself, in proportion as an impossible independence is excluded.
On the older view, prior to a knowledge of evolution, intellect shone as
infused light upon unknowable matter, its abstractive power first making
matter intelligible. But now, we are saying, intellect comes from from
matter. Of course it could not come from ”dead” matter. There is no such
actual thing.
The seed of life is contained virtually within matter, within the elements,
which in turn had separated out into suns and planets, this itself being the
greatest witness to an intrinsic order, seen by as as chance. The details of
life’s emergence as we now have them may or may not stand up to all
future tests; the line of explanation is nonetheless established.
In the same way intellect is contained virtually within any possible
manifestation of life, since it is in fact the norm. Nothing brings this out
more clearly than the first great mutation of living things, growing and
self-developing, towards animal forms characterized by cognition more
centrally than by local motion. The senses are becessarily forms of
cognition, and hence intentional, as is intellect. They are the beginning of
intellectuality. They are not a confinement to five or so forms of
apprehension somehow imprisoning the animal, as was often assumed int
he early modern period, thus making of the animal or brute creation an
impenetrable mystery. Rather, it is evolution itself which has developed
these senses, in some animals, e.g. bats, more than five, so that they
represent an opening out rather than a confinement, a giant step towards
the union of all with all which is intellect and understanding. To be useful a
sensing has to be of the thing, whether or not this uniting with it be but
partial. This connection of the true with the useful, fundamental to the
evolutionary process, does not condemn us to a reductive pragmatism, but
rather bears witness to the identity of reference of the true and the good
as transcendental predicates which we have always known from classical
We find hints of this normativeness of intellect for beings, as in the end the
sole reality suffusing them, in those stories, easily taken in by children,
where not only dumb animals but anything which has form at all, a pot, a
door, a river even, starts to speak, like Wordsworth’s crags speaking by
the wayside as if a voice were in them.
Insofar though as we make intellect the normative or active factor within,
or even over against, being we are obliged to shift to a view of things more
in keeping with the purely philosophical tradition, whatever our respect for
the well-known text of Exodus, not however a book stemming from
philosophers exactly, or not at least written as a work of philosophy.
Aquinas perhaps covertly defers to this philosophical tradition when he
concedes that God knows his creatures in his ideas of them and not as
they are in themselves. Clearly there is no way of being in oneself in

contradistinction to how God knows one. This is part of the general
requirement that God, as infinite being, can have no real relation with us,
such as we have with him.
Being, any being, strives towards cognitive consciousness of itself and of
all else in itself, the intentional relation. This was the ultimate sense of
biological life in nature, as being a transition of the first elements of
creation towards intellect, the idea. Within biological nature each
individual competes, striving to survive, to increase life and ability, greater
control of the environment through knowledge, until the whole world
becomes its province, here however already heralding the care for a
common life in the total universe. At man, the point of intersection,
through the activity of the new principle, though developed out of the old,
viz. intellect, the parts or individuals now come together in a unified effort
of understanding and life indeed. Each part mirrors the same whole,
offering it to every other part.
What we see in this process, as in all of our life, is not matter but finite
forms, essence limiting being. This is the necessary condition of any finite
creature, which as potential is material in the original sense. Thus the
micro-particles of physics, without mass or extension, remove the illusion
of a material realm within creation from which some spirits were


Matter is the difficulty, once we are convinced of the primacy of Mind, setting all in order.
The idea of matter was dismissed by the early modern idealists as subjective. A later idealist,
Hegel, saw it as objectification (of spirit), holding out a hope of overcoming dualism, while
for Aristotelians matter was all but equated with potentiality. Pure spirits were also potential
to their being, in Thomism, and so even without admitting matter in the angels (as did some
Scholastics) one might see any created spirit as tending to materiality as being always in some
way composite, of being and essence. This, one might argue, smoothes the way for a later
view of God as somehow beyond being.
Empirical physicists have sought rather to stress that there is a particular
nature to matter, beyond that of a (meta)physical principle. This would
commit us either to dualism or materialism. Yet at the end of their particle
analysis what have they explained? They remain at the phenomenal level,
however sophisticated the perceiving instruments. Yet when they go over
to interpretation they become metaphysicians. Concrete matter
disappears out of their hands, particles becoming interchangeable with
waves, ideas alone remaining.
Thoughts of one mind was Wordsworth’s verdict on a seemingly concrete
nature and it is indeed at the aesthetic level that Hegel´s solution can bite
most powerfully. For what we look upon is always a picture, an
arrangement, a formal or ideal structure, asking just therefore to be
painted, as a landscape, a still life, a man at his desk, a hand, a dramatic
event, a face. All these are formalities. Like our intellectual life, all is in
consequence of our taking one component at a time, which we then name
after abstraction from the composite picture. For we see it as a composite
just because of our abstractive power over it, this also being what enables
our consciousness of self.

A mind such as ours must have a material world over against it. It must
also, for the same reason, be embodied, itself be the form of a body. So
does our mind come from below or is it infused from above, again? The
dilemma may well be imaginary, once we have granted a kind of ideal
character to matter, the material world in itself. Then the emerging spirit is
already in the world as the one mind objectified and the mystery of the
self is the mystery of one’s own necessity as one with the world, my world.
This is by gift, one is a created necessary being, as is also matter itself,
Aquinas claims. That is to say, matter is indestructible and will always be,
whether as substance or principle, as is the self. In conferring this
necessity Aquinas conferred a priori ideality upon matter without saying
so, though it was already purely potentiality.
That just I am here, that surely is a special creation, but being here I am
now one with the world’s necessity. It is only in that sense that we are both
contingent, that the absolute or first spirit in whom all live freely created
us. The contours of nature on this planet are contingent. The principle of
matter, however, is not contingent but is contingency itself.
We live in God and are not God. That is the first condition for
compositeness and hence matter, space and time. It may be a sufficient
condition for them as well as a necessary one. That is to say, it is not self-
evident that there can be pure created spirits, immaterial but composite
only as between their essence and existence, not temporal or extended in
space but sharing in the divine eternity by something like the medieval
If matter though is in God then it cannot be set over against God quite as dualists imagine.
Thus, imaginatively, C.S. Lewis made the bodies of the blessed and the lawns and rivers of
heaven, God’s home, harder than anything mortal. But we have anyway to relativize hardness,
impenetrability, mass and so on intellectually, an insight confirmed by the physicists.
The problem remains, as we have seen so often in these pages, of the
distinction between God, infinite, and the finite and to us extended world.
We seem faced with two incommensurate beings linked by analogy only, a
principle both of discourse and of being. But once the analogy is widened
from incommensurateness to ”ontological discontinuity”, as we found
some were fideistically prepared to do, then we deny either God or this
world around us. It is quite clear, all the same, that our notion of being is
taken from the creation and cannot actually be freed from it. Therefore we
must pass beyond the cataphatic to the apophatic, in Berdyaev’s terms,
admitting, with Boehme, that God is being in relation to his creation only.
Beyond that and in himself he is above being, a kind of primal freedom or
will (voluntas ut voluntas) which is good as at the basis of the
understanding of all that we call good. As good though it is simply one and
exemplar of all intellect. Indeed, just as will it is one with its own
understanding and all that is. The Neoplatonic categories seem
inescapable. Without them we are pushed to the contradictions of
pantheism or materialism. For indeed that God is envisaged as in himself
above being means equally that he is not conceivable as ever having been
apart from his creation, eternally chosen.
Now the assumption behind dualism, even of form and matter, is that
matter is to be transcended. By matter one means the visible world. Thus
the fact of intellect implies a ghost in the machine indeed, seen as the

only alternative to having to postulate a gradual blind development
towards a categorially determined knowledge of pure phenomena.
It is the beginning, the first premises, as always, that have to be changed,
to give way. Immaterialitas est radix cognitionis. But if this immaterialitas
names something positive, as it must, then why may not this quality be
encompassed by the material and visible? The angels of Aquinas were
created with innate forms of all things, since they had no means of ever
acquiring them otherwise. Yet the monods of Leibniz, the microcosms of
Nicholas of Cusa, these somehow contain all other monads, all else, within
the material or real world. It is the original representation of matter as
dead that is wrong. Matter is alive, for life, the first being, can dwell in it as
ultimate form from the beginning, moving all things towards the
emergence of man and even the wilful quantum particles have each an
inside. On such a view no special creation of the or a soul is needed.
Conversely, to acknowledge with Augustine the reality of truth in our
minds will be to grant the divine origin of all creation, that we indeed sit in
the heavenly places and can hope that all shall be well and all manner of
If we deny a special creation, an infusion from above in the divine image,
then we must indeed speak of and investigate spirit in the world. If
knowledge and truth are immanent in the world, were there with the
dinosaurs, then we have a situation of God becoming man, since man is
now here, which the Christian incarnation in one man effectively
symbolises, whatever else it does. God is man because man is God, not
indeed by conversion of the godhead into man but not really either by the
taking of the manhood into God. These Athanasian alternatives are
replaceable by a third, viz. the specific manifestation of God in man,
embodying the rationality to be found in the world from the start. What is
the world without the reason (Frege). This is why man finds himself in the
world, this is the truth fumbled for and then grasped in philosophical
To argue then for the rights of reason, its obliging force, just would be to
recognize this divine presence in nature as the workings of one mind. It
would not imply some special creation of man over against nature.
Reason’s law is that everything should be as it is and man has the power
to recognize himself as the crown or full incarnation, as spirit and truth.
There is no chasm between nature and grace, such as we find touched on
even in Hegel. The chasm, if any, lies between unconscious instinct and
the enlightenment of reason, pictured as a Fall. The natural light grows
into grace by intensification, seeing what was there all the time, the
invisible palace of the divine Eros. Grace, that is, builds on nature but so
naturally that nature thereby (but indeed thereby) builds itself. Without it
one can do nothing. The perspective underlines the futility of separating a
general praemotio physica, once acknowledged, from a divine movement
as of lover and friend, who numbered the hairs of our head without
needing to count them. Grace, after all, is just what is freely given.
Parcelled and rationed out it is no longer itself.
For Hegel the absolute is idea (freedom) rather than being. Being cannot
be carried back from ens mobile to the ens necessarium. But if God is not
being, nothing else is. Matter does not then exist as a separate creation

from the forms. It is rather finitude itself as we perceive it, the necessity
for parts outside parts since only the infinite is totally one and simple. It,
he, she thinks us, and none of its thoughts are merely possible. The
freedom of God’s will is not that oc choice, arbitrium, since he never
This recalls the difficulty about ngels as souls or immaterial created
beings. God is immaterial because incomposite. For Aquinas the angel had
similarly to be created knowing all things while some medieval postulated
a spiritual matter. Nor does reducing potency to the potency to being of
the subsistent form do more than restate the problem. But if all creation is
material then matter is nothing specific. Hence to reduce the elements of
the world to particles is just to substitute one level of discourse for
another. It is not to give some essence of matter.


Mind, said Anaxagoras, has set in order all things. That is, it has measured
things. Things have not measured mind. Scholastic realism felt bound to
accept that we had two parallel realities here, applying analogy all along
the line. The divine mind indeed measured things; created minds were
measured by them and were true when they conformed to them. That this
adaequatio amounted to an identification, an intentional having of the
extrinsic form, was bound in time to prompt to further consideration and
hence revision.
Matter, the material world, ens mobile: if these are equivalents then there
is no special stuff called matter that a creator invented. Indeed, we have
used this idea to hide his presence. It belongs with an idea of creation as
some additional activity which God took on, as if what was free had to be
contingent. But God was bound to create, to freely create, by the quality of
his own inner being.
Ens mobile: changeable being. This is our world’s materiality, that it is a
changeable plurality of perishable beings issuing from infinite being, as
infinite above change. So matter corresponds to the procession, the
distension, the going out (exitus) of spirit, decreed in the eternal
generation of the Word, a Christian would say.
Someone might say, if God is infinite why cannot he produce being in
ontological discontinuity with himself. Our position, once again, is that
such being is an idea like any other, since we know that all the divine
ideas are identical with the divine essence, than which nothing is nore
real. The world, any world, is not thus too big or too solid to be contained
within God. Relative to this we have an acosmism indeed.
This creation, anyhow, is not a child’s game of manufacturing odd shapes
and combinations. Progressive discovery of the pattern of evolution
confirms ever more solidly that creation is like a thinking, a dialectic.
Rather as the motor car eventually reached the kind of format suitable for
road travel, with two-wheeled variations, sleighs and so on, or the
aeroplane for flight travel, with subsidiary forms such as airships,
helicopters and rockets, so evolution has progressed towards man,
achieving various interim solutions on the way. The cell, the senses, blood,
food, reproduction, intellect as grasping the universal beyond the

cognitional power of sense, that has been the pattern. So man is somehow
necessary, and man now takes over the world, takes charge. There was
reason in the world from the start and man has found it out. Rather, the
world coming to itself in reflection, its universal reason, is man. His
intellect does not come from outside, since the world itself is already full of
Since the mind becomes what it knows it must, as spirit, have a worthy
object. That it is able to know the natures of all bodies, a claim we tried
above to make more precise, tells us already something also of the worth
and nature of these bodies, substances and their qualities. They are
commensurate with mind, correlate even. In this sense each mind is the
soul of the world. It was not being able to conceive of this worth that made
Plato postulate the forms, which alone were knowable. In knowledge the
mind comes to itself. There is indeed no organ of thought, as Aristotle
argued would prevent awareness of the universal, whatever the status of
brain or balls. Consciousness, rather, shows itself adequate, principally in
its production of universal names and existential judgements representing
the being of things. But in thought we neither exist nor do not exist. We
think. We know. Thinking transcends existential consciousness, also in
God, as thought is one with thoughts, eternally recorded before they are
ever written down, just by the fact of their conception, which is itself an
utterance (verbum mentale). Neoplatonism strove to comprehend this in
conceiving a value, the One, beyond being. The famous Exodus text may
historically have worked to shift attention elsewhere.
One might hold to the intellect’s coming from outside, the special creation
of the soul even, though not especially its crudely metaphorical infusion,
postulating a moment in time for this act of the changeless divine being.
One might rather argue from the fact of rational man to the teleological
ensoulment or directedness of nature from the beginning, as natural
historical knowledge would increasingly substantiate and as a variant upon
the now much discussed anthropic principle.


There is though a longing for that which comes from outside, as answering a mute question,
eloquently vocalized however by the Kentish king visited by England’s first Roman
missionary. Despite the answer given we are still as birds flying in to the hall of life from the
unknown and not stopping in our flight out of it and back into the unknown. How can such a
flybynight know itself. Here comes the fascination with the miraculous, supernatural or
simply rational substrate, a consuming interest in the promise of study or mysticism for
contact with superior causes, contact in prayer or knowledge, erotic or Apollonian. What the
spiritual man desires is contact.
All these aspirations are thus at bottom one. One can add to them the idea
of vocation, of a prophetic calling, as of Samuel and the others, literal or
often expressed postumously by appeal to special circumstances in the
conception or birth of the one called, of John the Baptist, Paul, through to
Mohammed and beyond, to Francis (build my house), Joan of Arc, Teresa of
Avila and many others.
The Protestant movement cannot fairly be belittled for producing less of these figures, since
part of its inspiration was precisely to make less of such phenomena, in favour of ethical

earnestness and true learning, leading on to our modern rational world. In this world we have
a conception of God, most fully worked out by Hegel, where it includes something like a
necessity for plurality, for otherness in God (as in the Trinity). In God we live and move and
have our being. It becomes all the harder to think of God speaking as one particular person
(like a king, majesty Teresa called him) to another. But, I am he who is, you are she who is
not (Catherine). The religious tradition comes to the same, for it, impasse, called mysticism.
The categories of science, as more accurate than these autobiographical
narrations, were not open to these older witnesses. For the broadly
contemporary Aquinas, however, God’s voice differed little from the
reflected divine light he attributed to our being in general, our intellect in
particular (to which belongs law), calling it natural law, though he indeed
treated of prophecy, locutions, signs and the like. Because God’s voice was
in the intellect (as, for Newman, in the conscience) Aquinas had to see the
intellectual soul as coming from outside. Yet this is in a sense even more
supernaturalist than is relying upon occasional visions, since it becomes a
structurally necessary element of our world-view, finding yet more
extreme development in the Cartesian system and its variants, though in
some of them, Spinozism, ontologism, it tends to suppress itself
dialectically, the supernatural itself, as normal, becoming just natural.
Mutatis mutandis the same could be said for Hegelianism. There however
it was explicitly thematized as a bone of contention between Marxists and
so-called rightwing Hegelianism, though with McTaggart we have an
atheist if spiritualist representative of that too, however we interpret
Bradley and others.
Immanence versus transcendence, truly a dialectic, and thus far itself
immanent, in the mind of man. Man cannot be the All; nor can man be a
mere slave to the All. I have called you friends; I have said you are gods.
Abraham should know he must not kill his son.
All being is the divine being, indeed, but still his unique individual act. The
ens commune is just a notion of ours. Yet I am so very real. But the more
real I become, the more God lives in me and so not I myself, as even St.
Paul says. He looks forward to when God shall be all in all, as happens to in
Hegel’s dialectic of the notion. I in them and they in me, so that all shall be
one. This text calls for more than a merely moral interpretation; the unity
there spoken of is absolute, harmony indeed. This also is thou, neither is
this thou; unity in difference.
And so, the sense of vocation we mentioned. Not a voice calling. Not an
answer, ”speak Lord, for thy servant heareth.” That indeed we should say
all the time. It is intellect’s essence, as receptive. All judgements and
conclusions, though coupled with our active inclination to unbiased
openness, are thus caused by what we encounter.
And so, it may be, we become aware of our own availability, and
suitableness, for doing this or that, our vocation. Yet, in general, as soon
as the idea of analogy is broached pure transcendence stands disqualified.
For it is just God’s presence in creation that gives it reality. We say that our
language can only be used of God analogically. But this can only be
because beside God we ourselves are only an analogous reality. Language,
a Hegel might say, is the sign of finitude, of untruth.
What seems antique, mythological even, is the idea that the absolute or
supernatural operates in a privileged part of nature, the world, as in the

human mind or soul, for example, taken to be especially, virtually
magically thus singled out. Rather than abandon supernaturalism, the
infinite we so naturally reach out to, we can rather place it as operating in
and directing the whole. The danger here is that a real object of our
knowledge, and of our faith, hope and love, become replaced by a mere
manner of speaking or ideology. This though must have been already
obscurely felt by those who called the first Christians, and the Jews and
the Israelites before them, atheists, just because their God was not one
object, one being among many within the world. Where is your God?
Atheism can thus seem to coincide with the progressive extension of God’s
temple to the whole creation, from a first religious sphere through a
privileged and graced human nature to a world bathed in his presence and
enclosed within him, as indeed within each and every human mind,
intimately one in themselves and with God, intimior me mihi as was said of
old, the end in the beginning, as Hegel insists in his history of philosophy
in virtue of his philosophy of history.
This vanishing into mere words of the hidden God might seem an especial
danger for Judaism and, still more, Islam, a protective veil cast over an
unintelligent, fiercely self-protective traditionalism. For the Christians this
God finally disclosed himself in Jesus Christ, a man, the man.
This happening, the occurrence of this claim, has of course raised in acute
form the question of man, of the human race or, as we now see it, species.
We do indeed see man as an animal species; it is an enduring conquest of
scientific research, like our knowledge of the roundness of the world. The
creation of man in God’s image and likeness, this idea, has through the
same era been elevated to a central place, at times guessed at in Judaism,
not much heeded in Islam.
To explain, retroactively, why God might become man but not, say, a
donkey (or at least not so suitably, Aquinas guardedly implies97) one has
had to divinize human rationality, the creation of man thus forming a new
division or intervention in natural history analogous to the divine
incarnation in salvation history. The Christian thinkers found support for
this new emphasis as much in Greek as in Jewish sources, Anaxagoras,
Plato or, in the West, Cicero.
The truth of evolution was not then known. Even Hegel did not accept it,
though his is the most evolutionary philosophy.98 Prior to this knowledge,
support for man’s special relation to the absolute could be found in the
Genesis creation story. It was simply a matter of interpreting man’s clearly
unique position in the world in a supernaturalist way, assimilating him to
those ideal projections, the angels.
It is as if Jesus Christ, being divine, reveals to man his divinity and,
consequently, his exile from the spirit-world which is his true home. This
dualism finds powerful support in the life of Jesus, who (as does every
man) departs from this world into an invisible realm. From there, however,
and even claiming to be simultaneously present with us (thus rendering
the idea, also part of the patrimony, of a Second Coming almost totally
equivocal), he is said to live and even rule in the world in his body, later

See Contra Gentes IV 42.
Philosophy of Nature, 247-8.

called mystical, and to be so vividly present sacramentally that he can be
eaten. This Church, the body, that is, of his brothers and sisters, is even a
sacrament of the whole human race, all being his brethren or sheep, even
if some eventually turn into goats. It was surely though a
misunderstanding of Augustine’s, an idea falling short of the divine
friendship for and mutual affinity with man, to see the newborn as starting
off, before formal but vicarious baptism, as goats.
The Jewish idea of sin played a big role here. This is a legal if negative
notion elevated into theology and further emphasised by doctrines about
the mother of Jesus and about his own miraculous birth. Man is in exile.
This is, it can easily seem, not much more than another way of
emphasising the split between man and nature which necessarily belongs
to seeing him as a new beginning. One tries to hide or at least palliate this
necessity by postulating a previous state before a fall when sin began. One
postulates a garden free from disharmony. Even here though man has to
suffer the lack of a knowledge he might have seemed to naturally desire,
while the garden created for him must, qua garden, be seen as surrounded
by wild nature outside, a nature not friendly to man until tamed, though
the possibility of such taming is not assumed. It is, in other words, taken
as axiomatic that man and nature are at two opposite poles so that man,
having to live in nature, is not happy as he might be happy in a heavenly
In India the divisive role of sin is taken over by the metaphysical divide
between the empirical world as maya, illusion, and true, hidden reality, a
similar conflict being witnessed to by the orient in general.
Christian tradition has become Western scientific and liberal tradition, and
it is indeed this promised divine presence in the world which ipso facto
offers us a possible interpretation, of life and of ourselves, even a
reinterpretation or that ascending series of reinterpretations we have
learned to call progress. The monists might thus be seen as the people of
a more consistent faith.
Thus consider the Augustinian argument taken up by C.S. Lewis, as ”the
cardinal difficulty of naturalism”99, that our ability to know truth requires a
guarantee by absolute Mind, which would be lacking if mind were a
product thrown up by blind nature. This argument functions precisely and
only in virtue of an assumption that nature is thus blind or left to itself
before the entry of man. But what if she is not, if Mind sets in order all
things that are or can possibly be (Anaxagoras, who used the past tense,
Of course that just we should know all these other things, reveal and
describe the order they instantiate, might well be thought to demand
some specialness of status for ourselves, for human nature. But the super-
or praeternatural soul is only one hypothesis to explain it, one needed
perhaps as a corrective to an otherwise too materialistic view, objectifying
matter instead of seeing it as no more than the finitude of created forms.
Teilhard de Chardin, for example, felt able to explain intelligence as a
C.S. Lewis, Miracles, London 1947. The argument was criticized in a famous paper by
G.E.M.Anscombe, “A Reply to Mr. C.S. Lewis’s Argument that ´Naturalism` is Self-
Refuting”, Socratic Digest (Oxford), No.4, 1948, also in her Collected Papers, Vol.III. The
controversy continues on the Internet and elsewhere.

purely evolutionary product, depending upon a brain-enlargement made
possible by the development of hands, consequent upon an upright
posture, which removed the need for a strong musculature for the jaws
which prevented enlargement of the skull, allowing for a more complex
For Aquinas, all the same, as for Aristotle, man understands in virtue of
himself and not of some organ, while Teilhard does not quite seem to
attain to explaining this. This was, however, attained in German idealism,
where we have the monads which reflect all other monads, in Leibniz (a
philosophy apparently praised by Hegel as the perfection of contradiction),
or the absolute spirit thinking itself, in us. Since nature is itself seen as a
modality, as it were logically previous, of this spirit the split between man
and blind nature required by Augustine’s or Lewis’s argumentation is
never postulated.100 Nor do we then argue to God from a nature without
Here the question between realism and idealism needs to be taken up.
Idealism seems somehow required. To avoid the dualism of matter and
spirit we have not only to deny that matter is evil but even that it exists.
This denial is found in hidden form in Aristotelianism where matter is
simply equated with potentiality and, hence, impermanence or
perishability (change). This can be regarded as no more than Aristotle’s
further interpretation of Plato’s dictum that material or visible things both
are and are not.


Hegel writes that every development is one towards more complete

freedom. We cannot divorce from this the Fichtean move to eliminate the
thing-in-itself of Kant, placing man in a position more like God’s, as having
a quasi-causative knowledge. This, in turn, connects with the evolutionary
position of the world becoming conscious of itself, thus serving life and
survival, but in the interests of a greater freedom, already manifested in
animal sense and movement, or in plant self-nourishment.
Freedom to know what is there (by truth-correspondence) is already a real
freedom. But there are choices as to how to see, how to take things,
experiences. Must we stress, for examples, that experiences are of things
(intentionality)? On the usual realist view we must identify the forming of
an hypothesis as the moment, the area, of freedom, of creative thinking.
But once we know, afterwards, then we must submit, hold fast to the truth
in which we were made free, in Paul’s words. But if the truth is a person,
then perhaps freedom is not confined to an initial moment.

Even in the revised Fontana (Collins) version of 1960, taking account of earlier
criticisms, Lewis states that the naturalist’s “history of the evolution of reason.... can only
be an account in Cause and Effect terms of how people came to think the way they do”,
whereas it has to be that “reason is our starting-point” (Fount Paperbacks 1977, p.25). For
Hegel however reason is certainly the starting-point, as for Teilhard. And it is the
“cunning” of absolute reason which the only apparently chance vagaries of natural
history illustrate. The purely mechanist system is a mental abstraction of ours mistaken
for the reality. His philosophy seeks to correct this, as his critique of Kant’s position makes

In thinking we share in the divine freedom as relating to the divine ideas.
Our steadfastness is then conditioned by love alone, as the quality
enhancing freedom. For without it we are prisoners in our finite selves,
refusing the identity, unlike God who is love, identity in difference, by
inner necessity of his threefold actuality. This is the positive element
behind so-called fashions in philosophy, which we should therefore try to
cooperate with.
Thus Hegel, like Frege, dared to create a new logic. The idea that a
pragmatically evolved mind is unworthy of theory, of thinking, need not be
true, since freedom is an attribute of spirit, not merely as precondition for
judging it but in essence. Also truth is friendly and useful, as the reality of
the world, any world, testifies. Our thinking is proportional to man’s world.
Kant was right there. But then it is not alien to us. Gilson objected to
German philosophers extending the creativity of musicians to philosophy.
He may have been wrong to object, not taking reason seen as man’s own
reason as starting-point.
What the Lewis argument excludes is the affirmation of naturalism. It
therefore proves that only the falsity of naturalism is compatible with the
acceptance of reason. It is then false that everything is determined by
mechanical causation, since our own logical processes are not. They
cannot be thus thought. This of itself does not require a special creation or
infusion of the soul. Such a unique divine move comes most easily to mind
after an assumption that non-human nature and its evolution is blind and
mechanical, as it were left by God to chance. A less violent view is that the
presence of reason in the world at any point gives cause reason to infer a
rational government of the system of the world as a whole. How could
reason otherwise have arisen, apart from the miraculous interventions
mentioned, which naturally excite scepticism?
Since man has evolved from lower forms and reason only has emerged
with him we postulate a striving of the universe towards life and then a
striving of life, the life of the universe, towards self-awareness (achieved in
man). On the other view we have mind as spirit directly created by the
absolute spirit. Only as spirit, or as free from matter, is it able to reach
right up to the reality, to truly know. An evolved reason might be supposed
limited and subjective, ever on the way, seeing things in terms of our
purposes and way of being only. But in fact we know this is not so because
we grasp the universal, in language principally. Some indeed would take
this as proof that man is spirit and so not evolved.
But let us suppose we know both that man is evolved and that he can
know the world as it is, if only for the Hegelian Fichtean reason that the
world just is what man knows it as. Or again, that human knowledge is the
only knowledge to be considered. We simply have experience of knowing
and of knowing that we know. So we must conclude that the evolution of
life has reached full self-reflection in us. We are free, also, to attempt
So this argument proceeds more from the quality of our consciousness
than anything else. It does not so much prove that there is no organ of
thought as ignore the question. It is a man who thinks.
For Kant reasoning is restricted to phenomena, my world, the world-as-
known-by-me. But if we trust reason as we must, to avoid ”contradiction in

performance”101, then my world as it unfolds is the world. Reason is that
which has the form of the other as other and has it as its own. This is the
connection with love. Spiritual realities are not substances separate from
each other but microcosms, like the monads in this. Reason is necessary,
reasoning beings are necessary beings (also for Aquinas). So succeeding
to my sense of Sartrian contingency or gratuitous grace, depending on the
view taken, comes a sense of necessity, of the true self as one with
necessity, with the necessity in freedom of the ultimate being and cause
of all. This is the true basis for inter-subjectivity, retaining idealism without
loss of any reality. Idealist monism is thus idealist realism, of a reality
primarily spiritual, in which matter disappears as objectifying dispersal,
space and time being indeed in some sense forms of intuition after all.


We have to say that there are not even ”Cambridge changes” in God on a par with Socrates
becoming shorter than Theatetus because of a real change only in Theatetus. The reason is
that Cambridge changes (Peter Geach’s well-known term) would involve changes in God’s
knowledge. So God does not now know what time it is and if he knows what time it is now, as
I write, then he knows it changelessly and so stands in no relation to my present actuality.
This means inevitably that my present actuality, in which I appear to find myself, is not real
and true.
Is this on a par with appearing to err, to have pain or enjoy, which for
McTaggart implies real error etc. somewhere?102 These delusions ”must be,
as they appear to be, successive.” I answer that regarding time it is
successivity itself which is judged a delusion, not particular experiences of
apparent successivity. This differs from delusions of being which imply real
being somewhere. Yet it is not that the concept of delusion implies just in
itself a reality somewhere (like the parallel move in the Ontological
Argument), but actual delusion. Thus McTaggart judges differently about
delusions of being from how he judges about delusions of succession.
That is, the delusion itself has some being, so there is being. But delusions
of successivity do not and logically could not (they would then contradict
their delusoriness) have successivity. Of course our talk of delusions
occurs within and as part of our general delusion of successivity and they
are thus, in everyday speech, really delusive within a context of non-
delusion. But to fall back on this at this point is just an arbitrary withdrawal
from where the argument has led us.
When Aquinas discusses God’s power in relation to prevention or reversal
(of a girl’s virginal or post-virginal state) he is discussing omnipotence in
relation to changing the past (which Peter Damien argued to be an option
for omnipotence). But if time has been judged unreal in logical priority
within the discussion then Aquinas’s point remains at the purely linguistic
level, i.e. it would then in itself imply that the change in the young woman
was truly unreal, so that the series of seeming events was a different kind
of series. God’s knowledge does not change and thus neither does his
power. He always knew her lost virginity as posterior in the series, just as
B. Lonergan’s phrase from Insight, London 1967, incidentally supporting the main drift
of Lewis’s argument.
P.T. Geach, op. cit.

he knows the difference between preventability and reversibility as
qualities of human perception. But divine power is not itself within any
time-series, A or B (in McTaggart’s terms as presented by Geach). So it is
not the case that
Statements about God’s power essentially need to be temporally

God has to be prevenient (logically and metaphysically)to rather than preventive of

(temporally) our actions, a prevenience taking in all our prayers and everything else,
including our freedom. This, our freedom, is also a particular way in which God changelessly
knows us, as we established previously, viz. as free. Any free action is eternally determined as
such, not beforehand but eternally, both formally and as regarding its content, without thereby
being reduced or modified in its freedom. I can do whatever I want. God creates this power as
he creates my doing in all its particulars. This is what creation means.
But the only way for this to be true is for me to be the divine self,
identically. This is the basic meaning of freedom. Hence it is that each
divine idea is one with the total divine simplicity and we are intuitively
seen as members one of another. One could take many another New
Testament phrase, from the actual meaning of which the religious tradition
has tended to shy away. Thus love finds its deepest meaning in an
identity, though in McTaggart’s professedly atheistic system it remains,
apparently, a relational ultimate between persons. Given theism then
persons are not indeed parts of God but are ultimately each identified with
him as all in all (Paul). This is the eternity that love heralds or stakes out,
the seeking itself implying attainment, possession, where everyone is at
the centre.
Human freedom then is tied to the present. Once the deed is done (or
omitted) the necessity of the past sets in. This indicates that we have only
an analogy of freedom here, in the small space of the present. Real
freedom is abiding and one with the being of its subject, in a way that time
does not permit. In this way it coincides with what appears to us to be
necessity, what could not be otherwise. This is the necessity of
unshakeable love, of freedom (cp. Thomas Aquinas’s contrast of the
necessity of compulsion with the necessity of obligation104), shaping our
lives as by a grace.


Teilhard de Chardin insisted that evolution was not just another scientific
hypothesis. It was a discovery of a new way of viewing the divine action,
an idea developed in his spiritual classic, Le mileu divin, but with
discernible roots in the eighteenth century Jesuit Jean-Pierre de Caussade’s
Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence. Here though he joins up with
Hegel and even Newman as each in their way discovering a new closeness
in the relation of God and the world.
This closeness is hindered by a dualistic view of matter and spirit. It is
noteworthy that neither in Hegel nor in Teilhard do we find any felt need

Geach, op. cit. P.102.
Summa Theol. IIa-IIae 58, 3 ad 2.

expressed to justify reason by appeal to its transcendence, in direct or
special creation of each soul or claiming, with Aristotle, that intellect
comes from outisde. Intellect is explained as reflection, an eventual
knowing that one knows, made possible by such apparently contingent
factors, again, as adoption of an upright posture facilitating development
of hnads which thus free the maxillary muscles from a need to be so
strong as to constrict the cranium, which can thus enlarge to allow all the
cells and nerve-cells that a brain serving intellect will need. Indeed on a
non-dualist view this process itself is the exitus of intellect from the hand
of God, absolute mind.
Teilhard is careful to leave an opening here (in The Phenomenon of Man)
for the being of the soul, but Hegel had already emphasised the ultimate
identity of body and soul105, working in both directions as it were:

´Thing` is a very ambiguous word.... if the soul be viewed as a thing, we can ask
whether the soul is simple or composite. The question is important as bearing on
the immortality of the soul... In abstract simplicity we have a category, which as
little corresponds to the nature of the soul, as that of compositeness.

This was anyhow good Thomism. For Thomas the soul directly informs prime matter, and the
latter is not anything actual but mere possibility, a principle of change and of individuation.
One rather argues that the system of actuality, or just there being anything, was all the time
open to the Idea as containing the seed of this reflection back on itself which takes place in
the minds of individual men and which frees the universal (it ”comes to rest in the soul” as
described well enough at the end of Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics by analogy with stragglers
forming a battle-line). The Idea is made visible as originator and upholder of all else.
Intellectual vision thus becomes its own justification, needing no other, as if we should refuse
to enter the water before we had learned to swim, says Hegel. It is in fact the principleof the
quod quid est, discussed above, that what the mind sees it sees, error only becoming possible
when judgements start to be made. This thesis or principle is built upon the mind’s origin in
sense-knowledge, which is thus a fortiori infallible in the same way. What I sense I sense,
thus far a thing in itself and there can be no alternative. This applies even to light-sensitivity
as first and most primitively evinced in natural history. Even there it is more than stimulus and
response. Via the proto-organ or mere photo-sensitive spot the creature is formally united to
as much as it can be aware of. Awareness, the identification in difference called intentional, is
a formal causality. Sensus in actu est sensibile in actu means only this, and sensus is quaedam
ratio. So reason too is not so different from sense with respect to the common foundation (of
a latent identity in all things).
The appearance of man thus shows the rationality of the world as such. The ancient systems
of astrology witness to this view, man’s mind and character, inclusive of their very emergence,
being steered by the surroundings, from stars and planets to the animal natures used to depict
their different characteristics, animals we now know to have gone into our own genesis. It is
again Aquinas who stipulates that the First Cause normally produces its effects through
subsidiary causes. I do not mean that the world’s rationality entails that there is truth in
It is a misunderstanding to fear that such an account exposes intellect to being a mere blind
reflection of stellar and other matter. Intellect, its existence and the experience of it, rather
shows that the universe is full of gods. God does not come into nature from outside as a
deliverance from it, a view giving rise to the insuperable difficulties of a non-divine created
Cf. Hegel, Encyclopaedia, Logic (Wallace), p. 69, 77:

but equally real order, by the analogy of being, from which we ascend to divine
contemplation. Nature is already contained in God as his thinking. He does not know us as
external to himself in any way comparable to our own knowledge of things. In Christian terms
we distinguish the procession of the Word, again, from the processio ad extra which is
creation, but we have still to see the analogy and causality, indeed the concurrence, between
them. This is obscured by talk of the contingency of creation, for it proceeds rather from the
free necessity which is love. If creation could have been otherwise then so could God, but he
does not and so will not choose so to be. Each of God’s ideas, thoughts, conceptions, also in
the analysis of Aquinas, is and must be identical with himself as simple. Hence, in a related
area, I in you and you in me, a truth only realised by lovers, but a truth all the same.
So there is no real choice or option. This is what Teilhard saw. In tracing evolution from
below we, since just we are doing it, can only be retracing the path of goal-conscious creation
(the cunning of reason), present even previously as directing and calling forth the emergence
of life.
Awareness of this deeper dimension of the world has led some to construct a process theology
of a developing God. Here, ultimately, time itself is being, as Heidegger claimed. This though
seems impossible and, rightly understood, Nietzsche’s affirmation of the Eternal Return is a
protest, though anterior in history, against it. Each moment, each individual, is eternally
known (returns eternally from the seeming departure of time).
There was no intention to deny God’s power to create in calling finite things his thoughts, his
conceptions. Rather, his conceptions are no mere entia rationis but as identical with himself
have real being. Hence it is necessary to banish our fantasies of a divine knowledge of
possibles, this being a mere projection of our own phantasmagoric way of thinking. The
divine power is an ocean of possibility, not a collection from which he selects. He can do
anything and he does what he wills and his willing is one with himself and so he does not
hesitate or deliberate in willing, still less make random arbitrary selections. This lies behind
the Hegelian quest for necessity. Why, for instance, is salvation said so firmly to be of the
Jews? Answer: it has to be so, by a divine and rocklike intention, discovered to us, if we
believe in it.
Because we have a world we have God, and God would not exist without the world, due to a
necessity, love, of his nature. The world is thus the image, the declaration, the guarantee, of
God. The world declares infinite being, one and simple, complete in himself, from whom the
world proceeds. In us he is known and this knowledge is necessary.
But already in our own thoughts we see the timelessness of what is more ultimate, as
Augustine’s analysis was already discovering, and the most ultimate, as perfect, transcends
time and change as eternally knowing their content. God is not now; God is. Nor is he in some
particular way, sed est, est. Love, therefore, is not particular. Love, a universal attraction and
cohesion, is all.
We talk about created and divine being as if there were two orders of being, going on to speak
of being as god’s proper effect. We should rather say that being (being qua being which is
God, and not some esse commune) is first known to us in finite form, in finite disguise almost
(contracted), since the form, form, is divine. This is the meaning of the dictum, again, that
God is closer to me than I am to myself, or that there is one thus closer.


Is every human birth a miracle?

The appearance of reason, matching the reason in the world, is visible in the success of
technology, for example. The world was made for reason.

This fact argues for a possible latent force in the world (as life lay latent in the first dust), to
emerge in man as reason. By reason is then meant the world’s knowledge of itself; a simpler
account than that of a divine intervention. What is divine is the being, in the sense of the
having come to be, of the world as a whole, depending upon an infinite word.
Against this was argued that an organic reason (brain) is not proportional to knowledge. So if
no intervention of a soul from outside then we must give more weight to the formal element
from the beginning. How did the forms of the higher animals come from the lower, from
plants? This is unexpained in Aristotelianism or Thomism. But would not all the arguments
against Traducianism apply in either case, one wants to ask. Yet he evidence of palaeontology
shows man emerging in the same way as the animals.
We recalled Aristotle’s idea of the universal coming to rest in the soul. We can similarly
conceive of the first universal, the habit of universalisation as such, coming to rest in a soul,
of a young child, and, then again, in the first rational man or hominid.
For that matter, as brought out in the last section, one need not confine animal consciousness
to a mechanist operation of an organ. Sensation is a formal operation, the animal acting as a
whole for its own good. Here again we see theory coming out of practical consciousness,
beyond all proportion certainly, but still coming from it. So the move to substantivize the
human form, ambiguous says Hegel, incomplete substance, says Aquinas (against his whole
normal theory of substance), need not be taken at face-value. As Geach once commented,
Aquinas creates confusion by continuing to talk in this way (of a soul), after otherwise
overcoming the old dualism.

It is a savage superstition to suppose that a man consists of two pieces, body and soul,
which come apart at death; the superstition is not mended but rather aggravated by
conceptual confusion, if the soul-piece is supposed to be immaterial.106

Geach’s following remarks, however, show that he is still operating with the matter-spirit
dualism. He argues successfully for the possibility of thinking apart from an organism,
thought being ”in principle not locatable in the physical time-continuum”. This argument, in
fact, can be used to help jettison the latter, i.e. reduce it to a subjective form of perceiving
more real continua, as in absolute idealism. With man, furthermore, as in the case of God, e.g.
in Neoplatonism, there might be a formality, a reality, beyond mere existing.
To say this, however, is not to despair of spiritual reality or life. The prime feature of the
organized body which is man need not be decomposable materiality, but rather the formal
unity. We might misperceive ourselves as bodies doomed to extinction, as in McTaggart’s
thought. Death, after all, is no one’s experience.107
It could be all along the form which gave beauty, to all things, all and each known as ideas
identical with the eternal. What we have called the infusion of the soul might be no more and
no less miraculous than the finality imparted to each living thing or even to the particles of
physics. It is merely that in considering ourselves mechanism breaks down more glaringly.


Greater sensitivity to the divine immanence is also needed to bring the Christian expectations
about charity to life. ”We love him because he loved us”. ”Forgive one another as God has
forgiven you”. On the traditional view one actualizes via meditation the sense that Jesus died
for our sins, saved us, who were otherwise condemned. We in consequence go about caring
for others, often in a somewhat forced way.
P.T. Geach, God and the Soul, London 1969, p.38.
Cf. L. Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus 6.4311.

In fact God has embodied his thoughts in the world, workings of one mind. We meet him
everywhere. We accept our death and diminishment, in and with Jesus and in his spirit, out of
mutual acceptance, in presence of the ”kingdom of God”. There is not some other world or
realm to which we really belong.
The Christ of faith, the Jesus of history...?
No, there is only one Christ and we have his dossier, the Gospels. Paul of course never had
these documents. Obviously he theologized upon a foundation of his inherited world-view,
which he took as divine and normative. He could only accept anything clashing with that as
coming from a new divine initiative, flexibility (or dialectical thinking) not otherwise being a
Pharisaical characteristic. The same conviction though fills Luke’s writings and indeed any
Jew captivated by the personality of Jesus and so committed to new wine unsuitable for old
bottles would have to see it that way, viz. a new divine initiative. Jesus himself of course took
that initiative. There were of course precedents in the Old Testament historical sense of God’s
interaction with his chosen people.
Paul then did not experience Jesus in his life. What he shared with him was the apocalyptic
expectation which gives shape and matter to his letters, along with faith in the sacrifice for
sins as principle of salvation, something less stressed in what we know of Jesus himself. Did
John the Baptist, for example, at that early stage call him the sacrificial Lamb of God?108
What is clear is that for Jesus God was giving their colour to the flowers, why not from
within, sending not just rain but his rain on the unjust. The rain has a kind of intimately divine
character, as of one of his thoughts. God is forgiving his creatures their finite failings, joining
man and woman together in an intimate divine operation, for example. God’s so-called laws
are adapted as written into our self-experience to the needs of men and women. Man is part of
a natural system suited to his needs, since he comes from nature from the beginning. God, his
kingdom, is within us as well as among us and those who love are themselves forgiven,
known, accepted.
If with the emergence of intellect creation becomes conscious of itself then the roots of
intellect lie within matter and are not brought to it from outside. Matter therefore, if intellect
really knows, is itself spiritual, potentially conscious, and not mere material, in the
metaphysical sense, for mind. This is why God, who is Thought, is equally Life. The material
and brute creation is not an impenetrable mystery if it is the thinking of God. Nor are we to
separate from it in our thinking and spiritual exercises. We have a close relation to God as
thinking the whole but then we must prepcisely think it, as he does, and not withdraw from
and despise it.
Really the world is entirely one of finite form, in all the potentiality of finitude we call matter.
We do not know if there can be another kind of potentiality in the angels corresponding to our
number series, but if so then we have no way of explaining the specificity which would then
have to constitute matter as differing from that. We would be back with an unintelligible
dualism. It can even be the prejudice against matter which led to the postulation of immaterial
substances. The angles of the Bible are a little bit more concrete, with their wings, eyes, fire
and so on.
The puzzle then focusses on the infinite being himself, whose simplicity, as infinite, must
include all his thoughts, whose placelessness must include all space, whose spirit must,
finally, include all matter, infinite potentiality being after all nothing other than simple
omnipotence. Then what the world shows us is this power of God, this world that was a
necessity of divine love, in freedom. The green of nature, therefore, is somehow the colour of
love, as red blood is the colour of life, white and gold the divinity, the black of night our
creaturely limitation, death life’s contradiction showing forth that union of opposites which is
We speak of Paul, but we should not forget that the authorship of the Pauline writings
as we call them is composite, containing contrasting viewpoints on occasion.

infinite mind, for us life in death and death in life, at first successive, but increasingly
simultaneous and at one, as if one might ”reign in triumph from the Tree”.
The divine ideas would not be like human ideas. We know this already from the begetting of
the Word, consubstantial with the Father, i.e. with the Speaker. Should not this quality, of
substantiality if not of consubstantiality, also attach to those ideas spoken with and in the
Word, freely and lovingly. God does not as it were test out his ideas as we do. As if when an
author depicts a mythical creature he digs up a divinely rejected candidate for existence or
It is better to think of an undifferentiated sea of infinite possibility which is one with the
simplicity of divine omnipotence. The forming of a divine thought just is a creation, since not
only does God act exclusively with intellect and will but even these two are one inseparable
reality, himself in fact.
So my relation to his idea of me is not really a relation to an exemplar. It is my reality, my
realisation, viewed in temporal terms. Tine is both unfolding it and building it up.
If Aristotelian matter, moreover, is not anything, is as substrate prior even to quantity, but is
that from which the forms of things arise or are brought forth, before themselves conferring
definite being formally, then such matter seems scarcely to differ from that sea of infinite
power and potency and all is a process of divine thinking, Hegel here following the
Aristotelian line. Even quantity, after all, is a divine thought, the way he wishes to dream the
world, so to say. Or, as Bergson maybe thought, a certain degree of finiteness will of itself
yield those parts outside parts to our perception which is composition and quantity. Thus all is
the workings of one mind, again, and nature is not thoughts dressed but they themselves
incarnate, to vary Wordsworth slightly. For there should be no doubt that incarnate is an
analogous term here, expressing causal dependence upon the prime analogate as Cajetan
For the Word too, like the thoughts, cannot be separated from his incarnation. It does not
follow that he needs man or develops with him. Still, we are his chosen incarnation, given that
he will create, in natural consequence of his love and goodness, intrinsically requiring
diffusion, reproduction, imitation., there being no mortal tiredness to limit it.


If there is anything there is everything, infinity. But might I not as well say this: if I exist then
I must exist, must always have existed, and necessarily? This is a necessity resting upon
particular metaphysical considerations as outlined above, and not at all the modal argument
for fatalism of Diodorus Cronos. Or again, if there is this moment, this situation, this now,
then it is itself infinite and contains everything? The centre is everywhere, so to say.
I cannot imagine, cannot envisage, the infinite being. I know only his life, her life, in me,
now. We have anyhow argued to the unreality, the ideality of creation, in the face of an
infinite being from an originally Aristotelian or realist position.. But every idealist could say
as much if his idealism is the fruit of a rational investigation. We have in a sense left the world
of human appearances intact, more like Hegel than like Kant, only adjudging it the dream of
God, the ultimately real. But all the abstracted ideas, inclusive of logical and mathematical
laws and other necessities such as past events, these we have judged human rather than divine
ideas and known to God only as such human ideas. The paradox we now confront is this:
what if our idea of the infinite being is itself a merely human idea, known to the infinite being
only as such? In that case the infinite being would have no idea of an infinite being as being
what he himself is and so would not be infinite, or else the notion of an infinite being as we
have explored it is self-contradictory, infinite product of a finite mind. But no, the idea of the
infinite is not infinite. We seem then left with God as the totally unknown, hardly

distinguishable from the mere question as to his existence, or else, an abyss of freedom
indeed. It is as if ”the truth of poetry” 109 alone remains, the whole landscape rather than this or
that road.
That landscape though is absolute mind, whatever it be, even if we now question the easy
identification of it with infinite being. But if being falls away, spirit remains, and it is our
glory more than it is our poverty to be one with that absolute spirit, the true self and absolute
selfhood indifferently, as much the love uniting the spirits envisaged by McTaggart as it is
anything else. To insist on more would maybe be to create an idol. I and my father are one, a
great personage is reported to have said, speaking of God, and in a surely not unrelated sense
we seem here to claim as much. For he was also said by that personage to be my father and
your father, indifferently and this wall of separation too might seem to have been pulled down
when the privileged messenger and only son allowed himself, freely indeed, to be brought to
nought, and that under conditions of the utmost cruelty and degradation that any of us have or
have had to suffer, thus drawing the sting of those conditions if we are not to look for another.
And who would that be? Who would we go to, the main follower is said to have asked, since
it is you who have the words of eternal life. Such words they indeed are, to our understanding,
it can be philosophically urged, at least. Life is here affirmed as the secret, it being made
impossible to devote ourselves to some further chimaera beyond life. Life though is love, the
life of love and the love of life, as McTaggart for one expounded it.

Title of a study by Michael Hamburger.


Precepts and Inclinations

The forensic posture in morals dies hard. Thus Kant argued for a total
opposition between inclination and precept. We, however, want rather to see
what distinction remains after inclination and precept have been identified
as closely as possible.110 Is the distinction real or of reason alone? We are
thinking of the precepts of natural law in relation to the natural inclinations.
The two orders are the same, says Aquinas. Yet it is clear that inclinations
are properties of the concrete substances we ourselves are, whereas such
precepts, if anything more than our being precepted is meant, would form a
kind of ideal entities. That is the difference.
The notion of a precept, indeed, suggests a verbal formula and so St. Paul speaks of natural
law as written on the heart, though surely not in words. Aquinas's final statement is that
natural law is "nothing other than a participation of the eternal law in the rational creature",
and we can indeed wonder how much we are tied to this Augustinian conception of the lex
aeterna. Why law? What have eternity and law to do with one another? What is here called a
participation can also be simply identified with the light of reason in us, theology apart.
In beings which have cognition, on the Aristotelian scheme, the sources of
(conscious) action are not their own forms, as it is with animals and plants,
but cognition and appetite, i.e. "information" (in the literal Aristotelian sense
of "having the form of the other as other") from outside. To balance this
general openness we need some invariant because natural conceptions and
inclinations, such as those of being or of universal good (Aquinas's
"inchoate" natural habits). This does not make them a priori. What is a priori
is the inevitability that we will be thus "informed", a natural capability.111
In our more recent ethical enquiries we have entirely transcended the
natural law paradigm in favour of an ethics of love as creative energy, of
forgiveness and acceptance. Here though we are concerned with the
foundation of basic principles of practical thinking. One might see natural
law ethics as deriving from a confusion between the how, the causal
mechanics of human nature, and the why, the finalities of human life, which
closely parallels the theoretical error often called scientism. How we come to
form our ethical judgments need have nothing to do with the substance of
those judgments, just as the mechanisms causing thirst have nothing to do
with the reality of the experience of thirst, an example of scientism, like
"reducing" colour to waves that cause it. In general, how something is
caused, or even that it is caused, is not part of its definition.
Thus natural law ethics dissolves itself into a pure description of man's
empirical nature. But man has in him a creative urge to transcend that
nature, inclusive even of the prime inclination to happiness, and here the
new ethics, a new creation, is born, fuelled by an inextinguishable hope.
This, and not natural teleologies, set the standard. Dare to love, to take part,
to affirm the living moment in which one is alive. Cast aside fears, in a word,
From one point of view we already answered this question in the chapter on justice
in Natural Law Reconsidered.
Cf. Summa theol. Ia-IIae 51, 1.

be happy now instead of pursuing happiness. Keep up a steady onward beat,
in musical terms, like those of whom it was said that age shall not wither
them and that everlasting joy is on their faces.


It is worth surveying some of the recent criticisms of the natural law

tradition by those whom we might call its friends, those, at least, who could
be described as fairly close to its spirit. Natural law theory, Herbert McCabe
points out,112 sets forth a system of universal precepts based upon a
universal sharing in human nature. He sees no need for a connection with
God here, though I would object (with Newman) that it is only as being in the
divine image that the law of our nature and its prescriptions (prescriptive in
virtue of our way of understanding ourselves, i.e. epistemologically) might
ever have obligatory force.
McCabe finds this theory too static, and draws an analogy with
Wittgenstein's criticism of a false deduction to there being a univocal
concept of a game from the existence of different activities truly called
games. But of course Aquinas would agree that law is spoken of analogously
when we speak of natural law. Hence Bourke could validly ask if he was
really a "natural law ethicist", considering the width of the analogy, law as
descriptive being finally equated with the inclinations of a free being. But for
Aquinas himself, since he gives a non-voluntarist theory of any law, of law in
its essence, the substance of law could be said to be retained, as also in the
"new law" of grace.
McCabe embeds his criticism in a general account of ethics as an activity
never finished, as going ever deeper into the "meaning of life". Before all
men can have a nature in common, he seems to say, all men have to be in
communication, something to be achieved through Christ (plus things like
the internet, of course). He sees the Decalogue as given in view of a
preparation for this, and not, as with Aquinas, as a summary of natural law.
Man's destiny, almost man's natural destiny, is supernatural. Since this is
the end, moral laws cannot be the ends as well, but are more like a series of
ad hoc prescriptions in a "revolutionary struggle". At the same time he does
refer to the need to prohibit behaviour "obviously incompatible" with the
"Kingdom", and here he might seem to let in natural law by the back door,
just as we might say that man's vocation to self-transcendence, to building
the community of the future, might be brought under Aquinas's inclination to
bonum in communi, as foundational of natural law and synonymous with the
first command of total love of God.
A similar observation can be made concerning Hans Küng's On Being a
Christian. He has there a section "No Natural Law", after presenting Jesus,
correctly maybe, as not interested in law and its exclusivities, but rather as
bringing acceptance and forgiveness to all, like Nietzsche's superman who is
above resentments. Such forgiveness may indeed belong to man's deepest
desire (cf. McCabe on D.H. Lawrence) and inclination, however, and so might
itself come under natural law. At any rate, Küng too seems to backtrack later
on when he speaks of how structured requirements to being human are

Herbert McCabe, Law,Liberty and Language, London 1968

necessary as expressing a constant divine purpose towards us, going on to
speak of a need of a dialectic between law and situation in a way that is
scarcely new. Still, we do need to pay more attention to the teaching of
Jesus, as man's liberator from law, in any genuine ethics. This is maybe the
real meaning of Nietzsche's or Marx's protests, misread as "nihilism", and
even of Freud's discoveries in relation to man's well-being, while Darwinism
focusses us more on the historical aspect, under the rubric of "natural
Alasdair MacIntyre, too, would concentrate us upon the traditions, as
essential for rational validity in the humanities. This, though, is rather a
condition for arguing towards natural law (or some other position), his main
book ending in this sense at the beginning of an enquiry for which it sets the
stage. In his criticism of modernity, however, and of its language of
"everywhere and nowhere", MacIntyre seems to be rejecting a scheme of
universal values based upon man's nature alone, and not upon man in this
or that tradition. We have to be careful here. We might be saying that man's
universal nature is only approached from within a particular tradition, those
who reject tradition having no way in to any truth at all, and this I believe is
MacIntyre's deepest message.
But he could be wrong in being led thereby to such a negative view of the
Enlightenment, seen, in contrast, by one such as Maritain, as a somewhat
delayed fruit of the Gospel. The Christians, after all, cannot see their
tradition as particular, even if it may take on a particular, e.g. Latin,
colouring. Universalism is the essence of the message, as the forgiveness of
sins is the transcendence of exclusivism (McCabe calls it non-violence). In
the Enlightenment, in the French Revolution, with "liberty, equality,
fraternity", men became more conscious of this, and the American and
French declarations are attempts to state the natural law, as also used later
in the Nuremburg Trials and in formulations of that would-be universal
institution, the United Nations. This too is modernity, a fruit of Western and
hence Christian experience, of half-remembered religious teaching. Maritain,
too, can speak of a "confusion of the orders", in messianic socialism, for
example. But this does not prevent him from arriving at a generally positive
verdict, in his quest for a "civilization of love", in a way that McCabe and
Küng, as theologians perhaps, might seem to share. But careful analysis of
MacIntyre is required to do justice to him here. Our concern, however, is to
do justice to natural law and this exciting suggestion of taking a step
beyond, on a forward march to the kingdom of God, philosophy being
naturally drawn up into theology.
The core of the natural law claim, after all, is that behaviour is determined
by how one is. So if indeterminate freedom is the core of one's nature then
creative autonomy is the rule of action. In that sense natural law means no
law, and man is the captain of his soul. It is not so much a matter of
separating good from bad as of penetrating deeper into good. What do we
really want? In this perspective the primacy of love can emerge, if "he who
does not love does not know God" (I John 4, 8); of love and hence of
community, tolerance, being without enemies. This is very like modern
liberalism and one can ask how it relates to Christianity.
McCabe raises the objection against natural law as being based upon the "merely biological"
human community, as it seems it would have to be. But, he says, we "need to take more

seriously the truth that mankind is in one way self-creative, that since our unity is linguistic as
well as biological, it is not simply given to us but also made by us" (McCabe p.67).
This self-creation, as a freedom, can however, I think, be seen as part of
"natural law", treatable under vocation, initiative, creativity (see my Natural
Law Reconsidered). The natural law ideal of common humanity mirrors this,
the ideal of eschatalogical brotherhood present at the birth of "modernity".
MacIntyre may have got it wrong here. Still, ideals of universality are aimed
at from within particular traditions, and the Thomism he defends may be the
true basis of "United Nations philosophy", of the emerging universal
community, a community without enemies. There is an analogy here with
Marx's proletariat, both particular and general, like a sacrament.
Our perspectives may change on practices and their prohibition or
preceptedness, but not on the virtues themselves. These are needed at a
more basic level, even though "faith and hope", it is said, shall vanish away.
The virtues may do that too, except in so far as they are expressive of the
substance of love. In this sense St. Thérèse, the apostle of pure love, said
that she had no virtues.


Beyond Natural Law

In religious philosophy today one can seem to reach a point where on the
one hand, in a discerning moral theology, one would stress the purely
analogous, "sociomorphic" character of law and obedience in relation to
the transcendent, to God,113 while in apologetics on the other hand one
often argues for theism as the only rational basis for any assertion of
absolute, that is to say literal obligation (qualifying it as "moral" obligation
does not make for clarity).114 Is there not a contradiction here?
The answer would seem to be affirmative. That is why one has gone on
variously to resolve or transmute this concept of obligation which one may
have begun by insisting was indispensable, undeniable indeed.115 One
might now take such discourse as reflecting a kind of description of the
workings of a life governed by love, corresponding to the one "command"
of Christ. This love cannot be just one, even the highest, among a set of
virtues, seeing as it "informs" all of them.116 Thus the life of virtue is
effectively itself transcended, inasmuch as it still would belong to the
domain of law, albeit law interiorized from action to corresponding habit.
Such a transcendence interprets, but also insists upon, the Christian shift
from pagan virtue to divine beatitude as the ultimate "value", a move
inwards from the divine goodness to the divine being.117
But if statements of our duties are only descriptive (of what can be
expected of love), yet love itself of its nature cannot be prescribed. This is
what compels analogical understanding of the term "command" when a
command of love is spoken of. Hence nothing is literally prescribed outside
the human forensic realm. What remains of our previous position, then, is
that if there were pure duties118 then they could only be prescribed by a
Cf. N. Berdyaev, Slavery and Freedom, 1944; J. Fuchs SJ, "Das Gottesbild und die
Moral innerweltlichen Handelns", Stimmen der Zeit Bd.202, 6, Juni 1984, pp.363-382;
Stephen Theron, "The bonum honestum and the Lack of Moral Motive in Aquinas's Ethical
Theory", The Downside Review, April 2000, pp.85-111.
J.H. Newman, A Grammar of Assent, 1870; Stephen Theron, Morals as Founded on
Natural Law, P. Lang, Frankfurt 1987; Josef Seifert, "Gott und die Sittlichkeit
innerweltlichen Handelns", Forum Katholische Theologie, 1985, 1, pp.27-48.
Cf. Stephen Theron, Morals as Founded on Natural Law, Frankfurt 1987. This was
also the initial premise for C.S. Lewis's theism in his Mere Christianity (Book I, "Right and
Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe"), London 1952 (but first printed in
Broadcast Talks of 1942). It is argued for more systematically in his set of lectures, The
Abolition of Man, 1943, described by Cardinal Schörnborn as "un brillant essai", in his
"L'homme créé par Dieu: le fondement de la dignité de l'homme", Gregorianum 1984,
p.353. One should add that Lewis in part anticipates our present solution when he has his
diabolical protagonist in The Screwtape Letters say of the divinity, with some disapproval,
that "He's a hedonist at heart."
See our Natural Law Reconsidered, Frankfurt 2002.
Cf. E. Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, New York 1940, pp.325, 473. Gilson
speaks of standing the old pagan philosophy of virtue on its head.
Seifert, art. cit., merely assumes their necessary existence, arguing that since
"norms" cannot be derived from human nature according to contemporary teleological
moralists they have to end up in arbitrary voluntarism ("mit einer radikal

God, i.e. by an absolute being grounding even our freedom. This however
is only one and that the most primitive or anthropomorphic way of
understanding conscience as the voice of God, should we be attached to
this view of things. Similarly, a commitment such as Seifert's to a
substantial, specially created human soul has no intrinsic connection with
there being literal divine commands, even though such commands might
need a soul as precondition for their applicability.
Conversely, if God does not literally prescribe then there are no pure
duties. At this point we are not talking about any idea of revelation. One
can also wonder to what extent this very notion, revelation, where it falls
short of epiphany, is not tied to naive picture-thinking, anthropomorphic in
the negative sense, about God as declaring his will in the form of
commands. We might think of Jesus, for example, as transcending this
anthropomorphic, Judaic notion of revelation just in his transcending the
sociomorphic idea of a literal divine command, manifesting instead his
The theory that sees God as essentially prescribing even before any idea
of revelation might come into the picture is the theory of natural law.
Hence this concept can be used restrictively insofar as it can support a
claim that our nature can demand something that does not seem natural
to us or forbid what seems only too natural. Behind this, however, a well-
grounded natural law ethic must arrive at the position that the ethically
right behaviour is a matter of doing what we most deeply want to do, 119
i.e. natural law can function heuristically, insofar as a theory of the natural
inclinations can help us to know ourselves and our destiny. It is not in the
end a theory of prescription, the epithet "natural" as it were naturally
obliterating this (prescriptive) feature of law, as in talk of the laws of
nature. It is only that in our human case, being free, it is up to us to live
according to our nature. But no theorist can prevent the ultimate
coincidence of this nature with what we really want. For desire arises out
of nature as defining, i.e. delimiting it. Nor is it correct to use the concept
in order to play off the species against the individual. For if inclination
supplies precept and individually I genuinely lack the inclination in
question then there is no corresponding precept that can apply to me.
That the other view, of inclination as pertaining to the species, is often
taken as self-evident is clearly related in advance to a notion of precept
taken as assimilated to commands in society which are essentially
addressed to members "equal before the law", equal, because law itself is
seen as necessarily cast in universal terms (as, by contrast, God's
command to Abraham to sacrifice his son was not). Here again we have
sociomorphism. Divine, unlike human intellect, is not tied to universal

voluntaristischen Auffassung enden, die die in Gott abgelehnte Willkürherrschaft auf den
Menschen überträgt"). But this is simply to fail to take seriously the new command of
love, according to which absolute commands, only logically conceivable as divine, as
Anscombe saw ("Modern Moral Philosophy", Philosophy 1958), have been replaced, in
fulfilment of a divine dialectic, by a more enduring absolute which as energy, grace, life,
is never more than analogously prescriptive.
Cf. H. McCabe OP, Law, Love and Language, London 1968.

categories, nor is this supposition a part of any true doctrine of the divine
Natural law, then, is a kind of ultimate attempt to shore up the idea of
duty before God. Here, as in utilitarianism, duty can be justified entirely in
teleological terms. This is only so, however, where a future not-yet is
envisaged as goal. But this means that what is still being called duty is a
mere sub-species of practical prudence. Far more important ethically, one
can scarcely deny, is the beautiful action, to kalon, here and now,
whatever it may be, inclusive of a beautiful means-end series. Teleology
transfers duty or obligatoriness to the ends sought, that is to say. But our
end is our preference; we cannot but choose it ourselves, and in choosing
it we will either flourish or not. The teaching of religion, of Christianity, is
that to love is to flourish, while to flourish, of course, is life, perhaps the
ultimate good.


How might this affect the practice of religion? Christian religion, in

accordance with sound philosophy, proposes an end as given, i.e. as not
lying within our choice, since it is but the natural consequence of the
absolute requirements of our intellectuality, which latter, in turn, is our
very organizational life-principle. This latter thesis, that of Aquinas, seems
implicit also in Hegelianism. A main opponent is the Cartesian dualism.
Yet man's success is seen as consisting in his own free choice of this pre-
determined end, to which he inclines upon understanding it to be such.
This end is infinite being and our enjoyment of it, be it by vision,
knowledge, life or however we express the union or absorption intended.
In some religions loss of individuality, seen as a false self, is envisaged as
a precondition; in others it is just the individual who has to remain the
subject of this absolute fulfilment.
We cannot but choose our end indeed. Therefore the appearance of an
imposition of it is appearance only. Although in saying "thou hast made us
for thyself" Augustine spoke truly and "one thing alone is needful," yet this
one thing includes any other possible thing, i.e. it is not a thing among
things in any literal sense, but the All.
A lover may say: I do not want the All, I want only my beloved. Yet either
this attitude cannot be maintained and there is no lover who has not
wanted more, beginning with the basic wants and freedoms of nature, or
the beloved has become for him or her the vehicle for, perhaps the first
intuition of, the All.121 Here, however, we cannot play down the dialectic
between life and death, the finding life through and in death, the death to
all else that love entails and moves towards, the love which is "better than
It is Christian teaching that wanting the All naturally entails a certain
denial of or relaxation of our obsessive grip upon self, leading through to a

The supposition leads to the contradictory assertion that there is no divine
knowledge of particulars.
Cf. Stephen Theron, "Analogy and the Divine Being", The Downside Review, April
1998, pp.79-85.

recovery of this same self in this fulfilment of union with all things (with
the All), where we keep the self in "life eternal".
That nothing less than the All is our natural end cannot be seen then as a
restriction upon choice, as would an imposed finite end. There is nothing
outside of it and he who chooses nothing does not choose. Already the
bare or, it may be, joyous affirmation of one's own will participates in this
choice of the All, which is sought in all our actions, more or less
Law, again, is a descriptive help for the avoidance of inappropriateness, a
kind of summation of the past, one's own or society's. This view opens a
rift of paradox in the biblical account of the Fall of Man, should we wish to
retain that. Death, religion wants to teach, is not natural but "penal". This
latter, however, is again a forensic term, being used sociomorphically.
Read thus, the story invites us to see mankind as lying under the "wrath of
God" or, more literally, as estranged from the All through "wounds" of
nature transmitted from the first parents. The overcoming of this, thanks
to a particular historical divine initiative, proceeds via a substitution, more
or less painful, of "grace" for nature as principle of our lives. It is in
clarification, perhaps apologetic modification, of this that Aquinas adds
that grace in fact perfects nature, i.e. does not replace it.
In apparent contrast with this drama though we observe the natural
development of a human life from childishness to wisdom and larger
views, to "graciousness" in a word. The biblical drama may be best taken
then as giving the hidden rationale and cause of this, as when theologians
say that grace is everywhere operative and all grace is the grace of Christ.
This view tends to reduce original sin to a negatively ideal state, i.e. not so
much a real predicament as an explanatory posit, like the state of inertia
in modern physics, posited although everything is actually always moving.
There results a certain coincidence, helpful ecumenically, with the Islamic
denial of original sin.
A loss of innocence is posited in the Genesis account. But are we intended
to think that God, the All, intended man to remain in ignorance of what, it
is said there, would enable him to be as God? The tenor of the rest of
scripture itself speaks against it. Again, is it not natural to man to wander
around in the wide world, not just stay in "the Garden" of paradise,
however delightful? We cannot take the story at face value. The story itself
internally corroborates this judgment, as does the earlier story of the
creation in seven days, on one of which the sun was created, since a day
itself is determined by the movements of a sun already created. Our
exegesis, it might seem, must go deeper than St. Paul's, for we need to
see his text too as requiring exegesis.


We have seen how the Christian Gospel itself encouraged us in our

transcendence of the principle of law as an ultimate ethical category. A
correlate of law is obedience which thus, where law is transposed to ethics
or theology, becomes a virtue, part of justice. It is certainly a virtue to
obey human laws when they are well devised. The connection of religion
with law is deep-seated and even etymologically reflected. But this

inherent sociomorphism, again, merely invites us to step beyond religion.
"Catholicism", remarked de Lubac, "is not a religion. It is religion itself."
But we might equally call it theology, or true philosophy, as in the
Theologica Germanica, a most practical handbook.
Obeying God might seem the very nerve of the Old Testament, so that this
could not fail to find a central role in the New, which speaks of Christ who
"became obedient unto death" and whom, only therefore, God exalts.
Christ himself finds his closest brethren in those who "do the will of my
father", this being his own "meat" or food. And at the end, "not mine but
thy will be done." Union with God, St. John of the Cross will later remark,
"is thus effected in the will."
All of which might seem an explicitation of the text "seek and ye shall
find", as when in a novel about Aquinas (The Quiet Light by Louis de Wohl)
the latter answers his sister's question as to how one becomes a saint by
saying that one does so by wanting it. Wanting what, though? Wanting,
purposing therefore, to do God's will is not the same as wanting God, the
All, even if God and his will are the same in reality. Certainly one cannot
sensibly, if one understands, want what God does not want. But one
cannot, either, honestly arrive at this attitude without wanting God himself
with all one's heart, this again being made possible by God's being the All.
Here again the tragedy, the "curse" even, of law as a principle stands out.
Such considerations prepare us for a more immediate query, what might it
mean to "obey" God? God does not speak. God is. The Koran, for example,
cannot therefore have been literally kept from eternity in heaven, nor is
the Christian Word of God distinct from God himself.
Obedience though is response to a command, order or injunction, even
though the Gospel differentiates an obedience of sons (daughters) from
that of slaves. "I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision," says St. Paul,
and that takes us further still, further, for example, than obeying whatever
he might have heard (in discourse) in such a vision. A command, unlike a
law, but like a vision, can be particular, as when I say "give me your son".
Seen thus the obeying of commands becomes more assimilable to the
immediate intuitional responses of an adult freedom. We see that the
content of obedience is not exhausted by any correlation with law; its
essence remains after law is transcended.
But again, God does not speak. The impulse to sacrifice one's son would
come from an intimate inspiration. If we say this impulse contradicts love,
a priori, we might seem to be making a law out of love. But love is not law.
It is the form of all law and virtue and as such transcends them both. This
is its freedom, why it "blows where it will" and none can tell the shape it
will take. Love is spirit, the spirit. It is not in essence an instrument in the
service of societal securities, even though without love many people will
kill their sons, however they may legislate against it. Abraham, the lover,
we should not forget, did not kill his son. The son that was eventually
offered up, in the Hebrew language of sacrifice, was not distinguished from
God, from love, himself, an image and pattern therefore of that in some
sense self-denying love of the All which is the very energy of our drive
towards it as ultimate end, our readiness to "submit to death" to that end,
if we should perhaps be so ready.


Thus one might ask if we have a right to suicide, say. From the position
reached here, more a point in a trajectory than something static, one
might find a difficulty in answering, at least at first. For one has to say that
anyone can do whatever he likes, that is our situation as free agents. The
ethical question is one of identifying what we would like, nothing else. In
this way one is embarked upon a process of demythologizing the idea of
offending God, as well, perhaps, as that of (natural or God-given) rights.
The language of right and duty has first been taken over from the forum of
human or societal law in order to be then used as moral justification for
legislation and the enforcement of laws. But apart from being circular this
is far too simple. We have to try to identify moral realities in themselves,
progressing beyond how they are in our notions of them, as Aristotle might
have said. There is no need to relate this to the needs of moral pedagogy
and it would be an arbitrary methodology that sought to base itself on the
moral experience of children122. Children's behaviour is bound to be
controlled by quasi-legal models insofar as it is conditioned by the need for
continued acceptance in the society of their immediate superiors. In adult
moral thinking, however, this need itself must form part of the object(s) to
be identified, viz. whatever we really most want, our end or ends. It cannot
be what constitutes ethics, as the needs of society constitute legal theory.
Rather, it stands inside ethics as its extension (Entfaltung123), as an end.
It might be thought that the consequences for legal theory of denying the
reality of moral rights (or correlative prohibitions, e.g. of suicide) would be
a nihilistic positivism fatal to society's well-being. This is not so. The
ethical background to the framing of law, as of people's conduct under the
law, remains operative. The law, though, is conditioned by certain
hypothetical ends of society or, more generally, of human life, while ethics
is the theory of those ends, of "the good life". Only in this sense could it
have been right to say that human positive law rests upon natural law for
its validity. Any idea of natural law, however, must be purged of all
mythical forensic elements. The law is merely (descriptively) that certain
ways of behaving lead to life, others to death or loss of life. Nor is there
here a built-in presumption of a particular extent to which behaviour is
describable in universal and to that extent law-like terms, whatever the
regulative necessities of our concept-forming apparatus may be thought to
be. A case-law beyond casuistry can apply here, as a revolution once
carried through might be its own justification, at least in the sense of
As does Maritain in An Introduction to the Basic Problems of Moral Philosophy (Paris
1950, transl. Albany, NY, 1990), ch.6, an espousal of the modern anti-ontological value-
philosophy in apparent contradiction of all this arch-Thomist's other work, at least on this
point, and as such only equalled in facing both ways by some of Karol Wojtyla's
utterances. They seem to have forgotten Marcel's remark about how such use of the idea
of value is "the sign of a fundamental devaluation of reality itself" (Les hommes contre
l'humain), a reproach one may also level at Dietrich von Hildebrand (Christian Ethics
1953) and, as indicated above, his disciple Seifert. But for a contrasting but equally
positive evaluation of children's experience see Stephen Theron, "On Being so Placed",
New Blackfriars, September 1980, pp.378-385.
Cf. M. Grabmann's comment on happiness as "höchste Entfaltung der Sittlichkeit",
Thomas von Aquin, München 1959.

needing no other. Hence the corruption of a revolution is nothing other
than a denial or practical betrayal of the individual revolution's own
principles rather than of some or other extrinsic standards. Natural law,
that is to say, can be added to by each piece of successful new behaviour
(like the decisions of judges in Anglo-Saxon countries). A web of analogies
is created for our reflective contemplation.124
We can thus understand why MacIntyre, a defender of natural law,
dismissed human rights as a fiction on a par with Rawls's "original
position". The language of human rights is an attempt to describe the
response proportionate to human dignity, to the quality of our nature, no
more. The forensic, quasi-legal reference is misleading, a metaphor. What
would these rights be with which man is supposed to be created? We have
rights under legal systems only.125
The objection, indeed, to this myth is that it scales down and restricts the
moral life, our response to all we encounter. Instead of repeating, with
some annoyance, that someone has a right to his foolish opinion, or to his
inconvenient life (or, conversely, to suicide) we should see him or her
whole, and then we will anyhow respect the conviction or constraints of
conscience from which he speaks, we will not want to snuff out his life,
understanding that this would murder hope within ourselves first of all.
The language of rights is utterly deontological, but we are denying the
moral deon.
The impulse to obey the law is not itself a law.126 But nor is it a quasi-
formal dictate of reason, as Donagan127, Kant or R.M. Hare128 try to say,
bringing in a new constraint upon autonomy in the instant that they first
achieve it, introducing a division into the very heart of man 129, instead of
"heteronomously". We choose freely to be law-abiding when and in so far
as we consider that it will minister to our attainment of our end, to the
good, self-fulfilled life. We choose to disobey law for the same reason.
Criminality, as leaving one open to accusation (crimen), is essentially a
misidentification of the end deriving, if deliberate, from a weakness of
love. Where I lack love I become criminal, as some laws in society are
themselves criminal.
So the recipient of a promise, for example, has no literal moral right to its
discharge. The language is wrong, that is to say. Someone has failed to see
the value, the dignity, of my humanity, if he breaks his promise to me. It is
no different in principle from an aesthetic insensitivity. Yet in thus failing
the promise-breaker has devalued himself more directly and substantially -
he has only inconvenienced or disappointed the promissee. His word in
particular has lost the currency value appropriate to human utterance.
There can of course be a choice to live bestially too, and we may need to
choose to hunt down those who choose thus. But in fact where breach of

Cf. J. Walgrave OP, "Reason and Will in Natural Law", Lex et libertas, Vatican City
1987 (Rolduc Symposium Acta), esp. pp.74-75.
For an earlier attempt to defend human rights against such criticism see Stephen
Theron, The Recovery of Purpose, Frankfurt 1993, ch.8.
As was argued in our Morals as Founded on Natural Law (see note 1 above).
A. Donagan, The Theory of Morality, Chicago & London 1977.
R.M. Hare, Freedom and Reason, Oxford 1963.
Cf. Pope John Paul II (K. Wojtyla), Veritatis splendor 48-50.

promise has become an infringement of right it has ipso facto passed into
the human legal system. So it remains that there is no purely moral right,
or duty either. The fulfilment and goodness of life is determined by the
purity and intensity of our wanting what satisfies. It is the hunger and
thirst that beatifies, this, according to the present analysis, being the
satisfaction of "what is right" (Matthew 5,6).
This position is in itself tenseless, considerations as to present or future
duration belong rather to the material aspect of what is here established
formally. Here lies the importance of hope as mediating between the form
and the matter, as in "happy are you who weep now," another of the
Our position, then, is not that anyone has or has not a right to do whatever
he wants but, a third option, that there can be no moral rights. Talk of
rights here is the secular analogue of sin in religious discourse. Both ways
of talking fail to meet the reality, ethical or "theic", as it is in itself. They
are thus lazy ways. Laws here can only be general descriptive principles of
being, as indeed human laws in the literal forensic sense are also, even
most fundamentally, descriptive of the good society, i.e. of unimpaired
social being. Here too the prescriptive dimension is accidental, a thought
returning us to the scheme of Aquinas. Our point, though, whether or not
coinciding with his final mind, is that just this entails that there is no
prescription outside of the social sphere, no inward constraint of just that
type. There is, rather, good advice (paranese), traditional warning, just as
there are, corresponding to this, fixed tendencies in reality, such as that no
man who hates his brother or who is by choice a murderer loves God or
has eternal life within him. If he begs for it he begs to love, as he who asks
has already received.


God, then, does not legislate. The laws of logic, of metaphysical being, do
not progress beyond the sheerly particular assertion that God is, since he
is just HE WHO IS. This is not a bare act of being supposedly highlighting a
Thomistic blindness to the importance of values.130 It denotes rather the
fullness of being, in which all value, the good, is comprised.
There is nothing outside of this, as we ourselves have our being in God. So
the everything that is God is not the ephemeral world. God's commanding
us to seek him is but a variant upon his constantly attracting us, as
Aquinas himself points out, saying that God instructs us by law and helps
us by grace, as we help ourselves by virtue. The idea of an external help
from God is metaphorical, since God, all of God, is "closer to us than we
are to ourselves". In this sense grace is not external, but the God within, in
fact dissolving any idea of an externally prescriptive law such as we have
in human societies.
We should not then wish that the maxim of our action could become a
universal law. Things are better the way they are, where love alone moves
A suspicion voiced by Josef Seifert in "Esse, essence and Infinity: A Dialogue with
Existentialist Thomism", The New Scholasticism LVIII, Winter 1984, pp.84-98. But cf.
Stephen Theron, "Does Realism Make a Difference to Logic?" The Monist, April 1986, pp.
281-295, esp. p.286.

to deeds and we would wish instead that our action could be something
worth imitating, as influence rather than canon.
The high value of human freedom is thus safeguarded against an inert
legalism. It is realised in a competition of good because creative actions
essentially mirroring, though also giving rise to, the fraternal
competitiveness of artists. In the history of music no satisfactory
symphony repeats or copies another, but nor does it, nor can it, ignore it.
Rather, it performs a variation upon it, it turns the same screw tighter, or it
pays its tribute by reacting against it. "In this is my father glorified."
It is a matter of freeing the divine reality from the constraints of human
legal metaphor. We should not speak of divine sovereignty, for example, or
of the decrees or "ordinances" of creation.
It can happen that in the whole of creation a certain principle holds good,
descriptively at least. One says this is so because the divine nature is as it
is, rather as Aquinas wanted to say that ultimately good behaviour is good
when and if and because God commands it (as against Socrates in
Euthyphro, perhaps). What we are missing here is that it is our minds that
distil out the pattern observed as a "principle", which can then be
accorded the active, Greek (archic) function of ordering.
So in the very act of imagining God controlling his creation by a set of
ordering decrees we are controlling our image of God by foisting on it our
mental necessity of abstraction, actually a sign of the weakness of our
intellectual power as starting from things sensed. Attention to the
difference between ius and lex (as Aquinas writes of them when discussing
the virtue of justice in the main Summa) is needed here.
We seem indeed to arrive at the conviction that there is knowledge in God
and that God is one with his single because infinite act of knowing. But
that should give us enough to avoid the above mistake. Divine
intellectuality is radically different from ours. We can only call it
intellectuality by an analogous extension of the term. Whatever it is, there
is no reason to and several reasons not to confine it within a legal
metaphor which fits better, and even at times literally, with our own
created mentality, as when Aquinas stresses that law is something
belonging to reason.
So there are no divine decrees. Conversely, decrees are not divine; at
most they would be faint types of the real divine motion within us better
caught within the notion of grace or, yet better as avoiding the legalistic
dilemma of what is due versus what is gratuitous, of energy, life, power,
love, blowing where it will.
The situation is similar to our thoughtless use of the masculine pronoun for
the divinity. In the German language this is less harmful. One calls God or
the moon he as one calls a wasp or a cat or the sun she or a girl it. But in
English if one says "he" one means a male, while "she" means a female, so
there is no alternative there. We just have to remember that we have no
literal pronoun for God.
How are we then to think of the divine intellectuality? It is nothing other
than being as free of restriction. We would have to call this intellectual
since it is as intellectual (and initially as cognitional generally) that we
transcend so many of the bonds of our own being. Being intellectual, then,
is not a special particular quality which God must have because we have it

and it is a positive quality. Intellectuality generally just is any kind of
openness to other being, and to one's own, at the ultimate level. An
infinite being will in this sense be intellectual, whether human beings have
ever existed or not. The argument for divine love is similar. For God not to
affirm himself would be a blockage, a restriction.
The language of human rights is an attempt to define human dignity
without recourse to love, which cannot be commanded since it is itself an
energy, the energy of life affirmed. In such a life one does to others all that
one would have done to one's self, that "all" just being no other than one
thing, an affirmation in love with all that love leads one to do. This is
worlds away from just seeing that one does not do to another anything
one does not want them to do to one's self.
It is not a matter of saying or thinking that, for example, out of love I give
you the care that is anyhow due to you. In reality nothing is due to you
unless you attract love, God's or mine, while for my love to become like
God's is the way for me to have the life I love. One recalls the Socratic
insight that the unloving wrongdoer is the one most to be pitied. But what,
on these terms, is a wrongdoer? One without love, simply. One who blocks
life's exchanges. It is when they are seen as doing that that actions first
become wrong, that is, doomed to fail of their object or to "miss the mark".
It is only because lying, say, so often does that that lying comes to have a
bad name.


So is now law quite transcended? In St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, surely
one of the most vivid of the documents preserved from classical times, we
find him saying that the gentiles, by which he means non-Jews in general,
have not just a but the law written on their hearts, directing them how to
live, so that they are "without excuse" for, in his view, not having done so.
He is thinking mainly of the abuse of idol-worship and, as a kind of
analogue of that via the idea of a lie in action (which we considered in the
second chapter above), of homosexual practices; two straight violations of
Jewish taboos.
This clearly metaphorical notion of a law written on the heart is the main
proof-text for the theological theory of natural law later, however,
increasingly offered, e.g. within scholasticism, as a philosophical theory.
One should note though that the purpose for its introduction here, by St.
Paul, is that of making it possible to find the gentiles just as guilty as the
Jews (or maybe the Jews not more guilty) of breaking God's law, this being
the definition of sin as an infinite enormity, so that he can conclude that
"all have sinned", thus making both the need for and the efficacy of
Christ's redemptive act universal, as it should be if he is indeed to be seen
as the new man, the second Adam, the full, unique and only Word spoken
to human beings everywhere ("go and teach all nations") by God.
Although natural law is thus introduced in order to widen the scope of a
sin-theology, it can be seen that in later development of the notion, e.g. by
Thomas Aquinas, the idea of sin plays no essential role, even if it remain in

a parallel theological system in the same thinker's mind.131 What counts
rather, for him, is the necessity, the need, for certain virtues and patterns
of behaviour, which as such can be denominated laws just as in natural
science, for the attainment of the end, for human flourishing, that is to say.
The laws are in fact the inclinations of our nature, rightly codified; they are
the systematic description of what we most deeply want.
Now it is easy to feel that such views cut deeper into reality than does the
theological positivism from which St. Paul starts out. They might even be
seen as the understanding into which faith is said to mature. He himself,
however, is as it were forced to explain the human reality as an analogical
or oblique application of what is only fully and explicitly verified in his own
small nation, viz. the giving of the law. He ought, however (perhaps he
does), logically, to allow for a law written on the hearts even of the Jews,
both before and even after Moses. In virtue of this "conscience", surely,
the claims of Christ are pressed, e.g. in Acts, as a man who "went about
doing good."
The question will then arise as to which law has priority, the genuinely
written and proclaimed, or that of the heart. All the later disputes about
faith and reason, not to speak of refinements in regard to an "erring"
conscience, are there in germ.
In itself there is no particular likelihood in the idea of what we call God
being a law-giver in the sense of demanding obedience, this being the
criterion for salvation or reprobation respectively. The Greek idea,
somehow mirrored in Calvinism, that whom the gods wish to destroy they
first make mad seems to have just as much going for it. Laws, after all, as
prescriptions, are encountered in human societies, nowhere else.
One might think it natural to view the Jewish story of the giving of the law,
of a revelation, as a post hoc strategy for emphasising the sanction and
respect which in reality already attaches to ethical principles. "This do and
thou shalt live" could be spoken by any Aristotelian of the virtues needed
for happiness.
The effort of the orthodox, however, has always been in the contrary
direction, of claiming that if we had greater insight we would see that what
presents itself to us as generally desirable is really a detailed set of
unbreakable laws,132 the real situation only being truly reflected in the
solemn promulgation of the Ten Commandments. This is the background
to the remark of St. Paul's with which we began.
It might remind us of his other remark, about "God, from whom all
fatherhood in heaven and earth is named", something we might want to
accept as true, even while remembering that our word "father" always
refers first and without analogy to our actual paternal progenitor. One can
argue from all positive qualities we encounter to their maximal reality in
an infinite being, thus fatherhood, thus even motherhood, thus love,
mercy, justice, but not perhaps, and for example, bravery, as being a
See our Natural Law Reconsidered, Peter Lang, Frankfurt, 2002, ch. 1-3.
See P.T. Geach, "The Moral Law and the Law of God" in God and the Soul, London
1969. Lawrence Dewan OP states that an angel can see that what we experience as
inclinations are, when healthy, in fact laws, prescriptive and forensic he seems to mean.
Cf. "St. Thomas, Our Natural Lights, and the Moral Order", Angelicum LXVII (1990), pp.

virtue specific to beings threatened by death; perhaps not even
Law though, one might think, is specific to beings who abstract universal
concepts. The divine analogue would be faithfulness and immutability. He
keeps faith as we keep the law, but law, again, outside of socio-political
contexts, is descriptive, giving the essence, how we are. The upshot of the
dialectic concerning law in the Bible, anyhow, is that the ultimate "law" is
simply and entirely love, which is something not conceptualized at all but
rather a self-diffusive energy, Spirit, "poured into the heart" says Aquinas,
echoing scripture - hardly how one usually thinks of law, even
grammatically. Love precisely does not follow a rule, but "blows where it
wills." Each new instance of it gives what is rather more like an
accumulation of "cases", we noted above, the analogue of which in Church
tradition is the varied lives of the saints, though not varied enough, many
feel. It is, anyhow, a failure to understand if one sees the command of love
as exactly univocal with the old commands, and then marvels that love
can be commanded, before banishing it to a realm of "forced acts of the
will" in the manner of Kierkegaard, Kant or indeed the aberrant mystical
theology of the seventeenth century Fr. Augustine Baker's Holy Wisdom,
from which the phrase is taken.
An indication of the error here can be gained, once again, from considering
the difference between forbidding people to do to others what they do not
want done to them and urging them to do to and for others whatever they
would wish these to do to and for them.The first posture is a kind of super-
rule only. The second posture of itself expands into a creative, imaginative
programme, as pictured in the image of trading with talents, taking
initiatives; just this is made the yardstick of success or failure.
And this indeed is not so much what is written but what was hidden in the
hearts of the gentiles, as they were therefore and only therefore able to
recognize when they had it proclaimed to them, grace building on nature
as Aquinas might say. He also says that if it were not natural to man to
love God with all his heart and mind then charity, the new wine, would be
perverse and irrational.


If law is transcended then what remains of sin, of that violation we spoke

of above? This topic is not explicitly raised very often in philosophical
ethics. Yet it is a real question whether breaches of a putative moral law,
or of an ethical code, or instances of disregard for personal conscience,
one's own or another's, are not in fact sins. So the topic needs considering.
The notion of sin includes the idea of an offence against a divine person,
i.e. it is religious. A corollary traditionally drawn is that this offence is
infinite as being against a person of infinite worth (the logic is not so very
perspicuous here) and hence not open to forgiveness by finite beings.
Here we are already in that legalist, sociomorphic world we have been
decrying as somehow mythical. There may indeed be a need for personal
salvation, but not necessarily from just this predicament. Awaking "the
sense of sin" has always been a problem for preachers.

Yet a large number of us could not truthfully say we have never felt this
sense, a sense of condemnation (and not just self-condemnation), of being
no good, failed, unclean even: there are ritual roots to the concept, which
might also be interpreted less theologically as an awareness of despair as
a live option. The context indeed is typically sexual, centring around an
initiation felt to be illicit. There we have the law again. Later one will be
taught and try to believe that other sins, such as "spiritual" sins, are
worse. But the notion gets its bite from our inadequacy in the face of
sexuality, a situation palpably hovering around the Adam and Eve story,
even after we have been assured that their sin was disobedience in eating
of the wrong tree and not, for example, starting to find their nakedness

We argue, it seems, for a kind of moral nihilism in the sense of a

transcending of the principle of law as a guide to behaviour in the energy
of a life of love. This is called in the religious sources the new life. Through
love, through creative energy, one comes alive and gives proof of it. Law
cannot be considered in abstraction from love without essential
deformation, since love is the form of all virtue. Love itself is thus not a
virtue merely, but an energy. This is true independently of any appeal to a
doctrine of grace or "infused" virtue. The picture there is one of pouring
(infundere) fuel into a machine; it is not easy to get behind the picture, as
the Pauline paradox of "I live yet not I" testifies.
People may wish to claim that any grace in Socrates, say, depended upon
the foreseen, unique merits of Jesus Christ and how he died. Yet is this
even in Christian terms a correct representation of "the atonement"? It
implies a very tortuous understanding of Jesus's simple declaration to
people that their sins were forgiven, as if he were referring to some kind of
application (forensic) of his future merits. Aquinas saw this at least partly
when he said that one tiny drop of Christ's blood would have been more
than enough atonement, yet he seems here too timid to drop the idea of
sacrificial atonement altogether. As a result the whole doctrine of
forgiveness seems muted in his writings, as it is not in the pages of the
Gospel. Whether this is a difference of style or of substance is an
important question for interpreters.
The claim, anyhow, is not of much relevance in view of the primacy of
love, evident when once proposed. It is religious fear and lack of trust in
providence which has kept people from seeing it.
The idea of sin, then, is closely bound up with that of law, of law indeed as
a divine principle. It need not be, however. Jesus shows this, even though
operating within a culture tied to sin as a legal notion. He stated that all
sins will be forgiven except the sin against the Holy Spirit. To say this can
well be understood as taking distance from the whole paradigm. Retaining
the word in conjunction with the spirit lifts the notion to a new level. This
move is nullified by people trying to identify the sin in question as one of
the old list, e.g. as "resisting the known truth". This resistance is common
enough. Can we not also hope that also this will be forgiven?
Sin against the spirit would rather be something like living without the
spirit, not taking account of it, even resisting it of course. By spirit would

be meant the spirit of love, its fruits, energies and "beatitudes" and not
some authoritative proposition or other. The sin will not be forgiven in the
sense that those who live without love have no life in them. They have to
turn away on to a new path, though to do this they may well need help
from others.
One effect of the legal notion of sin is to set a gulf between Jesus and
other human beings. "Which of you can convict me of sin?" he is
represented as saying, and the whole idea has been institutionalized in the
notion of original sin, from which Jesus alone (unless his mother) is held to
be free. But if there is no law interposed between love and its object there
is, in this sense, no sin either. It is stated of Jesus that he grew in virtue,
i.e. he became more virtuous than at an earlier time. If this does not mean
that he was sinful in the quasi-legal sense then it need not be true of us
Of course one or other, even all, of us do or have done things we later
bitterly regret, enshrining as they do, according to our analysis, acts of
black hatred, shorn of all love. One thinks of murder, malicious talk, the
various deceits and betrayals. We can turn away from, renounce these
things, things which we suppose Jesus never did, though he is shown
possessed of the passions from which these things can distortedly
proceed, and some might well misjudge him as malicious, unbending,
unforgiving and so on in his recorded dealings with the pharisees. "Like to
us in all things except sin," it was said, but if sin evaporates as mere legal
metaphor, apart from that real spiritual sin, then Jesus is just like us.
Whatever our judgment of this, however, we seem to find in his teaching
what is at least the germ of an ethic open to endless restatement without
any successor or paradigm shift being easily imaginable. Love fulfils the
law. But what fulfils love unless more of the same? The preeminence
claimed for Jesus should lie in the claim that he loved those given to him
"to the uttermost", for nothing else would have counted for much without
that. But we are not required to deny that anyone else loved to the


We are not placed indifferently between good and evil, nor is this the
essence of freedom. In fact any evil chosen is chosen qua good, not qua
evil. The normal and natural thing is to follow the good in accordance with
our inbuilt inclinations. This is the regula, the law. We pursue these ends
freely as to manner, means, proportion and so on. So we need not write
the possibility of sin into our account of moral reality, any more than the
possibility of eating sawdust need come into our account of nutrition. All
choice is itself built on the foundation of spiritual being, a good. Thus God
doesn't exist because he chose to exist; the understanding of his freedom
is to be sought within his simple, necessary and free act of being, however
incomprehensible that may be to us.

Maritain's The Grace and Humanity of Jesus looks like an unsuccessful attempt to
face up to these considerations, fatal for that Chalcedonian paradigm to which he
remained committed.

The sense in which it is possible to eat sawdust is not a sense involving
any kind of inclination in the consumer's nature. There is no "indifference"
here, no balance between two fundamental options of selflessness or
The scenario gets a kind of plausibility from our situation, to be sure. This can be interpreted
to be one of desperate straits for man, in a fallen world where original sin reigns. This though
has many of the marks of a redescription of reality, ideology in other words. It is hardly
possible to draw an alternative picture of how things ought to have been, an effort for which
the postulation of so-called preternatural gifts is no substitute. The Fall, where it works on
writers' imaginations, is often simply assimilated to the mythical idea of a past golden age, as
we find it in Lawrence's Fantasia of the Unconscious, or Graham Greene's short story, "A
Discovery in the Woods". Chesterton indeed speaks of a golden ship that went down, C.S.
Lewis imagines "unfallen" beings on other planets who in fact hardly differ from peasants
loyal to a religious tradition as we find them on earth, the villains being those who decide for
themselves, even though for Lewis the hero-defender of tradition has to decide for himself to
fight the devil with his fists, it being plain that those he defends are helpless prey to a tempter
who persists long enough. But admitting so much comes close to finding fallen man guiltless
because helpless, in which case there has hardly been a "fall".
Still, they point out, the tendency towards evil, against which we must
choose, is a tendency we ought not to have. The error here though lies in
postulating that we have such a negative tendency. The postulation is little
more than an attitude, a mood of pessimism. The truth is more simple:
virtue is difficult and there are limits to our striving. As Aquinas puts it,
what can fail sometimes does. Errors right themselves, given time.
On both views wrongdoing emerges as analogous to the perverse, the
inexplicably deviant and sterile. But no, it is not quite inexplicable if we
keep ourselves free of traditionalist mystification. First, a lot of things
called evil are not really evil, secondly, our sense of self and freedom
moves us at times to do something wilfully unusual, to testing of the
boundaries, as all with children know, or as Eve had to test the divine
prohibition, as it is represented as having been. Obviously her action was
not as heinously evil as to cast a world in ruins. As orthodox writers
themselves have said, she, like Satan before her, perhaps assumed God
would forgive the odd, one-off act, and why, really, would he not? Unless,
perhaps, she were not sorry, unless the story is saying in a disguised way
that it was something she had to do, part of growing up. We are after all
required to grow up, by nature herself, criterion of right and wrong:

Quae quidem regula in his quae secundum naturam agunt, est

ipsa virtus naturae, quae inclinat in talem finem.134

There is then an impulse to perversity, but it would be a mistake to equate

this "imp of the perverse", as analysed in some of Poe's stories for
example, with the much more wide-ranging orthodox conception of sin.
The impulse has to be kept in check and can be merely playful. Sin comes
in where one really hurts someone, or destroys something good without
compensatory gain, and this, again, is traced back to a lack of love, not to
perversity as such. A few little (or even big) kinks and hang-ups seem

Aquinas, Summa theol. Ia-IIae 21,1.

essential to individual personality. It is hard to see, therefore, how one can
maintain the old doctrine about unnatural vice, violating the order of
creation and so on. Man can in principle do anything conceivable, if he can
but find the power. To fulfil himself in doing this he needs, again, to be
driven by the energy which is love. That is the true picture, not one of
confinement within the banks of law, natural or otherwise. We have found
that natural law as presented by Aquinas actually should issue into this
supralegalist position of ours.


It was essential to the old notion of sin that one could not ascribe it to
God, since its essence is to act against God. Nominalist theology pushed
this to the limit in claiming that God could command evil acts. In fact,
contrary to G.E. Moore's objection (and his positing of the "naturalistic
fallacy" is ultimately argued for from a purely grammatical possibility), one
can show that the goodness of any possible divine will cannot be
questioned. God does whatever he wills in heaven and on earth and all his
ways are true and good; that is what God is, if he is. Only the creature can
sin. Being able to sin has something to do with being a creature, being
But if the creature has his particular nature from which his operations
proceed, then how is sin, as defiance of that nature, possible even to the
creature? "Sin," said Aquinas, aware of this problem, "is ultimately not
explained as disobedience to law," inexplicable if law is natural inclination,
"but as unsuitability of action to end."
This might suggest sin were just a mistaken choice of means to happiness.
It certainly is that, and a culpable ignorance and weakness plays its part in
much of what is reckoned as sin. One might think though of a particular
type of such unsuitability common to all sinning.
This would be itself based on an inclination of nature, not man's specific
nature though but the common nature of creatureliness, of not being God,
whether or not man is in fact the only rational or free being that
experiences that situation. Sin might be a particular reaction to tension
generated by existing without being God. God, after all, is the only
naturally existing being (his essence is his existence). We others get it
from elsewhere, on the Thomist analysis at any rate. We are obliged to
God, in a word, to whom anyhow, as the All, we cannot but tend.
Just this situation, demanding a response unknown in the divine nature,
might come to seem intolerable. The rational creature has dominion over
his own acts, yet he or she is penitus nihil, having nothing except as a gift.
Is there not perhaps a "natural" temptation here? So natural perhaps as to
be a simple act of growing up? Aquinas says the first sin, of an angel,
could only have been pride followed by envy. The latter is easier to
disapprove of: that someone should be sorry that he is not God, to the
point of disdaining a type of participation than which no higher can be
offered a creature. As for pride, it seems not much more than insanity if its
essence is really a refusal to be "subject" to God, as Aquinas puts it. if the
devil was so clever he must have known that all his strength and dignity
came from God. The whole picture there seems to depend on an

anthropomorphic court-picture of God, before whom subjects, or those
who should be subject, appear.
Finding a misery in one's non-divine self is a mood that can occur to any
creature, whether it be likely or not. If it issues in a refusal to gladly take
part in life we are back with that failure of love we have found essential. Is
such envy though the cause of it or does the causality work the other way?
The latter view is the right one. Envy, sadness at another's good, grows in
the absence of love. We were right to make love primal. Here too the
apparatus of law or even the table of virtues seems found to be


All of the above is a theoretical statement, not a programme for moral

education. One may hope, however, that our view of the latter will not be
unaffected by the theoretical advance, which represents unification at a
higher level. Not only do we take seriously the dominical saying that "all
the law and the prophets" hang on the two Old Testament commandments
of love. We also listen to the "new commandment" of the Johannine Christ
to "love one another as I have loved you", interpreted by Aquinas and
others not as something written as these words are written. It is not
written because it is not writeable, and so not a commandment in any
ordinary univocal sense. It is the "new life" or rather life, essentially
eternal as it always was. This is the hidden meaning of saying that this
commandment was not given at the beginning of the world because of
sin.135 Our consciousness needs millenia, or decades of an individual life,
to grow up to an understanding transcending the legalistic,
anthropomorphic or sociomorphic.
But may we not then harm even our children by confronting them with
"norms" presented as denials of their impulses, impulses which we should
not seek to tame but rather to affirm and educate, if anything increasing
their potency. Thus one initiates the violent and destructive child into
games of noble conflict, played out in the harmonious atmosphere of
sportsmanlike magnanimity; one initiates erotically befuddled youngsters,
both in reality and in art and theatre, into the drama, the joys and the
risks, of a social life founded upon mutual love, microcosm of a Church one
might well say.
We deeply betray democracy, freedom and toleration, those great
revolutionary achievements seen by Maritain as fruit of the Gospel, when
we present them just as "values" obediently to be accepted. They are
energies rather, sufficient to replace living according to a rule, any rule.
Hence they are creative and perpetually self-transcending. So people
become affronted in the depths of their autonomy as spiritual beings when
they find "the establishment" wanting to force or dictate to them such
"values", to force them, say, to welcome the refugee, to put up with
homosexual vagaries or abstain from punishing refractory children. De
Tocqueville136 rightly noted that the inner dictatorship of an imposed

Summa theol. Ia-IIae 106, 3 ad 3um.
A. de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1830.

egalitarianism can be harsher than any previous tyranny, and Solzhenitsyn
made the same observation in regard to the dissenters from Leninism as
compared to how offenders under Czarism were treated. What this
indicates is that to take over democracy as just an ideology is to be
putting new wine into old bottles. It is, rather, a way of being and living
which is better caught in the English notion of kindness137 or in the picture
of the Nietzschean superman who is above revenge. It is not, again, just a
new set of rules. The witch-hunting severity of American Puritanism sets
limits to democracy's, we might say to the kingdom's, realisation. The
spirit, that is to say, is not to be forced, and ideological governments
imposing what according to traditional ideas are extreme programmes are
soon turned upon by their populations. Imposition belongs to the old
scheme of things. Hence becomes apparent the fittingness for Christians
of a morality of exhortation alone (paranese) and of example at a level no
longer affording opportunity for that passing of judgment so deprecated in
the Sermon on the Mount.138
The point of liberty, equality and fraternity is just this, to realise fraternity,
that we are one family, whether or not we find this, with Schiller, to imply
a common father überm Sternenzelt. In a family a justice existing on its
own, uninformed by love, finds no hold, no object who is "other" (justitia
est ad alterum). This was already the lesson of The Merchant of Venice,
that "the quality of mercy is not strained".139 Democracy,140 our preferred
name today for this new type of existence, is an invitation, not a rule or
discipline (though discipline be always needed), and hence the character
of what we are invited to, the great supper or communal feast of life, is
frontally assaulted by any idea of imposing it. If we ever compel anyone to
come in then we have to be able to persuade him or her to put on a
wedding garment first.
We have of course to deal with offenders, both at home and abroad
( someone has to), but not by the method, the mystification rather, of
moralism and precept. Declarations of human rights even, we have seen,
if taken as minimalist ideological prescriptions rather than as charters of
freedom inviting and directing to a maximal magnanimity, can signal a
new degeneration back into such moralism and precept. It is instructive
that Aquinas sees the death penalty, which he accepted as legitimate, not
as a punishment but, in common with modern ideologies, as a removal of
someone harmful from society when all else has failed and thus as falling

Much more than English of course. Zechariah the Jewish prophet spoke of a "spirit of
kindness" being poured out upon people in consequence of some great divine act
(Zechariah 12,10).
In saying this I retract much of my criticism in previous publications of B. Schüller's
position in Die Begründung sittlicher Urteile, Patmos: Düsseldorf 1980.
To dismiss this play as "anti-Semitic" is utterly crass, as if Shylock were not
balanced by Jessica, though even if he were not it should be obvious that the theme of
the play cuts much deeper than incidental prejudices of time and place.
I use the term, building upon Maritain's insight mentioned above (see his Christianity
and Democracy, London 1945), as one heavy with analogical ramifications. The
connection lies to hand, for example, of the rule of the people with the universal
priesthood and kingship and prophethood of believers, of those who have received the
new life or what is life indeed or truly.

under epieicheia rather than under retributive justice.141 It is thus an
admission of failure which we can resolve never to make. Let Judas rather
himself hang himself, if he insist, and let us hope up to the end that the
last piece of old snow will finally melt as spring gets increasingly under
This is to say, either our institutions are alive, informed by love and its
infection,142 or they are not. It is disgust with a hidden egoism and
cowardice in those who would lead but who in fact bury the talent in a self-
protective privacy belying their proclamations which produces such
negative manifestations as Nazism old or new. For behind the bluster lies a
timidity matching that of those they scorn, a fear of extending community
beyond the biologically and culturally similar, a belief that they are doing
what everybody (of their own "race") really wants. These are like
temptations to sleep, to stay at home on the big day, whatever it is.
Moral philosophy moves at the level of inner attitude, which positive law
should reflect. Social contract theories reflect this, that we should freely
engage to observe the laws, at least from a prudent wish to avoid
needless trouble, and Hobbes was not wrong to interpret right and
obligation in this way. There is no absolute or purely "moral" principle that
we should obey law, pay tax etc. and, more positively, coastguards and
other officials need, if they are not to fail, to be ruled by love and not by
an abstract zeal to comply with regulations. If we believe in our society we
will want to pay tax.143 If the coastguards or their masters think it for the
refugees' best they may set about sending them home, or even tightening
their own borders. Love knows no rule, again.
However we look at things, natural law is transcended. We are, rather,
involved in a particular and creatively unfolding drama none of the
responses to which are foreseeable in advance and which we have tried
here to characterize. There is one light, a "kindly light" (Newman), which
we need to navigate by in this drama.

Cf. Comm. in II Cor. cap.11.
Cf. Maritain's "civilization of love" in True Humanism and other writings, from the
aim of which he says we can only retreat (into a limited ideal of "civic friendship") to the
scandal of mankind.
This is the positive element in the often absurd feeling among, for example, some
Scandinavian socialists that it is immoral to plan your finances so as to minimize tax.
They might approve this in a society with which they felt less identified, e.g. if they lived
in Saddam's Iraq and felt they were being forced to finance germ warfare.


How to Deconstruct Human Rights

We have "deconstructed" natural law. So now we must deconstruct natural

rights, which survive as an ideology in quarters unfriendly to natural law.
We might well start by considering what is called the (natural) right to life,
placed prior to that to limb and to the pursuit of happiness.
We do not intend here to play into the hands of the abortionists. Thus Ayn
Rand is on record as defending women's (natural) right to abort on the
ground that the foetus is a part of her body because it cannot exist outside
of her. There is a confusion here, as if Rand had never heard of parasites,
for example. These cannot exist apart from the host, but are not thereby a
part of the host's body. Non-"viability" does not exclude that what is not
thus viable may nonetheless be an independent existent. That is, it does
not depend upon the host or mother for existence, even though it may
depend upon her for maintenance in life. We others depend upon food for
that, but we are independent of our activity of eating.
Once that is settled it then seems fairly clear, in our present state of
knowledge, that the foetus is genetically a second being. The ground is
then shifted to its supposedly non-human or less than human appearance,
an argument equally applicable to infants, the handicapped, elephant men
and so on. For most people's purposes, that is, the argument fails.
But would this be tantamount to establishing the "right to life" of the
foetus? I answer no, unless we give them to it in law. Human rights is a
quite separate ideology or habit of discourse and by no means self-
evident. Although in English we have the elastic adjective "right" which is
useable in moral or related contexts yet what we call "a right" is an
entitlement, a fair claim, belonging to the field of law, this being the field
within which claims and titles are made out. The field of law, what we
mean by the term, precisely is a set of codified relations within concrete
human societies. Analogies can be drawn from that (as in the proverb "two
wrongs don't make a right") but they remain only analogies.
We can talk of the law of God, for example, but there is no presumption
regarding a God who makes laws. The idea of God as a lawgiver, we have
found, seems needlessly anthropomorphic, and traditions of divine
legislation can be interpreted in the light of this philosophical judgment, as
can the specifically Christian or Pauline polemic against a previous
subjection to a supposed divine law.
The idea of natural human rights, taken literally, appears to belong with
this type of anthropomorphism. For until the right is enshrined within a
concrete legal system it is not really there, whereas if the right were
already possessed the legislation would not be needed. The motivation for
the legislation needs to be otherwise explained. One explanation is in
terms of what we all desire for ourselves. This can be expressed
psychologically or, alternatively, with a stress upon a more or less
systematic description of basic objective human needs, what is needed for
human flourishing or happiness. It does not seem helpful to then say that

this is what one has a right to; rather, this is what we want to entitle
people to by right, i.e. by law, ius, droit.
This would entail that if we fight for the extension of these rights in the
world, as do the Western democracies, then this is an expression of active
good will towards human beings. It is not a compliance with what ought to
be done in some quasi- or analogously legal sense. That is, one cannot
reasonably do it as it were mechanically, without the energy of good will,
"because it is right". This manner of speech, sometimes employed by
American presidents, may be thought to contain, albeit discreetly, an
expression of transcendent goodwill towards a personified Platonic form of
goodness, or towards a personal all-judging God, seen as having taught us
to exercise this universal good will, but a distorted mind reflected in this
defective manner of speech if taken literally. Obedience to a superior, even
a loved superior, is just one facet of positive action. If we have been
encouraged to show good will we defeat the object if our response is "OK,
but only because you say so." This is clear defiance and resentment,
enshrined in pious cries such as "and for thy sake I will love my neighbour
as myself", altering the formulation of Jesus that the second
"commandment", to love one's neighbour as one's self, is "like unto" the
first simply.


We might imagine the following scene from recent history. Someone from
the old East Berlin attempts to get over "the Wall" into the West. He is shot
and wounded, left to die crying out in pain, watched by helpless West
Berliners and the murderous guards, their weapons still trained on No
Man's Land, preventing any civilian from trying to help. One imagines
going to the wounded man, shouting at the guards "You have no right", i.e.
he had a natural right to leave that territory without violation of his life.
Now we seem to say there is no such natural right.
Yet we always knew that our invoking of such rights was invocation of a
particular ideology, in the sense that it is not shared by all, not shared, for
example, by those who do these cruel things. We cannot without
circularity say "by those who violate such rights" and our impulse to do so
is instructive. We are as it were determined not to let go of them, these
rights. We have formed a kind of compact to treat them as non-
negotiable.144 This is what makes us members of at least one embodiment

Thus C.S. Lewis wrote:
"people... thought that the human idea of decent behaviour was
obvious to everyone. And I believe they were right. If they were not, then all the
things we said about the war were nonsense. What was the sense in saying the
enemy were in the wrong unless Right is a real thing which the Nazis at bottom
knew as well as we did and ought to have practised? If they had had no notion of
what we mean by right then, though we might still have had to fight them, we
could no more have blamed them for that than for the colour of their hair"(Mere
Christianity, Fontana 1952).One can always say "at bottom", however, an
uncertain phrase begging the whole Socratic question of moral knowledge. No
one, anyhow, was obliged to blame the Nazis; the alternative explanation of

of Western community. Not all countries after all have a "bill of rights" in
their background and it would be natural if they did not begin to reason,
even to feel, from precisely the same axioms. Yet we do not allow them, do
not permit ourselves, rather, to discuss the point, just as we would not
allow ourselves to discuss the right to life of Jews with Nazis, or just as the
colonial authority simply forbade and prosecuted the practice of suttee in
India, or of ritual murder, even when enjoined by the chief, in the old
Basutoland. Some right-to-lifers in America are ready simply to shoot
doctors and nurses who do not unconditionally hold back from abortions.
In fact we, and even those right-to-lifers, are disgusted by what we see as
the lack of goodwill on the part of borderguards, torturers, abortionists and
so on. Yet that is why these right-to-lifers, as anti-abortionists, can evoke
our suspicion, if we are not bound dogmatically, where we miss their
goodwill to the women concerned, to those who work in such clinics even.
All the same, the aims of an ideology can be in general good. It remains,
however, qua ideology, an attempt to force thought and hence falsify,
usually in the direction of oversimplification, reality in the interests even of
those aims. That is what ideology, or a knowably bad argument, as distinct
from philosophy, and hence from good arguments, essentially is. But the
superiority of love even over the arguments that can enshrine it is that it is
a conquering energy and thus is its own argument and not liable to being
This talk of rights, anyhow, is essentially rationalist as being correlative
with pure duty, an imperative incommensurate with the system of human
aims and happiness, human successes and failures. It is often remarked
that the medieval Christian moral theology, at least before the fourteenth
century, made no mention of rights. In other words the notion of obligation
used there is not correlative with rights, as rights in the legal sense are
correlative with duties. This is because for the Christians of that time all
obligation, outside of positive law, was to God and his commands or
precepts and one does not easily think of an infinite, self-sufficient being
as having rights. It was rather that these commands were given for the
good of man. "This do and thou shalt live." 145 So if some rather unbalanced
fourteenth century theologians, sensing the end of an era perhaps, asked
why God commanded good and not evil, as, they insisted, he was free to
do, the answer lay in the divine love and faithfulness of God towards man
taught in the Bible.
Now the development of this biblical understanding, we have tried to
show, was in the direction of a superseding of commands by the super- or
rather merely analogous command of love as being, as analogous to a
virtue, the form of all other virtues, acts of which might indeed be
commanded. This revelation, however, as it is seen to be, simply bypasses
any development into a doctrine of rights. The obligations do not exist in it
to which rights can be juxtaposed as being correlate. Law is replaced by

lunacy is still canvassed. Note also the rationalist model of first knowing, then
practising. Aquinas avoids the trap when he explains the occasional need to kill
criminals not as punishing or blaming them but as removing a danger to society.
Hence on occasion they tortured and compelled with less scruple than a rationalist
might have shown after having convinced themselves (or not) that charity required this.

the energy of love, by which alone man can live, be more than "sounding
brass" and so on. Rationalism is an internalization of law, yes, but not in
the sense of internalization that means identification, a taking away of
constraint, the sense of internalization understood by Jeremiah or
Augustine. Rather it makes the constraint that more intimate and ever
present, producing crippled, posturizing human beings, their last state
worse than the first. The will under such a system no longer possesses its
own spontaneous life, which reasoning as to what is good can naturally
So there are no human rights. Can this be? It is a question of seeing the
energy of love as at the centre, as in the teaching of Jesus. It cannot be
presented as an afterthought, reached by the perfect minority. This is how
the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevsky's novel saw Jesus, his ultimate
insignificance. The Christian life is not founded upon obedience to
commands and by the same token it is not one of respecting rights. Again,
can this be? Did the daughter of Abraham have no right to be healed on
the sabbath, the pious man's parents no right to share in the wealth he
declared "corban", the populace no right to be spared the burdens the
pharisees would lay on them, Jesus himself no right to be respected and
loved and spared the indignity (surely the injustice) of the Cross?
It is the talk that is wrong. The talk is forensic, as if there exist things such
as idealities, values, rights; in reality there is only this or that being
needing this or that (i.e. its "needs" are not additional existents) which can
be considered either generally or in the particular case merely. Needs,
everyone understands, are not things, not idealities, not values, and still
less are rights such. This word is just a linguistic substantivization for the
common enough predicament of some person or animal who needs
something. Our quarrel, that is to say, is ontological. We deny that rights
exist. We deny the existence of a universe of values, of some third realm
of idealities, to make the more general point. The reason, at least our
ethical reason, for denying this is that it devalues, represents a tendency
to devalue the real world of existing things and their real qualities
(accidentia), among which are those real relations which they have to one
another, relations which can in no way be hypostatized.
Someone may say: fine, that is all that we ever meant by rights, viz. that a
given being has a relation of entitlement to some other being, a child to its
mother, say. But it does not. There is no such real relation of entitlement,
before the law gives it, as is plain. What is real is that the child will perish
or suffer unless the mother does certain things which it needs her to do,
while she needs to do them if she wishes to keep her child or at least avoid
the unhappiness of living with her failure in the future, a failure again
which is open to description in the preferred way we have indicated, viz. a
failure to love simply, which can arouse our anger like nothing else. Any
other anger is unloving, we should rather say.
It is a question of taking the realist point of view. God is love, it was said.
God is the highest good, inclusive of his being the honourable good
(bonum honestum according to Aquinas, and he has to say so), a name
which we only transfer to virtue as being closer to our certainties. But
whatever we are certain of about virtue can only come from being, as
good is the aspect under which just being presents itself to the will. We as

intellectual beings have this highest good, bonum in communi, as the
natural, so to say non-negotiable object (this is metaphor and suggests no
limitation on freedom) of our wills. We call the appetitive movement love,
which extends itself to every instance of being as limited by essence, such
limitation having nothing to do with a cutting up of being, that general
being we love in all things as, maybe, we love its cause, into parts. Being
is being; it cannot have parts. We love the highest being in the smallest
grain of sand. But we ourselves are one with the highest being in the same
way, and in that way, a Thomist would say, God knows us in his thought of
us which, like each divine idea, is one with his simple and infinite being.
Therefore we can, should and are most naturally moved to "give without
measure", our righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and pharisees.
In just this way the lilies of the field have no anxiety for their clothing,
offering themselves to all who pass by. If they are abused the abuser has
the greater loss, as Socrates was able to make plain.
This love is a matter of doing good, of bringing it, of circulating it. Thus it is
a cement binding things together. Lose the cement and you can fall out of
the wall. The good it brings is whatever things want, definitionally. We
understand what they want by consulting our own analogous wants as
individual creatures, responding creatively and without measure, since this
the essential act of our living, i.e. our being (viventibus esse est vivere).
There is no call again to call these wants rights, as if wishing to compel
others to attend to them with or without love, then made superfluous in an
unfree universe of compulsion, the rationalist and latterly socialist
universe. Love, then, is at the centre but the centre is everywhere.
Aquinas asks an interesting question, from within the metaphor of divine
law-giving. Why was not this rule, which is the death of all rules, given
from the beginning of the world? Because of human sin, he replies, though
we might rather say, positively, it was given later for that reason (i.e.
without sin no "rule" would ever have been needed). We can relate this to
the clear condemnation of "the righteousness of the scribes and
pharisees", as of the "justice" of Shylock in Shakespeare's play. It is not
just not good enough. It is bad, since unless we transcend it we will not
enter the kingdom, find salvation, fulfil ourselves. Practising such rule-
specified righteousness, that is, is contrary to our end except on condition
that it forms part of the superior rule of loving. Does it? Our whole
contention has been that it does not, that the counsels of perfection are
thus not optional. In telling the rich young man only to "keep the
commandments" Jesus, as we have portrayed him here, would have been
simply refusing to let him into the secret. The "one thing only" he lacked
was in fact everything, though we do not need to deny that his keeping all
the commandments from his youth up was a step in the right direction
even if we maintain that the boy's own steps will never traverse the
These counsels are a kind of intermediate model between the giving of
commands, which we have likened elsewhere to frozen photographs of the
current, the lex nova, of love as it passes by, blowing where it will, and
the "command" of love, imitative love, itself. They are not themselves
commandments, even if a later theology of religious vows attempted to
reduce them to law-like undertakings (for a chosen few) in a self-binding

covenant evocative of the then future Kantian philosophy. Aquinas,
however, is true to their spirit in so far as he explains them as a
description, a breakdown, of that possession by God (who is love) in which
the new life consists. One abandons possessions, of things, of bodily
goods, of any kind of isolated will, in order instead of possessing to be
possessed. This is the only worthwhile end of anything to be called the
moral life. The merit of Aquinas here is that he sees the call to such a life
(which, however, he identifies too closely with the canonical monastic
attempt to embody it) as extended to all who are free to "enter", unlike
the later theology of special vocation, implicitly endorsing the idea of
normal Christianity as an obeying of commands.
The turnaround to a life of love, if anyone be estranged from it, was
inadequately represented by the medieval image of cleaving
(adhaerendum) to God. How can one cleave to the All, as to a wife, having
none other as wife? There is no other. One takes rather the holistic
attitude, leaves nothing out, eschews partial views and solutions, even,
beyond a given point, the partiality for one's own life and the attaining of
limited goals. The pearl of great price is in fact "pearlness" itself, as Plato
might have said, and it would certainly be a mistake to restrict this
enlightenment, this conversion, to the few monks and nuns one still finds
around the place.


The justification of the human rights ideology was best conducted in terms
of the rights of the Creator, God, in whose image man is argued to be
created. The consequent aura surrounding human beings makes certain
aspects of their being, their very being alive, inviolable. These are their
(natural) rights. We have pointed to the at times unconscious analogy in
this, dead metaphor rather, and have made the criticism that the whole
discourse is an attempt to short-circuit love, to exclude it, to construct a
human reality where one can live perfectly happily without it.
It is surely proper to Christian conscience to protest against this. That is
basically a theological stand. But we attempt here and in other work to put
forward the panacea of love on its own merits, which is to say
philosophically. We agree with Maritain on the need for a civilization of
love, from which post-Revolutionary politics can only retreat to the great
scandal of humanity. But we disagree with Maritain's dismay over people
suffering a "temptation" to scepticism concerning human rights "in their
inmost conscience", this being one of the most disturbing signs of "the
present crisis". We feel rather that Maritain should have been provoked to
a crisis himself, i.e. to a critical rethinking of his philosophy on this point.
This might have been important for the development of United Nations
policy or at least phraseology, over the birth of which where human rights
are concerned Maritain himself co-presided in the late 1940s.
It will be objected that love is expressed and takes form just in the
respecting and active responding to such rights. This is to reduce love to a
mere exercise, a good will without content of its own. The classical text of I
Corinthians 13, close to Christian origins, gives a different picture. In
parallel with this we have emphasised the thesis of Aquinas that love is

the form of any and every virtue. It is not just the exercise of virtue, in
good will. If love attempts great things, conquers everything and so on,
then these things are not specified in advance of love's coming as "values"
to be "realised". The biblical "kingdom" to be realised is the kingdom of
love itself, a place of energy, creativity, vital paradox, life and, perhaps
strangely, ultimate peace, the peace perhaps of the recumbent diner
holding his or her wine glass, among friends, chuckling from time to time
or, maybe, taking part in Socratic dialogue. Any virtue needed there is in
the service of love, and not vice versa.
We need not deny that the various achievements in the field of human
rights, inclusive of the declarations themselves, are or can be works of
love. But we invite to reconsideration. We note again, with MacIntyre, that
this discourse formed no part of a "more traditional morality" before 1400
but, perhaps unlike that author, we urge such moralism, that of the natural
law, to look for its soul beyond itself, to retreat (beyond the social needs of
an emerging Christian society) in order to advance. In MacIntyre's terms,
traditional morality may be viewed itself also as a construct for social
purposes, i.e. as an ideology short-circuiting the real situation which
wisdom seeks to uncover.
We said above that rights are best justified in terms of divine rights. This,
however, only holds if the first step can be taken, which we deny. What
does the All, God, the infinite being of which any created act of existing is
a mere imitation and reminder, want with rights? How can God have
rights? But is nothing due to God then? Not really; for an infinite being all
is discharged in the very idea of him. Nothing is due as not yet paid. We
need to take more seriously the theological secret, hidden from "the
people", that God has no need of our service, but only we ourselves. There
is a contradiction there. We cannot need to think of a fictitious duty. The
truth is rather, and more simply, that we will be happier if we adore and
rejoice in the ultimate mystery. Talk of "praise" is confusing today at least,
where praise is used of good deeds chiefly, even of good execution of art.
The art itself is rather admired, rejoiced in as I said.
If we cannot need to think of a fictitious duty then we cannot need to have
the human rights ideology, any more than anyone needs Kant's practical
postulates of God and immortality except if he actually believes in their
truth. It becomes an insult to people to put it over in such a situation. We
must retain our laws of course, the principle of law as necessary for
society. One of the motives for the theory (of human rights) was precisely
a felt need to justify legal rights.


It is said of the Gnostics of the early Christian centuries that they

jettisoned the very notion of a moral law altogether. They

appealed to the letters of St. Paul to justify the proposition that
the exclusive ethical principle must be love, and that this
excluded any idea of fear or external restraint. In more than one
sect the practical consequences of this antinomian principle
took a grossly erotic form which appears to have been in part a

deliberate rejection of the conventions of society as a corrupt
and corrupting force. Clement reports that, perverting the
language of Plato's Symposium, they even defended their
idealization of sexual ecstasy by asserting it to be a sacred act
of holy communion and a way to God. Antinomianism has here
ended in a mere religion de la chair.146

Is this not what we are doing here, many will want to ask? In reply I recall
firstly the remark of Newman's as to a doctrine's being inopportune at one
earlier time, suitable at a later one. It is not clear from his text if this
means that some true doctrines should be kept to oneself, which would
put him in the company of his utilitarian contemporaries such as Henry
Sidgwick147, or if Newman was reaching out to a dialectical conception of
truth such as is outlined, among theologians, in recent works of Hans
Küng, where it is pressed into the service of ecumenism or, rather, of an
ecumenical vision for the future.
Without endorsing any of the systematic Gnostic programmes as a whole,
that is to say, we may still find that some of their tendencies and confused
insights are now coming into legitimate flower. Luther's theology was
sometimes criticized as a gnosticism, but his characteristic insights and
theses have undoubtedly been a spur to much of what is living in both
Catholic and Protestant theology today. Luther's "Wie du glaubst, so hast
du" (ut credis, ita habes) finds a foundation in Eckhart's way of seeing
things back in the fourteenth century.
There is anyhow a difference between jettisoning the notion of a moral law
and saying that it is an analogical notion taken from the forensic sphere.
As we said elsewhere, statements of moral principle are attempts to freeze
love as it passes by. The evangelical counsels, by contrast, were not
statements of principle but exhortations, the beatitudes again are a
celebration, a singing the praises of certain attitudes of a soul possessed
by love. It may be a direct memory of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount
when he is reported not as repeating the laws but as saying "Ye have
heard that it was said..." It would seem hardly consonant with Matthew's
general aims to have introduced that qualification himself. Elsewhere in
the Gospels Jesus is at times portrayed as declaring laws, e.g. about
marriage, but not all Christian communities have felt in loyalty bound to
take the universal prohibition literally (about marrying her that has been
put away, say, or allowing divorce under certain conditions), any more
than they have hacked off or plucked out offending feet or eyes.148
H. Chadwick on Clement of Alexandria, "Philo and the Beginnings of Christian
Thought", Part II of The Cambridge History of Later Greek and Early Medieval Philosophy,
Cambridge 1970, p.174.
In The Methods of Ethics
The disparate examples show that Jesus can use the imperative form of speech
either to enjoin an ideal or to communicate what is palpably a metaphor, the implication
being that the law itself is no more than a metaphor. His disappointment with the
response of literalist legal obedience to "the letter" of his words is frequently shown (e.g.
"Lord, here are two swords." "It is enough."), apart from St. Paul's plain statement that
"The letter kills; the spirit gives life." This means that following the letter is worse than
insufficient, harmful rather. The lengths now gone to by clerical authorities wedded to the
letter to push through annulments rather than permit divorce are often described as

Pauline antinomianism is anyhow there for all to see, however some of his
snap moral judgments might seem to clash with it. It is easy anyhow to
construe the offending Corinthian's crime, say, as an offence against love
in the community, a disturbing of its peace and joy, even if Paul naturally
finds Old Testament legal language to hand in which to condemn the
behaviour more strikingly, while his warnings about immersion in eroticism
entailing failure to inherit God's kingdom express his own vision of things,
however authoritative, and not a declaration of moral law. The mood is not
so different as that in which he speaks of those not ready to give up, or at
least to be discreet about, the (in our view) morally non-signifying eating
of meat sacrificed to idols. This has to be balanced against his rebuking of
Peter's inconsistency, though this was a matter, it seems, of Peter's for
future peace dangerous failure to disclose to Jewish believers the breadth
of tolerance that was going to be required of them. We may, anyhow, care
to recall the injunction of the first Church Council to abstain "from
fornication and from (eating) things strangled", these two practices
apparently being viewed as on a par, as equally "unclean" perhaps.
As for the "grossly erotic", this no longer has an unambiguously
negative ring, and eros can be highly rated, as in tantric Buddhism,
without just thereby yielding a mere religion de la chair. Love is here too
the guiding factor, inclusive of that political rather than despotic control of
one's sexual nature of which Maritain speaks. Loving one's neighbour as
oneself is indeed based on a tender love of self. This is no mere joke or
paradox. Each person has to learn how to treat him or herself in exercise
of the virtue of temperance informed by love, for God and self and indeed
others. Nor is the elusive ecstasy always attained by the more gross or
excessive, just because ecstasy is itself an exceeding of oneself. So much
for the Gnostics.


We return to the question of rights. Goethe's

Denn unfühlend
Ist die Natur:
Es leuchtet die Sonne
Über Bös' und Gute,...149

seems a consciously ironic commentary on Matthew 5.45, where the father

we are to imitate is described in terms of just this indiscriminate
magnanimity of nature as being his own giving of gifts. Goethe's poem
merciful. The intention, however, is to conserve the power of holding their subjects to an
iron law even within the modern climate of disapproval. They are just reducing the
numbers of those thus oppressed. It might have seemed more insightful to concede that
Jesus was stating the ideal to aim at, while puncturing the complacency of those who
found it sufficient to get away legally with selfish or unloving behaviour. The connection
he makes with adultery then becomes a pinpointing of the evil of the latter as a failure to
love, a "putting away" of the trusting spouse, rather than mere ritual rejection of the less
regular forms of sexual gratification.
Poem Das Göttliche, c.1783. For nature is unfeeling: the sun shines the same on the
evil and on the good...

celebrates the greatness of man as being his ability to discriminate the
right from the wrong, rewards and punishments, the useful, by means of
laws. Man does not imitate the divine; rather, we construct a picture of the
divine, of jener geahneten Wesen, based upon this experience of der edle
This, indeed, is the view we have been taking, that human ways are
anthropomorphically projected upon the absolute. We only have
experience of ourselves giving rights to one another in societies. But nor
need we follow Goethe in claiming, in apparent foreshadowing of
Feuerbach, that all our notions of higher beings, jener geahneten Wesen,
are built upon a view of our own greatness. It is a question rather of
purifying our conception of God, and this was indeed none other than the
burden of the Christian Gospel itself.
God is too simple and direct to give us rights. He fills us rather with his
spirit, whether by creation or regeneration. Nor is there any way for reason
to infiltrate this notion of rights between what we observe with our senses
and the acts of understanding, i.e. of abstraction and judgment, which we
bring to bear upon these observations. But the notion dies hard. We want
to shame our torturers with our "you have no right", spoken in proud
disdain, even though we know it is useless, know that this only delights
them the more, confirming their sense of freedom from law since we are
so obviously powerless. But if that is all we have to say or think then we
ourselves die without love, in unfreedom. We have to forgive, to pity, such
loveless criminals. But that is not a new law, not really. It is simply a
description of how life might flow within us at such a moment.
The notion dies hard. Has the unborn infant no right? To its mother's love?
In a poem Spike Milligan was able to express all the cruelty and pathos of
abortion without any appeal to rights ("The bed that I might have
warmed..."). Robert Spaemann claims that murder which does not violate
anyone's wish cannot be shown to be wrong without a doctrine of
objective right. Well, on our analysis this may be so. It is the lack of love,
the lack of eternal life within the murderer, that is wrong. We are not able
to claim in advance that no act of killing can flow from love. That is just
what we have been saying and so it is no argument against us after all.
It is simply up to us to show the greater vitality, the authenticity, of the life
of love, to reverse the Nietzschean current of disgust, as the good
Samaritan preached by his actions. There is no higher law of love. Love is
life. God is love, it was said. Love is not after all our duty. It is an infection
one catches; hence the necessity of art, of representation, which is the
method of Scripture. Only this removes the paradox of a first precept of
natural law which we cannot help but obey, viz. bonum est persequendum
et malum evitandum, or as the song more briefly puts it, "Be happy."
Talk of rights then, after due allowance for our human muddle, is the sign
of a refusal to live by love. Yet our legislative acts themselves can only be
motivated by love (or hate), at least of ourselves, moving us to give
ourselves and one another properly legal rights, or human rights in a
human society that is humane. Only now does the Cross begin to speak, as
being the way of love, of non-resistance, non-unlove one might say, when
one encounters a failure to love. This is what will conquer, as it historically
did. It will even enable us to keep such laws as exist, inclusive of forcible

restraint and remedial punishment of the criminal. And if a child's mother
fails to love him then her loss is greater than her child's, not because she
violates a right of his but because she denies herself life. She is free to do
this, as reality declares; let all who can help the child.
There are no natural rights but there are natural goods, none of which are
due to us by right, a quasi-legal notion, even though they are due to our
natures, which is a different, descriptive notion of just those natures.
These goods in fact give body to love, which just is a willing of good. So
love alone tends to the production of what is due in the only acceptable
sense, what is fitting or proportionate, right and justum indeed. A child will
not grow without food, so in other words simply food is owed to his nature.
It is not owed to him, unless by contract or other legal arrangement
associated in a society with, say, parenthood. Socialism attempted to
achieve good without love, "to each according to his needs" and so on, as
a duty people were forced to. This was its lifelessness and sterility. Better
naively to trust with the French revolutionaries in effective brotherhood, if
they had really always been our brothers. We are not as kind as we could
be with our property; yet it was more unkind to deny any legal right to
property to anyone as a supposed remedy.
So let us protect our cars from theft, let us call upon the police to uphold
the law in favour of the innocent, but let us not appeal to any table of
natural rights with which we are born as being the literally legal exemplars
of our human laws, exemplars which we have to "respect" in just the same
way as we do these human laws. Then love is no longer the form of all the


A difficulty is that many people love morality, so that the call to replace
the one with the other, morality with love, can make little sense to them.
Lord how I love thy law, meditating on it day and night; its precepts are
sweeter than honey to my mouth. Thus the Psalmist.
What has happened here is an arrest at that moment when "the universal
comes to rest in the soul," as Aristotle says of concept-formation in
general.150 The particular, which is to say the real, here gets submerged,
disappears in its identification as being an instance of the universal. In
such a state one has to dismiss Van Gogh's painting as just a chair,
someone's being in love as just an infatuation, music, maybe, as just a
pattern of sound, and so on. This insight is then hailed as "the truth",
though here truth replaces being, which as here intended is the deepest
untruth possible. The general primacy of truth as explained in earlier
chapters is a different matter entirely.
In the noetic of Nicholas Berdyaev, for example, this is seen as a tragic
defect in all knowledge, the self-blinding of "objectification", the esse
objectivum of the idea which we find in Duns Scotus and his successors, as
alternative to Aquinas's Aristotelian claim that the species formed by the
mind, which at the intellectual level is the universal, is that through which

Post. An. II 17.

(id quo) the reality is known, and not, except at a second level151, that
which (id quid) is known. At the second level indeed a new more abstract
species will be formed through which to know the idea qua idea, quasi-
entities of the mind of the kind studied in logic.152
The process, the attitude, corresponds to a rationalization in ethics
whereby the will is deprived of its proper function and vitality, love for the
law itself being all that is left to it. Everything is prescribed,
diagrammatized in advance, as ideology replaces reality. It is like drawing
the curtains in the daytime and switching on artificial light, not, here, as
an aid to precision work but, analogously, as a device for being more sure,
for being certain that one is "doing the right thing". This is why we were
told not to judge, not to bury the talent as an insurance against failure,
retreating into all those mental cramps and hidden hatreds of life and the
spirit which Nietzsche so penetratingly exposed.
I mentioned the importance of art as representation. A fuller conception of
rationality than the rationalistic is implied. Thus if I were attempting here
to coerce acceptance of the principle of love I would be in self-
contradiction. It is not a master-law but an abrogation of law. An element
of persuasiveness, of style, is essential to the matter of philosophy as a
liberal pursuit, at least in this branch of it. It partakes of the flexibility of
the rule of Lesbos which Aristotle recommends we apply, though we are
claiming a more radical insight than that. The fact remains that those who
would cling to law, to patterns of transcendent law, cannot prove their
case either. They have tried to take a short cut with reality. We, on the
other hand, must be wary of making our appeal to art and representation
an excuse for just going round in circles in our thought instead of striving
to come to "the heart of the matter".
Perhaps we approach nearer if we note the the connection, in our anthropology, between love
and the will. The connection, of course, holds for all the moral virtues, but it does not hold for
law, certainly not in Aquinas for whom law was something pertaining to intellect. Yet on any
theory law is a statement of what is to be done, as such distinguishable from any inner and
real imperium of the mind (or will) to do it. This is needed rather for the decision to obey or
disobey. So on a conflict between love and law love has to win before, that is, we come to the
further claim that love is the form of all the virtues. Yet these virtues, their corpse-like
simulations rather, can be produced in the carrying out of a law. Love, however, as virtue's
very form, cannot be thus produced except in simplest hypocrisy. Hypocrisy, deceit, is just the
very name for that in its first instance, viz. for simulated love. Love, it thus appears, is the
proper life-principle of the will as such, the object of which is bonum in commune. We can
note here the equivocation upon the phrase "rational will", which perhaps misled Kant. The
will is rational as following reason and therefore knowledge; it is not rational in the sense of
being reason's inert slave and no longer itself a sui generis principle in essential harmony with
reason, so that it can indeed joyfully love the law, for example. To love, then, is to be driven
by one's will, in the most genuine instance of "the will to power", whereby one comes indeed
into the miracle-working frame of mind pictured in the New Testament. Love, we recall,
attempts great things, is always kind, runs, leaps and sings for joy, yet is not "puffed up" or
enclosed in itself, and so on. This, actually, is the essential thing expressed by assembled
congregations, in church or in the various derivations from the ecclesia, be it the pop-music
festivals of the young or the more open type of political rally. Even armies, copies of the
Cf. the later "theory of types".
Cf. Aquinas, Summa theol. Ia 85,2.

heavenly hosts (though as notion the latter copies the former), are held together by this
cement of love and loyalty as epic poetry testifies, despite the crimes, the failures of love,
they endemically fall into. If love should ever triumph over the whole world we would no
longer need such armies; they would then appear, in their positive aspects, as pale copies of
what we ourselves are, a mighty orchestra rather, a dance.


Dialectical Reason

One might see a difference between the dialectical (mentioned in our

second chapter) and, say, the moral approach in that the former does not
reject earlier selves, earlier "manifestations" of oneself, an approach we
have explored in an earlier chapter. The child, the youth, is affirmed,
remembered, with affection rather than with "repentance", as something
eternally known and loved. This has been our affirmation here So it
includes also an affirmation of the different viewpoints adopted, or arrived
at, in life at various times and places. Dialectic, that is to say, or a mobile
mentality, subject to shifts (this is the deeper implication of the "paradigm
shift" matrix), is a condition for this universal affirmation.
This whole developmental insight deeply modifies what was to
Chesterton or Belloc the self-evident need, lost sight of by "the modern
mind", of being right, if only because it now seems impossible to be totally
wrong. Even their point of view has its place. This judgment is
corroborated by Newman when he meditates upon the history of the
Church, the development of doctrine, though he never thematises it quite
as we are doing.
The converse implication is that the moral or unilinear approach
is to be abandoned, this being itself a step in the dialectic, which is of
course inclusive of reference to itself. The moral approach was never
coherent, as was already becoming apparent in the optimistic thesis that
we learn from our mistakes. This was not optimistic enough. If we learn
from our actions then our actions are not mistakes, otherwise every
dialectically superseded step would be a mistake. A mistake is legitimately
predicated of another man's action. We cannot legitimately say it of
ourselves, i.e. in the "moral" sense, where it is used by analogy with errors
of calculation and so on. As an excuse it inevitably rings false, since every
action is intended. We use this excuse when we want to repudiate
something, now seeing the additional good that was then lacking, this lack
leading us into what we would not now choose to do, such as Paul's earlier
persecution of the Christians. What we see as mistaken action is a
particular practical consequence of an earlier moment in the dialectic. But
these moments, theoretical after all, are never themselves mistakes. This
insight is essential to the positing of dialectic itself. It is the only coherent
basis for ecumenism. Thus it was, after all, God who hardened Pharaoh's
heart, just as it is implicit in the universally applicable question, "Why did
you (they) do it?"
The wish simply to restore a broken order, by a repudiation
again, on the analogy of the more or less inflexible laws of states, often
corresponds to a mere loss of nerve. Here of course we grant that there
are mistakes and failures of character in the everyday sense as well, as for
example an act arising out of cowardice (which could never be prompted
by cowardice itself), though even an initial cowardice must take its place
in a moral dialectic, as something for virtue to triumph over.

To deny this one has to go the other way and claim that the
laws of states are founded on analogy with a timeless "natural law" (Plato).
There is indeed such a tao, and it is too simple to say it is descriptive and
not prescriptive, i.e. a "law" only like those of nature. For the dialectic itself
is prescribed but, again, only in the conditional sense that it is needed for
continued life and being. All is being and being alone is good and true.

Abstraction has been a central topic, distinguishing man from the animals
and the dawning of intelligence. Due to dialectic in its cyclical aspect
reflection, not only our own reflection here, returns upon the Greek clarity
concerning the open secret that in speech we identify what our thought
has first separated, such as the curtain and its redness. This is a logical
doctrine about predication as such and so has nothing to do with the
intent and psychological character of sentences, such as whether they are
speculative or practical, defining or contingently descriptive. Even
hesitation between indicative and imperative mood makes much less
difference than has been supposed.
Thus from the point of view of logic the curtain's being red or the wet
weather being a good thing from the farmers' point of view fall under the
same net. Here we can see how the whole scientific project lies under the
sign of abstraction, the whole creation of language rather. Just to name, to
form the idea, of weather is to separate it from any effects it is here and
now having upon us and the animals. It becomes an object for thought and
From this point of view language was devised as a remedy for
the fate that fell upon us of only being able to entertain one concept at a
time, of thought itself hiding from us the simple unity of the world and
existence, where all things were in motion, a motion from which we
plucked out both the curtain and the red curtain. The emergence of
language might be dramatized as the frenzied effort of our young species,
bewildered by the paralysis, the morbid excrescence of continual
obsessive abstraction which had fallen upon it, a power, like X-ray vision,
which no one could deny, to restore things to how they were. But, as is the
way of the dialectic, they could only be restored with a difference, the
difference which is poetry. The project of language itself might conceivably
be one day renounced in a return to a symbolic and intuitive existence
foreshadowed now in the work of artists. Or there might be just one word,
substantive and no longer a mere name, in which all the secrets of the
world are unlocked. But who will speak it? Or is it, as in theology, being
eternally spoken in an eternally actual utterance inseparable, even if really
distinct, from its utterer.
A commitment to dialectic has to open us to these
perspectives, since as a total shift in truth-theory it leaves nothing
untouched. It might seem to make our cognitive claims more modest
although it is actually widening our scope with a view to a surer grasp
upon and identity with a much greater reality than rationalism was
prepared to envisage. But as to this greatness, there we must retain our
emphasis upon faith and hope, and, in ethics, love, in what is beyond

distinct knowing, a basic trust in life's development strong enough to
reconcile us to our own deaths.
At first then one thinks of abstraction as the dawning of
intelligence, of intelligibility rather if we suppose a dormant potentiality in
the creature becoming man,a light, all the same, the intellectus agens of
later philosophy, which whether he will or not streams out from him upon
all he sees. We imagine him picking out substance, general natures, of a
mammoth maybe. But our own principle of dialectic, stimulated indeed by
our imagination which makes all things real, forces us over into the
opposite. It came slowly, abstraction, something started to go wrong in the
prehistoric consciousness, things really began to fall apart, first then.
Would the centre hold? He, and she, didn't know. The very sky seemed to
be tearing apart, clouds drew away from their background, the unitary and
so beautiful picture later caught by the impressionists, or any painters at
all. Birds appeared in the mind without their song, husbands without their
wives, he saw women prior to their characteristics, with faces that might
have been men's faces; in his mind snow drew away from its whiteness,
helping him to feel the beginnings of gratitude for its brilliant colour,
tempering the winter darkness.
But mostly he suffered violent disorientation. During the
millennia in which it lasted disquiet grew to thunder, neuroses abounded,
violence and fear. Nothing was given any more, everything mocked him
with its converse possibility. When the sun came out he thought it might
have rained, when he embraced his wife he knew he could throttle her
instead. He might even eat his children if he felt like it. Cries, shouts, fierce
gestures, sometimes group conflicts with little rhyme or reason, became
the order of the day. He could not ask himself why all this had happened,
but only feel it, like a dog faced with an inexplicable personality change,
seemingly for the worse, in his master.
But over the centuries, in his rough throat, a pattern began to
develop, as he strove to piece together again what the new light inside
him was tearing apart. He had begun to feel heat as separate from the fire
causing it; he needed to make it clear again to himself and others that it
was the fire that was hot. At first he gestured, then there were typical
even representative sounds as he strove to reunite, to identify, the fire and
its heat. As he made the same sounds over and over again, like a bird
singing but with more purpose, more intent, even refining the song to
greater clarity, so as to be understood, so his throat and its organs began
to adapt, generation by generation, to his needs, until speech, a truly
desperate remedy, was born.

Widening our scope in this way we step beyond the divide between the
subjective and the objective, the personal and the public, since these too
are abstractions. I therefore refer for a moment, as the writer of this book,
to my own mental development, focussed inevitably upon particular
aspects of things not shared by all at the time of developing. Thus, for
example, I discern there a kinship between the attraction I felt for
symphonic or "absolute" music and an interest which came a little later, at

sixteen say, for what was called "spiritual reading" (the lectio divina of the
medievals). This genre of reading treats of "God and the soul" and so
covers not only stages in the spiritual life, now largely taken over in
abstraction by psychiatry, but also, in union and continuity with such a life
as needed for it, the virtues and related habits and dispositions. All are in
the service of the quest for the ultimate end of human existence and
This is the hidden background to the renewed stress upon "the"
virtues in ethics, now taken up into this inner or spiritual life, as one finds
it in Aquinas's moral theology, from which philosophy itself was not
separated at that stage in our culture. The word "inner" is important, as
mention of music might indicate, just as it is important that even justice is
ethically justified by its first of all being needed by its possessor for the
gaining of his or her end. Where, it might be asked, do we want to come
If we step first back to our mention of music we might note that
the passage from absoluteness to support for programme music, if indeed
this ever generally occurred, could be seen within music as a loss both of
status and of intrinsic musical content. There is, to be sure, a well tried
operatic ideal according to which the specifically musical elevates
dramatic or real events and behaviour without losing its own more
mysterious quality. But how can this be if one's attention is divided away
from the music? Bruckner preferred to hear Tristan with his eyes shut,
which contradicts its creator's intentions but at the same time confirmed
that Wagner's music, in Bruckner's estimation, had retained an absolute
quality. This certainly raises a puzzle about Wagner, or perhaps about
music and musical composition in relation to a composer's understanding.
Isadora Duncan stated flatly that Wagner had made a mistake about his
own music, such as many feel about Beethoven's choral finale to the
otherwise most mystical of symphonies thus far. Did it maybe correspond
to a "loss of nerve", the fugal central section showing us what might have
been, getting further in instead of "coming out".
According to a prevalent conception a person's quality of life
depends upon what he is. What he does is merely a consequence of that,
his state of being (of which it is even a species). This is spiritual, in the
sense of an inner power, what one has in one, as we indeed say. Now
power is a notion closely connected with that of habit in the conscious and
active sense, since habit is an acquired power to do (or powerlessness,
failing to do). Virtues are habits.
Music that is non-representational or absolute also expresses a
power, in the sense of an inner or pure state of being. The frenzied finale
of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony objectifies an inward subjectivity and is
in that sense stationary or circular (like Wordsworth's ever-blasting
waterfalls), to be heard "all at once" and conceived so in the mind, as
Mozart said he conceived his compositions, a timeless or ideal state
corresponding to what he would unfold in a few minutes, as the
sentence(s) expressing the timeless (or instantaneous) thought, such as
the thought that the pack of cards is on the table. Wordsworth's
"stationary blasts of waterfalls" is indeed close to this conception. For him

it is nature, but nature as perceived, which includes and transcends
particular dramas (blasts) and narratives exemplifying them.
Therefore Beethoven claimed, before Nietzsche, that power is
the morality of those who stand out from the rest. The same applies to
virtues as against morals, and virtue, arete, did indeed at first have an
aristocratic connotation. But if virtues, these habits, are real then we
cannot claim to say in advance what visible events will result from them,
even if it pleased Aquinas, for example, to attach a moral precept to each
virtue he treated of. This is the point of saying that the wind or spirit blows
where it wills, or that the spiritual man or woman judges all things. Maybe
we should not indeed despise precepts (Aquinas sees this as a failure of
the virtue of temperance) but neither should we be cramped by them (as
his treatment of epieicheia, for example, makes clear).
An early interest in such questions, therefore, belongs with a
determination to have life within oneself, a decision for life against death.
It is a will to unite with a current to which one finds oneself external and it
is therefore correlate with a will to swimming or immersion in living water
and with a strong sex-drive. It also implies an insatiably studious curiosity
and will to understand, but above all an unconquerable optimism fed by
the virtue of hope, as expressed even by Voltaire with his "If God did not
exist it would be necessary to invent him."
In general, virtue doctrine, like absolute music, looks to a state
of the subject, law ethics, like a narrative programme, to the object, which
it represents. Music is more like our very breathing, by which and in which
we live. This throws an especial light upon the virtue of justice, which
counselling turning the other cheek was not intended to deny. Justice, as a
form of the spirit, is perfected in love (of which epieicheia, itself a higher
justice, is a yet more perfect mirror). Thus full justice, aware of its own
failures, seeks to rectify the misery of the wrongdoer and even of its own
This in fact shows how justice, and hence ethics, is inseparable
from motivation. Hence Aquinas defines it as a will to give to each his own;
not just to satisfy an abstract rational requirement but to satisfy the other,
i.e. the other human being. Thus punishment is a somewhat recondite, not
the central form of justice, except if seen as benefiting the recipient as
being what is due to him, so that he will "feel better" afterwards. But there
forgiveness is already involved, as reaching out to heal the sickness his
own injustice (lack of justice) to us gives evidence of.
Such is justice viewed as an inner form, a song in the spirit. The
desire for endless music, "heavenly length", corresponds to this as a stable

Discussions about morals typically set up motivation and rationality as two

poles. One must have a good will, plus the will rightly to identify the good.
This implies a rationalist approach to the good, however. For if the good is
already that which is sought after by the will, if the good just is being as
presented to the will, then it cannot be identified prior to willing it, not
even as what one might will if one were well-disposed.

We, on the contrary, have subsumed all under love, a motion of
the will. Yet it is not a blind will, but a will naturally succeeding upon
knowledge, a will defined as an intellectual inclination (of the one
intellectual soul of which will and intellect are distinct powers, in the
traditional account).
This will is a response to being as a good. It is not a result of
placing or establishing any kind of value in addition to the being itself
apprehended. Human beings have a certain dignity, are seen to have more
of being simply than have animals, and so are loved more intensely. A
refusal, more or less principled, to kill men corresponds directly to this
degree of being truly apprehended. It is not a supervenient or
transcendent moral quality.
Such rationalist values dilute the energy and purity of love,
which responds immediately in accordance with the given and hence
perceived degrees of being.
Any other right way than this of love is highly questionable.
There are of course wrong perceptions; but, one can argue, it is the
disposition of love which most tends to rectify them. Think of any course
you consider wrong and then see how increased love will make it harder
for you or anyone to keep to that course, if it is really unjust, intemperate,
imprudent or, as cowardly or rash, lacking in fortitude. Conversely, love
will best show you what is just, temperate, prudent or brave. That,
anyway, is the claim, that ethics is the province of a rational will. For the
will to follow reason in pure obedience is for it to have no characteristic life
of its own.
Do we now need to prove this thesis of love, having once
understood it? Without love no one acts, that is clear. Even hatred implies
a love, as do fear and grief. Evil prejudices may die hard, but this is how
they will best die.
Thus it is no use imposing democracy as an ideology, needed to
avoid wars, say. It proceeds from a benevolent heart, indeed and above all
from an historical inspiration, and in no other way. Human rights cannot be
imposed upon the uncomprehending as shibboleths; they then see them
only as the badge of our ascendancy and violate them at the first
Common to rationalism and our championing of love, though, is
the giving of a key role to happiness…

One thinks, again, of Chesterton's and Belloc's revolt against "the modern
mind", later taken up by C.S. Lewis. In Chesterton this becomes a
celebration of faith and hope with dogma as its base. Chesterton is right
that it is faith which gives hope which gives joy. To safeguard these most
precious things he was prepared in a sense to sacrifice his prodigious
intellect, and there was more than a touch of this in Newman before him.
And of course there is more to life than how we see things.
But equally, then, is there not more to life than any given
authority on earth can proclaim? Or is not the wish somehow to equate
some earthly authority with the ultimate divine truth marked with the

same error as the rationalism Chesterton sought to overcome? Is it not
perhaps corruption of the faith-principle itself? That hope should depend
upon standing in good stead with these (or any) "authorities"? The mystics
of the Church offer half-muzzled protests against this state of affairs, at
which their orthodoxy would lead them to connive.
What was the "modernist" crisis of a hundred years ago? A
crisis, certainly. It seems to have been an emergence from naivete, a
distinguishing of faith from dogmatism, against which of course
Chesterton and others sounded the alarm. The advantage of the Catholic
position is that it does not commit us in advance to a final interpretation of
anything written. In this sense it is always an "open" community, though
this is not always widely realised.
There is a kinship between our postulating dialectic and
MacIntyre's idea of necessary fictions, his examples being utility in the
eighteenth century and human rights in the twentieth. Newman goes at
least equally far in his notion of opportuneness, noting how what is heresy
in one century is acceptable in another. One could say that dogma was
needed for the education of Europe, the elevation of a whole people to a
lively faith and hope. Now the field is open again, but this demands no loss
of faith. It is not after all necessary to be right, but to have life abounding.
What dialectic opens us to is the love of being and of human
life, as at the close of Ulysses. It opens us to the love of our past and the
affirmation of our whole lives, as in Nietzsche's eternal return, together
with that forgiveness of self stressed by spiritual counsellors since
Dostoyevsky and foreshadowed in Eckhart. Life is not hell without the one
true defined orthodoxy as Chesterton feared, taking Ibsen and Zola as the
norm. Aquinas's metaphysics helps us here. It is the pseudo-legal
prescription which keeps life at arm's length, condemning existence to a
sterile vacuum unless compromises are reached.
Yet the orthodox man is indeed a manifestation of life, comic at
times, as Chesterton saw, and there is much to love here too.

Another indication in the direction of our theory about dialectical reasoning

are certain developments and, still more, shifts of emphasis regarding the
theology of fides implicita, the salvation of the man of good will who used
to be called "invincibly ignorant". We stand in all likelihood upon the
threshold of a paradigm shift. Most people the Church wishes to "save"
turn out to be invincibly ignorant, and in some ways it can seem that the
Church of Sweden showed foresight in being the first to open membership
of the Church even to the unbaptized. If they have no desire for baptism
they cannot be thought to have the "baptism of desire", as it was called
(thus safeguarding the dogma, and still more those who defined it, that
baptism is necessary for salvation).
In a parallel way those who do not believe in, say, the Virgin
Birth or the heaven-sealed commission to Peter cannot be thought or said
to implicitly believe in these same things, apart from the enormous
disrespect to them that seems to be involved in saying so.

The theologians are telling us that belief in the Virgin Birth,
again, is not essential to belief in Christ's divinity. But the Virgin Birth was
what purported to identifiably mark him out as above us others, as
between us and God (though this was arguably monophysite). Without it
the field is open to interpret his relation with the Father as in principle
repeatable in others, even should a text call him "our only mediator and
advocate". It was an insight of Protestantism that no mediator between us
and God ("closer to us than we are to ourselves") was needed, if only
because this mediator was really one with God himself. He himself is
spoken of as in others, others in him. There is an identification of
consciounesses mirrored in the late philosophies of subject and object,
monads, microcosms and so on.
The field is open. The Church really begins to become that
new humanity of which it was a sacrament, the sacred clerical order, like
the state in Marxist theory, begins to wither away, the contradictions of
historical Christianity to disappear, though not by denying the past. In this
dialectic every "past" moment is treasured as eternally present, as all the
discarded fragments of the feast are gathered up.

What actually exists? Acceptance of the dialectical theory of reason

necessarily modifies such an enquiry, though not necessarily moderating
or reducing it. For in a sense there is nothing, once posited, that does not
exist, and whatever is ultimately found to be non-existent remains to be
reckoned with in a more comprehensive view (sistology). The theory of
entia rationis already allowed for this.


Grace and Ecumenism

It would be fitting to conclude our deconstruction, as it is in the main, of

immaterial entities, climaxing in the consideration of the divine super-
entity, with some consideration of subsidiary theological posits, such as

To speak of God's work of grace is to speak in the language of

religious affirmation about the human mystery of trusting in
someone (E. Schillebeeckx, Jesus, 1974, Collins Flame, London
1989, p.673).

It is worth pursuing this parallel between grace-talk and trust. This,

however, would not be profitable without our respecting the clear
difference153 between grace-talk and grace itself, compatible of course
with any conclusion whatever about the latter viewed as an entity or real
quality. We might conclude that there is no such reality, apart, that is, from
the reality belonging to psychological phenomena just as such. Similarly
there is a difference between trust-talk and trust, even if no one were to
be trusted.
The Catholic Church, for example, teaches that one can only make the
commitment to her she claims as by right if one has received, from God, in
a manner transcending the natural, the "gift of faith" (donum fidei). Only
then does one trust unreservedly in her truth, beyond, for example, the
limits of an intellectual conversion, which is always revisable.
Of course one is not tied to this explanation of grace, of a gift from "on
high", as requiring a two-tiered view of the divine action. Creation itself is
already a grace, and the attempt at least can be made to explain grace, or
openness to it, as natural to man. On such a view there can be no beyond
in respect to intellectual capacity, since this is naturally fitted to the
universal and hence already in a sense infinite, which is as much as to say
that it is capax Dei. It is rather from the side of God that grace has to be
defined so that the initiative is his, not from the side of a second
distinguishable capacity or "obediential potency" within the creature.
Not only the Catholic Church, however, but the tradition of the Gospels
themselves stresses trust in Jesus as coming from God, from a divine
initiative. "No man comes to me except my father draws him", "We love
him because he loved us" and so on. The point can of course always be
generalized, as in the Thomistic account of human freedom depending
upon a direct divine "pre-motion".
The "human mystery of trusting someone" remains. Still, trusting Jesus
means trusting, among other things, that he has given us this trust, on the
view just outlined. There is no contradiction here, perhaps, but there is

This would already be blurred were we to speak rather of a distinction here than of
a difference.

some pressure to see it as a choice as to how to view things. I put my trust
in Christian teaching, the Church, God as here conceived, because he has
himself "infused" this trust, the implied corollary being that there is no
point in anyone's trying to talk me out of it. The claim, that is, has a self-
protective aspect and function.
We do not appeal to such grace to explain our first objects of trust, our
parents usually. Grace, there, is more the gift itself to us of these hopefully
not too faulty parents. Trust follows on in the order of nature. The process
of individualization can be viewed generally, in fact, as a process of
transferring one's trust to someone or something else, institution, spouse,
ideology, friends. That the bond to the Church, or to Jesus Christ, requires
something extra, a kind of divine seal, is indicative of the more
unconditional degree of trust claimed. Parents know they can deservedly
lose their children's confidence, as do friends, spouses and even political
movements. But the Church never admits to that; abandoning her "she" is
thus able to describe as a sin in any circumstances.
It was important to mention the institution, one however that is glad to be
seen as a bride (though scripture only says "like" a bride), because of the
ecumenical context, as between "the churches". The call for mutual
respect implies also a call for mutual trust. What one mistrusts one does
not respect. One is ready therefore to learn from another tradition. Just as,
vertically, one passed before in life from one object of trust to another,
when marrying or adopting a new faith, so now, laterally, we are to learn
to welcome other faiths in a more general trust. The conclusion is
inescapable, however much we may need to stress our own primary
loyalties. But this represents an evolutive jump in human consciousness, in
being and living, at least partially anticipated by the Hegelian dialectic. In
so far as we foresee a dialectical leap we have already made it. Such
indifferentism or breadth of vision, depending on our negative or positive
evaluation, lay coiled in the Hegelian system from its inception, and
tolerating historical contradiction is indeed tolerating contradiction, as
Hegel's fore-runner Cusanus was prepared to do. The point was well
understood in mystical theology: "this also is thou; neither is this thou."
Nor is the Thomistic (and Augustinian) analogy of being necessarily more
than a refinement of vision within a perennial philosophy which is indeed
Platonic, in which "the same things both are and are not".
Jesus in the Gospels says "behold my mother and my sisters and
brothers" of anyone prepared to do God's will, as it is expressed there. In
saying this however he gestures towards a motley crowd; there does not
seem much of an intention to exclude anybody. He might as well have said
"wife", one can hardly avoid thinking. The lateral habit will naturally seek
to govern all, that is to say, its attribute being one of present openness.
Ecumenism indeed can be questioned in the light of the dilemma between
acting and being. Accomplished British actresses like Vanessa Redgrave or
Viola Bonham Carter have shown themselves capable of sympathetically
inhabiting the roles of American speakers with distinctively American
souls. There is indeed a tendency to say that we never do more than play
a role, are always "merely players" on the "stage" of the world, and the
confusion would most easily suggest itself to a dramatist, such as

Shakespeare was. Yet these actresses remain themselves, arouse
legitimate curiosity as to what they are "really like".
Ecumenism too has to respect this difference. We do not merely pretend to
belong to the other faith for the duration of the promiscuous act of
worship, as if showing "respect". This merely irritates and alienates still
further after a time, like the person who pretends to be in love. No, it has
to be possible for us to enter into those real insights structuring the other
person's view and way of being, so that in some way we will pass over into
it, though without needing to renounce our old faith. For party whips of
whatever description this will and can only seem destructive of primary
loyalties and even of neurotic certainties. They appear neurotic indeed
from a liberal standpoint to which one has already passed over or, in view
of our shared cultural history, returned, after a time of "swimming against
the stream". This after all is not always a rational or virtuous activity, as if
all streams flowed in the wrong direction. Efforts are indeed required, but
for an Aristotelian, Christian or otherwise, all law or precept depends
ultimately upon the stream of inclination.
The reproach of relativism, or of a liberalism in which the substance of
belief is lost, is here most typically made, as it was historically. This
depends upon an unbiblical separation of faith or belief from trust, again.
Charity, we forgot, "believes all things", and charity, love, we are
presumably agreed, is what counts. In this light one may wish to make a
reservation when conservative orthodox believers wish to stress in their
Christology that he they would call "the incarnate word" did not, should
not be said to believe, because "he knew", it being otherwise a case of the
blind leading the blind. So anyone who speaks, like Karl Rahner, of Jesus'
faith, is "Nestorian". This would not anyway be the end of the matter since
even a Newman could in his time recognize that yesterday's heretics have
often proffered tomorrow's truths, though in a for the moment
unacceptable guise. To deny that Christ had, and needed to have, trust in
his father, in the father, in God, would be simply to deny his humanity in
the religious sphere and so ultimately in all spheres.
The lateral opening, we have indicated, is to be seen not as a falling back
from an assured standpoint, as a loss of knowledge, but rather as a gain,
an adding of a dimension. Of course it depends upon recognizing the
dialectical, dynamic character of specifically human knowledge as
something in motion and under the sign of growth which, I have noted, it is
neurotic to seek to repress. It was easy of course to mock the first
manifestations of liberalism, quoting ironically that "it is better to travel
hopefully than to arrive" and so on. Most of our conservative converts to
the Christian system, to a "pilgrim's regress" indeed, have been born along
by just such a sense of intellectual superiority, and the happiness it has
given them, for a time at least, has resulted in many artistic or literary
products we would not want to be without. But their discoveries too were a
moment in the dialectical process, the moment when it turns back upon
itself in criticism before reabsorbing that criticism into a more ample view
of itself.
Liberalism therefore was not a mistake but an intuition for the future, an
intuition of a new power for self-understanding, for situating oneself within
the dynamic of history, something to be distinguished from a dogmatic

historicism, which is in the end a contradiction in terms. Our democratic
pluralism, with all its problems and as yet unresolved contradictions, is for
the moment the objective expression of this new "turn". For even here we
should be open to the possibility of a dialectical development, negatively
sketched in the nightmarish utopias of Huxley and Orwell, but maybe
called for all the same through the pressures of material, actual
development (itself also dialectical), of new knowledge, of newly acquired
powers, of new threats even, all of which the human spirit is not to be
dogmatically debarred from surmounting in a universal or unitive order
transcending the naiveties, and still more the horrors, of utopias. Thus in
globalization, for example, man is not about to be sacrificed to economics,
as if a superhuman commitment to negative evil steers even, or
especially, the most able men and women (we forget women when
sketching these terrors). Economics, rather, is offered an opening to its
own fulfilment as the science of happiness, not of course without some
forays, not necessarily institutionalised (they subsist already in the human
heart), into metaphysics.


The dogma of the unique incarnation, classically understood, seems to

oppose this dialectical vision, unless indeed we interpret it as demanding
dialectic's self-renunciation in the most recondite twist of all, as eternity
breaks into or even rolls up time. So it has often been conceived, and
against it Nietzsche offered his picturesque protest of the Eternal Return.
What, at least, we have become increasingly aware of is the difficulty of
maintaining the distance, necessarily definitional in this project, between
the God-man and ourselves. The dichotomy of sinners and the sinless one,
for example, depends upon a literal retention of this ancient category of a
transgression or fault at once legal and religious, requiring even a further
doctrine of "original" sin and a "fall" to buttress its plausibility. One can
argue though that even Jesus himself went some way towards
transcending this distinctly Jewish view of things.
Another way of defending the difference was just the dichotomy between
believing and knowing which we attempted to soften in what we said
above about the need of trust for even a divinely human person.
Contrariwise, there is no need to deny our own possibility of rising above
faith to knowledge and understanding, to that gnosis praised by the
Alexandrine Church Fathers and hinted at in the Pauline distinction
between milk and solid food in religious teaching, the latter being
possessed at least by the teacher.
That would leave, now in a somewhat isolated position, the uniqueness of
being and descent contained in the postulation of a "virgin birth", of
parthenogenesis, which, as H. Küng observes, no one today should be
compelled to believe in. For the resulting Wunderkind would indeed be
hard to harmoniously assimilate into the human community, though it
might be thought no harder than taking the various products of test-tubes
and cloning processes into the escutcheon. The difference is that

parthenogenesis practically demands a transcendent cause, a divine
These so to say unfavourable comparisons are all made in the course of
wanting to assert a uniqueness of appointment, dominated by a concept of
authority. This is he that is to come, appointed to judge, given a power
something like that of our power of attorney but to the nth degree. But he
comes and dies "but once". History leads up to him but then away from
him, in what is as far as history itself is concerned mere anticlimax, as in
the indifference between a day or a thousand years, the mere waiting for a
"Second Coming".
In this latter notion, however, we find the means of overcoming this
unilinear, non-lateral picture. We can speak, to start with, of a or the
second coming, as we choose. The comings of Christ, or of John the
Baptist, were already apt to be regarded as second comings, of Elijah or
even of Adam. Thus they were themselves twists in an existing dialectic,
as we put it, and so not likely themselves to be exempt from further twists,
as is indicated by the saying attributed to Jesus that his followers would do
greater things than he has done or, we can surely say, by the coming of
the Comforter, thematised into a theory of development by Joachim of
Fiora and others.
For a Christian the theory at times put forward by Moslems, to take an
example perhaps challenging to ecumenical good will, that Mohammed is
the comforter or advocate promised in St. John's Gospel, will seem at first
absurd. For there is strong pressure to see Islam as a retrograde religion,
in accordance with the criticism proffered by Aquinas, for example, in his
Summa contra Gentes, or simply in view of the perception of a lower
cultural achievement. This is to forget, however, the apparent Islamic,
though not Arab, superiority in medieval times, not only over our
barbarian Frankish West but also, it could at least be argued, over an
effete Byzantinism trapped in an unreal conceptual world of a cataphatic
theology (balanced at times though by an extremely apophatic mysticism)
immobilized in traditionalism. Only later, under the Turkish conquerors,
helped along by the fideism of Algazel and others, did this world itself stick
fast, while the Franks stole their inspiration and set out to become the
modern West.
Fortunately, we do not have to decide for or against such an identification,
if the texts of the Fourth gospel concerning the Paraclete, as is generally
agreed, were created to explain an earlier phenomenon. Now that
phenomenon itself is no more than the energy and moral authority which
came to those we call the apostles, proclaiming the mighty works of
providence in the life and especially the death of Jesus called now Christ,
the chosen or appointed one again. This is attributed in various ways to
Through his silence on this issue Schillebeeckx leaves the reader guessing as to
whether he sees the uniqueness of Jesus in a kind of adoptionism (which of course does
not follow just from denial of the Virgin Birth) such as he himself elsewhere criticizes as
unviable or if he leans more to the traditional God-man (requiring anhypostasis) view.
Probably he wants to harmonize the latter with a credible psychological development of
becoming aware ("abba experience") as when he says, twice, that "Jesus' unique turning
to the Father in absolute priority is 'preceded' and supported by the absolute turning of
the Father to Jesus:" though this is something that could apply to any human
development. Yet, he says, this is what tradition calls "the Word".

experience of what Christians claim was a resurrection, taken more
literally or less literally in the different traditions, whether of
"appearances" or, in the case of Paul, the most influential witness, of
nothing more than a formless light, this itself, as related in Acts, being at
least in part, exegesis has shown, a literary device with literary
antecedents. This light, anyhow, bearing in mind what we said about a day
and a thousand years, might well be thought by some, thus far, to extend
forward to the time and person of Mohammed as religious founder, though
he himself would not, like Paul, be bound to think of himself as "one born
out of due time". It is not, it ought by now to be clear, really a matter of
determining whether this view, this choice of view, is right or wrong. There
is anyhow an ancient tradition of attribution or accommodation, more or
less free, of texts.
The Christian who goes along with such a view, such a harmonization of
the two religions, will be conscious of taking a step outside of hitherto
accepted parameters, behaviour which was after all the special mark of his
master. No doubt he will do it with a humility, a willingness to accept and
believe the other, which will come less easily to his Muslim counterparts,
this being a pleasing, perhaps divine characteristic of Christians graciously
acknowledged by Mohammed himself, however. There he too showed
humility. Maybe the Christian will only try to do it, before stepping back
before the implausibility of it after all, for him. He can always return to the
idea. For the lateral habit indeed changes our relation to our own thinking.


If Elijah returns, or one of the prophets, then is it just Elijah himself over
again, the same person born of a different mother? Hardly. And if there
should again appear a man who is God, then would that be the same
person again, the same human being, though born of a different mother?
There is pressure to say it is reappearance of the Word of God, that same
divine person. But yet and still, despite the spectre of Nestorianism, he (it
might after all be she) would be a new human person in today's accepted
sense of that word. This is why the idea, taken up by Schillebeeckx and
others, of enhypostasis155, is so important and necessary. The creative
presence of God in us is the presence of his person (hypostasis), so the
created person is "of and in God"; the one is the other even, says
Schillebeeckx.156 Even Thomas Aquinas, he points out, speaks of man's
openness, his or her "capacity for hypostatic union".157

The potentialities and concrete modalities of a certain

individual's "being of God" therefore cannot possibly be
restricted a priori through some claim on our part to know the
limits of "being-as-man"... we cannot possibly predict in
advance... what human freedom is capable of, all the more so if
it is aware of being grounded in the absolute freedom of God.158
Not to be confused with anhypostasis. See note 2.
Schillebeeckx, op. cit. p.653.
Aquinas, Summa theol. IIIa 6, 4 ad 3um.
Ibid. p.654.

No speculative anthropology could inform us "what sort of explosive
historical forces could thus be released" by a person "building his life on
the living God", and Schillebeeckx is clearly thinking of Jesus in the first
instance, though he goes on to cite the historical power also stemming
from a religious awareness such as is generally attributed to Augustine, of
the God who was closer to him (or to any of us) than he was to himself
(intimior intimo meo).
Starting from these premises Schillebeeckx is able, without naming it, to
expose historical Nestorianism as a confusion of two language-games, of
idioms, rather than anything more first-order. All the same he finds
obvious difficulty in himself declaring the unique divinity of Jesus, saying
only that

because the salvation is "imparted by God", the one who

brought it was himself called divine, and thence it was
concluded that Jesus is a divine person.

One should add, however, that he glosses his own text (one would need to
see the Dutch original of the perhaps startling phrase "called divine") as
implying that "there is at any rate a significant, intrinsic and real link
between the person of Jesus and the salvation brought by him on God's
behalf." Well, but of course there would have to be, and any good thing is
brought by anyone on God's behalf. The emphasis thus has to shift to this
salvation, this "salvific gift". What is it and where is its uniqueness apart
from God's general good will towards us? Not, certainly, in the Passion of
Christ as atoning, if we bear in mind Aquinas's remark that one drop of
Christ's blood would more than atone for the sins of a whole world, though
we have already in any case rather left behind the historically ritualistic,
heavily Augustinian sin-paradigm. On top of that we now have the ideal of
ecumenism, promoted by the Christian leaders, making it even more
difficult without some extremely tortuous and hence self-defeating
theologizing to insist upon a uniquely necessary gift of salvation coming
from Christ alone. The pressures of development and history, perhaps the
very leading of the spirit, the Holy Spirit, if not of Mohammed, seem to be
pointing in a different direction.
There is, anyhow, a certain overvaluation of historical influence in this
account of what Fr. de Caussade in the eighteenth century called the
divine action. There has always been the question of whether Jesus, or
Augustine, was magically preserved from any inhibiting physical accident
before accomplishing their respective life-works. If angels really did see to
it that Jesus never brushed his foot against a stone, never was at risk in
any way, even though we know he felt weary at times, then he was a very
untypical human being indeed. Again, the historical success of Christianity
is not in any necessary proportion to its truth, otherwise we must indeed
bow before Islam as well, though Aquinas points out the greater nobility of
martyrs over military conquest, of moral and spiritual witness over
physical might. Success was never guaranteed, and it has indeed failed to
come to Christianity in most times and places; even in the Roman Empire
we have also to assign other causes to the triumph of the Church.

One might do worse than recall the engaging Fernandel film in which a
man claiming to be God appears and receives honour from just one female
disciple, before being recaptured and returned to the local lunatic asylum.
A man who is God might indeed live through such a destiny, as a variant
upon being crucified, and whether or not the merits and claims of such an
obscure person would be spread abroad after his death is not decideable
in advance. Even a resurrection might not swing it; certainly not when the
resurrected one declines to remain visibly present beyond a few fugitive
appearances or less to those already trusting in him. Of course foresight is
being shown if one picks out and trains disciples to keep the torch alight
after one's departure, but historical success is never guaranteed, and a
true "incarnation" might find no more acknowledgement than Gray's great
ones "born to blush unseen". Until we acknowledge these aspects of
contingency we read the Christian story from within a kind of optical
illusion. After all, a Jewish Christian or "Nazorean" such as Hugh Schonfield
is perfectly within his rights in rejecting what he sees as the excesses of
Pauline and Johannine theologies159 though these were precisely what
enabled the Christian movement to succeed as a mass movement among
the gentiles, just as Bolshevism's covering half the globe at one time does
not invalidate the objections within the Marxist movement of Trotskyites,
social democrats and others. Here we take partial issue with Hegelianism
in favour of the radical contingency of historical events and processes, this
being what distinguishes them from narratives. A notion of grace as
setting aside these contingencies would totally confuse the scientific
world-view. We need rather to conceive of grace as somehow
harmonizable with such contingency, at the same time as, in the reverse
direction, we should see every contingency as decreed and foreknown by
infinite Mind.In such a picture there would be no pressure upon the mother
of Jesus, if he were born today, against having him vaccinated or, for that
matter, dressed sensibly in cold weather.

Hugh Schonfield, Those Incredible Christians, London 1968.


Religion and Freedom

What we have been putting forward is not so much an assertion of

generalized misperception as that all is the divine thinking. If only we
spirits existed it would be more of a fault in us not to perceive this. If
though we are thought under the created, i.e. under the thought formality
of time (and space), then it is as it were to be expected that we should
only with difficulty reflect back from the natural innocence of how we are
created to perceive this. For we are thought as first finding ourselves in
existence. This reflecting back is what Hegel sees as represented as a Fall
(from innocence) in the religious tradition.160

When we compare the different forms of ascertaining truth with one another, the
first of them, immediate knowledge, may perhaps seem the finest, noblest and
most appropriate. It includes everything which the moralists term innocence, as
well as religious feeling, simple trust, love, fidelity, and natural faith. The two
other forms, first reflective, and secondly philosophical cognition, must leave
that unsought natural harmony behind. And so far as they have this in common,
the methods which claim to apprehend the truth by thought may naturally be
regarded as part and parcel of the pride which leads man to trust to his own
powers for a knowledge of the truth. Such a position involves a thorough-going
disruption, and, viewed in that light, might be regarded as the source of all evil
and wickedness – the original transgression. Apparently therefore the only way
of being reconciled and restored to peace is to surrender all claims to think or
This lapse from natural unity... the wonderful division of the
spirit against itself. No such inward disunion is found in nature:
natural things do nothing wicked... The Mosaic legend....

One should not miss here the distinction between reflection, which, as antithesis to
experience, is also finite in form, and philosophy, ultimately equated by Hegel with his
conception of logic, which is infinite or true (a deliberate equivalence) knowledge. Truth is

The absolute object of philosophy, and not merely the goal at which

This claim has not been overlooked by conservative Catholic and other critics. It does seem to
correspond though more strictly to New Testament promises of being led into all truth and the
like than does the mere principled and not just initial reliance on the word of another, leading
to that death of insight in theology of which Hegel complained and which Newman, though
himself insightful, almost glorified. Philosophy here comes into the open as heir to those
called the mystics, all of whom, as belonging to a particular epoch, lived under an enforced
orthodoxy and so became those who ”speak by silences”, like the birds, trees and flowers in
Thompson’s poem from which the phrase first came, hardly a model for humanity, since, pace
Cf. Hegel, Encyclopaedia, Logic (tr. Wallace), p.54ff. See also our chapter here on
dialectical reason and the dawn of abstraction.

Wittgenstein, these are things of which we can speak and to great effect, thus reclaiming the
once active prophetic tradition as well. This is philosophy as the Greeks understood it, which
Christianity was born not for ever to suppress but to transform and fulfil. Now we believe, not
because you have told us but because we have seen for ourselves, said the Samaritans to the
woman from the well, a sequence not surely without significance for the Johannine author
when deciding thus to allude to it.161
Just as each divine idea is identical with the divine essence , so, if alio modo, each thing
thought is identical (in difference) with the whole, as we find explicit in the case of the
individual human mind (quodammodo omnia). Nothing is worth saying or making unless it
expresses and is the whole. This is why the principle of the symphony, of seeing or hearing
things all at once (Mozart), was opposed to so-called programme music (also of value,
however), as a (romantic) step back from necessity to narrative.162
Just as God alone is (infinity has to be one), so each idea, as identical with God, is. Although
we abstract or form a general idea of existence it is not self-evident that God has this idea. He
certainly has the idea of us forming the idea, since this is what causes us to do it. God thinks
rather his own act of existence, since he is, or he is because he thus thinks. This however is a
unique act. Nothing else exists thus. So God thinks himself simply, as real as he is free,
though we cannot say if there are two or one thoughts here. Distinctions as between concepts
and judgements belong to finite human intentional thoughts only.
We exist because God thinks us. No special idea of existence is needed. I, we, exist means
God thinks me, us. What we enjoy as the positive quality or sheen of being is the divinity in
the thinking. The caesura between existence and essence is thus from the standpoint of divine
reality quite unnecessary and indeed false. His essence is in fact his act of being which alone
is (Parmenides) and analogy with that being in our case is too distant to be pressed
philosophically, even though we will not in practice cease to refer to our own existences as if
Essence only occurs as thought and as divine thought it already is, i.e. is thought. But these
thoughts are the divine being or life. Therefore, seen all at once, they would not be other than
he. But this is not to reduce God to creation. They are rather taken up into God, in the divine
Word which infinitely exceeds them, as being a sum of finite or contracted thoughts.
Interpreting reality thus we can ask whether all divine thoughts are us persons (as spirits all of
reality for McTaggart), anything else being our thoughts as misperceptions and known so by
God within the unity of his conception of each person. The perspective would of course
transcend any calling into question of natural science.163 Nor does it contradict the Thomist-
Aristotelian analysis of or reflection upon created reality as apprehended by us, as expressed
in the dictum that there is no class of the things which are (being is said in many ways),
making of being not so much a conceptus as a conceptio (of something unconceptualizable),
in Gilson’s terms (”self-mate” however, according to Geach164).
That philosophy also claims, not only that omne ens est verum but also the converse of this,
that a thing is true only in so far as it is. Aquinas’s more specific claim is that

John 4.
The Romantic restoration was however a necessary dialectical stage in the ecumenical
reintegration proposed here, for example.
We need not say here that Aristotle feared that this followed from Platonism. He rather
showed how it did not thus follow.
P.T. Geach, Logic Matters, Blackwells, Oxford 1972, pp. 263-265. In this connection
Geach recalls from Buridan’s Sophismata the point that God could not have been said to
exist before (sic) something more than God existed. Nor can he forbid us to take this
seriously, as he says Buridan did not. What Geach calls the wanton confusion of two uses
of est, predicative and existential, is not fathered by Gilson on Aquinas, who in fact
expounds it at In I Periherm., lect. 5, no.22.

Nothing has actuality except in so far as it is165,

directing us how to think of the divine actuality. Here we are not concerned with the
distinction, and corresponding divide, between being and truth. All the same, we cannot know
that there cannot be an actuality transcending our notion of existence, as does the actuality of
numbers and other formalities. Thus the existence and the real, again, can be seen related as
species and genus. Existence, that is, like everything else, can be an analogy of the infinite,
rather than its special or proper effect, whatever our language might seem to compel us to
saying. The latter view leads to that contradiction we have discussed of a real creation with
which infinity has no real relation (ontological discontinuity).
The fiat lux is the thinking of light. Here though we have in fact no warrant for attributing
thought to God, but only not to deny him that perfection which is thought. The divine act is
most likely far beyond all we can call thought. Therefore in calling the world divine thinking
we speak analogously, as we claimed was true of creation theology. Therefore our view is
more justly an interpretation of creation, since we intend it so, than its denial, thus far on all
fours with Augustine’s treatment of the seven days of the Biblical account or of his
psychological account of the Trinity.
The dividing of our mental life into knowledge and love, intellect and will, as two faculties,
already signifies finitude. What we call the divine idea of red, for example, is more likely a
moment in the divine act which is himself, in all peace and effortlessness, known beyond all
we call knowledge but with no need to separate, as physical science might seem to confirm.
We call it thinking only because thinking is our own highest operation. Thus far we can agree
with Maimonides.
This might seem to point beyond absolute idealism, though the point about each divine idea
being identical with the divine essence remains, in the light of infinity’s unity and simplicity.
Anything is the all, though also nothing is. For our thought even to approach to divine thought
it must perpetually surmount itself, leaving even the mode of thought itself for music and
ultra-music, a music falling upon no ear, as in the harmony of a painting. The laugh of the
Buddha might be the closest approach, or the eucharistic rite.


The eucharistic rite is central to Christianity as historically objectified, although many groups
afford it a far from central place, if they even have a eucharist. For some it is a ceremonial
celebration, of thanksgiving and community, though in the Catholic or Orthodox traditions it
is often referred to as the sacrifice, and even in Lutheranism is called a sacrament. Connected
with rejection by these groups maybe is the suspicion that the uniquely Christian celebratory
meal became relegated after Constantine to a mere instance of the universal impulse to
sacrifice, as popularly demanded for the well-being of the Empire, all the traditional sacrifices
having been abolished. This brought with it the stress upon a sacred class of sacerdotal
sacrificers, originally the elders or presbyters, incidentally downplaying the theoretical
equality of women in Christianity (though commitment to the exclusively male incarnation
posed an antecedent problem or at least brake here). Some have claimed to decipher in earlier
frescoes a female figure presiding at the eucharist. It is not straightforward to see an
unambiguous doctrinal development here, where there was clearly some kind of concession to
or appeasement of pagan tradition. I will have mercy and not sacrifice. That was the original
imperative, which the injunction ”Do this” would not contradict. Nor should the of sacrificial

Aquinas, Summa theol. Ia 4, 1 ad 3.

language of some New Testament texts be seen as more than associative, related again to
contemporary mentality, as if God wanted blood. Victory over death is the central idea rather.
For Lutherans indeed the eucharist just as sacrament cannot be bearer of what is viewed in
faith by many as the miracle, and not merely the mystery, of transubstantiation, at least for
many centuries and as against the doubts of Berengar (eleventh century). Thus in the Thirty-
Nine Articles of the Church of England it is claimed that this doctrine ”overthroweth the
nature of a sacrament”. Against this later Catholic theologians such as Abbot Vonier counter
that God,as against the natural being of signs, can cause a sign to be what it signifies. 166 In this
way Jesus, as sign or sacrament of God, Father, is himself God, and ”he that has seen me has
seen the Father”, this being but one of a whole series of identifications in difference in the
Gospels and in Christian doctrine. We have seen that identity in difference is a watchword of
the Hegelian dialectic and perhaps we are finding confirmation here of its deeply Christian
This ”causing something to be”, however, seems in a kind of natural tension with faith as
”seeing something as”, though faith is also faith ”that something is”. We go deep here, as deep
as a vocation, for example. Does God cause this sign, the sense of vocation, to be what it
signifies, an actual vocation, namely? Or does this notion just give carte blanche to the
superego, our great enemy as, afterwards, it seems. The young person who feels a compulsion
to give up everything has just thereby a vocation to do this.
Again, were the Jews chosen or did they decide so to regard themselves, freeing themselves
from idolatry to take those intelligent if tricksy initiatives that won so many battles? How far,
more to the point, are we considering alternatives here? The divine vocation confers a
freedom and creativity in action such as we call prophetic. Praemotio physica bestows
freedom in proportion to its immediacy. ”The spirit of the Lord is upon me”, says a man in
action. Grace, say some, is freedom. Augustine, it could be, saw less deeply than Pelagius.
Aquinas says simply that God, like grace, makes a man acts his own, free.
Consider, not the the incarnation precisely, but the appearing of a man claiming to be the
Messiah, he that should come. What does it mean that Jesus did not answer the Baptist’s
query on this score in the direct affirmative? ”Blessed is he that does not lose confidence in
me.” It might mean that he himself felt an identity with his free action; he, the man, was not
another’s puppet, but supremely autonomous and creative. Now though that he has succeeded
in his mission we others explain him as God incarnate in the sense of not being a human
person in the old terminology, as if he could never have had an accident. His human nature is
”assumed”, surely an utterly crass metaphor, one pointing to a fault in our habitual grasp of
this conception. I am myself and not another, as is any subject, though identities be allowed
What we have here, so runs the claim, is a man who is God. There is at any rate no
assumption of human nature as by a being previously not human. If one is born as a man then
a man is born. Not only so, but there could be other men or women who are God, Aquinas
claims. Well, if he forgets women it is surely not deliberate. He insists though that they would
all be the same divine person. Still, they would clearly be different human beings, who might
meet in an aeroplane, say; identity in difference again. They might meet on the street, or one
be born as the other dies, recalling a similar Islamic tradition.
The clumsiness of this talk of an assumption of humanity points to the superiority of Hegel’s
interpretation, according to which the man who is God appears ”in the fullness of time”167.
The thing happens, not perhaps of itself, but as of a piece with everything else. It is thus
necessary, not contingent, and not less free for that. All of creation is thought as one, in an
instant, by infinity.
Dom Anscar Vonier, A Key to the Doctrine of the Eucharist, 1925.
Galatians 4, 4.

It does seem, to recur to our problematic, that any of us might take this role upon himself or
herself. One would be opting, in Indian terms, for the true or absolute self, atman, as against
the false or empirical self. This in fact is what Christians at full strength try to do, each one an
Atlas. ”I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me...” Of course Christ himself can similarly say
”not I but my father” and so the point might be less than absolute, as of a general interchange.
These things, however, would follow from envisaging Jesus as freely adopting his own stance,
as he surely did, the Agony in Gethsemane notwithstanding, since this cannot possibly or
worthily be seen as subjection to an alien will.
Vocation; the Jews; Jesus.... we return to the eucharist and sacramental reality in general. We
find that anything whatever may be viewed sacramentally, as sign of that in which it
participates, as each divine idea participates in infinite Mind to the point of id entity with it,
identity in difference again.
We are saying that we, maybe, can create our reality by choosing to see, by expecting things
to be, in a certain way. So a man, feeling his identity with God, could choose to make of a
communal meal, of the significative resonances of its elements, a representation of a sacrifice,
his own, in our ethical sense of self-sacrifice. His followers, similarly, can choose to make of
those elements what he, taken literally, declared them to be, himself. He, after all, made of his
own death, by choice, something in the nature of a sacrifice, bringing out thereby, perhaps, the
ethical character towards which sacrificial ritual and theology had ever been impotently
striving. Just therefore, though, his death was supremely itself and as such something other
than the supreme member merely in the class of sacrifices. In a sense it overthrew all sacrifice
if sacrifice means setting something apart for the deity. He aimed rather to draw all men to
himself, so as to make of them a unity, without separation.
Given that he was the one to come, in the fullness of time, then he can indeed determine bread
and wine thus offered, blessed or set forth (Aquinas’s triple phrase when speaking of
sacrifice) to be himself. No one else would anyhow think of doing that, or hardly. The
ambiguity of ”offered, blessed or set forth” is surely deliberate, this sacramentum, supreme
among signs maybe, not requiring to be confined within the parameters of ancient ritual
sacrifice while at the same time fulfilling as overflowing whatever aspirations such sacrifice


The texts of St. Thomas on the sacraments and the eucharist in particular, so central for the
decrees of Trent on the issue, do not today of themselves inspire full confidence in what is
still the official Catholic position in these matters. However that may be, they are a
convenient locus for the raising of certain philosophical issues.
Thus the whole sacramental stance, as here and usually presented, depends upon an
opposition as between things sensible and things spiritual. Sacraments, one says, suit man’s
nature in so far as man comes to spiritual things through sensible and material things as
symbolising them. The whole world, inclusive of words, consists of signs. Sacraments, that is,
are presented as a harmonisation of an aboriginal dualism.
In our treatment of the divine ideas we inclined to thinking that abstract ideas were ideas
formed exclusively by human beings, abstraction being the device evolved, say rather the
emergence of a new force of concentration, for making our environment intelligible. Usually
in this context the latter is referred to as the material environment, materiality corresponding
to unintelligibility while immateriality (produced by a separation in our minds which is
another name for abstraction) is ”the root of cognition”.
However in many places Aquinas stresses, with us, that there is perfect divine and therefore
spiritual knowledge of individuals, even if in our case mind without the senses only grasps

universal ideas. Such knowledge though, of a sensible (thing), even if called spiritual qua
knowledge, cannot itself be offset against sensible things as itself a particular thing to be
known, somehow (e.g. through a sacrament). This is why we arrived at the position that the
things which we see and experience are the divine thoughts or the closest anything comes in
the divinity to being a thought. If, however, such a non-intentional thought be judged more a
contradiction than an analogous extension (of course to something more nobile) of the term,
then we would simply need to improve our terminology.
Meanwhile, we have the position that all sensible creatures are signs of something sacred,
sacrum168, and therefore properly are sacraments, although not in the sense, he says, of which
we are now speaking (this contradicts the conclusion in his sed contra here). Thomas’s
orthodoxy places him in a tight spot here. Sacraments, as naming signs of the invisible
divinity generally, are such for knowing divine things in themselves, but not for ”sanctifying”
us, as do sacraments in the narrower, cultic sense, he says. But firstly, this divorces progress
in knowledge of God from progress in becoming holy or sanctified, morally better, deiform
and so on, which seems unwise. The holy man was always the one who knows God. This is
eternal life, to know God.
So Thomas is hard put to it to explain why we need these special sacraments fo the Church,
apart of course from the sin-story and the Church bringing remedy to man himself as in a tight
place, again. They signify divine qualities not as in themselves holy but as bringing salvation
to us. Thus when considering the determinate legislated character of Christian sacraments
Aquinas shows169 appreciation of how this appears to constrain (arctare) our freedom as
spiritual sons, we might say, but only to come down hard against any further questioning of
the matter, comparing the ”institution” of sacraments to the divine choice of imagery in
Scripture, ”determined by the judgement of the Holy Spirit”. As viewed today, though, this is
to reason in a circle. The authors of the Biblical books were free in their choice of imagery,
even given that their texts were later canonised as inspired. Of course this canonization,
confining us to these books as to a rule, parallels the confinement of the faithful to prescribed
use of the sacraments as equivalent to a ”state of grace”.
Yet it is only the eucharist which can be reckoned as in some sense instituted by Christ. Even
baptism was something found in existence in his lifetime. What authority the early Christian
community had to impose these things with such dreadful sanctions (fate of unbaptized
infants) appears questionable indeed. So the classing of the eucharist as one in a row of
sacraments is by no means a self-evident move. It leads to an explication of this traditional
Christian celebration in categories taken from a general sacramental theology of form and
matter, res, and res et sacramentum when what is needed is independent treatment of the
specific but essential themes of sacrifice and of the real presence of Christ claimed to be
effected by this sacrament.
In fact the theologian, like the bishops assembled in Council, can choose to make of these
matters what one wills, as we have been saying the posture of choice and free decision can
everywhere be set against the constriction of ontological identification, in the matter of
vocation for example, one’s own prophethood or the status of one’s nation. ”I will be what I
will be.” Notoriously, Christians forgot this in the case of the Devil, should he have existed,
viz. that he became by his own initiative what he was, neither created as such by God, nor a
god himself. But in the same way then must Michael have become a victorious archangel,
seizing the role in freedom. Of course both found themselves first as determinate archangels,
it seems we have to say. This however simply correlates with our general principle of
praemotio physica, that God makes our actions our own. Here though the principle extends to

Aquinas, Summa theol. IIIa 2 ad 1.
Ibid. 60, 5.

our very being, which Thomism itself teaches is our actus, the very first one. Should we not
also be free in the exercise of just this most noble of acts, to be what we will be?
Dualism routinely contrasts free actions with involuntary human response, while medical
science, inclusive of psychology, claims, as it has sought to find, several autonomic systems
within us. If, however, it is correct, as it were metaphysically, that being or existing is our
most perfect act, actus actuum, then it must be, on a scale of nobility, our most free act. We
are free to be or not to be. There is a kind of consensus that those who lose the will to live
genrally get ill and die, while the reaffirmation of that will is broadly equated with recovery.
One might retort that all who wish to live will also die, after a time, willy-nilly. We, however,
affirm that the free human act is the point at which the divine action is most active in us
(freeing us from dominion by secondary causes). It is therefore wrong to make of subjection
to death the supreme instance of a divine decree and so in the New Testament death becomes
”the last enemy”.170 This Testament indeed may be viewed as the temporal representation of
that perfection of freedom that takes possession of existence for evermore. The details are not
our concern here, unless to notice that death is correlated with sin, at least as one strand. A
consequent strand though is that of the saviour being made sin or a curse for us, an identity in
difference corresponding to the solidarity with sinners shown in his lifetime. All shall be
forgiven, a term extending beyond that of remission to a kind of forgetfulness. The events,
anyhow, even were they merely proposed, in idea, are there to show that the free choice of
life, the taking charge of it, with violence it may be, is an option at the very least, as up to us.
Fate is a bogey, and what we see of death in others is or can and should be a part of their
grasping of their inheritance. It is possible and indeed natural to think this, as corresponding
to our aspirations and natural capacity. Non moriar sed vivam. Any theologian who wishes
can square it with his particular premises.
The line of thinking takes us irresistibly to the question, mystery still, of our origin. If our will
to live, our non-deliberative (though not just mechanistically unthinking) choice of life,
depends upon such a pre-motion, eternally purposed, then it is not easy to separate our first
beginning from this purposing of us, which presses onwards in all our volitions and choices. 171
This can lead us to take seriously once again theories of a pre-natal past or, more precisely,
can lead us to question the absoluteness of time. Time thus viewed would be a misperception
of an a priori form of finite perception, as Kant and many others have concluded.
This in turn leads back to the concept of the true self, the atman, such as we have outlined it
starting from other if related premises. The convergence is impressive, the ”unity of
philosophical experience” more profound than in Gilson’s conception of the same. What we
see then as God’s call, our vocation in life, is thus one with our profoundest aspiration,
confirming Aristotle’s dictum that

As a man is, so does the end seem to him.

Our being alive indeed, we can now say, is itself not merely due to a divine willing. At bottom
it is this, something Schopenhauer glimpsed in his own way. Just as the eternal procession of
the Word is one with its mission those thirty or so years, so it is with us, loved ”with an
Hegel reasons that the limit, otherness, is “a function” proper to finite being and “goes
through and through the whole of such existence”. People who do not set limits to
themselves “linger lost in abstraction and their light dies away.” The limit makes both the
reality of a thing and its negation. Mutability is essential to the finite and “lies in the
notion of existence... The living die, simply because as living they bear in themselves the
germ of death.”
Just as God’s being the God of Abraham is not compatible with Abraham’s being dead
in any absolute sense, it was argued, though for St. Peter it was clear that David and the
prophets were dead, to rise again however.

everlasting love”, the baby’s cry for air one with that infinite and eternal will which is,
profoundly, each one of us, in so far, that is, as we are nothing in and can do nothing of
ourselves. The mystery, the Idea as whole or notion rather, is one of unity (in difference) of a
being that has no parts. This being is one and infinite. Such a reality demands a dialectical
philosophy, an eternal ecumenism no longer seen as the solving of a problem (of disunity)
merely, but as a multifarious harmony in circular progression, even the spiral upwards being a
return upon itself, beyond the reach of Einsteinian physics, to Parmenides and his precursors,
to homo erectus and beyond.
This discovery is motive for the deepest humility172 on the part of the false, the empirical self,
while the true or absolute self cannot be proud or arrogant, this being a contradiction in terms.
It is thus not the empirical self which chooses its own parents, say, but the absolute self which
manifests both us and our parents together, they both being identical with us in that true self
as is every person, not bundled together but at this level identified. For the perception of our
multitudinous separateness, as in ”a community of animals” (Hegel), is in part an error of
uncritical natural perception, before we achieve

the unity of the essence with self-consciousness (from which alone discordance,
incongruity, might have come).

We are rather

Articulated groups of the unity permeated by its own life, unsundered spirits
transparent to themselves, stainless forms and shapes of heaven, that preserve amidst
their differences the untarnished innocence and concord of their essential nature.173

For spirits, indeed, identity in difference is the rule, overcoming the division between self and
other, as our cognitional life witnesses. Spirit is more than this, however, being not the real
minus the material, the latter having been annihilated in analysis, so to say, but the real,
ourselves or another, absolutely or more adequately grasped. Anima (mea) est omnia, not of
course solipsism if predicable of each man, who yet becomes one man, atman, members one
of another, religious discourse universally confirms.
We apply then our freedom, as divinely motored, to all our tenets, as Hegel claimed that all
philosophy of the past was true, i.e. they too were free. The freely chosen death of the Christ,
thus, is a kind of death to opinion, to law. Personally he refused Greek philosophy (the Greeks
in John’s Gospel who ”would see Jesus”) as against personally perishing in the soul as a
principle of growth (if the seed die), of more and more fruit. There is no compelling evidence,
for example, that he himself ordained material baptism as necessary for salvation, as the
phrase goes. The Church, the Christian community, which decided this question in the
affirmative (long before the New Testament canon was put together), is thus free to transcend
and eventually withdraw the affirmation. It is not a matter, ultimately, of altering the
metaphysics of truth but of, as always, altering perception of what is true, with the particular
consequence here, however, that we must revise the way we view many or most of our own
affirmations, not overthrowing the nature of opinion174 but making the formation of opinions
that much less facile without reducing them to that which it is ”opportune” to assert merely. It
is a matter of recognising that most of our assertions are only ”true as far as they go” since,

The virtue of truth, says Aquinas.
Hegel, The Phenomenology of Mind, Baillie tr. P.452.
This charge is found in the Roman encyclical Mirari vos, an 1843 response to
“liberalism”, more especially to the Liberal Catholic movement of the time.

being finite, they do not go all the way with absolute truth. The Kantian antinomies, in their
own way, touch upon this.
This is the alternative to being bound by previous decisions to affirm this or that proposition
as true, as absolute. It cannot be denied that much of our mental procedure derives from the
decision of the Christian community, or its Greco-Roman leaders, to proceed in this way. It is
reflected in the history of science, the sciences, where now however the status of their own
pronouncements is felt to be uncertain and is much discussed. Hegelianism and the holism
(Quine) of absolute idealism generally offers a solution in terms of finite and infinite or, in
some versions, of part and whole merely. What we add here, however, is the bringing of all
thinking under the scope of freedom, that freedom which Hegel identified with necessity, as
typified in relations of love. This is quite different from that voluntarism deriving from a
superstitious reverence for an arbitrary, i.e. an unloving but merely putative divine will.
Thinking, rather, is letting being be (Heidegger); it is the being which shifts and changes, thus
creating the space for styles of thought as theatre for truth, ultimately rocklike though this be.
We might call Hegel the philosopher of grace, grace being something the theologians had
tried to retain in some sacral preserve, muffling its undoubted resonance in the world. Grace
in itself, for Aquinas, perfects the essence of the soul, which thereby participates, he says, in a
certain likeness of the divine being.175 He avoids saying that it simply participates in the
divine being or esse, it being a principle that God’s act of being, as infinite, is unique to
himself. Participation in the divine nature, or in Trinitarian life, through grace, is however a
constant of Patristic teaching, ”they in me and I in them”. This enormous promis should not
be lost under a mass of qualification.
In Hegel individual consciousness is called, through what it is, to approximate to absolute
consciousness. What falls short of that is, he says, untrue. We do not need, we are misled by
the dualism of natural and supernatural if it is, rather, natural to consciousness to transcend
itself, to be one with the other as other, to be open to grace, the grace of incarnation and the
advent of the absolute religion, in the fullness of time, i.e. in the natural course of things. For
nothing is natural in the abstracted sense of not being divinely thought. Thus the datum of
grace is thought absolutely, is known. This does not mean, i.e. it is not in itself to say, that
revelation, an initiative, was not needed, as with the Trinity, for our thought to find out these
things. For this, too, there is a natural time, the time when the cook shall add the salt, it may
be. Or perhaps it is a time when ingredients present from the first or eternally, as rationes
seminales, first show themselves.

Aquinas, Summa theol. IIIa 42, 2.


A Cultural Basis for the European Union?

The question is arising for the European Union as to what is to be the basis for that Union.
What we might call an unreflective view is that the basis should be geographical. It is clear
though that the relation of a Europe as defined in geography will never coincide with the
Union. Thus Turkey and Marocco, Asian and African respectively, will very likely join before
the basically European Russia, while Cyprus, that pendant to Asia Minor, is already being
included, with such European lands as Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Andorra, Liechtenstein,
San Marino and Vatican City continuing to hold aloof, and how it will go with the refractory
Balkan lands, or White Russia, Moldavia and the Ukraine, to say nothing of Georgia and
Armenia, is anybody’s guess.
What this geographical view has to support it is little more than a principle of contiguous
proximity, though the contiguity is not absolute and Cyprus is rather far away. Were it not for
the historical trauma Israel would almost certainly have applied. Memories of the Roman
Empire supply a rough guide here, supplementary to the northward displacement of medieval
Christendom. More basic still of course is the origin of this unificatory movement as
occurring upon European soil, Romano-Germanic soil to be precise, to which Byzantinism
and Islam have ever been contiguous.
Reflectively, we have to demand not a geographical but a cultural basis.
Political units which are short on geographical unity are of course that
much more precarious, witness the old West-East Pakistan or the
predicament of Russian Kaliningrad, to say nothing of the United Kingdom
as including Northern Ireland. For the geographical unity gives the
necessary matter supporting the formal, active constituent which is
culture, as the old British Commonwealth is forever ruefully discovering.
Lack of it provides the chief explanation of the political failure precipitating
the Falklands war, while the success and stability of the American
purchase of Alaska depends still upon the goodwill, and relative
impotence, of the Canadians.
Cultural division is thus always more harmful than geographical separation
and presents a more immediate threat to functional unity, as Ireland, the
Basque country, the old British India or just about anywhere else bears
witness. Therefore the unity to be sought, and by which the European
Union is to be identified, should be cultural, understanding by that term
whatever goes beyond the geographical or material. For this more specific
determination would entail excluding, as a merely material or non-
signifying factor, any racial basis for the union. Monetary or economic
criteria, however, which as ”formal” to human living are by no means
merely material, are as serving the stability and attractiveness of the
Union essential. They in fact participate in the cultural principles
underlying the EU as a project for peace. As politics looks to government
and external relations, so economy names household management. It is
thus also cultural as having to do with the life of man as specifically
human, as ”race” or colour does not.
A cultural basis, therefore, can be at once religious, political, economic,
moral and ethical. It is also aesthetic, this being in many countries what is

primarily understood under culture, for better or worse. Still, the term is
visibly connected to that of ”cult”, religion, even if religious unity might
seem the least plausible of ideals today.
Historically, it could be shown, European society’s unity as we know it was
founded upon a religious basis, i.e. not on a geographical definition.176 This
holds however we evaluate the previous period of Roman government. The
merit of such a foundation is that it displaced the racial and tribal bases
which we still find in Africa and other places and which, as became clear
even to early Greeks such as Isocrates177, hinder the formation of truly
political forms of living together. The latter wrote of Athens:

Our city has left the rest of mankind so far behind in thought and expression,
that those who are her pupils have become the teachers of others. She has made
the name of Greek no longer count as that of a stock, but as that of a type of
mind: she has made it designate those who share with us in our culture, rather
than those who share in a common physical type.

An original Roman tolerance in religious matters, though it was later to

persecute what it saw as Christian intolerance, facilitated this
development, although Rome, in virtue of its enormous expansion to begin
with, was already non-racial. Acceptance and enforcement of Christianity
in all Roman territory178 led quickly to a definition of Western peoples thus
viewed as against the peoples of Asia, which was of course unfortunate for
an already existing Asian Christianity. This acceptance, as Pirenne has so
well described, became more easily identified with Europe, the landmass,
after the taking over of North Africa, the Middle East and the
Mediterranean Sea (no longer mare nostrum) by the Moslem power. One
forgot the oriental Christian minorities, whom it was easier to view as
heretics. Thus the old Greek geographical concept of Europe acquired the
cultural emphasis so naturally assumed, but not always correctly identified
as to its character, today.
One positive corollary of this originally religious self-definition was that
Europe could never henceforth be finally limited, as thoughts of ”fortress
Europe” at once suggest. Christianity at inception was not only a but the
missionary religion, though as expressing an originally Israelite aspiration
(quod olim Abrahae et semini eius promisisti, as lovers of Mozart will
recall). Thus it is thanks to it in large part that the northern Germanic and
then Slav areas have been so easily assimilated as ”European”, though
other areas less geographically contiguous, it is our argument here, have

Cf. H. Pirenne, Mahomet et Charlemagne, Paris2 1937; C. Dawson, The
Making of Europe, London 1932; Philippe Wolff, The Awakening of Europe,
Pelican, Harmondsworth 1968; G. Clark, Early Modern Europe, 1957.
Panegyricus (380 B.C.). This witness should remind not to make
Europe’s religious cultural base too specific or, conversely, to enquire how
far religion was interpreting from inception insights already partly won. Cf.
S. Theron, Africa, Philosophy and the Western Tradition, Lang, Frankfurt
Cf. A.H.M. Jones, Constantine and the Conversion of Europe, Pelican
Books 1972.

undergone, then or later, what is at bottom the same or at least an
analogous process of ”westernization”. For the Christian Europeans there
was not, as for the ancient Romans, any non plus ultra, at Gibraltar or
It is true that something of the fortress mentality could creep in when Europe seemed
beleaguered and hemmed in by Muslims of various kinds, racially and theologically, but the
European response was that of the Crusades, malign them how we will. They, the Europeans,
found it necessary to assert the universal mission proper to their religion and consequently
inseparable from their psychology, this leading, under people such as Prince Henry the
Navigator, to the admittedly often materialistically inspired voyages of discovery and the
spread of this European culture to the whole world in our own time.
But what of European culture? The issue of Newsweek coinciding with the
expansion of the EU to twenty-five member-states (topical in December
2002) carried a report speaking of Europe as being about democracy and
freedom, as ”everybody knows”, according to the Algerian taxi-driver
cited. He is surely right, but the reporter interprets this as meaning that
Europe is not about ”culture”, as we once thought and as Giscard
d’Estaing, we are told, now thinks. He supports a view of Europe as a
”Christian club” in which Turkey, say, would have no business. I would
contend that this attitude, whether or not it be his, is at bottom
unecumenical. It probably goes with seeing the historically Catholic states
as ”better” Europeans than are Protestant countries, this being, by the
way, a standard reproach of many French negotiators against Sweden, a
country nonetheless to the fore in the cause of our Algerian’s democracy
and freedom, ”values” which the reporter cited sees as the American
alternative to the culture and faith of old Europe and towards which she is
now ineluctably headed. This fact alone, though, argues for a sureness of
direction, an end of history indeed as all concur in history’s outcome.
Against such a posing of alternatives I would urge, with Maritain,
Berdyaev and others179 that European democracy and freedom, the growth
of which, after allowing for all the reactions, is mirrored in the history of
the nations and of institutions, are a fruit and issue of European
Christianity. A corollary of this is that the United States of America (and at
least some of its neighbours) are as European culturally as any country on
the continent called Europe. They are European culturally in virtue of their
democracy and freedom. What our reporter calls values, after all, are
surely and supremely cultural, and it is no accident that it is by Christian
men of the Enlightenment that they have been so firmly established in
America. Thus the separation of church and state was an option for
specifically Christian men.
Going back into history again we can note that the rise of Greek
philosophy represented a certain liberation of the spirit from the routine
compulsions of religious tradition, for which, nonetheless, Plato and other
philosophers retained respect, just as did Hegel for the religious traditions
of his time later on. This corresponds to the rise of science, of the scientific
view, first conscious of itself in Aristotle perhaps. This occurred less

J. Maritain, Christianity and Democracy, London 1945; N. Berdyaev, The


Meaning of History, London 1936. Cf. G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of


ambiguously in Greece than in India, Egypt or anywhere else, though we
need not concur in the verdict of the conservative Christian Maritain that
the Greeks were the ”chosen people of reason”, as if some kind of divine
election were involved. We know too little still of the history of Chinese
science and its philosophy, just for example.
This Greek background largely accounts for the relatively weak hold of
religion and sacrality in general experienced by the subject peoples under
the Romans. Of course the state had its gods, as did all states prior to or
apart from the Christian revolution, and this was to crystallize, at a time of
profound insecurity, in the detestable emperor-worship, this same
insecurity, it is difficult not to say, leading eventually to the worship of the
heavenly emperor and basileus, Jesus Christ, as above all the Byzantines
conceived him, it being chiefly in the West that the concept of Christus rex
became progressively disentangled from any worldly or political order,
however much some of the popes and others may have dragged their feet.
We have recently been exercised with thoughts of the ”end of history”, as I
mentioned, and of the definitive triumph of capitalism. Hence, with a view
to understanding the history of Europe and of the European idea, of
democracy and freedom if one so will, I would like to raise the question as
to the nature of that officially Christian and hence religious Europe which
succeeded to our ancient civilization. Greek negotiators recently charged
Giscard and other enthusiasts for Charlemagne or for Theodosius and
Ambrose with forgetting this ancient background.
The Christians, anyhow, when they were first persecuted, were often
accused of being atheists and it is no secret that many theologians now
make a connection between the nature of Christianity and that of modern
secularism, as we did above with democracy and freedom. This is implicit
in Hegel, perhaps in Luther and late medieval theology, and it can even
find support in the pages of Aquinas, as being a facet of what they all saw
as ”the absolute and final religion”, in that city with no temple seen by the
seer of the Apocalypse.
The historical record does indeed show a progression from ancient times
through the medieval era to modern secularism, this being something
more central to the development than any legislated separation of church
and state, again. For we are finding this development within the churches,
synagogues and even mosques themselves, a desacralization and an
ecumenical movement in close combination.
As far as Europe, our subject, is concerned we can say that the Patristic
era and beyond, up to the last commentators upon the commentators of
Holy Scripture, one such as Cardinal Cajetan perhaps, saw itself as the
natural successor to the Greek philosophers. These, after all, had striven
after a wisdom more adult and subtle than that offered in the symbols of
popular religion but which, even for learned men, had now been fulfilled in
a divine gift of the truth in Christ, the messenger become the message,
the divine made manifest. At the same time the Moslems, on or beside
European soil, continued the Greek inheritance, either in alliance with an
institutionalized monotheism (Avicenna) or in conscious separation from it
(Averroes). In Algazel we find a striking example of Cartesian fideism.
It was the conviction of Hegel that in many of its typically medieval
manifestations Christianity, which he had no doubt was the absolute

religion, transcending (aufhebt) all the religions preceding it, had not yet
come fully to itself, in that freedom he, and we, find spiritual and modern
and which expresses itself politically, as it were extensionally, in
democracy, presupposing a citizenship requiring a taking of responsibility
by all and each for the whole. Hence Maritain’s later call for a civilization
of love180, upon the premise that nothing less, not mere civic friendship for
example, will satisfy the collective conscience which has known
Christianity and indeed the earlier political cry (1789) stemming from it
(sic Maritain) for brotherhood beyond friendship, along with liberty and
equality. The Algerian taxi-driver knew his history better than his
Newsweek reporter.
The Jews, indeed, had long ago been spoken of, by Porphyry, as a nation of
philosophers, as also any democratic nation is required to be, illustrating
this at each election and through the media generally.181 The Jews were
also thou182gh spoken of as atheists, their God being so invisible. This root,
with its offshoot Christianity, has carried Europe into the European
American, Australian, even Japanese, Indian and Chinese modern age
which we call Western and which comes from Europe, as V.S. Naipaul has
trenchantly argued. There is concurrence in the exclusion of an earlier
model felt as a progress therefrom. Mirroring the claim of the Church, we
have in this institutionalized movement, these deliberatively moving
institutions, a kind of symbol of the human race as a whole, the part for
the whole indeed, but in order finally to become the whole, the sign
effecting what it signifies.
This though raises a question about Christianity, which has its own notions concerning the end
of history. It has ministered, both in Scholastic and Calvinist form, to the emergence of a
world-order as an end of history to which there seems little reason to expect an alternative
(unless and until catastrophic pressures be once more applied), particularly if the destiny of
Europe is now forecast to be that of replicating America in important cultural respects, despite
the present great difference in demographic trends and related greater integrational
challenges, as it may seem. The Patristic writers, again, saw themselves as modern inheritors
of the philosophers, living in the last times. Nor was an interest in natural science so totally
lacking. It was overshadowed rather by grander themes, even held back by political and
economic collapse after the invasions, Germanic or Arabic.There was a confidence lasting at
least up to the Black Death (c.1348), despite growing restlessness under clerical domination.
With the Renaissance human confidence was the keynote, while the speculative system of
Nicholas of Cusa foreshadowed the whole later philosophical development.

J. Maritain, True Humanism, London 1938 (French orginal 1936).
Here the conservative Christian C.S. Lewis momentarily transcended
himself, writing:
Could it be intended that the whole mass of the people should now...
occupy for themselves those heights... once reserved for the
sages?... If so, our present blunderings would be but growing pains.
But while very mutedly echoing Maritain’s (or Schiller’s) vision of brotherly
love he issues a warning in the negative spirit of Ortega y Gasset’s La
rebelión de las masas (1930). See C.S. Lewis, Miracles, London 1947,
Fount Paperback pp.46-7.
Cf. Wolff, op. cit.

What we call secularism, the emergence from shadows to reality, took place as an organic
development from or within the old Christendom and up to the French Revolution, so heavily
influenced in turn by the American revolution and its affirmation of the dignity of each and
every individual human being, though the reference of this idea to the people of the heath or
prairie took a century or more to grasp, as the speculative efforts of Vittoria and Las Casas
had earlier been needed for universal responsibility, of man as man for man, to be at least
acknowledged in the new Latin lands.
The Christians had originally envisaged a Second Coming of Christ the Lord, to occur within
a generation or two. So it was with hearts set on the world to come (Gregory the Great
expected the end any day) that they improved, both here and there but also in principle,
conditions in this world. The link of early capitalism with Calvinist piety is well established,
if we are now speaking of the triumph of capitalism understood as a society of free men and
women interacting with the environment in responsible and profitable creativity.
So one effect of this faith in a coming age, vita venturi saeculi, has been the birth of a new age
or milieu embracing an ever greater assemblage of peoples. There has been for centuries a
”spirit of kindness” abroad, witnessed to even by the reactions against it, which was not there
before, easily linked to men’s ”looking on him whom they have pierced”, in Zechariah’s
somewhat uncanny prophecy. How much we link the development with mystical or confused
prophecies depends on individual conscience, intuition and liberally enlightened speculation.
A netweork of connections lies open to inspection all the same.
Thus behind the opposition between Europe the sacral, the ”Christian club”, and Europe the
free, democratic and open or even potentially universal, an opposition we here argue
superficial, there is a deeper unity and historical continuity with inter alia a self-surpassing
Christianity. You will do greater things than I have done, one Gospel reports Jesus as saying,
while Mohammed in his own way attempted such a surpassing, something clearly of topical
importance in today’s European cultural situation. The ultra-conservative Belloc saw Islam as
a variant upon Christianity, calling it a heresy, compliment indeed.
So what then are the values holding the new body politic together?183 Are they in any sense
religious or meta-religious? Did the Roman Church’s authoritative Decree on Ecumenism of
forty years ago make definitive its understanding of itself as no more (but no less) than a
sacrament of an ever renewed humanity? Will these values now be moral values only? Is there
just one value, viz. freedom as expressed in democratic order? Or is that a political value and
will that insight return us to an Aristotelian vision of politics no more as an inhuman
realpolitik divorced from personal morality but as ultimate ethical expression, as in Hegel too,
called the Christian Aristotle (as Aquinas was the Christianizer of Aristotle).
A recent opponent of exclusive stress upon freedom and democracy to the detriment of other
values, imperatives and taboos, as he himself calls them, is the French philosopher André
Glucksmann184. He warns against value nihilism, taking his tone from recent atrocities
committed by a ”murderous Islam” or in Chechnya or by various third world independence
movements. His guiding light seems to be the ancient Greek rejection of hubris, seen as
harmful to ”norms”. He enlists Dostoyevsky here in the service of what he calls rationalist
humanism. Thus he transforms Ivan Karamazov’s dictum that if there is no God then
everything is permitted into the expression of a need for respect for such norms and even
taboos. The alternative, he thinks, is a hate-filled and murderous nihilism.
On values as holding society together see our The End of the Law,
Peeters, Louvain 1999, Chapter One, “Ethics, Value, Welfare”, originally a
lecture delivered (in Swedish) at the annual conference of the Swedish
Christian Democrat Party, 1997, Örnskjöldsvik.
Der Spiegel, Nr. 21, 18.5.2002, pp.178-182. “Wir müssen uns dem
Bösen stellen”.

Well, there does seem to be a lot of the latter commodity around, but is it a consequence of
freedom and democracy, as Glucksmann appears to suggest? His prescription seems decidedly
Old Testamentish (in the negative sense) and backward-looking. It was maybe just the
elevation to quasi-positivist laws of these norms, requiring this ugly neologism (at least in
English) even to name them, which lost them respect in the first place. The letter kills. The
cause of hate, rather, is quite straightforwardly a lack of love, which Glucksmann does not
mention as a serious candidate for any improvement of behaviour. What counts, he thinks, is
morality, moral fibre. He exhorts us to be moral, to retreat from our dreadful freedom. This
was indeed the classical rationalism he desiderates, of ”each to count for one and none for
more than one” (Bentham). The Christian idea, also found in Dostoyevsky, is more like ”each
to count for all and none for less than all”, expressing respect for human integrity and
personality more than for norms.
Glucksmann might well have to cast the Apostle Paul as a value nihilist, if it was he who
declared that the law was killed off (nailed to the Cross) and that we should not misuse our
consequent freedom, the consciousness that we can do whatever we like, as sons at home.
Love and do what you like.
Referring to globalization Glucksmann says that in people’s heads an unstoppable
(unaufhaltsame) Westernization has already taken place, but minus that responsibility for
one’s own freedom which he calls, not incorrectly, the Western ethic. But why should people
have adopted Westernization without its ethic, like getting machines without a mentality of
maintenance? That does happen on occasion. There are always those who do not take
responsibility, and a certain tolerance of this situation is required so as not to repress those
who do.
What is needed, rather, is love, mercy, forgiveness, a general humaneness, all that in fact
belongs specifically to the Christian message upon which European unity was founded, giving
birth in time to typical Enlightenment ideals including democracy, the equality of women,
consideration for the weak, for slaves and, last but not least, that freedom Glucksmann so
mistrusts. Freedom is never ethically neutral, being itself the essence of the human power of
rational judgement. For this, unlike a law of nature, is not determined to one thing but is ad
opposita, i.e. is free.
Glucksmann anyhow forgets or ignores the main point of Dostoyevsky’s (or Ivan’s) dictum,
the negative aspect of which he portrayed in The Possessed. This point is that a religious or
transcendent foundation is needed for any civilized humanism. Dostoyevsky understood
Augustine’s Ama et fac quod vis as well as anyone. In his terms it translates into saying that
God exists and therefore everything is permitted. For God is love 185 as supprotive of freedom
and respect for all. The old enslaving restrictions and observances are gone.
It is therefore a free society that legislates and the laws are there to protect and even to
express such freedom. Human law must flow from and not contradict natural law, said
Aquinas, though in his hands, in view of our earlier interpretation of the development in
which he played a part, the latter might seem an equivocal notion. For why speak of a law at
all if you define it as ”a reflected divine light”? The answer is found in the theologian’s desire
to exhibit continuity with the Old Testament, as is yet clearer in Augustine’s concept of the
eternal law.
Implicit in the Christian critique of the Law was a view of it as essentially deformed, as bound
up with a curse upon man. The true law as always the law of freedom but man could not see it
before Christ. This interpretation has forced itself upon the original myth and dialectic of an
original fall and later redemption. One asked why the New Law ”poured into our hearts by the
Holy Spirit” was not given from the beginning. In reality it was always in us, as grace is the
truth of nature, since the twofold precept, as it is represented, of love is natural (Aquinas
Cf. I Corinthians 13.

insists) and thus from the beginning. Thus Jesus exhorts to a return to an original ethos in
marriage, for example. We need not here try to resolve all the problems thrown up by
theologians concerning their twofold moral universe of nature and grace. Still, what is called
natural is often just what our nature itself calls on us to transcend, as Aquinas teaches that we
have a natural inclination to act according to reason even, while virtue, which is according to
reason, is also ad ardua. Thus Goethe’s angels in Faust claim to save whoever strives.
It is then at once an ethic and an ethos of freedom that marks specifically human or spiritual
life. Virtues are habits ministering to this, so justice is not an idolatrous keeping of rules but a
search after the needs of others from the touchstone of what one requires oneself. 186 Justice is
love. Love is its form, as it is of all other virtues. So there is, formally, just one virtue, which
is itself not a rule or principle but energy and life, having for its object God or infinity. So it
was called a theological virtue. No matter! The new commandment, for those having ears,
transcends the whole category of commanding. This is the mark and freedom of European or
Western humanity, in which all can participate. So it cannot be confessionally based.
Still less is our human need for legislation to be transferred to the heavens, where life and
love and glory is the rule, a rule though yet more self-surpassing than the flexible rule of
Lesbos Aristotle mentions, since it coincides entirely with freedom. This is the positive value
enshrined in what many condemn as mere secularism (no temple in that city), like the
invisible God of Israel who forbade all more particular worship so that the nations asked, in
scandalized mockery, where there God was, if anywhere. Nothing has changed much there,
but the movement spreads ever outwards, born, perhaps, upon the wings of aeroplanes, upon
radio and television waves, in the hands of friendship and humanity.
This returns us to the part standing for the whole. The battle to preserve respect for conscience
as just a small part within a more objective scheme was always destined to be lost. The reason
is that all that is in fact objective and true, the norm, existing differently from anything else, is
just man and his conscience. It is in this sense that ”every soul gets what it expects” (Thérèse
of Lisieux). It is this objectivity which enables democracy to identify its enemies, the freedom
either beyond being or itself ultimate being. God is freedom, as we find suggested in Böehme
or Eckhart that God is freedom before or rather apart from becoming the God, as divine being,
of his creation. He never merely finds himself in being. This lies behind Hegel’s view of
nature as objectified spirit. Objectification is itself a step downward, something to be
overcome. Awareness of eternity’s necessary timelessness is essential here; there is no piece
by piece duration. Eternity, furthermore, is a quality inseparable from God himself, not a prior
The link with ecumenism is the requirement of a real (and not merely intentional) passing
over into the other. The Hegelian dialectic poses a challenge to the world of the religious
denominations. Yet anything short of this having the form of the other as other in a more than
intentional mode is just patronization. The opponent’s truth has to be recognized and that
means harmonized in ever new syntheses. If we can cease to see it as flat denial we will not
need to flatly deny it. To a certain degree this was the method of Aquinas, in that he sought to
persuade from shared premises. His written work leaves unsaid though whether he were open
to a further response from the debating partner, saying ”Now I understand you and now I can
show you how you can understand, that is receive, what I say too”, thus entering the endless
flow of life where all are friends.
The conclusion is that Europe can see itself as the bearer of modern secularism in full
consciousness that the humanism this represents is the latest, whether or not definitive
flowering of the tradition, marked by the sign under which a European identity and unity
See our “Justice: Legal and Moral Debt in Aquinas”, The Downside

Review, No. 424, July 2003, pp.157-171, also appearing in The American
Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, 2004 or 2005.

surpassing that of ancient Rome was first forged. Thus the sign of the dollar has not replaced
the sign of the Cross, as Christopher Dawson claimed, not definitively it hasn’t, though
historians must be allowed their moods. The Western economies have, rather, flourished like
all else under the humanly inspired form of life which that sign of contradiction (dialectic)
Ancient Rome had its limits, was ready to draw back. The missionary era succeeding to it
acknowledged a duty, an inner necessity, to teach all nations, a dignity once promised to
Abraham as representing the perhaps hardwon Israelite insight into ethical universalism
within a divine unity. Today European culture cannot but spread over the earth and Islam is its
shadow, while to Islam we ought to appear as at least as much ourselves. Once again it may
be the Jews who hold the key, in this matter at least, Jews from whom salvation can come
still,187 though like Vatican City they remain aloof still from the European Union.
European culture then has created a world which needs global organs. The part has caused the
whole yet must continue in its original vitality, a body and a movement in which the farthest
flung country, as viewed from Brussels, might one day find itself at the cultural centre.

John 4, 22.



1. Christian Traditions and Living Philosophy.

2. Reintegration.
3. Beyond the Sin-Paradigm.
4. The Self-Explanatory?
5. The One and the Many.
6. Absolute and Trinity: Logic at the Crossroads.
7. From Shadows to Reality.
8. Divine Simplicity - not so Simple?
9. Reconciliation.
10.Where we may be at.
11.Beyond Theism and atheism.
12.Ideas or Spirits? Ideas as Spirits.
13.Circularity, Series.
14.On Fossils.
15.Essence, Esse, Simplicity.
16.Signum formale.
17.Necessary Creation?
18.Beyond Infinity.
21.Aboriginal Perennial.
22.Infinite Incarnation.
24.How it Might Be.
25.Christianity without (or within) God?

Chapter One


Creation out of nothing, the Trinity, the Incarnation, the sacramental

system, these and other doctrines and practices are offered down the ages
to the minds of believers for contemplative assimilation. this process, to
occur at all, will be a matter of integration with the prospective believer´s
living system of thought. Each will cover the other for the future. There will
even at times emerge, therefore, systems of thought, call them theological
or call them philosophical, which either seem entirely coloured by the
advent of faith or make a philosophy out of the denial of philosophy´s
independent credentials, e.g. on account of the total depravity of human
nature. Both of these backward swipes at existing thought derive from
crises of belief engendering a wish to stifle dissent. Thus the Thomist
revival, c. 1879, was a conscious blow against existing and active
philosophical schools such as idealism and ontologism in Italy. The
analogue is the earlier Lutheran preaching against Aristotelianism.
In contrast with such institutional sclerosis we find creative thinkers who,
having admitted Christian traditions and claims into their minds, struggle
to understand them. Whatever one has admitted, however, we are faced
with conceptions derived from the imperfect efforts of believers down the
ages to understand what they in turn were faced with. Spirit, seeking to
understand spiritual things spiritually, has gone to work on canonized texts
purporting to deliver divine law, histories of divine or prophetic
intervention inclusive of slayings of false prophets, massacres, sacrifices of
son or daughter. It has gone to work on Church definitions regarding
physical resurrections and "assumptions", real presences, infallibilities via
magically guaranteed apostolic successions, and so on.
Any system, however, should begin at a more fundamental level, for
which existence or being seem optimal conceptual candidates. For, as
Hegel says, even existence or being are "mediated" (formed by an
abstraction, let us say) insofar as we talk about them, whatever our
primal, wordless intuitions. Thus in Thomism these concepts are
cornerstones of the philosophy of God. God is being itself, even though
transcending common being as "pure act", which also is as much a
mediated notion as anything else, as indeed is mediation itself. Thomas
does not escape this necessity, of dialectic, as Scotus early on pointed out.
Being remains a mediated concept, even where one wishes to speak of an
extra-mental being or of an actus essendi. The attempted realism,
criticism today begins to see, reflects a prior dualism between faith and
reason, actually a refusal of openness of enquiry. Faith as a bond must,
ethically, be perceptual, not conceptual.
Only God IS by nature and name, it is claimed, and here the influence of
a famous Exodus text is plain. Yet in Thomism, the texts show, a more
fundamental category than being is that of infinity, as it had been for
Anselm. God would have to exist of necessity if he were all-perfect or
infinite and not otherwise. But the infinite being, whether believed in or

not, is just what all agree in calling God, writes Thomas. Hegel confirms

Sein ist zwar selbst das Unbestimmte aber es ist nicht unmittelbar an
ihm ausgedrückt, dass es das Gegenteil des Bestimmten sei. Das
Unendliche hingegen enthält dies ausgedrückt, es ist das Nicht-
Endliche (Wissenschaft der Logik I, 1, 2c, Der Ûbergang, Anm. 1,
Werke 5, Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt 1969, pp. 169-170).

McTaggart will specify that the existent and the real are related as species
and genus (The Nature of Existence 629), a view basic to Meinong´s
philosophy or to the new discipline of "sistology". Phenomenology, that is,
is not a return to "things themselves" (this is just what is in question) but
to a more discriminating posture than any ontology, even an ontology of
ideas. This is why it is not to be restricted to an "ideosophy", as Maritain
claimed. It recalls rather the Neoplatonist posture.
If being is not first as concerns God, then it might not be so with us
either. Otherwise the thought that

our very existence itself is the direct result of a social act performed
by two other people whom we are powerless to choose or prevent (B.
Magee, Popper, Fontana Modern Masters, London 1973, p.69)

is well-nigh unbearable to our natural sense of freedom as lying at the

basis of our ethical personality. In other words, am I, to the extent that I
know that I am free, my existence? We say, after all, "I exist", as we say
we play tennis, something we do. A traditional way of shoring up personal
freedom against parental despotism or traducianism was to postulate a
soul or "soul-thing", our innermost self, as proceeding directly from God
each time (creationism).
Hegel, however, defends human freedom without recourse to a soul-
thing, which he disparages as a concept both for its quasi-materiality and
for its abstract simplicity, a concept which "as little corresponds to the
nature of the soul, as that of compositeness" (Encycl. Logic 34). Hegel
states, without any reference to the soul, that "the principle of personality
is universality", something he sees as brought by Christianity as, he
considers, the absolute religion of free men and women or "sons" and
On this matter of freedom Hebraists tell us that the Exodus text "I am
who I am" is better translated as "I will be what I will be", something
approached by Spinoza´s conception of God as a se or causa sui, since
God does not passively find himself in being. But the question is, do we so
find ourselves? Would we want to?
By the principle of praemotio physica as Aquinas expounds it God makes
our actions our own or free because they are his own too, i.e. he
determines them to be free from influence of intervening secondary
causes. Hegel will make this more explicit in the area of human and
absolute thinking. These, in free action as in intellectual (free) judgement,
are identical. Will is an aspect of the category of cognition, as in Aquinas it
is the inclination of the intellect itself, i.e. that alone is what will is, and not

some other "faculty". But should not this principle, once understood and
become transparent, extend even to our very being or existence as
individuals, since this, the actus essendi, is our first and most perfect act?
The Absolute, that is, exists in and even as us, the prepositional relation
reciprocally modifying the existential act. We might view the New
Testament as the temporal or "religious" representation of this spiritual
ever so stable reality, the perfection of a freedom that takes possession of
existence eternally or rather immortally, since it has never been without it.
Death, then, is indeed merely "the last enemy to be destroyed", not the
supreme instance of a divine decree or badge of our finitude. It attests the
imperfection, the finitude, of life as a conceptual category, as contrasted
with spirit, the "absolute idea". In fact, Hegel shows, any real finite entity
is also infinite and vice versa, since the real infinite is, qua real and not
abstract, necessarily differentiated. Incarnation directly instantiates this
principle. Here we find philosophy overcoming the otherwise mystical
paradox, "This also is thou, neither is this thou," which it seems might be
said to any person whatever, not simply to a putatively divine one, i.e. to
one infinite in the "abstract" sense merely. "Inasmuch as you did it to one
of the least of these you did it unto me."
Fate, after all, on this perspective, is a bogey, while if death were
correlate with "sin" then the deeper view would be that the saviour, the
one who gets to the bottom of things, as the Idea incarnate, would be
"made sin for us", as we in fact find Paul of Tarsus saying, this being an
image of the total reconciliation which it is the task of philosophy to
envisage. It corresponds to our aspirations and natural capacity, to which
grace belongs as perfecting it. There are no extrinsic principles, that is, of
free actions (in terms of which Aquinas distinguished grace from "natural"
virtue), nor grace outside of freedom.
An existence dependent upon our parents, therefore, cannot be our true
reality. Our first beginning, that purposing of us, of ourselves, which is our
own, transcends time, even if we should hypothesise a pre-natal past. Our
true self, if we should have come so far, is the atman, one with the
Absolute, in the sense in which we, or one of our number, "saw Satan
falling from heaven".
Our being alive is not then due merely to a divine willing, as thought in
bondage to causality, the category, will have it, contradictions
notwithstanding (causa sui again). It is this willing, with which the infant´s
cry for air is one. Only so could we be "loved with an everlasting love".
Yet it is not, of course, that the empirical self chooses its own parents.
The absolute self, rather, manifests both us and our parents together, as
we indeed manifest it. In their difference all are identical in that absolute,
in having the whole within them, without whom it could not be, "that all
may be one" indeed. This phrase, like "I in them and they in me" or
"members one of another", can bear no other sense than identity. The
constancy of human intuition is striking at least.
To speak with Hegel, to follow his conclusions, we might say that the
perception of our multitudinous separateness, as in a "community of
animals", is naturally transcended or sublated in "the unity of the essence
with self-consciousness". This entails that we are, rather, "articulated
groups of the unity permeated by its own life, unsundered spirits

transcendent to themselves, stainless forms and shapes of heaven, that
preserve amidst their differences the untarnished innocence and concord
of their essential natures" (Phenomenology of Mind, tr. Baillie, 452). Anima
mea est quodammodo omnia, it was truly said. For spirits, indeed, identity
in difference is the rule, overcoming the division between self and other
(knowing is having the other as other, says Aquinas, as intellect or sense
indifferently in act is one with what is actually being understood or

We have characterised the ultimate as infinite, infinity, rather than as

necessary being. Of course the infinite is a being, if it is at all, but this is
no more than a formality of thinking, of predication. God will be whatever
he chooses to be. But then there is no need for him to be other than his
creation, as prior and independent. Of course he is prior as principle, as
choice, but why should our own choice, such as our choice to be, then be
duplicated here? The duplication was needed where we thought we had an
idea of infinity as necessarily infinite being, wisdom and so on, as a
plenitude. But God can make himself to anything, the “still small voice”,
the opposite of anything we care to think, as Nicholas of Cusa expresses
better than the nominalists of the century previous to his.
Not everything real exists or has being. Some ideas impose themselves
by their nobility or naturalness independently of whether they are thought
as of something existent. The thought itself can produce a future existent.
Hence it was said that God is pure form. Now form gives being but not as
having it itself. This is the difficulty, the ambiguity, with Thomist angels.
If God does not just find himself in being (he does not) then he is self-
caused, or so we must say so long as our minds are bound to causality as
a category. How though could the God of traditional belief find in himself
such a “reason of being”? As utter freedom, in his infinitude, anything is
possible and so we should start from those results, those choices, which
we know of, viz. ourselves.
To say that God is necessarily a Trinity, for example… how should this
be? Yet, while calling this in question, we seem to want to say of God that
he, she or it is necessarily infinite, perhaps therefore necessarily one. It
might follow from this, from Hegel´s good infinite, that it is identical with
an other, with its other, a finite one, or with finitude, which might be many.
But if the others were many, and in this perfect relation with each other
which would itself be love, spirit, then the need for just the Father would
be eliminated. Men are in fact in a closer relation to one another than
brothers or sons as such (cf. “You are all one person in Jesus Christ”). That
is to say, the concept of God evaporates unless we hold to the actus
essendi as the most perfect and all-inclusive of acts. But then either God
just finds himself in being, which is impossible, or he freely exercises this
act in such a way as we have seen, viz. to eliminate himself in our favour,
i.e. to be identical with us, each one of whom is thus absolute, atman.
For just as the divine thoughts are identical with what they are thoughts
of (i.e. they are not intentional, as if there were anything beyond or added
to God which might be intended), so these thoughts, each one, are
identical with what God is. Here we have the whole in each part, the
atman (if only we spirits exist, a position held by McTaggart and, one can

think, echoed by Heidegger). God does not think these thoughts, since he
is each one (as for Frege a thought can exist on its own), and each one of
us is he. This is the union of parts in a perfect whole, mirroring itself (and
not just by representation but as being) at all points, without divisibility. It
is the union, the reconciliation, of the one and the many. The cement here
is love, superior to knowledge (i.e. a better candidate for perfect
awareness in eternity, as McTaggart expressly argues) as first overcoming
the subject-object duality in cognition, though insofar as sense and
sensible, knower and knowable, are united we are already envisaging a
species of love. By love one is in the other, same and other are
transcended, we are “members one of another”, not of one organic whole
merely but “one of another”. Thus in Christian theology the whole Church
or assembly (qahal) is present in each locality, at every eucharist (sumit
unus sumit mille) and in each person. The now discredited custom of
“private” masses, i.e. intentionally celebrated by the ordained priest on his
own, witnessed to this at least. L,église cést moi. Could only a Pope, a
mere spiritual Napoleon, say that?

We began by considering the life of the individual and its origins. Life, if
seen from the outside, can be seen as the project of imitating, perhaps
displacing, reality, the world. Life, “the immediate idea”, is even, in a
Hegelian perspective, reality´s ultimate coming to itself, in the ante-room
of the absolute idea, after the long journey from the bare initial notion
which just is being, a mental formality. This in fact is why by the
ontological argument infinity, once conceived, has to be. Being is a
formality of thought, as Quine in our day has made clear. This dialectical
journey, in which nothing will survive, nothing does survive, but the last
category of all (which is maybe not yet known to us188), has nothing
directly to do with the journey through time of evolution as we now
perceive it, bound as this is to the imperfect and finite category of life, to
be superseded by cognition and spirit in the dialectic. This necessity
appears to be glimpsed by Teilhard de Chardin when he sees evolution
within the biosphere as about to lead on to the “noosphere”, although this
for him appears to be a temporal process within the ambit of essence only
and so not really dialectical at all. But if life is the precondition for spirit,
whether in time or in notion, then it must prefigure it if seen rightly.
But reality is infinite, since nothing not itself real could bound it. Life
though, or anything individual, indicates reality as present, omnipresent, in
each organism or structure. Being, it was anciently realised, has no parts
and so neither has life (viventibus esse est vivere). Space and time are
here shown to be mere abstract categories. Life is also, or therefore
rather, the application of reason, which is absolute, at each point or part,
since the part here first studies, its behaviour shows, how to maintain itself
in imitation or appropriation of infinitude. This movement, in the sense of a
campaign, is however “cunningly” concealed, everything happening as if
by chance or, at most, by the wish of the organism alone.189 This notion

Cf. J.E. McTaggart, Studies in the Hegelian Dialectic, 1893.
Cf. Hegel, Encycl.209, on the “cunning of reason”.

can as well be applied to a specifically divine Providence as to the
collective unconscious or, indeed, to “the selfish gene”.
The organism thus emerges as, or simply is, a kind of world over against
its containing world which, indeed, it seeks to devour or appropriate, at
the level of the “society of animals”. Each one severally, as later reason,
always in individuals, will know itself as truly all things anyhow. Finally,
indeed, by the principle of incarnation, we find the rational creature
identified with the absolute, finite with infinite, from which, in alienation or
objectification, all creation comes forth as it is manifested in “petrified”
form to common-sense, bound as this is to the perspective of essence.
Even Aquinas allows that more than one human nature, i.e. in principle all,
might be hypostatically united to the absolute.190 As regards such
incarnation, however, we should avoid dualist models, noting rather that
flesh, much more than abstract “body”, is nothing other than spirit´s
medium of exchange and communication, whereby we become one with
one another and take to ourselves what we suppose at first to be an
external environment (as if we might be conceivable apart from it). This is
the true way to understand incarnation, not so much an emptying as the
showing, simply, “in the fullness of time”, of infinity´s face in finitude.
To maintain itself, all the same, the would-be separate organism must
replenish itself from what surrounds it. So it tries various solutions, like
theories or devices when we are trying to understand or explain.
Correspondingly it develops mouths or other organs, which it retains as
long as they serve. Theory is here, for Popper for example, a form of
praxis, as Aristotle too had observed. The organism also begins to modify
the environment by means of external structures, webs, dams, nests,
houses and cities, fuelled by an intentional language it also develops.
These resemble theories more closely still, as conscious solutions to
problems. Problem-solving, in theory or praxis, is the pursuit of happiness.
Consciousness, and therefore also the pre-conscious organism and the
world it displaces or brings to itself, is summoned in its essence to become
absolute, not merely collective but absolute. Nihil humanum alienum puto
; consciousness is at home with itself precisely in the other, Hegel
stresses. Thus as rational everything is human (though the converse of
this is the prior truth), as being object for “the rational creature”, whose
true self, atman again, is the absolute.
In seeing life as a project of duplicating the whole we confirm the
philosophies of coincident monads, of coincidence of opposites, of identity
in difference. Any consciousness is the whole as self-knowing, i.e. to the
extent that it is consciousness. A finite consciousness is ipso facto, or thus
far, a false consciousness. “How can the gods see us face to face until we
have faces?” it is asked in C.S. Lewis´s novel of that name. The true self is
simply Self.
Susan Sontag wrote of Hegel´s intellectual failure, though where he
failed she failed to say.191 His thought, rather, has laid bare the failure of
intellect at the level of (absolute) intellect itself. This is an achievement
though. Dialectical thinking opens the way to that universal affirmation

Summa theol. IIIa.
Booklet on her trip to Vietnam.

(Hegel´s “at homeness”) which is love (having the other as other:
knowledge has only the “form of the” other as other), and to a reality
beyond, though not excluding, existence, such as Neoplatonism or
Buddhism have best charted. “Nothing must bind me to life,” wrote
Beethoven in his notebook, though we know, again, that viventibus esse
est vivere. Nothing must bind me to being, he might have written. It is
reason, thought, which is prior.
Thus all forms of objective representation show themselves to be
provisional, in flux like the evolutionary process itself. The selfish gene
theory is a last ditch holding-out for the philosophy of being as against the
freedom which is infinity (it is a gene which is being). This, and not some
other thesis, is the true “unity of philosophical experience”.

It might seem an anomaly that in biology we simultaneously postulate the

emergence of life from non-life at some past time and reprobate theories
of spontaneous generation from “matter” now. Life, we say, is always a re-
production, the laying of eggs, the splitting of cells. Yet the reproductive
process which carries such production is itself subject to evolution and
now, increasingly, to conscious management and further adaptation,
illustrated, if nightmarishly, in Huxley´s Brave New World of 1937 but
already discussed in Plato´s Republic, at least under its social aspect.
Thus, again, life did not always come from life either, in our linear
natural history. This is so whether we prefer the view of one of the
discoverers of DNA that life originated extra-terrestrially, in view of the
improbability of the intra-mundane evolutionary time-scale, or whether we
incline to explanations of a self-cancelling opening to the development of
life through the atmospheric change producing oxygen and actually
induced by the proliferation of the first organisms, algae, themselves.
These first organisms could thus only have been produced within an
atmosphere which would have been deadly poisonous for any subsequent
But viewed from an absolute idealist standpoint (the philosophical
standpoint, Hegel claims193) neither the anomaly nor its solution signify
unless aesthetically merely. We choose the more harmonious and elegant
explanation, even in logical theory itself. Here, if the explanation of life
shall involve more than the earth and one star, the sun, this will be much
more fitting for this view that life reflects, even is, the universe as a whole.
It has become conscious of itself in the part because the part is the whole.
Science thus requires that it (“things”) be explained holistically.
Thus by the anthropic principle, as it is called, “life in the universe would
be impossible were the nature of the universe (i.e. its physical constants,
dimensions, etc.) only slightly different”194. We have a clear circle here,
man discovering himself. This finds some confirmation in cosmology,

Cf. D. Attenborough, Life on Earth.
Wissenschaft der Logik I, 1, ch.2, Anmerkung 2; Encycl. 67. Such idealism succeeds to
the “metaphysic of understanding” and is now reinforced by quantum physics. “The
battle of reason is the struggle to break up the rigidity to which the understanding has
reduced everything,” Hegel writes, somewhat recalling Wittgenstein.
Stephen J. Dick, “Worlds, Possible Worlds” in Handbook of Metaphysics and Ontology,
ed. Burkhardt & Smith, Munich 1990, Philosophia Verlag, pp. 949-950.

where the human observers within the perspective of quantum physics
can be thought to generate the universe supposedly outside of them. The
ontology of space and time tends thus to be modified accordingly in an
“idealist” direction, as is suggested already in Ludwig Boltzmann´s (1844-
1906) theories, reprobated by the realist Popper.195
Thus viewed, final understanding must transpose evolutionary
development to a dialectic process of thought corresponding to a non-
temporal if matching series, one even of a certain necessity though
imposed by the freedom of infinite intelligence, with which the true self of
each and all eternally corresponds. Within this, our mode of perception
and explanation, we dig up the fossils and journey in space with more or
less virtuality. Thought itself is transposed, again, from a purely intentional
and thus partial mode to a reality overcoming all limitation of parts over
against a supra-organic whole, at once infinitely simple and infinitely
complex. To this corresponds a view of love as mind in a higher mode. We
would claim, for example, that the divine ideas of Augustine and Aquinas
cannot be intentional but, rather, intend themselves.
So Popper, in his feeling that a scientist has to be a naive realist like
Winston Churchill, upon whose argumentation, comparable in relevance to
that of Berkeley´s stone-kicking opponent, he appears to depend 196, is
decidely old-fashioned, to say the least. He sees the physicists as
succumbing to the “temptation” of idealism.
Absolute idealism, however, leaves science and everything else just as it
is. Of course this is true of realism too so that Popper is within his rights
when berating physicists. They should not, that is, allow their physics to
influence their philosophy. Physics could only confirm a philosophy if
physics were independently established. Absolute idealism, in fact, is the
drawing of the consequences of infinity as a reality, inadequately
approached from within realism, theology principally, by the theory of an
analogy of being. A limited being is a false being, as Quinean holism tends
to confirm.
Popper is quite right in saying that Hegel´s background is theological,
but no objection can derive from this. The fact that mind, to be true, has to
think absolutely is not determinism. Augustine and Aquinas grounded
human freedom more immediately than anything else is so grounded in
divine omniscience, which in free actions operates without any other
causal mediation. Quantum mechanics confirm and strengthen this pre-
Leibnizian vision. For that the particles move randomly, as it appears,
confirms that they are free, divinely moved without intermediary, if the
infinite must know actively all things, and to this extent they appear as
microcosms of “the rational creature”. It is in this sense that we would
have an “ordainer of the lottery”, in a universe of real chance nonetheless

See, for example, B.S. DeWitt, “Quantum Mechanics and Reality”, Physics Today 23, 9,
1970, p.30. De Witt describes how theories of Hugh Everett and John A. Wheeler, for
example, deny the existence of any physical reality at all, though they speak in terms of
many worlds constantly dividing up, parts mirroring the whole and so on, just such a
picture as idealism yields. This applies a fortiori to the putative “scientific realism” of
David Deutsch´s possible universes. If every possibility is as such actual then there is no
distinction between thought and the physical. Deutsch seems not to see this.
K.R. Popper, Objective Knowledge, ch. 2.

perfectly known and controlled, Geach´s chess-player who will conclude
the game in just his fore-chosen way from whatever position the
"created"opponent cares to take up.197 Here we have Hegel´s cunning of
reason again, the controlling mind or spirit. Whose mind or minds are
involved here is not at issue. But rationality indeed just is freedom, poised
in judgment between alternatives, not confined to any behavioural or
corresponding environment. By the same token though it is necessity. The
two coalesce.
These particles though are in the mode of our perception, a
misperception in its unanalysed form, as is matter as such. All finite things
in fact fall short of truth in themselves. Popper´s remark about idealism
betraying people in poverty is a total, even a vulgar non sequitur, only
comparable to his revealing remark that theology as such seems to him a
lack of faith.198

Having come so far along the path from being to reason, which in
infinitude is spirit, we should take account of the necessary differentiations
of spirit as tackled in McTaggart´s Studies in the Hegelian Cosmology, for
example.199 Spirit, he argues, is differentiated, besides being reason itself,
into will and even emotion. This recalls us to the “conscious content”
sense of “idea” in the early modern period. Aquinas of course had argued
that in God intellect and will are the same, while emotion was restricted to
flesh and blood creatures.
It has been stressed of late that for Aquinas and the ancient tradition
thought was not seen as an empirical process at all. This stress is a
reaction to a supposed crass psychologizing of logic. Yet timeless ideas
can be personal beings such as we ourselves. In this regard the angels did
duty for us (hence each of has an angelic “guardian”, it was claimed, as in
the Gospel, where the rights of children are founded on the prior right of
their angels, who see the Absolute, God). The angels themselves have no
history. Yet if time is not real then our own history too is a cipher for
something else.
The question of salvation hinges very much upon the dichotomy of
thought and being. How shall I be or become what I am thought of
absolutely, as being, become what I should or ought to be, in other words?
Yet we are what we are and each one of us is his idea, though, like God, we
will be what we will be. The picture, that is, is not ultimate, either in time
or in whatever series time-perception represents. As a man sows so does
he reap, indeed, but we are reaping already, as thieves are set for prison
(Hegel´s example). The sowing is the reaping and thus to them that have
shall be given; they have it already.
The opposition between theory and practice disappears as one
approaches the ground of things. There is great relief in this realisation,
corresponding to the saying, “Whether we live or die we are the Lord´s”.
This corresponds to the contemplative ideal of medieval times, which
should not undermine normal processes of education or of activating
youngsters to virtue. Still, in the temple of the mind one must learn to see
P.T. Geach, Providence and Evil, Cambridge 1977.
Popper,Unended Quest, Fontana 1976, London.
Cambridge 1903.

that all is well and as it should be, this being the only way to mean that
God is God or, as Hegel and McTaggart see it, that reality is rational, the
presupposition of all science. An objector might argue that quantum
determinism has pushed us back to Platonic dualism here, but there too
the unreality of the changeable and chaotic was specifically postulated.
In McTaggart´s system God, or being the Lord´s, corresponds to our own
eternal necessity, a rocklike security indeed. The Absolute there, spirit, is
not a self but is necessarily differentiated into just that particular plurality
made up by ourselves, each one of whom is necessary and eternal though,
qua differentiation, finite. One might say of God also on the old system
that he is not a self, as are the three Trinitarian persons. He is a nature,
not abstractly however. And so here too we might say that humans, the
spirits, are the divine persons making up the Absolute. But then one could
not say that they were finite, in so far as each one is atman. McTaggart´s
concept of part is possibly not sufficiently analogical. For he himself says
that the unity here connecting the individuals is not outside of them but
has “to be somehow in the individuals which it unites”, in each individual,
I take him as meaning. But by such a unity each individual transcends his
finitude. He is finite and infinite at once and this is in perfect accord with
Hegel´s logic, which McTaggart is attempting to draw out here in relation
to immortality.200 This will be, as he says, the most perfect unity of whole
and parts, mirrored by our cognitive processes, where mind, each mind, is
quodammodo omnia and we are, again, members one of another.
Hegel´s logic, says McTaggart, “involves a mystical view of reality”, more
than Hegel himself realised. Yet if there was ever a need for mysticism
then philosophy thus liberated does away with such a need. It is what
mysticism, cramped by social and dogmatic pressures, was beginning to
be. Contrariwise even Aquinas´s system has a certain “impurity” as a
philosophy, corresponding to an epoch where an authoritarian theology
was judged “queen of the sciences.”. When he said that he could write no
more in view of what he had seen we may suspect that he had reached
insights no longer compatible with the enforced orthodoxy although, we
have been claiming here, they may already be derived or developed from
the writings he has left us.
Even if, however, we ascribe an infinity to McTaggart´s parts of the
Absolute, ourselves, there remains a problem as to the number of the
eternal spirits. Should not this too be infinite, unless we can suppose that
the number could have some of the necessity and hence infinitude of the
Trinitarian three, if indeed an infinity can be truly ascribed to this, as is
assumed although Moslems and others would most likely not agree,
finding triplicity of any kind, as against flat unity, an all too finite
condition? Yet if we cannot then suppose this of the number of spirits we
must again take up the old question of an actual infinite multitude. If there
can be an actual infinity, then why not an infinite multitude? There is the
objection that this is harmful to the principle of particular personality
(though Hegel explains personality in terms of universality anyway), a
correlation being drawn between the Christian stress on this and the
discovery that mankind had a beginning within evolution, as it did with

Studies in the Hegelian Cosmology, 11.

Adam of old, in supposed contrast with the cyclic Greek vision of things.
But there are many possible variants here.
If indeed one allows, with McTaggart, reincarnation, then one can as well
allow a plurality of simultaneous incarnations of one spirit, equally
unaware of his or her whole being at this moment (recall Plato´s divided
androgyn) and we might indeed arrive at the one hundred and forty four
thousand of Scripture, or the one hundred and fifty three fishes or indeed
the mystical one person in Jesus Christ, the problem thus evaporating. This
might harmonize quite well with Hegel´s lack of interest in immortality at
which McTaggart exclaims, though he finds it clear that Hegel believed in
it. One again thinks of love, as life in the other. Then the question whether
we or I survive or not might also evaporate, for, as a Buddhist might say, I
do not exist now, I was never born: “no birth, no death”, a view permitting
positive interpretation, they claim. “I live yet not I….” Again, the “in”
relation of Scripture can only be one of identity. “It is not you but God who
worketh in you”. This Absolute though, for McTaggart, is not a self, atman.
He might be relying too heavily on the part-whole alternative here. Is there
an Absolute which is not a person? This is surely a strange conception. Or
is each person the Absolute, as having the unity, i.e. the whole, within
him, in McTaggart´s own words? This might also seem the logical
conclusion to the Kantian philosophy of the person as end pure and

One of the real cleavages in experience is that between thought and

being. It may not be the greatest. There are also those between life and
death, knowledge and ignorance, good and evil, truth and falsity, male
and female, finite and infinite…
So we say, you only thought you did that, we call thoughts entia rationis
merely, and so on. Yet Aristotle described the first principle as nous, as the
thought which thinks itself. This means it is not a substance in being, or
being as such, producing thoughts as accidents. Each or any thought (idea
divina) is identical with what Aquinas later called the essentia divina, not
really, however, an Aristotelian way of speaking. Why should such a being
have an essence, apart from a general prior assumption of essentialism?
Yet Aquinas too affirms that God is actus purus; this act is what God is,
though such a predication effectively negates what it was intending to say,
viz. that God is not anything, not he that acts but the act itself. Aquinas
though calls it an actus essendi, misleading unless we remember that esse
itself (or essendum) is actus actuum, the act of acts; i.e. Aquinas denies
any tie or bond to the predicative attributiveness of our language, agrees
in effect with Hegel that all particular predications falsify.201 For Nicholas of
Cusa God both is and is not.
So it is only on the surface that Aquinas treats being as a quasi-essence,
identifying it indeed with a spurious divine essence. He goes on from there
though to say that being is God´s proper effect, a view one can suspect
either of vacuity (since Hegel shows that being is a first formality of
thought, of thinking, the value of a variable in a later language) or of being

Cf. Encycl. 168f.

an indirect way of stating that God is a creator and properly too, i.e. of
necessity, at least “moral” necessity.
The Buddhist D. Suzuki could not understand why God had to create the
world. This prevented him from becoming a Christian, he tells us.202 Yet
Scripture insists we have our being in God, i.e. there is no “ontological
discontinuity” as imagined in popular religion, a view ultimately able, we
have shown, to accommodate the supposed atheism of a McTaggart. The
Absolute, says Hegel, is necessarily differentiated. This then must be taken
as the meaning of creation, the processio ad extra analogous to the
processio ad intra of the Word and somehow itself in that Word since there
is no outside (extra) of God and nothing extra even in the English sense of
that term. This is the meaning of the tag that creation brings more beings
but not more being, which otherwise would be an unintelligible paradox,
one of the things one “must say”. In passing we may observe that the
processio ad intra concept might be applied to the spirits, ourselves, of
McTaggart´s Absolute, the unity with the whole which each one has then
being a passing into the others as quodammodo omnia, or even omnes,
each as all or all as each. Sumit unus sumit mille, “members one of
If, however, thought is primal then both being and death are overcome
at one stroke. Being is a divine or human thought like any other, even
thought´s first formality. God himself, the actually infinite, is his own
thought of himself, thus indeed causa sui, also for Aristotle. There is
nothing “proper” about being apart from this formal quality which
predicative identification exemplifies. We ourselves are also divine
thoughts (or maybe as well thoughts of one another) and thus one with
the divine essence, i.e. with the Absolute (having the unity with all within
us). This gives us a certain necessity and hence security, to know this. The
element of formality, as the Absolute’s necessary differentiation (it is
otherwise abstract merely), recalls Aquinas’s comparison of the angelic
hierarchy with the number series, although the differentiation envisaged
here is not hierarchic. One might recall Bentham’s “Each to count for one
and none for more than one”, though it is more true to say, we have
found, each to count for all and none for less than all, the burden of also
Kant’s ethics after all. As necessary our being acquires a formal, ideational
aspect, superior to time and space.

What we have been putting forward, prior to any more specific claims, is
that all is the divine thinking. This though has led us to at least speculate
that this that is called divine, as personal, unitary and separate or
transcendent, is itself the thinking which is thought, a thinking of just this
thinking at once identical with each of its thoughts. The unity binding them
is not applied compositely from outside but is in each one of them (as any
divine idea, on the older version, was identical with the divine essence).
We might perhaps say then that it is at once personal or impersonal,
reminiscent of that mythical being with a myriad eyes, ourselves, or
simply of the human mind, quodammodo omnia, the ultimate in quantum-
computers, one might be tempted to say.

D.T. Suzuki, The Field of Zen, Harper & Row, New York 1969, p.. 2-3.

Yet nothing is worth saying or making unless it expresses and is the
whole. The symphony or a painting are pure types of this. As God alone is,
so each idea, as identical with God and only so, is. Yet although we
abstract or form a general idea of existence it is not self-evident that God
or the Absolute has or still less is this idea, though he or it must have the
idea of us forming the idea, which thus, it too, becomes the whole, himself.
For thus too the Absolute, as actively knowing and being all things, must
cause us to do it, inasmuch as we find ourselves so.
The Absolute or God thinks his own act of existence (which is not the
abstracted idea of existence but unique), since he is. Nothing else thus
exists, yet everything else exists in just this way, in the Absolute in unity.
God thinks himself. This, these, are the divine processions, without limit,
ever new as at a first moment, thus ever the same, a series active at all
points as returning upon itself, from which it went out in order, precisely,
to be.
As for us, we exist as thus thought. No special idea of existence is
needed. That I exist means that God thinks me or I think God indifferently.
I know as I am known. The "sheen" of being, even sensuous qualities, the
sparkle of wit, is the infinity of the thinking, itself just therefore as
wordless or "absolute" music.
The caesura between existence and essence is thus unnecessary, indeed
false. Aquinas was thus far right to make of existence an essence (in God,
though one can also say he made there of essence an existence) and the
existentialists, though criticized on this point by Gilson in his On Being and
Some Philosophers, were thus in continuity with him. Essence only occurs
as thought and as divine thought, which thinks only itself (i.e. is not
intentional), it already is one absolute notion. This thought is the divine
being or life, its act is actus purus solely, not substantial, not therefore
substance in a rational nature (the old definition of personality). So this
thought is not other than "he". There is not some other principle. But God
is not thus reduced to "creation". The latter is rather taken up into the
Absolute where alone it is true (Hegel calls this "acosmism", the opposite
of pantheism203). The Absolute exceeds or transcends the parts only or
precisely in being that whole with which each of them is identical, it in
them and they in it, as "contractions" (Nicholas of Cusa).
We can then go on to ask whether all divine thoughts are us persons or
spirits, though we have noted that in being a spirit I might exceed my
present conception of my individuality, e.g. I might be one with what I
have supposed another person, in the past or future or simultaneously
with me indifferently, since time does not signify. Anything other than such
spirits would be our own thoughts as misperceptions and known only thus
within the Absolute, i.e. in one act with his knowledge of the spirits or, we
could rather say, in the absoluteness which is the unitary transparency of
the totality of the spirits, who are spirit, to themselves.
Nothing we have said here contradicts the Thomist-Aristotelian analysis
of created reality as apprehended by us, such as, in particular, the dictum
that there is no class of the things which are, making of being an
analogous concept, even, according to Gilson, a conceptio of something


unconceptualizable (though Geach ridicules this as "self-mate"). Thus we
find the Hegelian McTaggart presenting, in Chapter Two of Studies in
Hegelian Cosmology, an exact replica of Aquinas´s doctrine of cognition in
S.T. I 85 2, whereby what is known, what is "in" the mind, is the thing (res)
itself and not its representation. Hence our claim that absolute idealism
fulfils Thomism. The same seeming paradox of knowledge, as "having the
other as other", is determinative for both systems, even after the
intentional and the real have been identified.
We have in fact no warrant for attributing thought to God, but only for
not denying to him the perfection belonging, in our experience, to thought.
The divine act is very likely far beyond anything we call thought. The same
applies to the Absolute as traced by dialectic. The category called
cognition cannot be shown to be the same as our idea of consciousness,
though this is the one reality we know which fulfils the specifications of
this unity, of the parts with the whole for example, as found in this
The dividing of spirit into knowledge and will falls short of the Absolute.
What we call the divine idea of red, for example, would really be a moment
in the one act which is himself. Yet this act, we are suggesting, is
differentiated. Its differentiation has no meaning but the unity and the
unity has no meaning but the differentiations. The harmony is only
produced in cognition, in a self-consciousness embracing in its inmost the
others as others.

The absolute must be differentiated into persons because no other