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HeyJ (2012), pp.

PROCESSIO AND THE PLACE OF ONTIC BEING:


JOHN MILBANK AND JAMES K.A. SMITH
ON PARTICIPATION
BRENDAN PETER TRIFFETT

University of Tasmania

James K.A. Smith argues that the ontology of participation associated with Radical Orthodoxy is
incompatible with a Christian affirmation of the intrinsic being and goodness of creatures. In
response, he proposes a Leibnizian view in which things are endowed with the innate dynamism of
force. Creatures have a certain depth of being, and are intrinsically good, just because they each
have an inner virtuality that they bring into expression. Such force is said to be a metaphysical
component of the agent. In this paper it is asked whether John Milbanks ontology of participation
can be defended by distinguishing between two senses of being a subject. Perhaps it is possible for
a creature to bring into expression what is an infused alien gift rather than a metaphysical
component to be expressive subject, but not ontic subject, for divine power. However, while this
distinction promises to make sense of the reception of an indwelling other in grace, knowledge and
love, neither proper substance nor proper existence can be received in this way. A creature must be
the ontic subject for its being, after all. Still, divine being might proceed from God as radical
indwelling gift, as non-ontic ground for ontic being.

I. INTRODUCTION

One distinguishing feature of the Radical Orthodoxy movement in theology is its retrieval of the
Platonic notion of methexis, or participation. According to the etymology of Thomas Aquinas,
To participate is, as it were, to take a part of something (partem capare).1 This does not mean
that what is participated in has distinct parts, however. For Aquinas, following Neoplatonism,
participatum indicates a simple source of being, an original perfection or quality received in
lower beings according to an inferior mode or intensity.2 Indeed, methexis in the original Greek
has no reference to parts at all; it simply means to have something after and in pursuit of
another which is originally in possession of it.3 The word first appears as a philosophical term
in the writings of Plato,4 who suggests that the methexis of mundane beings in heavenly Ideas
explains how numerically distinct things can be similar, and how knowledge of them is
possible.5 Radically Orthodox theologians such as John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock draw
upon Plato and the developments of methexis achieved by Augustine and Aquinas in order to
overcome the various nihilisms that purportedly follow from immanentism.6 By immanentism
they mean the project of thinking the world and human existence as essentially autonomous in
respect to God, in either modern or postmodern terms. Milbank and others claim that the various
spheres of corporeal human life would lack depth and meaning if not for their suspension
2012 The Author. The Heythrop Journal 2012 Trustees for Roman Catholic Purposes Registered. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600
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BRENDAN PETER TRIFFETT

(enfolding and interruption) in the transcendent.7 On their view, things have their being and
intelligibility just by participating in a God who exceeds and envelops them:
The central theological framework of radical orthodoxy is participation as developed by
Plato and reworked by Christianity, because any alternative configuration perforce reserves a
territory independent of God. The latter can lead only to nihilism (though in different guises).
Participation, however, refuses any reserve of created territory, while allowing finite things
their own integrity.8

Participation is also given soteriological import. For Milbank, after Henri de Lubac, human
desire and knowledge are oriented to divine life from the beginning, by grace:
The traditional participatory view (as summed up in Aquinas) understood that, if creatures are
not self-standing, then there is nothing complete and autonomous in finite nature, including
especially human nature, which is unaware of its origin . . . [T]he creature by his very nature
paradoxically longs for and somehow intimates what he cannot know by nature . . . namely, his
supernatural raising to the vision of God . . .9

Critical responses to the Christian Platonism associated with Milbank and Pickstock can be
categorised into three groups. This paper deals with an important objection from the third group.
First, the feminist objections in Interpreting the Postmodern: Responses to Radical Orthodoxy10 take issue with the way in which Radical Orthodoxy upholds divine transcendence. For
Catherine Keller and others, to say that the world and human persons participate in transcendence in a God who is immutable, sovereignly independent of creation is to devalue the
immanent world and negate the intrinsic value of human persons and relations. Suggestions are
made in favour of universal participation in a divinity which is not transcendent in the sense just
given.11 Second, there are the responses included in various objections to the reading of Aquinas
proposed in Truth in Aquinas (2001).12 John Marenbon points out that Aquinass claim that
human reason participates in divine reason merely affirms that created intellects imitate divine
intellect, according to a certain similitude. This is different from saying, as Milbank does in his
retrieval of Aquinas, that divine intellect or substance indwells the human intellect, endowing
the latter with divine light or divine reason, albeit according to the limitations of the receiver.13
Michael Mawson claims that Milbanks particular reading of creatures participation in God
confuses the orders of nature and grace where Aquinas does not.14 Third, there are the objections
made from the Dutch Reformed tradition. Michael Horton recommends a theology of covenant over an ontology of participation. He claims that this alone allows for the gratuity and
novelty of salvation in Christ, and properly affirms the distinctness of created persons relative
to God.15 Similarly, for James K.A. Smith, the ontology associated with Milbank and Pickstock
is incompatible with a properly Christian affirmation of the intrinsic being and goodness of
creatures.16
The focus of this paper is Smiths particular response to the ontology of participation.
Critical attention is given to Milbanks ontology, in which participation on the side of creatures correlates with processio or self-communication on the side of God. First, Milbanks
understanding of participation is distinguished briefly from that of Aquinas, in order to isolate
the precise target of Smiths objection. Next, the importance of the ontic possession of force
in Smiths argument is explained. Smith turns to Leibnizs doctrine of force, a wellspring of
action enfolded in a body so as to form a self-expressive monad. Implicit in this appeal to
Leibniz is the claim that (1) a creature can only be an agent if it is an expressive subject of
some virtuality or force if it is united with some dynamising principle such that it can
release that principle into expression. More decisive, though, is the claim that (2) a creature

PROCESSIO AND THE PLACE OF ONTIC BEING

can only be constituted as an expressive subject of some principle if the latter is an ontic
component of that creature. As will be shown, this second condition forms the brunt of
Smiths argument against Milbank and others: If the only being and power that creatures have
is that which they borrow from God by participation, then creatures would be inert bodies
moved about by God from without. For what is proper to God could not possibly become also
a component of the creature. So effectively, Milbank denies that creatures are dynamically
loaded agents, robbing creatures of their depth and mystery against a properly Christian
affirmation of the goodness of creation.
Smiths second condition of agency is then put into question, in a tentative defence of
Milbank. Perhaps it is possible for a creature to be an expressive subject for a dynamising
principle without being an ontic subject for that principle. If divine being or virtuality were
somehow infused into creatures as a dynamising principle yet not as an ontic component or
essence, since that would make creatures literally divine then creatures would be dynamically
gifted participants in God, expressive mediators of divine life. However, it turns out that this is
not sufficient as a response to Smith. The difference between expressive possession and ontic
possession may well mean that there can be many expressive subjects of the one divine essence.
But an adequate ontology of participation one faithful to the integrity of creation requires
more than this distinction. Arguably, to be a distinct expressive subject for the divine does not
suffice for being other to God as a creature, even if it is compatible with it. If in some expressive
subject, there were nothing ontologically different to the divine essence no finite nature into
which the divine might be received, then it is hard to see how that subject would still be a
creature.
The conclusion is as follows. Expressive participation may well be the key to understanding
both grace and intentional life (knowledge and love), but it cannot stand on its own as an
explanation of how creatures exist. At this level, it is not enough to indicate what is universally
and expressively participated in, using the above distinction in support of this; one must also
indicate what it is that participates, what it is that bears God, underlining the finitude of the
bearer. Smith therefore makes an important point when he claims that intrinsic being is to be
thought in ontic, non-participatory terms. Perhaps the closest one can get to an ontology of
expressive participation, then, is a radical coupling of the ontic and the non-ontic to say that
the creature has its distinct ontic being on the condition that it also bears the divine nonontically. This account of ontic being is distinct from that of Smith in two important ways.
Smiths account of ontic being does not incorporate expressive participation in God; nor does
it affirm Gods perpetual giving of being.17
Whether or not Smiths theology leaves room for expressive participation in God understood in terms of some superadded mode of personal being (righteousness and sanctity) is
another question, and is beyond the scope of this paper.18 Nor are the following related
questions dealt with: What must the structure of finite spirit be if it is has a certain receptive
capacity for the divine?19 To what extent does original sin impair this capax dei? For while
Smiths critique offers a Reformed perspective on created being, it is occupied with the basic
existence and intrinsic nature of each creature in general, and not with the special relation that
created spirit might bear toward God, let alone how this relation might be affected by sin and
grace. That is, Smiths particular objection to Radical Orthodoxys use of participation does
not express, precisely, a Reformed emphasis on the enmity that holds between human persons
and God outside of their redemption in Christ (separation as sin, an existential condition).20
Rather, without contradicting this, it expresses a Reformed concern to uphold the positive
difference between creature and God (separation as metaphysical condition, and pre-condition
for covenant).21

BRENDAN PETER TRIFFETT

I. TWO ONTOLOGIES OF PARTICIPATION

There is actually an important difference between Milbanks ontology of participation and that
of Aquinas. This difference is easy to miss given that Milbank often articulates his understanding of participation in Thomistic language, presenting his own ontology as one that faithfully
conveys the Doctors insight.22 As explained below (in section III.), on Milbanks account of
created being a divine principle is infused into each creature; the creature receives its proper
being by virtue of receiving and participating in an alien gift. But for Aquinas, to say that
creatures have being by way of participation is simply to say that (a) the formal content of the
finite being proper to each thing is pre-eminently included in the original plenitude of divine
being (pure esse)23 and that (b) creatures need to be actively sustained by God throughout their
existence.24 In this account of created being there is no mention of (c) divine processio and
infusion. Here the Neoplatonic motifs of processio and methexis are modified with an Aristotelian emphasis on ontically immanent form and act. What proceeds from God to creatures in
the act of creation is not some indwelling divine gift, but rather the non-divine, innate being of
things. Creatures are given a certain likeness to God, not God himself:
[I]t is in the nature of every act to communicate itself as far as possible . . . Now the divine
nature is supreme and most pure act: wherefore it communicates itself as far as possible. It
communicates itself to creatures by likeness only: this is clear to anyone, since every creature
is a being according to its likeness to it.25

Nor does an uncreated gift appear in this account as the enveloping ground of created gift. By
contrast, Milbanks account is more strongly panentheistic. On his view God does not give finite
being without breathing himself forth as enveloping ground, as ontological topos. Milbank
asks how it was possible for God to create, given that there is no exterior to God, no sum which
might add to his amount. The sophiological solution that he offers, following the Russian
theologian Sergei Bulgakov, is that God must have gone outside of himself.26 That is, God is
given forth as Sophia, the ontological ground or womb in which creation has its being.27
To be sure, in the view of Aquinas God is actively present in all creatures:
God is in all things by His power, inasmuch as all things are subject to His power; He is by His
presence in all things, as all things are bare and open to His eyes; He is in all things by His
essence, inasmuch as He is present to all as the cause of their being.28

But none of these modes of presence is the result of divine self-communication and infusion;
they do not, as such, involve an entrustment of divine life to mediating creatures.29 To be a
created subject of the divine in this sense a sense to be explored further below is surely
more than to be a term, effect or object of divine activity, at the end of a divine act. It is also
to be a repeater of divine activity, at the beginning of a divine act. Hence we find Milbank
recruiting the notion of poesis, understood as inspired self-expression a creative act that
coincides with the (mediated) expression of some indwelling other with its own virtus or
power. He agrees with Nicholas of Cusa that while human creative power and natural power is
never equal to God . . . in its very creative exercise [it] participates in the divine Logos or Ars.30
It is important to take note of the difference between these two ontologies, because the
dialectic between Smiths emphasis on the ontically proper and Milbanks emphasis on the
alien proper does not play itself out once participation is limited to its Thomistic meaning.
To avoid confusion, Milbanks account of being will be described as an ontology of expressive
participation.31

PROCESSIO AND THE PLACE OF ONTIC BEING

II. JAMES K.A. SMITH AND THE ONTIC POSSESSION OF FORCE

In light of recent philosophies of pure immanence, which consciously reject Platonic methexis, one might be tempted to connect the rejection of participation with the rejection of
transcendence (God, the Good).32 However, the refusal of participation is not in every
case a refusal of a traditional theological understanding of the goodness of creation. For
one might argue, as does James K.A. Smith, that thinking created beings as Leibniz
does as dynamically charged or front-loaded33 centres from which their expressions independently unfold affords the most value to creation and in turn gives the most glory to the
Creator. Smith asks if perhaps the most radical affirmation of transcendence is accomplished
in the affirmation of immanence. He suggests that one powerful affirmation of immanence
is found in the metaphysics of Leibniz, as rediscovered by Gilles Deleuze. And in that case,
would not Deleuze be an important ally in the development of a creational ontology?34 Smith
therefore puts Deleuze to work (or Deleuze-reading-Leibniz to work) in his non-participatory,
non-Platonic affirmation of the goodness of creation. In the process, of course, he avoids the
atheistic gestures of the Frenchman, emphasising instead the theism of Leibniz:35
What Deleuze sees Leibniz doing is overturning Platonism . . . by means of subverting dualism
(though there certainly remain dualities in Leibniz) . . . [W]hat Deleuze finds in Leibniz
is a certain reenchantment of the material whereby nature is invested with a dynamism and
a plenitude.36
In his constructive proposal, Leibniz argues forcefully for the sufficiency of nature as created.
Rather than lacking something, and thus needing perpetual divine intervention, creation is
front-loaded, so to speak, with all that it requires to function.37

Smith sees this understanding of the dynamic endowment of creatures as different to the
ontology of Radical Orthodoxy, referring to the work of John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and
Graham Ward. He agrees that it is necessary to affirm the integrity of creation, and that such
integrity is compatible with a traditionally theological worldview, since it does not imply that
the world is completely autonomous or independent from God as Deleuze thinks. His critical
point is that the theo-ontology of Radical Orthodoxy in fact negate[s] the integrity of a good
creation insofar as this ontology takes over the Platonic notion of methexis.
Smith finds this participatory framework to entail a problematic absence of any inner
dynamism in creatures. Of course this result is not intended by Milbank and others, and Smith
does not claim this. Smith quotes Ward, who proposes that things are continually in a state of
being gifted to us, animated for us, by God himself38 such that the potential of each thing
abides in and around it.39 The comment of Smiths that follows this citation is telling:
So there is a sense in which the being of things seems to be extrinsic to them rather than
inhering in them. As a result, [Radical Orthodoxys] participatory ontology can slide toward
an occasionalism that requires the incessant activity of the Creator to uphold what would seem
to be a deficient creation a tendency to emphasize the creatures participation in the divine
to the extent that it seems the divine does everything.40

Before continuing, two critical points related to this quotation are in order. First, the pertinent
question is not exactly whether the divine does everything, but whether the creatures activity
can be attributed to the creature truthfully. For the authors to whom Smith is responding, the
creatures real agency is compatible with nay, made possible by the fact that God is at work
in all activity as primary cause, such that God is more than a deistically removed first cause.

BRENDAN PETER TRIFFETT

Hence, if Smiths comment is to reach its target, it should rather say that emphasizing
participation makes it seem that the creature does nothing.41
Second, it should be noted that occasionalism is, according to one careful definition at least,
the denial that created beings are efficacious in bringing about change in other things, even as
mediators of Gods effective presence (i.e. as secondary causes).42 But this is compatible with
saying that spiritual subjects are responsible for their acts of will.43 Smiths primary motivation
in avoiding occasionalism, however, is not so much the need to affirm that creatures actually
move others, but the need to affirm that they are self-moving. His first concern in the theological
enchantment of creation is clearly the possibility of immanent agency rather than transeunt
agency. This is shown by his relation to Leibniz. Smith objects to the idea of pre-established
harmony between windowless monads, on the grounds that this excludes genuine interaction
and relation between creatures. He suggests that this particular correction of Leibniz can be
delayed, and turns happily to the dynamically enfolded structure of the Leibnizian monad in
order to avoid occasionalism.44
Smiths argument can be summarised as follows. First, if an entity were not dynamically
endowed in possession of some force or potential by which it acts or brings itself into
expression it would not have genuine being (integrity), and so would not be intrinsically
good. Thus, along with the link between power and being, Smith repeats the traditional link
between being and goodness.45 Second, it is claimed that the participatory suspension of
creatures in God is incompatible with their real dynamic endowment by God. If creatures had
their being only by participation, they could not possibly be dynamically endowed the divine
would do everything (by which Smith means, the creature would do nothing). This second
claim depends on a crucial assumption, to be uncovered shortly. The two claims together lead
to the valid conclusion: a participatory ontology effectively denies the intrinsic goodness of
creation. Given that Smith is theologically committed to the goodness of creation as a reflection
of the power and goodness of God, it is understandable that he offers Leibnizian integrity as
an alternative to methexis. It is precisely Leibnizs desire to do justice to the glory of the
Creator that leads him to so emphasise the self-sufficiency or integrity of creation as a structure
of immanence.46
If it is agreed that a theo-ontology for which the creature effectively does nothing is highly
problematic, then the notion that creatures are dynamically endowed with an expressible
potential whereby they act, is certainly important.47 But it is another thing to reduce dynamic
endowment the constitution of the creature as an agent to the endowment of the creature
with a force or potential that is ontically proper to it. The crucial assumption made in Smiths
argument is that force, or at least some dynamising principle in the creature, has to be a
metaphysical component of the creature.48 This explains his attraction to the monadology of
Leibniz:
The basic units that Leibniz describes as monads are composed of force and matter and cannot
be separated from matter. In fact, for Leibniz, the immaterial aspect of the monad is identified
with force, and this force is itself an inherent law imprinted by divine decree on materiality.
In this sense, what is compressed or folded into the monad is simply order that inheres in
matter.49

Smith takes it for granted that it is impossible for an agent to be dynamically endowed with a
principle for which it is not the metaphysical subject, which here means the subject in which
some predicate or component enjoys concrete reality and is saved from being merely an
abstraction. More precisely, he does not consider the possibility that the creatures basic
dynamic endowment that endowment whereby the creature is able, is therefore good might

PROCESSIO AND THE PLACE OF ONTIC BEING

be its endowment with the empowering Spirit of God, given as indwelling gift. Within Smiths
theological horizon, the dynamic endowment of the creature could only be its being given itself,
or more precisely the force-component of itself.
What is assumed in Smiths argument, then, is identity or co-extension between what might
be called (i) the expressive or dynamical sense of being-in-a-subject and (ii) the ontic or
metaphysical sense. For Smith, the energy of the creature, in the dynamical/expressive sense
of being that in the creature whereby it acts, or what it brings into expression, has to be an
energy that has the creature as its metaphysical subject. More precisely, the inseparability of the
two modes of being-in-a-subject is implied for the constitution of the creature, while nothing
positive or negative is implied at all about a possible separation at an accidental level. In the
terms of Leibniz specifically, force must be enfolded in body to make with it a single entity (a
monad).50
Smiths full argument, including the assumption of the ontic possession of force, is as
follows:
(1) Intrinsic goodness requires intrinsic being.
(2) To have intrinsic being is to be endowed with innate dynamism.
(3) A creature can only have innate dynamism, and be constituted as an (immanent) agent, if it
is essentially an expressive subject of some virtuality or force if it is always-already united
with some dynamising principle such that it can release that principle (and thus itself) into
expression.
(4) A creature can only be constituted as an expressive subject of some dynamising principle
if the latter is an ontic component of the creature.
(5) Whatever is proper to God could not possibly become also a component of the creature.
(6) If the only being and power that creatures have is that which they borrow from God by
participation, then creatures would in fact have no dynamising principle; they would be
intrinsically inert [from (3), (4) and (5)].
(7) The ontology of participation therefore robs creatures of their depth and mystery (i.e. their
intrinsic being) [from (2) and (6)] against a properly Christian affirmation of the goodness
of creation [from (1)].

III. JOHN MILBANK AND THE EXPRESSIVE POSSESSION OF FORCE

The central question of this paper has to do with the relation between expressive subject and
ontic subject. A certain inseparability is claimed for the two at point (4) above. So it is tempting
to think that, by showing that a creature might be an expressive subject for some dynamising
principle without being an ontic/metaphysical subject for that principle, the being and goodness
of creatures would be redeemed for an ontology of (expressive) participation. The question is
whether this works to disarm Smiths argument.
At the very least, the distinction between these two senses of being a subject, promises to
shed light on the notion of divine processio, the infusion of the divine into creatures. This is
relevant because processio self-communication, expansion into another by a certain selfdoubling is the key to the particular ontology in question. Milbank understands participation
in terms of the creatures expressive mediation of indwelling divine gift. According to Milbank
or this gloss on Milbank the created subject possesses a divine principle in an expressive
sense, but not in an ontic sense. The divine principle remains wholly different to the creature
even as it is infused as an indwelling gift. Wholly different does not here mean qualitatively

BRENDAN PETER TRIFFETT

different (completely dissimilar) but already ontologically complete, taking no part in the
substance of the recipient, and so arriving and penetrating the recipient from without. The
distinction between the ontically proper and the dynamically proper is arguably at work in
Milbanks claim that the very alien gift . . . becomes what is proper to the entities which
receive it entities which are thereby empowered as secondary agents:
Until 1250 or so influentia was linked with neoplatonic notions of processio and remained true
to its metaphorical base. Divine influence (but also finite influence) was literally an in-fluentia,
a flowing in of something higher to something lower to the degree that it could be received
. . . Since the original thing (Being, intelligence, soul, beauty, goodness, truth, unity, etc.) is
fully received from the highest level by the lower levels according to their capacity for
reception, it is the very alien gift that becomes what is proper to these lower levels. Hence God
is the single influence, the single unilateral and total cause of everything. Yet since he shares
by giving his own nature, by giving his gifts to-be, the lower levels exert within their own
sphere their own secondary and equally total causality.51

Here Milbank expresses a Neoplatonic intuition of a gift that descends hierarchically and
somehow remains other to its recipient even as it is proper to it. This gift is alien to the
recipient just because it is not alienated from the giver, the higher principle. In-fluentia is a sort
of expansion or self-communication of some active principle; what flows into another remains
consubstantial one thing with its source. The gift is not transferred from giver to recipient,
as if the gifts being-proper to the recipient replaced and negated its being-proper to the giver.
Rather, the gift becomes doubly proper.52 What is ontically proper to the giver becomes
expressively proper to the recipient (and not also ontically proper). In short, processio is an
increase in expressive extension, not an increase in metaphysical extension.
If this reading is correct, then the import of the passage above is not grasped as long as
influentia is taken in a reduced sense as a causal event in which some recipient is simply given
itself or some ontic component or determination of itself. Indeed, to say that divine influentia
simply means the causal event that establishes the creature in its act of being that gives the
creature its proper esse is still insufficient. For to say that the creature is given itself and its
basic actuality is not yet to say that the creature is infused and united with some alien gift.
Neither (a) the unity of an single entity with itself, (b) the unity between an entity and one of
its metaphysical components, nor (c) the unity between an entity and some act or determination
of that entity, is a differential relation or bond one that holds between one whole substance
and another.
To be sure, one might claim that none of these unities occurs except by virtue of such a
differential relation or bond (methexis, infusion) in which case, by the way, it is denied that
one term of the relation, the participant, exists prior to its being in this relation, notwithstanding
the fact that the relation is differential. That is, one might say that methexis, understood in terms
of influentia or the self-communication of the divine, is the transcendental condition for the
unity between a creature and whatever it bears as metaphysical subject (i.e. whatever is proper
without being truly other or alien). But to make such a claim to affirm the primacy of the
differential is to go further than to claim that the creature is given actively whatever is proper
to itself, even if that giving is said to be continual and constitutive. We return to this idea of the
primacy of the differential at the end of the paper.
To repeat, if one understands the divine cause as that which (continually) gives whatever is
proper to creatures, one does not necessarily interpret the divine cause as that which gives by
infusing itself. It is only with the latter thought that the essence of influentia in the above
passage is grasped. The gift from above would not be alien there would not be true processio

PROCESSIO AND THE PLACE OF ONTIC BEING

if this gift were possessed ontically/metaphysically. It follows that the gift must be possessed
in some other way if infusion is to occur. In support of this reading, Milbanks effective denial
of ontic possession in the above passage is combined with an effective affirmation of dynamical
possession. Yet since [God] shares by giving his own nature. . . . the lower levels [i.e. creatures]
exert within their own sphere their own secondary and equally total causality. That is, God gives
himself by infusion, and in this way creatures are empowered to exert, to cause, to act to bring
into expression, in various ways, the same divine principle ex-propriated into many. And this is
compatible with saying that God does everything.

IV. INTENTIONAL PARTICIPATION

The distinction proposed here, between two senses of being-in-a-subject,53 is a promising


beginning in the task of making sense of expressive participation. It opens a viable path of
thought beyond the requirement that expressible force be possessed ontically, as a metaphysical
component. Of course, it must still be asked whether, against Smith, the intrinsic being and
goodness of creatures can be accounted for adequately in terms of their expressive participation
in God. Before addressing this question, however, it is worth pointing out a second advantage
of the distinction offered here. Milbank is clearly in a better position than Smith when it comes
to (1) accommodating the possibility of grace a divine gift that transforms the created human
recipient and empowers her supernaturally. But the notion of expressive participation appears
unavoidable also when (2) accounting for the subjects intentionality in the horizontal direction,
in relation to other creatures. For it is hard to see how one might account for the spiritual acts
of knowledge and love in terms of ontically possessed power alone. If what we know and love
did not somehow communicate itself as a virtuality or potential, so as to be re-enacted or
re-expressed in an intentionally participating subject, then how could our acts of knowledge and
love ever be true to their objects?54
It is worth developing this argument briefly. Our experience of how we come to know things
and persons, and even love them, is an experience of encountering phenomena and receptively
conforming ourselves to them with attentive effort through time. So it is implausible that the
medium in the subject by which he or she knows is simply the essence of the subject, or some
metaphysical component of the subject, or some innate power that flows from this, or even some
idea that the subject generates autonomously. The human subject is neither angelic nor divine,
and so things must act upon her in such a way that she is moved to know something of them,
under certain conditions. What, then, is the proper effect of a knowable thing on an intelligent
subject? Does the object to be known influence the subject just by causing a certain determination in her (a sensation, image, idea, or representation)? That is, does the noetic medium,
whatever it might be, inhere in the subject according to ontic possession alone not as a
component, to be sure, but as an externally caused determination of the mind and/or body?55 Or
is the influence of the object rather an in-fluentia, a processio whose fruit in the subject is (the
form of) the same object, possessed expressively?56 If there is no processio from object to
subject, the following problem arises. What ensures the proper correspondence between the
relevant idea or state-of-being in the subject, and the state-of-being in the object to which the
former idea or state is supposed to refer? But if there is processio, and the noetic medium
inheres expressively rather than ontically in the knower, then the medium is in fact one thing,
one substance with the object or at least, one thing with the formal or intelligible component
of the object. The processio and in-fluentia of the object into the subject would mean that the
object is able to be known (and loved) through itself, or through what is deepest in itself. The

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BRENDAN PETER TRIFFETT

problem of how one state (some representation in the subject) can be proportioned to another
(some state or form in the object) is solved or overcome by positing a certain self-proportion in
the object into which the subject is drawn.57 And this solution requires the distinction between
two senses of being-in-a-subject.
To be fair on Smith, the latters ontology is not offered as a complete metaphysics whose
explanatory scope should include knowledge and love. His motivation in sketching a Leibnizian
ontology of creation in Introducing Radical Orthodoxy is simply the intuition that the ontic
being or basic nature of the creature cannot be possessed by methexis, as something external and
other to the creature. Recall that Smiths diagnosis of the ontology of participation is that there
is a sense in which the being of things seems to be extrinsic to them rather than inhering in
them.58 And it is fair to say that there is an either/or between extrinsic and intrinsic when it
comes to the ontic being or nature of things. How could the essence of something possibly be
possessed as an indwelling other? Surely, ontic being cannot be doubly proper or indwelling
gift. So if its otherness and externality is affirmed as it is on Smiths reading of the ontology
of participation its internality to the creature is lost, problematically. The reasonable response
is of course to affirm the internality of ontic being, purely and exclusively. At this level, the
distinction between two ways of being-in-a-subject is inapplicable. Indeed, it is hard to see how
a subject could even participate intentionally in some knowable or lovable object, if it did not
already possess ontically some intellectual power or capacity.

V. TOWARD AN ADEQUATE ONTOLOGY OF PARTICIPATION

The expansive processio of what is one with or proportioned to itself even as it is given over to
another (expressively, but not ontically), promises to explain how there can be relational ecstasy,
transcendence-toward-another in knowledge and love. This account of processio can be applied
to the persons transcendence toward other persons and things in the world, and also to his or
her transcendence toward God. But if processio has explanatory power at this level, is it able,
on its own, to account more radically for the being and goodness of creatures?
It would appear not. In Milbanks ontology of participation, the primary subject of processio
is God. It is said that God expands himself to provide in person the ontological place in
which creatures subsist. From another angle, God is diffused into creatures as an expressible
principle, and in that way grounds creatures in their very being. However, the notion of
processio does not appear to be able to do any work in accounting for the existence of the
recipient of infusion, at least not on its own. That is not to say that to refer to processio is already
to admit, implicitly, that the target of processio must exist prior to and independently of this
movement. To affirm processio is not yet to say anything about the manner in which the
recipient exists; it is merely to trace an expansive movement of self-giving on the active side,
and possibly also a being-penetrated or being-gifted on the passive side. So it would seem that,
if there is to be some distinct positivity into which processio proceeds, there must either be a
pre-existing recipient, or else the generation of some recipient along with the event of processio.
To repeat this argument: the event in which the creature is given itself cannot be reduced to
processio, understood as Gods giving himself as expressible principle. The act of producing
another cannot be included in or reduced to the act of self-expansion at least not if the one
produced has a different nature to the one producing. If everything is to be traced back to God
as first cause, then along with divine processio there must also be a creative act of God that
generates (and possibly also sustains) some finite positivity a creature with its own, ontically
possessed, non-divine nature. Otherwise the creature would not have any nature that would

PROCESSIO AND THE PLACE OF ONTIC BEING

11

distinguish it from divine nature; there would be nothing ontologically distinct from the divine
gift to which the latter might be given. Surely, no being can have its nature by expressive
possession alone; the (first) nature of a thing is a metaphysical component, not an indwelling
other or alien gift.
There is one simple reason, then, why expressive participation cannot account for the
intrinsic being of creatures. Expressive participation, by definition, does not directly account
for anything that is ontically proper to the participant. For a creature to participate expressively in God, is for it to be given the divine being and power as an indwelling other or
alien gift that can be brought into expression, mediately. But the nature of the creature has
to be an ontically possessed, metaphysical component of the creature. And without its nature,
the creature would be nothing. If being signifies the nature, substance or form of an entity,
then it cannot be possessed as an object of expressive participation. In fact, neither can the
existential act of an entity be borrowed from God in this way. How could the act of being
or any act, for that matter possibly be something that indwells its subject as an alien
gift? Perhaps the creatures proper esse must be given continually to the creature by God, and
perhaps the creatures esse is distinct from its essentia. But that does not make esse a nonontic gift to the creature.
The only sense in which being might be received non-ontically and this is probably to
stretch the sense of being somewhat if it is meant as the ontological ground or matrix of
things. This third sense seems to be what Milbank is pursuing intuitively in the following:
The ruling principle of this philosophy or theology [of participation], which is derived
directly from the Thomist real distinction [between essentia and esse], is the paradoxical
superaddition of the most inward and essential, in continuity with the ideas of the neoplatonist Proclus, who proclaimed . . . that the highest cause always works within things more
inwardly than lower causes. Thus the esse of God gives existence to everything and is the
existence of everything, even though existence is the enigma most proper to each separate
reality.59

Of course, this way of expressing the matter is confused. If by the existence . . . proper to
each separate reality Milbank means the basic act or actuality of each thing, then he is surely
wrong (a) to say that the esse of God . . . is the existence of everything and (b) to ascribe this
view to Aquinas. On the other hand, if Milbank means that God gives by processio an
enfolding ground whose presence is the condition for proper esse, a more coherent view is
offered although this is still not the view of Aquinas.
What, then, might be a more appropriate way of accounting for the being of things in an
ontology of expressive participation? On one hand, ontic being and divine gift must be properly
distinguished. It will not do to reduce ontic being to a non-ontic gift. Nor would it be orthodox
to make what can only be a non-ontic gift (divine being) into an ontic one (creaturely being).
On the other hand, if one admits that the ontic being of the creature can be sustained prior to or
independently of the creatures expressive participation in God, then such participation no
longer does ontological work, strictly speaking the creatures participation in God would
presuppose an already-existing subject. So perhaps the closest one can get to an ontology of
expressive participation is by making the following claim. Neither proper essentia nor proper
esse can be sustained in a creature by God, unless God also gives himself as indwelling gift and
enveloping ground. Divine gift is not the being of creatures, but the topos of the God-given
being of creatures. The gift of God that gives being is neither singular nor univocal God gives
to the creature both God as ontological ground and the creature itself in its ontic being, in a
donative couplet.

12

BRENDAN PETER TRIFFETT

VI. THREE ACCOUNTS OF ONTIC BEING

From this perspective, what is to be said about Smiths metaphysics? Three concluding points
are to be made here. First, it appears that isolating the expressive sense of being a subject,
does not in fact disarm Smiths argument at the intended point. It is hard to see how any
ontology could maintain that creatures have intrinsic being and goodness, while also refusing
any distinct ontic domain for them. Surely, what creatures possess cannot be reduced to
whatever indwells them as alien gift even if this indwelling has some grounding function.
The recipient cannot be reduced to the penetrating gift, even if this gift is such that the
recipient cannot exist without it. If not for the distinct finite positivity of the recipient, the
latter would either have no nature and no existence, or it would have the same ontic nature
as the divine gift and be itself divine. (Indeed, the recipients positivity not only ensures the
relational difference between the creature and God; it also ensures that the creature is different to the created things it receives in knowledge and love.) Thus Smith has an important
point to make when stressing the exclusively intrinsic being of creatures. All would be lost
for the creature qua creature if it had no finite ontic being, which is what would follow
if creatures possessed divine gift only. True, Smith does not consider the possibility that
the creatures basic dynamic endowment might be its endowment with the empowering
Spirit of God, given as indwelling gift. But unless such endowment is coupled with an
ontic gift as just proposed, then the scenario that Smith ignores is impossible for creatures
anyway.
However and this is the second point one need not accommodate ontic being in the way
that Smith does. If the creatures essence or nature cannot be reduced to a non-ontic gift from
above, it might still have the indwelling of the latter as its necessary condition, as explained
above. In fact the third point it is even possible to accommodate ontic being without
postulating this condition, by adopting another, intermediate position. For Smith, following
Leibniz, the integral constitution of the creature is simply effected by God in an act of creation,
where such an act is neither ongoing, nor involves the diffusion of the very substance of God to
form the enveloping ground of things:
God first created the soul, he [Leibniz] emphasizes, or any other real unity, in such a way that
everything in it arises from its own nature . . . The emphasis here is on an original goodness
or sufficiency: God grants integrity at the outset . . . at the moment of creation.60

Smiths position is thus characterised by (1) a denial of participatory enfolding (the dynamical
givenness of God-as-gift) in favour of ontic enfolding (force is folded into body, to make a
monad whose expressions are the unfolding of this potential)61 and (2) a denial of the need for
Gods continual activity, in favour of the initial sufficiency of God, who is thought to be like a
perfect clock-maker:
Leibniz emphasizes an ordering that is inherent to nature: For since this earlier command does
not now exist, it cannot now do anything unless it left behind some continuing effect which
still endures and operates. Theories of nature that require a perpetual governance of God are,
according to Leibniz, denigrations of the Creator, for what would we think of a clock maker
who needed to constantly turn the hands of the clock naturally . . . If things have been formed
by the command in such a way that they are capable of fulfilling the meaning of the command
then it must be admitted that things have been given a certain ability, a form of force from
which the series of phenomena follows in accordance with the dictates of the original
command.62

PROCESSIO AND THE PLACE OF ONTIC BEING

13

An intermediate position would deny participatory enfolding, while still granting that the
creature is upheld by God at every moment, perpetually sustained in its ontically dynamic
being. On this non-Leibnizian view, Gods continual activity in giving (ontic) being is
compatible with, and is the condition for, the innate dynamism of creatures. On one hand, the
continual reception of being here does not mean that esse is, impossibly, an act that indwells the
creature as an alien gift. On the other hand, the fact that the unity of essentia and esse that
makes for a creature is fundamentally volatile and so must be re-given perpetually, makes the
creatures proper esse in one respect more other to the creature when compared with the
manner in which dynamic being is possessed in the Leibnizian view.63 If one does not distinguish clearly between the ontic and the non-ontic, and if one is not careful in the use of
metaphysical terms, it would be easy to confuse this weak sense of otherness, which can
coherently be attached to proper esse, with the stronger sense of an indwelling, non-ontic gift,
which cannot. This might explain Milbanks moment of confusion in the passage above.64

Notes
1 Thomas Aquinas, In librum Boethii De hebdomadibus exposition., lect. 2, n. 24. Translation from Rudi A.
te Velde, Participation and Substantiality in Thomas Aquinas (Leiden: Brill, 1995), p. 11.
2 At the very least, this is how Aquinas understands the participation of a created effect in its divine cause.
In his commentary on Boethius De hebdomadibus (op.cit.), Aquinas distinguishes between (a) the merely
logical participation of the individual in its species or genus, and of a species in its respective genus, (b) the real
participation of a subject in its accidents, and of matter in form, whereby a repeatable form (accidental or
essential) is determined to one thing, which is now such (e.g. a man) or qualified (e.g. white), and (c) the real
participation of an effect in its cause. For commentary see te Velde, Participation, pp. 1114.
3 See D.C. Schindler, Whats the Difference? On the Metaphysics of Participation in a Christian Context,
The Saint Anselm Journal 3 (2005), pp. 127 (here p. 1).
4 See Sr. M. Annice, Historical Sketch of the Theory of Participation, New Scholaticism 26 (1952), pp.
4979 (here p. 51).
5 Schindler (art.cit., p. 1n4) lists some key references to Platos use of methexis, citing E. Moutropoulos
LIde de participation: Cosmos et praxis, Philosophia 32 (2002), pp. 1721. These are: Protagoras 322a;
Symposium 208b; Republic VI 486a; Parmenides 132d, 151e; Sophist 256b, 259a; Timaeus 77b; Laws IX 859e.
6 See John Milbank, C. Pickstock and G. Ward (eds.), Radical Orthodoxy: A New Theology (London:
Routledge, 1999). See also John Milbank, Theology and Social Theory: Beyond Secular Reason, 2nd edn
(Oxford: Blackwell, 2006); Catherine Pickstock, After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1998) and Graham Ward, Cities of God (London: Routledge, 2000). Two good introductions to Radical Orthodoxy are James K.A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Toward a Post-Secular
Worldview (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004) and Steven Shakespeare, Radical Orthodoxy: A Critical
Introduction (London: SPCK, 2007). However, developments at the Centre of Theology and Philosophy at the
University of Nottingham demonstrate a movement away from strict identification with a particular school of
thought, in favour of a network of overlapping intellectual interests and viewpoints.
7 J. Milbank, G. Ward and C. Pickstock, Suspending the Material: The Turn of Radical Orthodoxy in
Milbank, Pickstock and Ward, Radical Orthodoxy, pp. 120 (here pp. 34).
8 Milbank, Ward and Pickstock, Suspending the Material, p. 3. Worldliness is not understood here in the
religiously negative sense (where worldly means ungodly, immersed in the fleeting pleasures of life or even
captive to the ruler of this world, the devil) but in a non-negative sense; the worldliness of the body and
friendship and so on simply denotes their happening here and now, in sensuous immediacy, in time and space
as we know it.
9 J. Milbank, The Double Glory, or Paradox versus Dialectics: On Not Quite Agreeing with Slavoj iek
in Slavoj iek and John Milbank, The Monstrosity of Christ: Paradox or Dialectic? ed. Creston Davis
(Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2009), pp. 110233 (here p. 202). This is the reading of Aquinas given in Henri
de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York: Crossroad Publishing
Company, 1998). See also John Milbank, The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning
the Supernatural (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005).

14

BRENDAN PETER TRIFFETT

10 Rosemary Radford Ruether and M. Grau (eds.), Interpreting the Postmodern: Responses to Radical
Orthodoxy (London and New York: T&T Clark, 2006).
11 See especially C. Keller, Is That All?: Gift and Reciprocity in Milbanks Being Reconciled in Ruether
and Grau (op.cit.), pp. 1835; M. Rivera Rivera, Radical Transcendence? Divine and Human Otherness in
Radical Orthodoxy and Liberation Theology in op.cit., pp. 119138; and M. Grau, We Must Give Ourselves
to Voyaging: Regifting the Theological Present in op.cit., pp. 14160. These objections falsely ascribe to
Milbank and Pickstock a purist understanding of divine transcendence transcendence as a mode of being
elsewhere which does not involve, at the same time, the immanent envelopment and animation of things by the
divine ground or matrix. Neither Milbank nor Pickstock thinks Gods transcendence in such a way that
creatures are said to exist in some place or ground which abides apart from God. The denial of any ontological
grounding external to God is precisely what their renewal of methexis is meant to underline.
12 John Milbank and C. Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas (London: Routledge, 2001).
13 J. Marenbon, Aquinas, Radical Orthodoxy and the Importance of Truth in Wayne J. Hankey and D.
Hedley (eds.), Deconstructing Radical Orthodoxy: Postmodern Theology, Rhetoric and Truth (Aldershot:
Ashgate Publishing, 2005), pp. 4964. The same distinction between created similitude and divine infusion is
applied at an ontological level in section I. below. Aquinas associates the indwelling of divine light exclusively
with final beatitude, as Paul DeHart points out. For the latter, Milbanks misreading of Aquinass analogy of
being in terms of an inchoate intuition of divine being, is a function of Milbanks fiercely anti-Kantian approach
to Aquinas. P. DeHart, On Being Heard But Not Seen: Milbank and Lash on Aquinas, Analogy and Agnosticism, Modern Theology 26 (2010), pp. 24377. See also Nicholas Lash, Where Does Holy Teaching Leave
Philosophy? Questions on Milbanks Aquinas, Modern Theology 15 (1999), pp. 4334.
14 M. Mawson, Understandings of Nature and Grace in John Milbank and Thomas Aquinas, Scottish
Journal of Theology 62 (2009), pp. 34761. Milbank attempts to account for the distinction between nature and
grace in terms of different degrees of participation in God. J. Milbank, Truth and Vision in John Milbank and
C. Pickstock, Truth in Aquinas (London: Routledge, 2001), pp. 1959 [a republication of J. Milbank, Intensities, Modern Theology 15 (1999), pp. 44597]. A more promising suggestion is given in H.-L.K. Komline,
Finitude in The Beauty of the Infinite: A Theological Assessment and Proposal, The Heythrop Journal: A
Bi-Monthly Review of Philosophy and Theology (2009), pp. 80618. In response to David Bentley Hart, The
Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 2003), Komline calls for distinctions between the type of participation of the finite in the infinite
given by the analogia entis, described in this article as methexis, and a kind of participation that might be
designated by the biblical term koinonia. Whereas platonic methexis is an ontological category of participation
given in and necessary for existence, koinonia could be articulated as the participation made possible through
the once and for all, and therefore continual, action of divine self-giving in Christ (p. 816).
15 Michael S. Horton, Covenant and Salvation: Union with Christ (Louisville, London: Westminster John
Knox Press, 2007); M.S. Horton, Participation and Covenant in James K.A. Smith and J.H. Olthuis (eds.),
Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition: Creation, Covenant, and Participation (Grand Rapids: Baker,
2005), pp. 107130.
16 J.K.A. Smith, Will the Real Plato Please Stand Up?: Participation versus Incarnation in James K.A.
Smith and J.H. Olthuis (op.cit.), pp. 6172; James K.A. Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy: Toward a
Post-Secular Worldview (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2004). Wayne Hankey makes some critical comments on Milbanks appropriation of Neoplatonism. See W.J. Hankey, Philosophical Religion and the Neoplatonic Turn to the Subject in Hankey and Hedley (eds.), Deconstructing Radical Orthodoxy, pp. 1730; W.J.
Hankey, Theoria Versus Poesis: Neoplatonism and Trinitarian Difference in Aquinas, John Milbank, Jean-Luc
Marion and John Zizioulas, Modern Theology 15 (1999), pp. 387415. However, these responses do not touch
upon methexis directly. They concern the place of theoria and interiority/subjectivity in Neoplatonism, which
Milbank supposedly downplays (he is said to be influenced by Heidegger here). Other volumes critical of
Radical Orthodoxy in other respects include Laurence Paul Hemming (ed.), Radical Orthodoxy? A Catholic
Enquiry (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2000) and Gavin Hyman, The Predicament of Postmodern Theology: Radical
Orthodoxy or Nihilist Textualism? (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001).
17 In this paper, non-ontic indicates a mode of possession in which the possessor is expressive subject but
not metaphysical subject for what is possessed. It does not refer to Being in the anti-metaphysical sense of
Heidegger; it is not denied that the divine gift that indwells creatures has substance.
18 See Komlines suggestion quoted in note 14 above.
19 de Lubac, The Mystery, pp. 5374.
20 I am grateful to an anonymous reviewer for drawing my attention to this.
21 Horton, Covenant and Salvation, actually addresses both of these concerns.

PROCESSIO AND THE PLACE OF ONTIC BEING

15

22 For a recent book on the various ways in which the thought of Aquinas is appropriated programmatically
in contemporary philosophy and theology, see Mark D. Jordan, Rewritten Theology: Aquinas After His Readers
(Oxford: Blackwell, 2006).
23 For Aquinas, the creatures substantial being participates in divine being and goodness not in the way
that matter participates in form, nor in the way that individuals participate in genus and species, but in the way
that an effect participates in the cause, especially when the effect is not equal (non adaequat) to the power of
the cause, just as sunlight is less intensely present in the air that is lit up than in the sun itself (this is a
Pseudo-Dionysian image). Aquinas, In librum Boethii, lect. 2, n. 24. See also note 2 above.
24 Now since God is very being by His own essence, created being must be His proper effect; as to ignite
is the proper effect of fire. Now God causes this effect in things not only when they first begin to be, but as long
as they are preserved in being; as light is caused in the air by the sun as long as the air remains illuminated.
Therefore as long as a thing has being, God must be present to it, according to its mode of being. Thomas
Aquinas, Summa Theologica I. Q. 8. a. 3, corp. art. Translation from second and revised edition (1920) by
Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Accessible at http://www.newadvent.org/summa These two points
come together in the doctrine of the real distinction between esse and essentia. While God alone is his esse, the
creature has a distinct limiting essentia into which proper esse is received as a gift, perpetually. Thomas
Aquinas, De Ente et Essentia, ch. 4.
25 Aquinas, Quaestiones Disputatae de Potentia Dei, ed. Joseph Kenny, O.P., translated by the English
Dominican Fathers (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1952, reprint of 1932), Q. 2, a. 1, corp. art.
Accessible at http://dhspriory.org/thomas/QDdePotentia.htm
26 John Milbank, Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 63.
27 Milbank, op.cit., p. 208. See also J. Milbank, Sophiology and Theurgy: The New Theological Horizon
in Adrian Pabst and C. Schneider (eds.), Encounter Between Eastern Orthodoxy and Radical Orthodoxy:
Transfiguring the World Through the Word (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), pp. 4585.
28 Aquinas, ST I. Q. 8 a. 2, corp. art. Translation by Fathers of the English Dominican Province.
29 One might wonder whether divine self-communication is implied when Aquinas speaks of God as an
intentional object in the soul. God is said to be in a thing in two ways; in one way after the manner of an
efficient cause; and thus He is in all things created by Him; in another way he is in things as the object of
operation is in the operator; and this is proper to the operations of the soul, according as the thing known is in
the one who knows; and the thing desired in the one desiring. In this second way God is especially in the rational
creature which knows and loves Him actually or habitually. And because the rational creature possesses this
prerogative by grace . . . He is said to be thus in the saints by grace . . . ST I. Q. 8 a. 3, corp. art. My emphasis;
English Dominican translation. However, Aquinas denies that divine substance is infused into creatures in this
life as the means for knowing God, let alone as a ground/matrix of being. ST I. Q. 12 a. 11 ad 4 reads: . . .
Intellectual vision is of the things which are in the soul by their essence, as intelligible things are in the intellect.
And thus God is in the souls of the blessed; not thus is He in our soul, but by presence, essence and power.
English Dominican translation. On this point see DeHart, On Being Heard But Not Seen, p. 262.
30 John Milbank, Being Reconciled: Ontology and Pardon (London: Routledge, 2003), p. 199. Poesis is also
explored in J. Milbank, A Christological Poetics in The Word Made Strange: Theology, Language, Culture
(Oxford: Blackwell, 1997), pp. 12344. A relevant book on this topic in the Radical Orthodoxy series is Robert
C. Miner, Truth in the Making: Knowledge and Creation in Modern Philosophy and Theology (London:
Routledge, 2003).
31 My reading of Aquinas on participation is not at all idiosyncratic. For example, none of the following
careful scholarship on this topic ascribes to Aquinas an ontology of expressive participation, one involving
divine processio, as in Milbanks thought: te Velde, Participation and Substantiality; Fran ORourke, PseudoDionysius and the Metaphysics of Aquinas (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005); W.N.
Clarke, The Meaning of Participation in St. Thomas in Explorations in Metaphysics: Being God Person
(Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994). pp. 89101; J.F. Wippel, Participation and the
Problem of the One and the Many in The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to
Uncreated Being (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2000), pp. 94131; R. McInerny,
Saint Thomas on De hebdomadibus in Scott MacDonald (ed.), Being and Goodness: The Concept of the Good
in Metaphysics and Philosophical Theology (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 2001), pp. 7497;
S.L. Brock, Harmonizing Plato and Aristotle on Esse: Thomas Aquinas and the De hebdomadibus, Nova et
Vetera, English Edition 3 (2007), pp. 46594.
32 For a short essay by Deleuze on immanence, see G. Deleuze, Immanence: A Life in Pure Immanence:
Essays on A Life, trans. Anne Boyman (New York: Zone Books: 2001), pp. 2533.
33 See the quoted passage at note 37 below.

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BRENDAN PETER TRIFFETT

34 Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, p. 205.


35 For Smith, it is important that Leibniz concedes that the substance is dependent, as a created being, on
God, even though all of its actions arise from its own depths. See Smith, op.cit., pp. 2125, esp. p. 212n92.
36 Smith, op.cit., p. 209. My emphasis.
37 Ibid., p. 214.
38 Ward, Cities of God, p. 89.
39 Smith, op.cit., p. 204, citing Ward, Cities of God, p. 88. This is not an entirely useful citation for Smith,
since potential in Leibniz might still be said to be in and around body or matter, depending on how in is
understood. Of course the meaning(s) of in is/are precisely what is at stake in Smiths argument, and in this
paper.
40 Smith, op.cit, p. 204. My emphasis.
41 This problematic doing-nothing, one should note, is different to the doing-nothing of the saint or mystic
who says, I do not love others, it is God who loves, while deeply empathising with others and actively caring
for them. Such nothingness is completely in line with the notion of actively receptive expression (mediation) of
divine love, and does not imply the problematic inertness of occasionalism.
42 See A.J. Freddoso, Medieval Aristotelianism and the Case against Secondary Causation in Nature in
Thomas V. Morris (ed.), Divine and Human Action: Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism (Ithaca and London:
Cornell University Press, 1988), pp. 74118. [A]ccording to occasionalism, God is the sole efficient cause of
every state of affairs that is brought about in pure nature, i.e., in that segment of the universe not subject to
causal influence of creatures who are acting freely (p. 83). There is room for important differences here.
Freddoso considers the versions of occasionalism found in Al-Ghazali, Berkeley and Nicolas Malebranche.
43 Even if it turned out that occasionalism and human freedom are incompatible, there have been at least
three important advocates of occasionalism (al-Ghazali, Malebranche, Berkeley) whose religious sensibility
made them reject the idea that persons are in no way responsible for their actions. In fact, at least one attempt
has been made to extend this to include bodily self-movement. According to Malebranche (on Freddosos
reading), the human spirit causes its acts of will, but nothing else. On this view it is God alone who coordinates
created effects in general and who guarantees the customary concatenation of mental and bodily events in
particular. Freddoso, Medieval Aristotelianism, p. 89. By contrast, Berkeley claims that the human spirit has
control over its willing and in that way also moves the body it inhabits. However, as Freddoso points out, it is
hard to see how someone holding Berkeleys position might reconcile (a) the claim that a person moves his or
her leg with (b) the denial that he or she also moves the shoe bound to that leg, since God alone causes that
movement (pp. 8990).
44 Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, pp. 20418.
45 See MacDonald (ed.), Being and Goodness. See esp. S. MacDonald, The Metaphysics of Goodness and
the Doctrine of the Transcendentals, pp. 3155; J.A. Aersten, Good as Transcendental and the Transcendence
of the Good, pp. 5673 and R. McInerny, Saint Thomas on De hebdomadibus, pp. 7497, all in MacDonald
(ed.), op.cit.
46 Smith, op.cit., p. 216.
47 Dynamically endowed and expressible potential are my terms, not Smiths.
48 That is not to say that to be ontically possessed by a subject S implies being a metaphysical component
of S. Only the reverse holds true: being a metaphysical component of S implies being ontically possessed by S.
As explained below, metaphysical components cannot be given as an indwelling other which somehow
remains proper to its giving source. But neither can accidental determinations; these too must be ontically
possessed.
49 Smith, op.cit., p. 216. Smith cites G.W. Leibniz, Nature Itself, 11; New System, 3, 12; Reflections on
the Advancement of True Metaphysics and Particularly on the Nature of Substance Explained by Force, 4.
These texts are included in Leibniz, Philosophical Texts, ed. R.S. Woodhouse and Richard Franks (Oxford:
Oxford UP, 1998).
50 One might claim that Smiths position does allow for endowment by infusion, since he argues only that
such a mode of endowment could not account for the intrinsic being and goodness of creatures. However, that
would be to attribute to Smiths argument a nuance which it does not possess. Smith makes no distinction
between one mode of empowerment which accounts for or coincides with intrinsic being, and another mode of
empowerment which does not.
51 Milbank, The Suspended Middle, pp. 8991 (pp. 88103 are relevant here).
52 More precisely, what becomes gift in and for the recipient, is the same thing as what remains in and of the
giver. What is communicated is gift-not-substance in the recipient, substance-not-gift in the giver.

PROCESSIO AND THE PLACE OF ONTIC BEING

17

53 In previous section this was expressed as the difference between two modes of being proper to a subject.
In one sense, however, proper is more restrictive than being in or of a subject, when it signifies what
pertains to something by nature, or by virtue of its essence or type. But this does not affect the argument.
54 This view of knowledge as participation in things is presented in Milbank and Pickstock, Truth in
Aquinas, p. 5. Note also the passing reference to finite influence in the passage quoted at note 52 above.
55 See note 48 above.
56 To be sure, in the latter case a certain determination or actuality is effected in the subject also (we are not
speaking of the personal act of knowing, but a state of empowerment which makes such an act possible)
otherwise in-fluentia would make no difference to the subject. And every determination or actuality of a subject
is possessed ontically by that subject it is not as if a determination or actuality of a subject could ever be an
indwelling other, an already-complete substance which penetrates the subject from without. But this actuality
the state of being affected in a certain determinate manner by an object is said to hold in the subject by virtue
of the subjects expressive possession of the object. By contrast, there is no such condition in play for a
determination of the subject that is merely externally caused; in this case there is influence without in-fluentia.
57 This does not entail a naive realism, however. The subject must still actively conform him/herself to the
self-proportion of the object to seek out the object in its various aspects and attend to it, so as to be more
perfectly penetrated by it under the right conditions, and to find a way of bearing this pregnant impressio
forward into a true thought and a true expressio.
58 See the passage quoted at note 40 above.
59 Milbank, The Double Glory, pp. 2045.
60 Smith, Introducing Radical Orthodoxy, p. 214. Smith cites Leibniz, New System, 1415.
61 [For Leibniz] what is compressed or folded into the monad is simply order that inheres in matter. The
temporal structure of materiality permits the unfolding of this original order folded into the organism. Smith,
op.cit., p. 216.
62 Smith, op.cit., p. 216. Smith quotes from Leibniz, Nature Itself, 6.
63 See note 28 above for a relevant passage from Aquinas. Note that the latters view on the dynamism of
creatures is complicated further by the doctrine of divine pre-motion, since for Aquinas, after Aristotle,
whatever is in potentiality can be reduced into actuality only by some being in actuality. ST I. Q. 3 a. 1. But
this need not concern us here.
64 At note 60 above.