Wednesday, June 2, 2010

God’s incorporeality and the Christian Incarnation: A Contradiction?

Some definitions:

Incorporeal: God (the Trinity) is Spirit. That is to say, God is a living, immaterial substance. Thus, if God is Spirit, then this entails God is not physically embodied (i.e., incorporeal). Each Person in the Trinity is divine (and essentially so). By extension, each Person of the Trinity is incorporeal. The divine nature also includes the Omni-properties (e.g. omnipotence, omniscience, etc.). A divine being would have these properties essentially, not contingently. For example, the Second Person (SP) could not fail to be omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent. That is, there is no possible world W that the SP is not omniscient, omnipotent, or omnibenevolent.

Christian incarnation: The Second Person of the Trinity entered into human history, took on a human nature (including a corporeal human body). However, this did not exclude the divine nature. The Second Person added the human nature (but did not mix the two). Therefore, the human nature of the SP is contingent while the divine nature is essential to Him. Additionally, the SP did not merely have a “puppet” body that He used as a sort-of proxy. Christ was thoroughly human, and “took on human flesh”.

The question: Is immaterially (and thus incorporeality) an essential property (like the Omni-properties) of God?

The dilemma: If the answer is affirmative, then it is hard to see how the SP could become incarnate since this would contradict the notion of Him being essentially incorporeal. If the answer is negative, then there is a possible world, which the SP is embodied. If the SP could be embodied, then there is no reason to think that the Trinity as a whole (or each individually) could not be embodied. If it is possible for any of the Persons, or the Trinity as a whole, to be embodied, then you get either finite godism or process theology (i.e. the Universe is God’s body). Both of which are contra to Christian orthodoxy.

This leads to further perplexing questions (and troubling dilemmas).

If Christ in His incarnate (though glorified) body, exited this space-time Universe (during His Ascension), is Christ still embodied? If He is embodied, then He is physical, which means Christ is located in space-time. However, Christ is not located anywhere in this Universe. How is it that Christ remains embodied but is not located anywhere in space-time? If Christ in not in this Universe, does this mean Christ exists in some other space-time Universe?

Note: I take incarnation to entail incorporeality (embodied physically). Conceptually, to be physical means to be located in space-time (I may be wrong about this).

Are there ways out of these dilemmas? In the next post, I will "try" to answer these questions!

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Theosis: Raising Human Nature Above Its Primordial and Present States?

Continuing our discussion of perfection vs. free will in pre-Fall and post-Second Coming human nature, specifically in response to Jason's post below and in continuance to my previous post.

To begin, I would disagree with your statement that "God would not intentionally create something 'imperfect'. That God intentionally made man imperfect or as a 'work in progress' would not gain theological countenance by most Christians." Scripture is vague enough on the exact details behind the Eden metaphor that a wide range of interpretations exists. While the view that Adam was not created perfect might be the case in the various branches of Protestantism, it is at least slightly less clear in Catholicism and, as the bulk of this post will address, is definitely not the case in Eastern Orthodoxy.

To touch on Catholicism briefly -- my point with the Catechism quote was that, while it may not be the prevailing view of most Catholics today, the idea that human nature can be perfected beyond where it stood prior to the Fall is at least implicit in the thought of some of the Church Fathers. Revisiting the quotes in the passage I cited below, we find St. Leo commenting that "Christ's inexpressible grace gave us blessings better than those the demon's envy had taken away." In other words, the Cross won humanity back what we lost in the Fall and gained us something additional. The St. Thomas quote also seems to go down this road -- "There is nothing to prevent human nature's being raised up to something greater, even after sin."

Again, this is largely implicit and other Catholics certainly take the view that Adam represented primordial human perfection. But what is implicit in some Catholic writings is quite explicit in the Orthodox view of human nature, the Fall and the purpose of the Incarnation. For example, in Partakers of God (which is theoretically available online -- but the link is broken as I write this), contemporary Orthodox scholar Panayiotis Christou comments:

Perfection was not offered complete to him from the beginning...[this] would constitute coercion. But, rather, perfection was set before him as an objective to be attained...

Created nature has an inherent tendency and possibility of change because its very existence derived from a radical change, the emergence of being out of nonbeing. Primeval man lived freely and consciously for a period of unknown duration and walked on the road of spiritual development, strengthening his will and cultivating his spiritual faculties. He did not simply keep his nature intact, but constantly shaped it into an integral psychosomatic entity; and he did not allow himself to be dominated by the powers of irrational nature, the powers of time and space.

During this effort, there came a time when man...went astray and found himself off the road to perfection.

So, in the Orthodox view, God did not create man as a static, already perfect being. Rather, God created man as a being with the potential for perfection. In Orthodox thought, this potential for perfection goes beyond any hypothetical definition of perfect human nature and contains the possibility that man might achieve a divine form of perfection. This concept is called theosis, a Greek word that literally means "divinization" or "deification." Contrasting man's pre-Fall state with his potential, St. John Chrysotom wrote that "In the beginning of creation the Creator created man in the image of God, while now He has united man to God. Then he was given authority to rule over the fish and the animals. Now God has raised our new beginning above the acquires immortality and is deified. Now, indeed, God and mankind have become one race."

To Western, especially Protestant, eyes this might look like blasphemy on the surface. Orthodox theologians, however, draw a distinction between God's essence and energies. Since God's essence is infinite, the process by which man becomes like God must also be of infinite duration and thus cannot ever result in a created being ontologically becoming a fully divine being. However, through the cultivation of a closer relationship with God, man can gradually absorb enough of God's energies to transcend his initial nature, gaining elements of God's perfection in addition to human perfection.

As with most people in the Catholic and Protestant traditions, many concepts in Orthodox theology are new and unfamiliar to me, including theosis. So, at this point, I will not attempt to argue in favor of theosis -- rather, I will simply provide an outline of how, if we assume it to be true, theosis could overcome the paradox that began this discussion.

If human perfection before the Fall was, indeed, an example of perfection and could not be raised to something higher while still being human, then we are faced with the fact that the highest possible state of human nature still contains the possibility of sin. Thus, while human nature prior to the Fall could be described as perfect in a human sense, it also includes free will and the possibility of sin. God's nature, however, could (among other things) be described as perfect in a divine sense, which includes free will but does not include the possibility of sin. While God has free will and the knowledge of how to sin, His divine perfection precludes the possibility that He would ever sin.

As an unending process by which redeemed human nature progresses towards divine nature, could theosis lead to a point where man is close enough to God's nature to lose the possibility of sin while maintaining free will? If so, this would resolve the question of how the New Heaven and the New Earth would differ from the pre-Fall world -- since the few scriptural descriptions of the New Heaven and the New Earth describe it as without sin, we could assume that theosis will have brought man to a point higher than his pre-Fall nature, making the possibility of another Fall nonexistent.

Unfortunately, this line of thought brings up a host of equally thorny issues. For example, does it have any actual meaning to say divine nature includes the impossibility of sin? To oversimplify in the interest of brevity, in the most popular definition among mainline American Protestants, it does, since sin is "being bad" or breaking a series of divinely ordained rules. To a lesser extent, this rule-oriented conception of sin is also the most prevalent view in Catholicism. Naturally, one can debate whether or not God is capable of breaking His own set of rules.

In Orthodoxy, on the other hand, sin is seen less in a legalistic sense and more as actions which create a gulf between the individual and God. Many Orthodox thinkers seem to equate sin with a broken relationship between man and God that can be healed, rather than as the breaking of a set of rules. In a way, we might view "sin" as a process opposite to the process of theosis -- man moving away from his potential divine nature rather than moving closer to God. If sin is a description of man's relationship with God, then it is meaningless to question whether or not God can sin, since naturally God cannot have a relationship with Himself or damage that relationship.

To conclude, the Orthodox tradition contains the idea that human nature can be raised to something higher than what it was prior to the Fall. If this is true, then the pre-Fall world and the New Heaven and the New Earth may be very different places in terms of the possibility of sin.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Perfection reaffirmed, paradox remained.

A rejoiner to Andrew's post below.

Preface: Although, my appraisal of your response to my post, is rather critical in nature, I will later post something that will elaborate and defend some of your intuitions.

--My Rejoiner--

The word “perfect” may not directly be in Scripture much, (neither is the word “Trinity”) but the concept is definitely there. Perfection is implicit throughout Scripture and specifically when referring to human nature prior to the Fall. Human nature was “perfect” prior to the Fall in virtue of God’s perfection. That is, God would not intentionally create something “imperfect”. That God intentionally made man imperfect or as a “work in progress” would not gain theological countenance by most Christians. I will elaborate on this a bit later, but first, I will survey a couple of things that you may have overlooked.

First, the concept of perfection is context relative. That is, perfection plays out differently depending upon the relevant object or attribute. For example, a perfect sphere would have a different set of attributes than a perfect apple. When using the term, “perfect” when referring to a sphere, it applies to a specific subset of properties, such as, perfect roundness, perfect symmetry, etc. However, using the term, “perfect” when referring to an apple, it applies to a subset of attributes such as, taste, freshness, texture, or whatever. Human nature has specific attributes it must possess, which are different from a sphere or apple, namely, moral goodness, rationality, volition, etc. (though perfection just does not apply to some attributes, such as skin color or height). Similarly, divine nature has specific attributes that human nature essentially lacks. That is, like the difference between the sphere and apple, divine perfection plays out differently than human perfection, depending upon the attributes.

The upshot of this distinction is that the general definition of perfection, outlined in my previous post, applies to all relevant objects (and attributes), but does so in specifically different ways, depending upon the type of attribute or object. Thus, Adam had a perfect human nature in that he was sinless (still in obedience to God), and had perfect volition, and rationality, and whatever else is necessary to human nature. However, he could never be perfect in the relevant divine sense.

Second, it seems you are conflating the two concepts, perfection and infiniteness, when referring to (Gen 3). Perfection does not entail infiniteness, and infiniteness does not entail perfection. For example, you can have a perfect sphere that lacks infinity, and you can have an infinite Universe that lacks perfection. Infinity connotes unboundedness (no limits). In this sense, God is infinite (and perfect). He is infinite and perfect in power, goodness, knowledge, etc., (infinite with respect to great-making attributes). However, God created Adam as a finite being. That is, Adam (and human nature) is limited in every way. God also created Adam perfectly (perfection in the relevant context of human nature). He created Adam without error, and with the impossibility of improving upon him. Similarly, Christ, as a human, was “perfect” but still “finite”; as you may know, the New Testament often refers to Christ as the Second Adam. People often fuse these concepts together into one, but the concepts are essentially distinct. However, by applying the conceptual distinctions between infinity and perfection, and between the different contexts in which perfection is applied, it will help enlighten our understanding and provide motivation, for reassessing your reading of (Gen 3).

Adam’s nature is already perfect, albeit finite, in the Garden. In eating from the Tree, Adam would acquire more knowledge than he had before. However, this knowledge is knowledge on how to sin (disobey God). Adam then commits his act of rebellion, resulting in sin, and thus, imperfection. Since God’s knowledge is infinite, Adam can never attain God’s level, but he can become more “like one of us”, and get “closer” in degree to God’s knowledge. Therefore, it is Adam’s knowledge, NOT his nature that becomes more “like one of us”, as (Gen 3) states. That is, Adam’s knowledge was more extensive (like God’s) after eating from the Tree, but Adam is not any closer to “divine” perfection in virtue of his action and newfound knowledge. It is a categorical mistake to say that any human can attain “divine” perfection. It is impossible for any being ever to actualize God’s perfection. Although, Adam is “perfect” regarding his “human” nature prior to the Fall, he is nonetheless “finite”.

< Qualification: Adam’s knowledge on how to sin, results in his imperfection, whereas, God may know how to sin, but cannot sin since He is BOTH perfect AND infinite. Human perfection entails, at least, the logical possibility of becoming imperfect, via sin, but it is impossible for divine perfection ever to obtain imperfection. That is, God is necessarily perfect, while Adam in only contingently perfect. Also, God's infiniteness and perfection taken in conjunction are mutually reinforcing. >

Third, your analogy of the sculpture and reference to Christian traditions that view Adam’s perfection as being “made in God’s image”, is misplaced, if my view is correct. I interpret the phrase, “made in God’s image”, to mean, more precisely, that Adam had a “finite” subset of God’s attributes, not as a literal likeness of God. This may be another example of taking metaphors too seriously.

Therefore, with the distinctions between infinity and perfection, and the distinction between the different contexts of perfection, it follows the paradox still stands as originally outlined.

As far as your reference to the Catechism, I do not see, based on what you posted from St. Thomas, St. Leo, and others, how these quotes support the view that human nature can be perfected beyond what it was prior to the Fall. I read those quotes differently. Instead, they seem to imply, that humans cannot understand or appreciate God’s full goodness and grace without first being in a state of disrepute or deviation. However, that has nothing to do with man’s perfection, but rather with man’s finite knowledge. That is, man is not in an epistemological position to know grace without first knowing his sinful status.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Pre-Fall Human Perfection?

In response to Jason's post below:

While we probably won't be able to resolve your paradox in one shot, one way to begin to resolve it might be to refine our initial assumptions. To begin, I will argue that scripture does not view Adam as "perfect" by your definition: "X is perfect, if and only if, there is nothing Y that could add to X to improve X, and no subset of X, say Z, which could subtract from X, to improve X. That is, X is the best it can possibly be."

The idea that pre-Fall human nature was "perfect" is an assumption that is not explicitly stated by scripture. First, let's define one of God's attributes as being "perfection" in the sense in which you've used the term -- by definition, then, God is a being whom nothing can be added to or subtracted from that would improve him. Some Christian traditions base their view of Adam's perfection on the statement that Adam was created "in the image of" the perfect God. An image of a being, however, is not equivalent to that being. If I paint or sculpt an image of you, for example, we wouldn't assume that it would automatically be a perfect image that I couldn't improve upon. I could certainly consider the image of you to be a work in progress.

Likewise, there are areas in which pre-Fall Adam falls short of God's perfection. God explicitly states ways in which Adam's nature could change in order to be closer to the nature of God -- "Then the LORD God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil...'" (Genesis 3:22). "Knowing good and evil" here is an attribute that has made Adam "like one of us" in a way that he hadn't been before this point. So obviously, at least one characteristic of God's perfect nature did not initially exist in Adam when he was created in God's image.

The term "perfect" is rarely used by the Old Testament, refers nearly exclusively (with an interesting exception or two that lie outside of the scope of this discussion) to God, and is never used to describe anyone human, including Adam.

On the question of Adam's perfection, the Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes Aquinas and Leo that, through Christ, human nature can be perfected beyond what it was prior to the Fall:

412 But why did God not prevent the first man from sinning? St. Leo the Great responds, "Christ's inexpressible grace gave us blessings better than those the demon's envy had taken away." And St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, "There is nothing to prevent human nature's being raised up to something greater, even after sin; God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good. Thus St. Paul says, 'Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more'; and the Exsultet sings, 'O happy fault,. . . which gained for us so great a Redeemer!'"

My next post will take up this idea and address the possibility of human perfection after the Cross, especially as addressed in the Orthodox concept of theosis.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Paradox of the Perfect Man-The incompatibility between freewill and a perfect human nature

Definitions-The following are some definitions I am using for the purpose of this paradox.

Perfection: X is perfect, if and only if, there is nothing Y that could add to X to improve X, and no subset of X, say Z, which could subtract from X, to improve X. That is, X is the best it can possibly be.

Genuine Freewill: A will is genuinely free, if and only if, it is unbounded by prior conditions, and it is not contaminated nor has any defects because of sin (i.e., the type of will that Adam and Eve possessed prior to the Fall).

The Paradox

I have constructed a paradox, which I have been thinking about for some time now (about a year). It is a paradox relating to the synchronicity between human nature prior to the Fall in Eden and the future state of human nature in the “New Heaven and Earth” (God’s future Kingdom). It goes like this.

Scripture says God created Adam and Eve perfectly (i.e. perfect human nature) in Eden. Adam chooses to sin, and as a result, became imperfect, as did the rest of his progeny. Adam (and Eve), having genuine freewill seemed, at the very least, to allow for the “possibility” of sin. However, Scripture also says that Christians in God’s future Kingdom will be perfect, i.e. sinless. In other words, God’s Elect, in the future Kingdom, will have the restoration of the same perfect human nature that Adam had prior to The Fall.

Since Adam had genuine freewill prior to the Fall, does this entail that the Elect will posses genuine freewill in the future Kingdom? For example, can one of the Elect, with their new nature and glorified body, freely choose to sin like Adam did (since Adam had genuine freewill, was perfect, but still choose to sin)? Would God have to start all over again if someone “actually” sinned?

Answering affirmatively to these questions seems, contra Scripture, that, the “possibility” of sin remains in God’s future Kingdom (assuming we take genuine freewill to entail the possibility of sin). However, answering negatively to these questions seems to abolish genuine freewill and thus is not a true restoration of God’s design of a perfect human nature.

Therefore, it seems God cannot make man perfect without also affecting his genuine freewill. The paradox exposes that these doctrines are at the horns of a theological dilemma.

Thoughts anyone?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Catholicism vs. Orthodoxy on Original Sin

Comments by Jason on Andrew's post-"More on the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem". The Filioque clause and differences between the Catholic and Orthodox views on Original Sin

Here are my thoughts on the issues. I am inclined to take the filioque clause to be a genuine dispute rather than just a semantic one. The readings of the two are obviously fundamentally different. However, I also take the two views of Original Sin (OS hereafter) that you alluded to in your earlier post as a genuine dispute not merely a semantic one. Here is why.

Saying that a "thing” such a stain, virus, or whatever metaphor one chooses to talk about OS, seems to be asserting that there is a substance that has existential status (i.e. that something exists). That is to say, Adam's action in Eden tainted human nature with a “thing” called Sin. Now, that is a very different claim than saying that humans lack holiness. That is a denial of the existence of a given substance or thing. The former claim presupposes the existence of two categories, namely, sinfulness and holiness, where the latter claim does not. Thus, logically speaking, they are NOT definitionally equivalent.

I am sure some of us recall when St. Augustine made a similar point in his Confessions when criticizing the Manichaeans’ views about evil. They treated evil as “Evil”, a thing that is a real substance. That EVIL and GOOD are two equal but opposing substances. Augustine contra the Manichaeans' said that evil has NO real subsistence. Rather we should define evil as the negation (or deviation from) of God’s perfect holiness. This is a claim of the existence of only one category, holiness. Hence, if the Papists and some Protestants, view Sin as having real subsistence, then that is a very different claim than the Orthodox’s claim that Sin is the negation (deviation) of God’s perfect holiness.

Many Christians regardless of theological persuasion talk of “Sin” as some kind of substance; so does Scripture. Perhaps these are just examples of taking the metaphors too seriously. However, it is endemic in sermon talk among Evangelicals and Catholics. Unfortunately, using metaphoric language to explain difficult theological doctrines often confuses rather than clarifies these issues. Therefore, I am inclined to think the two views of OS are conceptually if not fundamentally distinct (if we take the metaphors seriously).

More on the 1672 Synod of Jerusalem

I'm writing these more or less of the top of my head, with an occasional wikipedia glance to make sure that I have at least my dates right. Maybe I'll edit for grammar/coherency later, but I wanted to at least throw some rough topics out there.

While pointing out the convergence of Catholic and Orthodox doctrine on a wide range of issues, and thus demonstrating the closeness of Catholicism and Orthodoxy compared to the gulf that separates both from Calvinism, the Synod of Jerusalem also reaffirmed the Orthodox rejection of the "filioque clause." The Catholic reading of the Nicene Creed states the Holy Spirit proceeds from both the Father and the Son ("and the Son" = "filioque" in latina lingua), a clause rejected by the Orthodox, who proclaim that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone. I've always found it a little strange that this was such a huge point of controversy. Many of the differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism seem to be differences of semantics and cases of looking at the same phenomenon from two different vantagepoints. For example, at risk of oversimplifiying a complex topic into one sentence, Catholicism views original sin as the presence of a stain, whereas Orthodoxy views it as an absence of holiness. Presence of the negative or absence of the positive? Seems like it could be two different ways of looking at the same phenomenon.

But in the filioque clause, we find an actual theological difference between the two traditions that can't be reconciled as "looking at the same thing from two different angles." The Holy Spirit either proceeds from just the Father, or from both the Father and the Son. Both can't be right. But isn't it a pretty minor topic to base the theological roots of a schism on? The filioque clause has come up over and over for 1,000 years as a major point of theological contention and reason, on both sides, for not reconciling. My rough conclusion on why a topic seemingly so tangental to the basic premises of Christianity has historically become such a huge point of contention is simply that the two sides needed something theological to justify what has always been fundamentally a political split.