Essential Qualities of Personhood


#1

Though reasoning, remembering, and aticipating are time dependant, some would say that only knowing and willing are essential qualities of personhood.

They reason that a timeless God might lack the former qualities, and still have the personal qualities of knowing and willing.

Is it possible that time arose out of God’s semi-personal (subconscious) will to create, and His more personal qualities of thinking, remembering, and anticipating arose out of time (creation, and His relating to creation)?

Would that view be compatible with Orthodox, Trinitarian Theology?


JRP addresses recent metaphysical crits of trinitarianism
#2

This is what I’ve asserted for a long while:

God the Father is timeless. In conjunction with your argument I’d say that he knows and wills.

God the Son created time in a sense, and therefore is not bound by it necessarily, though he acts within it, and doesn’t know everything quite yet, eg. “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”

I think that accords quite nicely with trinitarianism. :wink:


#3

It’s not my argument, it’s something I came across when looking for answers.

The question I’ve been asking isn’t mine either, but I’ve been trying to think it through (and your comments here have been helpful.)

Thank you.


#4

Michael,

Deep waters. The point on which the (Eastern) Orthodox have most influenced me over the past few years is their (rightly understood) apophatic/cataphatic approach to theology. Paul Gavrilyuk (St. Thomas U in St. Paul) really helped me with this. He’s got a good book out on divine impassibility that discusses what it is the Fathers were up to with apophaticism. The older I get the more careful I ‘feel’ about the things I say regarding God. We have to be able to speak truthfully of God, yes, the Fathers knew this too. We are not locked out of true knowledge of God. It’s just that there’s always in mind the lingering recognition that the ‘whole’ truth about God (whatever it is) spills over and outside the boundaries of our language on EVERY point. We can never speak so unequivocally about God that our claims admit no qualification. I like to say that while God is always more than what he reveals himself to be (there’s the apophatic), he’s never ‘less’ or ‘other’ than what he reveals himself to be (there’s the cataphatic). But we can never collapse the tension between the two. As created and limited, our existence IS the tension between the two.

Sorry to start out with apophaticism, but it’s the most important thing methodologically speaking that you bring up.

A great little book I’m reading that deals with this too is Diogenese Allen’s Spiritual Theology.

I continue to struggle with atemporal personal/loving existence. It just doesn’t compute at all. But I also appreciate Bill Craig’s case for the impossibility of an actual infinite and thus the impossibility of a temporally infinite past. So he argues that God must be atemporal sans creation but temporal with creation, and thus the temporal status of God’s experience must be a contingent and not a necessary property. God was timeless. When he created he became temporal. So creating was a kind of kenosis for him as well.

But contra Craig, the idea of an absolutely timeless God getting off the dime (so to speak) to create—the supposed transition from atemporal to temporal existence that an atemporal God would have to make—is as impossible for me to conceive as an actual infinite. So mathematically speaking, both options are inexplicable to me, in which case I’ll go with the temporal God across the board for now because it explains more that is important to me.

I’m not sure what it is you’re trying to distinguish between when you ask if God is both personal and impersonal. The Orthodox were clear on God’s essentially personal (tripersonal) life/existence. But when it came to the ‘ousia’ or ‘essence’ of God they drew a line and said that is absolutely unknowable. We can’t stand inside of God and observe his inner workings and so get at the irreducible nuts and bolts of what makes God God. We can infer some things about what God must essentially be like from God’s acts in history, and we can also reason our way to some general truths about God. But we could not (and should not, the Fathers say) speculate about the essence of God. Some attempt to do so, but the most they’ll say is that the essence of God JUST IS the loving, interpersonal shared unity that grounds the relations. But they wouldn’t say the ‘ousia’ of GOd is the ‘stuff’ out of which God was made (so to speak).

Persons DO think, reason, remember, etc. But most importantly persons RELATE TO OTHER PERSONS. Thinking, reasoning, feeling, acting, etc., is just HOW they do that relating. But it’s the relating to others personally which is person-constituting. You can’t have a SOLE person (a personal being who is void of all relations).


Michael: If time is created by a timeless God, wouldn’t some part of Him have to be impersonal?

Tom: I’d say that if God were timeless, God is exclusively impersonal. I don’t know how to ascribe personal attributes to an atemporal anything.

Michael: If time itself is uncreated, and God had no beginning, His infinite past would be an endless sequence of thoughts, memories, and anticipations leading up to creation, but how could an endless sequence lead anywhere?

Tom: That’s the problem of an actual infinite. But consider this Mike: a) a LOT of philosophers don’t buy the argument that an eternal temporal past constitutes the sort of actual infinite that is problematic. They’re not convinced there really is a problem here. I’m not smart enough to follow all the arguments. But more importantly, there’s b) a curious and similar argument about God’s actual (present) knowledge of all future events. The future is potentially and not actually infinite, true. But traditionally Christians have attributed to God an ACTUAL knowledge of all the future. That would mean God’s present/actual knowledge includes knowledge of the infinite future. All that shall EVER occur is blueprinted, actually known, to God. Philosophers who find it necessary to avoid actual infinites have their ways of navigating around this too. But I’m just saying, the future constitutes the same problem as the past when you unpack it all.

Michael: Perhaps Lewis was right, and the Trinity can help us conceive of God as more than a person.

Tom: I can see how belief in the Trinity can establish the personal nature of God, yes. I don’t see how it helps us conceive of God as more or other than personal. How’s the Trinity do that? I’m not disagreeing. I’m just saying I don’t see how “trinity” gets us knowledge of non-personal divine attributes.

Michael: But it seems to me that there must also be a sense in which He (at least partly) is impersonal–and I don’t see how that fits in with classic, Orthodox Trinitarianism.

Tom: Can you spell out what you think are the “impersonal” attributes of God?

Michael: But if man is created in the image of God, and man has both a conscious and a subconscious mind, perhaps The Father’s subconscious mind could be the impersonal reality that lies behind time.

Tom: Would you ascribe to God EVERY attribute instantiated by human beings since we bear his image? Most likely not. So how do we draw the line? How do you determine what about human beings doesn’t or shouldn’t get attributed to God?

Michael: It would contain the ideas of time, space, all the laws of physics, and everything that ever has or ever will be–but God would only be a conscious, thinking person (or three persons) here within the dimension of time.

Tom: I think what you’re really asking is whether God has ANY involuntary functions, functions that define him as God and which are NOT voluntary, functions God doesn’t choose that they should be what they are and which he doesn’t not manage via his will. Would that be closer to what you’re asking?

Michael: I only know the creeds say that The Father is uncreated, unmade, and un-proceeding–and that He generated The Son “before all worlds.”

Tom: Right. But they also know you don’t have a ‘father’ without a ‘son’. They’re co-dependent, or co-defining—logically speaking. So BEING the ungenerated fount means generating one’s own image. That’s definitive of the head or fount. The priorities are logical, not temporal. I imagine the priority of the Father over the Son is similar/analogous to the priority you possess over your own objectified self. You ‘self-contemplate’. What defines you as a self-conscious being (among other things) is the ability to self-perceive. To be self-aware at all is to be aware OF your self, to contemplate your own self. And that means objectifying yourself. We do it all the time, and it seems to be definitive of human experience—we ‘talk to ourselves’ and ‘reason with’ ourselves. We ‘generate’ an image of ourselves and relate to it—but on an infinite smaller scale than would God. It’s just a clue. If you’ve got Jonathan Edwards paper on the Trinity, this is basically his approach.

Michael: (I need my faith. I still have a father to take care of, and I’ve been little comfort to him–but I’m finding that I have more questions than answers.)

Tom: God’s presence and peace be yours Bro. Be encouraged. God give you grace.

I’ll just add one last thing, and this is from the Fathers too actually (but my own words). There is a big difference between a ‘map’ and the ‘territory’ the map depicts. The territory is the ‘real world’. The ‘thing’ itself. The ‘map’ is, you might say, a ‘language’ that describes it. A map can be true and accurate so far as maps go, but it can never mediate an experience of the territory itself. You can have a great map of Chicago and know some things about the city (sites, streets, layout, natural terrain features, etc.), but unless you actually GO to Chicago and walk its streets and touch and see those sites, you do not (in the language of the Fathers) “know” Chicago.

Theology is like that, and that’s the whole point of apophaticism. The very best our ‘language’ can do (creeds included) is to describe the reality of God. But a description of concrete personal reality simply cannot mediate an experience of that reality to those who have the map. The map is helpful. But it’s not the territory. This is not to ‘fault’ maps or say that they are ‘not true’ because they are not themselves the territories they describe. It’s just to recognize the difference.

And the Fathers (many of whom were ascetics and mystics) knew this. That’s why they said it’s the EXPERIENCE of God that enlivens and sustains and fulfills human being, not just having an accurate concept of God. Possessing an accurate, even a perfect, map isn’t an experience of God. And the good news is that you can live in Chicago, know it, and still not have a complete map. You can even get SOME things wrong (in terms of map). What apophaticism says is that God is so infinite and beautiful that NO human can via his experience of God map out everything there is to say about God. You’ll never experience the WHOLE of God, the infinite fullness of his experience and life, in any number of years. God is an endless city with no borders. We have Gregory of Nyssa to thank for explaining this in terms of the human’s infinite progress into God. We’ll be at “final rest” in terms of having arrived fully (all aspects of our being) into oneness with God. But we’ll always have something new to look forward to because as full as we shall be of God’s beauty, we shall forever become fuller, increasingly able to contemplate and experience more of God and so able to reflect more of his beauty back to God and to the world. Eternal surprise after surprise.

Years of theological study (undergrad and grad) dried me out because over time I slowly exchanged my map for the reality of God. I stopped experiencing HIM and just enjoyed the accuracy of my views about him. I sought life from being right. Just the past few years when I discovered that this very problem is an ancient problem the Fathers really understood—the whole ‘map’ and ‘territory’ thing—it really helped me make the needed adjustments and find God again. What I’m saying is that apart from your own ongoing personal experience of God, getting answers to questions like those you ask here cannot keep you from losing faith.

Blessings,
Tom


#5

That’s helpful.

I don’t know.

I don’t think I would have put it that way.

Let me put it like this.

The other morning I woke up from a dream in which I saw my mom, and felt her loving presence. I felt she understood that I love her, and it was very comforting, but there was no conversation between us. No sequence of words or thoughts, just knowing.

That could be called timeless–maybe even impersonal, or at least semi-conscious–but when I woke up I began conscious activities.

I started thinking, talking, and doing.

I find it difficult not to think of creation as something like that, in that I believe God was/is atemporal before creation.

He may have been a Trinity in the sense of knowing and willing His Son and Spirit (and I would suspect the latter embraced the final Theosis of creation, in what Bulgakov would have called The Divine Sophia), but He lacked some of the qualities of personhood (thinking, remembering, anticipating.)

It seems to me that He’s only fully conscious and personal in the waking and doing of creation, redemtion, and sanctification (thru His Son and His Spirit.)

Does that make any sense?

I think that’s something like what I’m suggesting.

But is that because you’re conceiving of it as sequential?

I began engaging in conscious activities only after I woke from my dream because I’m a creature of time and space.

Perhaps God is (in a sense) simultaneously temporal and atemporal (conscious and subconscious, or maybe even “personal” and “impersonal.”)?

AS you said:

If that’s true, it would seem God could be more than personal (or even tri-personal.)

Could you elaborate a little on how they avoid this problem (or point me to some resources I might find useful)?

Thank you Tom.

P.S. Though controversial, isn’t the whole idea of Sophiology impersonal–I mean, if what Bulgakov (and other Orthodox Theologians) meant by “Sophia” were personal, wouldn’t it be a fourth member of the Trinity?

In Bulgakov, I believe “The Divine Sophia” (as oposed to “the creaturely Sophia”) is eternal.

Might that at least suggest some eternal, atemporl, impersonal aspect of God?


#6

Mike: The other morning I woke up from a dream in which I saw my mom, and felt her loving presence. I felt she understood that I love her, and it was very comforting, but there was no conversation between us. No sequence of words or thoughts, just knowing. That could be called timeless…

Tom: I wouldn’t call it timeless at all, Mike. And I don’t know how you could speculate, given the thoroughly temporal nature of your experience (including dreams), on the possibility that (look at the concepts involved) the ‘feeling’ of ‘love’ you ‘experience’ could be called timeless. Just going on what you describe here, I’d call it anything but that. It looks fully temporal to me. The very notion of an atemporal experience seems meaningless.

Mike: --maybe even impersonal, or at least semi-conscious–but when I woke up I began conscious activities.

Tom: You’re calling a felt experience of your mother’s love ‘impersonal’. I wonder if we’re using words to mean similar things at all. And impersonal experience of felt love?

Dreaming may not be conscious, but it is an activity. I think you’re confusing ‘conscious’ activities with ‘temporality’ and semi- or sub-consciousness with ‘timelessness’. But both (conscious and un/sub-conscious experience) seem irreducibly temporal to me.

Perhaps what’s underneath all this is the meaning of the notion of ‘experience’.

Mike: I started thinking, talking, and doing.

Tom: As opposed to what? Dreaming? Feeling love? But these are activity. It takes time to dream. Time to feel.

Mike: I find it difficult not to think of creation as something like that, in that I believe God was/is atemporal before creation. He may have been a Trinity in the sense of knowing and willing His Son and Spirit (and I would suspect the latter embraced the final Theosis of creation, in what Bulgakov would have called The Divine Sophia), but He lacked some of the qualities of personhood (thinking, remembering, anticipating).

Tom: He’d lack other things too. Like volition. Take them as a inter-related package—thought, feeling, and volition. An atemporal God would lack all three I should think. I mean, atemporal is just that. Timeless. I don’t know if we really appreciate the consequences of an utterly absolute timelessness. How does an absolutely atemporal God who doesn’t think thoughts exercise the volition necessary to bring creation into being and to temporally actualize himself?

I guess all of us have to bite the bullet on some things. If you’re convinced that God must be thought of as atemporal sans creation, then that’ll create a unique set of issues for you. I can’t at all begin to account for God’s movement from an atemporal to a temporal mode of existence. I can’t span the categories. And since I’m convinced that God is now temporal, I’m inclined to assume he’s eternally so.

Mike: It seems to me that He’s only fully conscious and personal in the waking and doing of creation, redemtion, and sanctification (thru His Son and His Spirit.). Does that make any sense?

Tom: Unfortunately it doesn’t. That may be due to my own inability to grasp things.


Tom: But contra Craig, the idea of an absolutely timeless God getting off the dime (so to speak), and creating—the supposed transition from atemporal to temporal existence that the atemporal God makes—is as impossible for me to conceive as is an actual infinite.

Mike: But is that because you’re conceiving of it as sequential?

Tom: How else might I conceive of the movement/transition from one mode of being (atemporal) to it’s contradictory (temporal)?

Mike: I began engaging in conscious activities only after I woke from my dream because I’m a creature of time and space.

Tom: Not really. You also dream as a creature of time and space. We don’t become timeless entities when we sleep. That’s why I’m having some difficult connecting the dots to get at just what the issue is here.

Mike: Perhaps God is (in a sense) simultaneously temporal and atemporal (conscious and subconscious, or maybe even “personal” and “impersonal.”)?

Tom: That seems like crossing wires to me. Conscious and sub-conscious experiences are both equally temporal. I don’t see what it is about your experience of dreams or subconscious processes that makes you think these are analogous to an atemporal or impersonal mode of existence.


Tom: The ‘whole’ truth about God (whatever it is) spills over and outside the boundaries of our language on EVERY point. We can never speak so unequivocally about God that our claims admit no qualification. I like to say that while God is always more than what he reveals himself to be (there’s the apophatic), he’s never ‘less’ or ‘other’ than what he reveals himself to be (there’s the cataphatic). But we can never collapse the tension between the two. As created and limited, our existence IS the tension between the two…The very best our ‘language’ can do (creeds included) is to describe the reality of God.

Mike: If that’s true, it would seem God could be more than personal (or even tri-personal.)

Tom: Whatever the more is, it can’t negate or falsify God’s fully personal existence. And if God were more ‘persons’ than three, then God wouldn’t be tripersonal at all. He’d be quadra- or pente- or whatever. SOMETIMES being ‘more than X’ entails not being X. Sometimes it doesn’t. Depends on what X is.


Tom: a LOT of philosophers don’t buy the argument that an eternal temporal past constitutes the sort of actual infinite that is problematic. They’re not convinced there really is a problem here.

Mike: Could you elaborate a little on how they avoid this problem (or point me to some resources I might find useful)?

Tom: Pretty much any process theist will do (Cobb, Whitehead, or Hartshorne). All argue the irreducibly temporal character is existence per se. I’m not a process theist, but I think they make some good points. I think Dean Zimmerman at Rutgers has some papers out on God and time. Basically the only argument left standing at all in support of divine atemporal existence sans creation is the supposed impossibility of actual infinites. But the arguments in favor of divine temporality seem to be several.

Mike: P.S. Though controversial, isn’t the whole idea of Sophiology impersonal–I mean, if what Bulgakov (and other Orthodox Theologians) meant by “Sophia” were personal, wouldn’t it be a fourth member of the Trinity?

Tom: Indeed it would. But even as it stands, Sophianism was condemned as heresy for pretty much this reason.

Mike: Might that at least suggest some eternal, atemporal, impersonal aspect of God?

Tom: Help me get on the same page as you Mike, ‘cause I’m interested in this. Just what PROBLEM are you attempting to solve? All this is motivated, I take it, by some perceived problem. What’s that problem? It seems to me that the problem is you want to say God is atemporal sans creation but that since atemporal existence cannot be personal existence, you prefer to say God is atemporally impersonal sans creation and then BECOMES a person in/with/by the BECOMING of creation into existence. So God constitutes himself a personal triune being in his determination to create. Is that it? God self-actualizes via creation.

If that’s it, then (to answer your question about tradition and heresy, for what it’s worth), this would I think be rejected as heresy by, say, the Eastern Orthodox. I would think by the Catholics and Anglicans too.

Tom


#7

Let’s put it this way, Mike. In terms of Orthodoxy (both Western and Eastern expressions), God is viewed as being necessarily/essentially unsurpassable aesthetic satisfaction. In Augustine’s words (which I completely agree with), God is perfectissima pulchritudo et beatissima delectatio. No, I don’t know Latin. Just thought it would make me sound smart! Hehe. ;o)

In other words, God is “the most perfect beauty and the most blessed delight.” For the Eastern Fathers this loving experience of satisfaction subsists (to stretch for a term) in and through and by means of the personal relations. So the beauty that is God, the satisfaction that is his God-constituting experience, is this experience of personal address and response. God just is the fullness of replete loving relations. This beauty of full and unimprovable loving experience (or aesthetic satisfaction, to put it in process terms) IS I think what we signify when we speak of divine aseity or self-sufficient existence. God is personally and fully sufficient to Godself. That sufficiency is his necessary existence (God, we understand, not being a contingent being).

The Fathers understand this essential interpersonal fullness in terms of atemporal existence. Well, actually, that’s just apophaticism. It’s also BEYOND atemporal, i.e., beyond the very categories of temporal and atemporal. God being both and neither. That’s my beef with them I think.

Tom


#8

I suppose the problem I see has to do with absolute infinities and infinite regression.

But the condemnation itself is controversial (at least as far as Bulgakov’s Sopiology is concerned.)

As I understand it, what was condemned was elevating Mary to the level of Deity (as some Russian Sophiologists had done), but 1. Bulgakov denied doing this, 2. never recanted what he had written, 3. the condemnation was never reviewed and confirmed, and 4.it never went above the provincial level (and so is not recognized by all the Orthodox.)

Didn’t reaaly want to go here (because I’m not really sure I can get my mind around the idea myself), but Bulgakove was a universalist, and one of the things his Sophiology was recently criticized for (in an otherwise favorable review in the Orthodox jounal Theandros ) is that it may necessitate viewing the final salvation of all created beings as more than a hope.

He seems to view the creaturely Sophia as the temporal outworking of God’s will for creation, and the Divine Sophia as the atemporal outcome of God’s will for creation.

That would make the end gauranteed, and time a circle.

Past and future (at least from God’s frame of reference) would merge into God’s eternal now, and we would all already be seated with Christ in the heavenlies.

As I said, I’m not sure I can get my mind around that, so I’m not sure it really helps me much.

I’m not suggesting that God is more than three persons, or less than a person.

I’m suggesting that God (or The Father, who generates the person of The Son, and spirates the person of The Holy Spirit) is both conscious, active, and aware of the passage of time in our universe; and semi conscious, at rest, and unaware of the passage of time in some co-existing reality.

I say “co-existing”–because if time “began”, whatever reality was/is sans-creation, can’t really be called “before creation.”

There would ultimately be no “before” or “after.”

I think even an atheist would have to conceed a paradox here.

Physicists say time began with the big bang, and you run into the problem of actual infinities and infinite regression whether you believe in God or some hypothosized “time before time” (with laws of physics that would [given enough of this “time before time”] presumably have caused the primodial point of singularity to build up enough critical mass to produce the big bang.).

Where did the pre-laws of physics laws of physics come from, how long was this “time before time,” and what was there before it?

Another big bang?

Another “time before time”?

More “pre laws of physics” laws of physics?

Before that another universe, big bang. “time before time,” etc., etc., ad infinitum?

Unless you have some sans-creation (or sans-big bang) reality co=existing (in some sense) with this time/space continuumn, you end up with the problem of actual infinities (and the logical incongruity of infinite regression)–whether you believe in God or not.

That seems as much a problem for the phyicist as the Theologian.

Well, time was still passing, and my heart was still beating so many beats per minute–so in that sense, I was still a creature of time and space.

But I wasn’t consciously aware of the passage of time.

Remembering has been called a temporal activity, but I was remembering my mother only in the sense that I could see her face, her eyes, and her smile.

I knew she loved me, and I felt she knew I loved her–but there were no words, no motions, and there was no sequence of events (I wish there were, as I would like to have had a convosation with her.)

If knowing and feeling are atemporal qualities of personality, my experience (in this dream state) was timeless.

I suppose I was still “a person” in this state, but I was only semi-conscious (and I tend to think of consciousness as a quality of personality.)

Instead of conceiving of Him “getting off the dime” you could perhaps conceive of Him being both on and off “the dime.”

I’m awake and conscious now, but that dream I had is still in my subconscious (or I couldn’t remember it.)

My conscious and subconscious co-exist–in the same way temporal time and atmporality would have to co-exist (if there is such a thing as atemporality, and I can’t conceive of reality existing without it.)

I apreciate your trying to help me think this through Tom.

I need to think these things through now, and I need all the feed back I can get.

Do you still think my thoughts are heretical?


#9

There’s way more in this post than I can respond to at this point, but I want to respond to this as it touches on a subject I feel is personal to me:

But I know what he means, and to anyone who’s had a similar experience, it is very much timeless. And I don’t mean that in a merely subjective way, although I don’t know how you could prove that it’s timeless.

Or how about this? The experience of something that is atemporal. Just because it’s experienced by someone who exists in the temporal realm, does not therefore mean that it, itself is temporal. Perhaps if its sole existence was in the temporal realm. But here I’m talking about (and I think Mike is probably talking about) something timeless or eternal that was “dropped into” our temporal existence of time that stills everything until one has no conception of time at least for a brief span. Like having a vision from God. I’ve experienced those and they have the appearance of transcending everything in temporal existence.

Just because we live in time, does not mean that we cannot be lifted up into a loftier experience. As someone (Tozer?) has said, it does not seem that we are creatures made for time in the first place. To be lifted up where we are not dictated to by time - the realm of death and decay, but merely by God, is perhaps the most exalted experience of life, the one that the Son wishes for us.

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.”
John 5:24


#10

Thank you stellar renegade.

Please continue to share whatever thoughts or feed back you have to offer.


#11

Mike: I suppose the problem I see has to do with absolute infinities and infinite regression.

Tom: I can appreciate that. But I will side with personal/relational intuitions over mathematics pretty much every time. I don’t mean that I have any intuitions that tell me 2 + 2 = 4 is false. I’m talking about the stuff out on the edge, like the possibility of a temporally infinite past. That’s not exactly a simple. So until the case regarding the math is absolutely closed, I’m siding with my intuitions and experience regarding personal relations, love, the nature of experience, etc.


Mike: Though controversial, isn’t the whole idea of Sophiology impersonal–I mean, if what Bulgakov (and other Orthodox Theologians) meant by “Sophia” were personal, wouldn’t it be a fourth member of the Trinity?

Tom: Indeed it would. But even as it stands, Sophianism was condemned as heresy for pretty much this reason.

Mike: But the condemnation itself is controversial (at least as far as Bulgakov’s Sopiology is concerned.)

Tom: True.

Mike: As I understand it, what was condemned was elevating Mary to the level of Deity (as some Russian Sophiologists had done), but 1. Bulgakov denied doing this, 2. never recanted what he had written, 3. the condemnation was never reviewed and confirmed, and 4.it never went above the provincial level (and so is not recognized by all the Orthodox.)

Tom: Agree. I’m just saying that Bulgakov (to my knowledge) never attributed ‘personhood’ or personal status (attributes of reason, will, and feeling, etc.) to any BUT the divine persons of F, S, and HS—whatever else might be the case about his Sophiology. And I think this much is a good indication of what he (and the Orthodox) did in fact believe regarding the divine ‘persons’ (and thus ‘personhood’).

Have you read much Zizioulas?


Mike: Didn’t realy want to go here (because I’m not really sure I can get my mind around the idea myself), but Bulgakov was a universalist, and one of the things his Sophiology was recently criticized for (in an otherwise favorable review in the Orthodox jounal —] is that it may necessitate viewing the final salvation of all created beings as more than a hope.

Tom: You mean like Gregory of N? Hehe. I don’t think there was much doubt in Gregory’s mind—given his metaphysics—that all would ultimately find its way back to God. I can’t get with that!

Mike: He seems to view the creaturely Sophia as the temporal outworking of God’s will for creation, and the Divine Sophia as the atemporal outcome of God’s will for creation.

Tom: I’m going to plead ignorance on Bulgakov, Mike. I’m a ‘bit’ familiar with him at best. I know he’s controversial among the Orthodoxy and was condemned by the Russian Orthodoxy (albeit a condemnation that wasn’t pursued), etc. That much at least means that his views weren’t standard Orthodox views.

Mike: That would make the end gauranteed, and time a circle. Past and future (at least from God’s frame of reference) would merge into God’s eternal now, and we would all already be seated with Christ in the heavenlies. As I said, I’m not sure I can get my mind around that, so I’m not sure it really helps me much.

Tom: As a way to understand the metaphsysics of time and the temporal status of God’s experience, it doesn’t help me at all. But I can agree to a qualified kind of ‘circular’ view of time understood linearly as a process or movement that freely begins in and with God, out to the creation and deification of non-God realities and the forever progressing enjoying of created realities in the life of God. But I can’t conceive of this movement in atemporal terms. It’s at best atemporal in an inexact way of speaking, for example, as God beings the project with every assurance of its final rest in him. The end is guaranteed so to speak. But it’s not ACTUAL for God until it is, in its own right, actual. God experiences the world.


Mike: I’m suggesting that God (or The Father, who generates the person of The Son, and spirates the person of The Holy Spirit) is both conscious, active, and aware of the passage of time in our universe; and semi conscious, at rest, and unaware of the passage of time in some co-existing reality.

Tom: Work it out, the nuts and bolts, then publish it! I’ll read it. ;o)


Tom: Not really. You also dream as a creature of time and space. We don’t become timeless entities when we sleep. That’s why I’m having some difficult connecting the dots to get at just what the issue is here.

Well, time was still passing, and my heart was still beating so many beats per minute–so in that sense, I was still a creature of time and space. But I wasn’t consciously aware of the passage of time.

Tom: That is, I think, a separate issue. I can totally appreciate how one “loses track of time” or to “lose one’s self in the moment and literally come to have no regard for time.” The passage of time that is (metaphysically speaking) necessary for conscious experience to occur at all would not clutter the actual perception and experience of beauty though its passage is necessary. Time runs in the background like a silent software program so to speak. I can get with that if that’s what you’re meaning. But that’s not ‘atemporal existence’ per se.

This is where what Stellar says comes in:

“But I know what [Mike] means, and to anyone who’s had a similar experience, it is very much timeless. And I don’t mean that in a merely subjective way, although I don’t know how you could prove that it’s timeless.”

Then we’re using words to mean different things. If it were a timeless experience, it would be an ETERNAL experience, with no beginning and no end, forever actual. Can any of us even qualify for such an experience? I don’t think so.

Stellar: Or how about this? The experience of something that is atemporal. Just because it’s experienced by someone who exists in the temporal realm, does not therefore mean that it, itself is temporal.

Tom: Good point. But this creates problems for understanding the nature of the God-World relation. I think that relations is bi-lateral and personal. And for me, that means God is experiencing the world, experiencing US. And we’re temporal.

Mike: If knowing and feeling are atemporal qualities of personality, my experience (in this dream state) was timeless.

Tom: I don’t think ‘knowing’ and ‘feeling’ can be atemporal qualities of personal existence. I’m not a professional philosopher, so I’m just battering around the idea.


Mike: Instead of conceiving of Him “getting off the dime” you could perhaps conceive of Him being both on and off “the dime.” I’m awake and conscious now, but that dream I had is still in my subconscious (or I couldn’t remember it.

Tom: Creation is creation of ‘actualities’, the ‘coming into being’ of entities not previously in existence. There’s an absolute line, so to speak, between being and not-being, or being potentiality and actuality, that I don’t think can be conflated or merged. (If I’m following ya!) So I don’t know how to conceive of God as BOTH “having created” and “not having created.” I know this is all pretty heady stuff, but I don’t see how the comparison between conscious and subconscious experience is at all analogous to the categories of temporality vs atemporality or to that the movement from potential to actual.

Mike: My conscious and subconscious co-exist–in the same way temporal time and atemporality would have to co-exist (if there is such a thing as atemporality, and I can’t conceive of reality existing without it.)

Tom: Interesting. I can’t seem to find a need for an atemporal anything. I think ‘experience’ is the common denominator to all things, and that’s inconceivable to me apart from time. So it’s temporal from there on up. And I don’t have any problems that are solved by positing an atemporal experience at the foundation of all things. I admit that mathematical conundrums. But my personal/relational categories and intuitions are far more developed and necessary to me. If that’s bad news for weird math, so be it!

Mike: Do you still think my thoughts are heretical?

Tom: Don’t think so. If you’ve got an atemporal God in there somewhere you’ll make the Orthodox happy! I’M the one who is closer to being a heretic!

Peace,
Tom


#12

Given nothing but temporal time, God is still having limitless experiences prior to creation, Genesis 1:1 is still infinately far away, we’re not here, and there are no human relationships.

You may not “have any problems that are solved by positing an atemporal experience at the foundation of all things,” but I don’t see how to explain “in the beginning” without it.

The present is (by definition) the end of the past, and a limitless past would have no end.

That would mean that God is still there (in that limitless past.)

And if He never got here, how did we?

I can only explain this (to myself, in my own mind) by conceiving of time as a part of God’s creation–but then I have the problem of conceiving of a personal God existing without time.

Perhaps the answer is that knowing, feeling, and willing aren’t temporal qualities at all, and they’re the bear essentials of personhood.

And perhaps temporal time begins where the atemporal God wills someone other than Himself to love (The Son) , to know and return His love (The Holy Spirit), and to share that love with non-God entities (Sophia–you and me.)

Creation would follow, and God would become temporal in His relations to us.

I think that’s something like what Bulgakov had in mind, and maybe that’s the answer–but I’m no Philosopher, Theologian, or Mathematician.

I’m just batting these things around too (and I apreciate all the feedback I can get.)


#13

The whole problem with supposing God is atemporal sans creation and that his determination to create (i.e., to become temporal) is contingent is how to account for this movement, this transition from a necessary and exclusively atemporal mode of existence to a mode of existence that is in any respect unnecessary and temporal. God effects this transition volitionally, I presume. He chooses to create. And this choice is as contingent and unnecessary as creation (since creation follows necessarily from the choice), so it’s not an aspect of God’s atemporal and self-defining experience. But how does an absolutely atemporal God do this? By what means does he “effect” the creation of time freely and contingently by an exercise of will sans time? To me this poses just as serious an objection to atemporal existence as does the impossibility of actual infinites to a temporally infinite past. To suppose that God is both on and off the dime is simultaneously is, I think, just to further describe what needs explaining and not actually to explain anything.

Tom


#14

Well for one, it causes problems for perfect precognition of the future on God’s part. But that’s only a superficial problem. The bigger one is the perfect synchronicity between the past, present and future. How is God’s plan perfect if he’s not in control of the future at the same time as the present or the past?

I think that this problem can be solved by the theory I set out that the Father is outside of time while the Son is within (though time is also subject to the Son). Thus, since the Son existed from the beginning (as at least most Christians believe) then time may have been created instead by him.


#15

Still just batting things around here, but I’m not sure I would agree that God’s choice to create isn’t “an aspect of God’s atemporal and self-defining experience.”

Not if He atemporally wiiled His Son to exist as all that He is (His Word and Image, the agent of creation, the great giver who’s generous to lesser “non-God” entities, the lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world), and atemporally willed the existence of The Holy Spirit as all that He is (the Lord and giver of life, a vehical of recepricating love, the great sanctifier, The Comforter.)

This would mean that the Divine Sophia (The eternal idea of a perfected, glorified, and sanctified creation) is “an aspect of God’s atemporal and self-defining experience” (and the creaturely Sophia, the temporal outworking of that creation thru The Son and The Spirit.)

I’m suprised to borrow these terms from Bulgakov, but I really think he was on to something (and he’s the only Orthodox Theologian I know of who seems to have resolved the filioque issue–accepting the analogy of the lover, the loved, and the bond of love between them.)

Here’s something he wrote that may bear directly on the topic under discussion here.

fireandrose.blogspot.com/2008/10 … pirit.html


#16

Stellar: How is God’s plan perfect if he’s not in control of the future at the same time as the present or the past?

Tom: As an open theist, my answer would be a bit controversial!

Let me ask it this way.

My son plays chess. He’s OK, but nothing special in the way of chess geniuses. Let’s say he were to play Kasparov or Fisher. Is there ANY doubt who will win? I don’t think so. Is there any doubt who is in control of the flow of the game and where it ends up? Nah. Kasparov is. But Kasparov doesn’t need to be timeless or even have a print out of all the game’s moves ahead of time in order to secure the win. My son can be free to move in ways NOT determined by Kasparov (or foreknown “as certainties” or “foregone conclusions”) without undermining Kasparov’s control over the outcome of the game. Kasparov can perfectly anticipate all the possible moves and have adequate responses prepared. And that’s just how he wins.

So I don’t think God needs to be as certain of what future shall be as he is of what the past is in order to be in control enough to secure his goals for creation.

I’m rambling.

Tom


#17

Michael,

I suppose the ultimate question is what one believes about divine aseity and self-sufficiency. Can (and does) the fullness of divine being and personal existence (that which constitutes God’s necessary existence) obtain within God irrespective of all reference to non-God realities (that would be the traditional Orthodox view) OR does God require some determination to create and relate to a non-divine world in order to self-actualize (so to speak) in relationship to that world and thus achieve the fullness of triune/personal being in and through the world?

I like Congdon’s blog too. Good guy. Smart. But I disagree with him (and several other very articulate fans of Bruce McCormack, a brilliant but controversial Barth scholar) about how God’s determination to creation (and thus to relate ad extra) relates to the triune being of God.

Tom


#18

Hi Tom,

I’m not interested in whether my views are orthodox or traditional, only if they’d be heretical (measured against the standard of scripture, and what has been dogmatically defined by the Eccumenical Councils of the undivided Church.)

BTW: I’m not terribly familare with “Open Theism” or "“Process Theism,” are they they the same thing?


#19

Well, you’ve got the Ecumenical creeds. I don’t think there’s anything explicit in them about the temporal status of God’s existence. But there are, of course, important points about the essential triune nature of God, but you already know that. If you were to imply or suggest that the triune relations are not self-sufficient (i.e., were somehow dependent upon the world or the determination to create the world) then I think you’d meet with opposition (in terms of the creeds).

Tom


#20

I don’t see anything in the creeds that say that the trune relations are “self sufficient.”

I’m sure Thomas Aquinas (and others before and after him) said this, but I don’t see it dogmatically affirmed in the creeds.

I see God (the Father) descibed as "“Maker,” The Son described as “Maker,” and The Holy Spirit described as “Giver of life.”

Where is it affirmed (in the eccumenical creeds) that they could have been anything but what they are?

If they have to be what they are, perhaps the atemporal side of The Father’s existence consists in (what I would call) a subconscious willing, knowing, and loving of each of the other two hypostase–as all that they are.

This would involve “the determination to create the world.”