Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Unchanging yet Creative God, Part 3

The question before us remains: if we are not allowed to introduce change into our concept of God’s Being, or time either, how can God ever do anything He wasn’t doing from all eternity? How can He “one day” start to create the world? How can He, having once begun creating, stop doing so and rest on the seventh day? In fact, how is it He can stop or start any activity, such as responding to my prayers? How is it He hasn’t already judged me, and either saved or rejected me, from before all time, as the Calvinists believe? How is it even possible to have a genuine, person-to-person relationship with an absolutely unchanging God?

The Scholastics said it wasn’t. In that system of thought, exemplified by Thomas Aquinas, God only indirectly creates the world we know.

For Aquinas, what God does is eternally create, within His own Being (Essence), “exemplars,” or patterns, or ideas of the creation. This, for the Orthodox, is Problem One: that we have, within the very Essence of the Godhead, created things! Remember that God’s Essence is whatever He has that He can’t not have and still be God. If God did have created things within His Being, then His own creation would be part of what is required for God to be God!

It is natural for these “exemplars” or blueprints to radiate outward from God. God doesn’t directly cause them to do this; they just do it naturally. And these emanations, projected into time and space, create the material world. (How time and space got there to receive these emanations I do not know. I also do not understand why these eternal ideas emanating from God didn’t eternally have the effect of creating the world we know, making the universe beginningless.)

In Aquinas’ thought, God, to create, doesn’t have to change. Rather, the change is in us. We change in relation to Him as we come into being from non-being. Aquinas compares this to a hypothetical relationship between an animal, analogous to us, and a column, analogous to God. If the position of the column relative to the animal changes, it is because the animal moved, not the column.

All this makes Problems Two, Three, and Four for the Orthodox.

Problem Two: Is this biblical? Is it anywhere in Holy Tradition?

Problem Three: the exemplars become intermediaries between God and creation. Although Aquinas tries to uphold the doctrine of creation without any “raw materials,” (ex nihilo), yet here he compromises it. The exemplars are created things which in turn create the material world. This, in opposition to the Judeo-Christian doctrine that God creates the world alone, without intermediaries, with no help, especially not with help from created things, by His Word (Christ), not by emanations.

Problem Four: The created Ideas within God have more and greater reality than their emanations outside of God. This devalues the material world, telling us reality is to be found outside it. The world is but a shadow cast by the true reality, or a ray shining forth from the reality. This undoes or at least severely undermines the entire sacramental worldview, in which the world is very real indeed, and is in fact meant to be the sacrament of communion between God and man and is the (real) meeting place between God and Man.

Still, Aquinas preserves us from pantheism while insulating his concept of God from temporality and change, which is no small feat. But that’s Problem Five, because in the process, Aquinas also has to insulate his concept of God from any real relationship with us! Yes, it’s true. He asserts that while our relationship to God is real, although indirect (via the exemplars within His Essence), yet His relationship to us is not real! Actually, God only relates to His eternal ideas of us. See here and here.

In the thought of Western Christendom in general (not just in Aquinas), for the sake of protecting God’s changelessness without resorting to pantheism, the notion that God cannot relate to us really or directly is unavoidable to anyone who gives serious thought to it. (Fortunately, the average man in the pew doesn’t.) There really is no known way out of it. It is therefore implicit in Western theology.

This is why, generally speaking, grace is assumed to be a created thing. This is why, in the West, knowledge of God is pursued by means of the intellect more than with the core self, truth is when your thought accurately reflects or coincides with what you are thinking about, and revelation is primarily a matter of words. This is why the things of God (together with God Himself) are dealt with as concepts, concepts, concepts and faith involves cognitive thinking and “theology” is so abstract, so theoretical, something you learn by academic study more than from your own communion with God. That is why catechizing is usually about imparting concepts instead of holiness, teaching ideas instead of asceticism and the art of prayer. And ideas, to which God relates instead of to us, are also our mode of relating to the world and to each other. Even that most personal relationship, marriage, is cast as a legal contract, complete with solemn vows. (There are no vows in an Orthodox wedding.) That is why, in the West the goal of man is not theosis, deification, but something called "The Beatific Vision," that is, beholding the very Essence of God.

Now the devastating idea that God has no real relationship to the created order not only spawns the impersonal sort of culture we see collapsing around us, but also and absolutely rules out anything recognizable to the Orthodox as spirituality.

But here’s the sad yet wonderful joke: near the end of the life of this man who had said God does not have real relations with us, God came to Thomas Aquinas in Person. It was for Thomas a direct, intense, and undeniably real encounter. Of course this upset the very foundation upon which he had built his thought and shook him up badly. No wonder then, that afterward, Thomas called all he had written “straw”. It was a "theology" by a man who had never even met God, had never known Him at all. Afterwards, Thomas never attempted to write a single sentence more of theology - just when he had finally begun to be qualified to do it.

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8 comments:

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

P.S.) I cannot even pretend to understand Thomas Aquinas very well. I've relied heavily upon other people's interpretations, especially Fr. John Romanides in The Ancestral Sin, pp. 54 and following.

s-p said...

Well done, good synopsis of East/West differences on the essence of God. That only took us 3 hours of programs to say. :)

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Thanks, s-p, but in your radio program you no doubt covered twice the material I've covered so far. I'm only halfway through this series. Maybe less, not sure yet...

Does Ancient Faith Radio have your 3 hours' worth as a podcast? If so, I must have a listen very soon.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anastasia

I find what you write very interesting. I'm sorry for being so ignorant, i'm obviously nowhere near as smart as you. I just can't understand the opening statement of this blog. I have such a simple way of thinking, I don't understand how God can't just do what he likes. How can't he just create the world, how can't he just stop and rest. You can just start to read a book... and stop reading it when you get tired and goto sleep. God created man in his image did he not?

Why must there be a human answer for how he creates things. Why do we even bother try to understand how he can create something out of nothing?

I didn't even know who Thomas Aquinas was before i read this post, but the idea of "exemplars" radiating outward automatically creating things sounds pretty out there to me. How is it that one cannot just accept that God decided to create things? We can just make something up while tripping on LSD one day like the Scientologists did, or maybe Thomas Aquinas and tell everyone "he did it like this" or "he didn't do it, this is what happens" but then Thomas Aquinas met God....

God is the ultimate, he doesn't change but we do. In 9855687246871 years we wouldn't evolve to his greatness. He doesn't need exemplars to have a relationship with us, he can have a relationship with as many people as he likes, while watching everyone on Earth whilst creating a cup of tea.

As humans, we can think about it all we want and many can say "this is what happens" or "that's what happens" but we'll never know until we ask him. After all, as the scriptures teach (if you believe in that) heaven is for children, we are supposed to accept it as they do. I couldn't help but notice all through the Old Testament either that the young kings did what was right in the eyes of God, so many of the older ones were misled because they thought that they knew everything. I think that this way of thinking sends our minds astray. But that's not a bad thing if you don't believe in the first place. Thanks for the read

Peace

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

Dear Anonymous,

You're absolutely right! I fully agree with you. Because of your wonderful simplicity, you see right through all the baloney to the heart of the matter. None of this academic fog is clouding your vision because you have been blissfully unaware of certain very strange theories.

Yes, of course God can create what He wants, when He wants, or can do anything else He wants, when He wants, and can stop doing it whenever He chooses.

But the problem is that not everyone agrees with us. For some people, like Thomas Aquinas (a Roman Catholic theologian of the Middle Ages who for centuries was regarded as the foremost teacher of Catholicism), what you and I say is actually ia big, tough, issue (believe it or not)!

Why? Because some people, like Aquinas, have this philosophical notion that whatever God DOES, that exactly equates to what God IS. And vice-versa. God's Being and God's Doing, they think, are identical.

Now can you see that there's a big problem with that? The trouble is, God's Being is unchanging, but His Doing changes at will. So how can they be identical?

Obviously, they can't. So everything I've written is to make that very point. We need to recognize the distinction between "Who God Is" and "What God does". Otherwise we're in la-la-land. (And I took the approach of starting out right there, in la-la land, as you so rightly perceive. I did that because that's where most readers of this blog probably are.)

IOW, it took me seven longish posts to say what you've said in a couple of paragraphs, which means you must actually be a lot smarter than I am!

Peace.

Anonymous said...

Great! Lucky these early theologicans and philosophers didn't have access to the books of Enoch or there would have been real trouble! or maybe they did?

Anastasia Theodoridis said...

I don't know!

Please elaborate about the books of Enoch, because I have not read them and don't follow you here.

Anonymous said...

Hello,
What I was getting at is: Enoch, the man who walked with God in the old testament. If you read from Genesis 5:18 it mentions Enoch.

Enoch actually has books of his own. They are supposedly the oldest sentances or writings ever found by man. He explains what happened just before God sent the flood and why he sent the flood in depth, details about The Nephilim
and also alot of other things

The books were lost in time but have been found again. They
were once accepted into Christian teachings and then thrown out as heresy etc.

Anyway, one could say that Jesus and the apostles and also alot of early Christians studied these books because alot of phrases and exact sentances that appear in the New Testament also appear in Enochs books. I think if these scholars you mention had access to these books, they might have had a completely different view on Christianity full stop. The books are really interesting and a good read, look them up on the net...

What got me interested in Enoch's
books started at this map my brother told me about - "Piri Reis Map"
He told me that he thinks The Nephilim drew the map which got me looking around the net in search of more information of what happened before the flood, which led me to Enoch's books

All the best