Fr. Aidan Kimel in a recent comment:
I just started reading Philosophy for Understanding Theology by Diogenes Allen. The first chapter is devoted to the doctrine of creation. These two sentences jumped out at me: "The world plus God is not more than God alone. God less the world is not less than God alone." Do you agree? How would you unpack them?
These are hard sayings indeed. Herewith, some rough notes on the aporetics of the situation.
By 'world' here is meant the totality of creatures, the totality of beings brought into existence by God from nothing. Now if God is a being among beings, it would make no sense at all to say that "The world plus God is not more than God alone." For if we add the uncreated being (God) to the created beings, then we have more beings. We have a totality T that is larger than T minus God. If God is a being among beings, then there is a totality of beings that all exist in the same way and in the same sense, and this totality includes both God and creatures such that subtracting God or subtracting creatures would affect the 'cardinality' of this totality.
But if God is not a being among beings, but Being itself in its absolute fullness, as per the metaphysics of Exodus 3:14 (Ego sum qui sum, "I am who am") then there is no totality of beings all existing in the same way having both God and creatures as members. When we speak of God and creatures,
. . . we are dealing with two orders of being not to be added together or subtracted; they are, in all rigour, incommensurable, and that is also why they are compossible. God added nothing to Himself by the creation of the world, nor would anything be taken away from Him by its annihilation -- events which would be of capital importance for the created things concerned, but null for Being Who would be in no wise concerned qua being. (Etienne Gilson, The Spirit of Medieval Philosophy, Scribners 1936, p. 96. Gilson's Gifford lectures, 1931-1932.)
Here, I am afraid, I will end up supplying some 'ammo' to Tuggy, Rhoda, and Anderson. For the Gilson passage teeters on the brink of incoherence. We are told that there are two orders of being but that they are incommensurable. This can't be right, at least not without qualification. If there are two orders of being, then they are commensurable in respect of being. There has to be some sense in which God and Socrates both are. Otherwise, God and creatures are totally disconnected, with the consequence that creatures fall away into nothingness. For if God is Being itself, and there is no common measure, no commensurability whatsoever, between God and creatures, then creatures are nothing. God is all in all. God alone is. Gilson is well aware of the dialectical pressure in this monistic direction: "As soon as we identify God with Being it becomes clear that there is a sense in which God alone is." (65) If we emphasize the plenitude and transcendence of God, then this sensible world of matter and change is "banished at one stroke into the penumbra of mere appearance, relegated to the inferior status of a quasi-unreality." (64) But of course Christian metaphysics is not a strict monism; so a way must be found to assign the proper degree of reality to the plural world.
Here is the problem in a nutshell. God cannot be a being among beings. "But if God is Being, how can there be anything other than Himself?" (84) We need to find a way to avoid both radical ontological pluralism and radical ontological monism.
It's a variation on the old problem of the One and the Many.
A. If Being itself alone is, then beings are not. But then the One lacks the many. Not good: the manifold is evident to the senses and the intellect.
B. If beings alone are, then Being is not. But then the many lacks the One. Not good: the many is the many of the One. A sheer manifold with no real unity would not a cosmos make. The world is one, really one.
C. If Being and beings both are in the same way and and the same sense, then either Being is itself just another being among beings and we are back with radical pluralism, or Being alone is and we are back with radical monism.
Gilson's Thomist solution invokes the notions of participation and analogy. God is Being itself in its purity and plenitude and infinity. Creatures exist by participation in the divine Being: they are limited participators in unlimited Being. So both God and creatures exist, but in different ways. God exists simply and 'unparticipatedly.' Creatures exist by participation. God and creatures do not form a totality in which each member exists in the same way. We can thus avoid each of (A), (B), and (C).
But the notion of participation is a difficult one as Gilson realizes. It appears "repugnant to logical thought" (96): ". . . every participation supposes that the participator both is, and is not, that in which it participates." (96) How so?
I exist, but contingently. My Being is not my own, but received from another, from God, who is Being itself. So my Being is God's Being. But I am not God or anything else. So I have my own Being that distinguishes me numerically from everything else. So I am and am not that in which I participate.
Gilson does not show a convincing way around this contradiction.
The One of the many is not one of the many: as the source of the many, the One cannot be just one more member of the many. Nor can the One of the many be the same as the many: it cannot divide without remainder into the many. The One is transcendent of the many. But while transcendent, it cannot be wholly other than the many. For, as Plotinus says, "It is by the One that all beings are beings." The One, as the principle by which each member of the many exists, cannot be something indifferent to the many or external to the many, or other than the many, or merely related to the many. The One is immanent to the many. The One is immanent to the many without being the same as the many. The One is neither the same as the many nor other than the many. The One is both transcendent of the many and immanent in the many. Theologically, God is said to be both transcendent and omnipresent.
What should we conclude from these affronts to the discursive intellect? That there is just nothing to talk about here, or that there is but it is beyond the grasp of our paltry intellects? If what I have written above is logical nonsense, yet it seems to be important, well-motivated, rigorously articulated nonsense.