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Friday, July 24, 2020

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Premise 1 is certainly vulnerable to the theologies known as 'open theism'; the most rigorous of which would be the approach of A.N. Whitehead and his follower Charles Hartshorne.
Tyron Inbody has written a good analysis and defense of the position that our god 'may be too big', meaning that He might not be omnipotent to the extent of being able to prevent evil. Yes, the idea that God may not be omnipotent is certainly startling, but Inbody's careful navigation through the issues is fresh and challenging.
His position is not without its weaknesses. In any case, he is in his own words a Christian believer who desires to help those troubled with the so-called 'problem of evil', who might want to re-think their reasons for their belief and worship of God: is He worship-worthy because of His Power? Or rather because of His Love and wisdom?
https://www.amazon.com/Transforming-God-Tyron-L-Inbody/dp/0664257119

Bill,

So if heaven is the Beatific Vision, heaven cannot be illusory. But this highly refined, highly Platonic, Thomist take on heaven is not for everyone. It is not for Protestants whose conception is cruder. I call that conception Life 2.0 and I contrast in with the Thomist conception in Conceiving the Afterlife: Life 2.0 or Beatific Vision ? On a crude conception, according to which Jethro will be united after death with his faithful hound 'Blue,' drink home brew, and hunt rabbits, there is room for illusion. It could be that there is a whole series of quasi-material 'spiritual' heavens above the sublunary but shy of the ultimate heaven of the Beatific Vision, but I won't pursue that speculation here.

I have it on good authority that, according to orthodox (small 'o') Christianity, man will eventually be resurrected into a quasi-physical reality. Is your "Thomist" conception of the afterlife therefore not, for all its Thomism, not orthodox Christian? How do you save the attractive, Platonic parts of your view without abandoning orthodoxy, or do you simply not worry too much about orthodoxy?

Bill,

Traditionally, the visio beata is, I believe, taken to destroy free will in certain matters. This is why many medievals cite the visio as why angels can no longer rebel against God. (They have a bit more trouble, I believe, explaining why demons can no longer return to God.) Hoffmann has a nice discussion about this in A Companion to Angels in Medieval Philosophy.

This isn't traditionally thought to necessitate God's creating further evil. (Though, I put to you that, even if it did, this would be no more a problem for God than his inability to create square-circles, or destroy necessary objects, would be.)

With regard to premise 3, I would also point out that God can make his existence known to us without a doubt while leaving our free will in tact. For he can do so but without compelling our devotion or submission. The bible is full of these cases. For instance, Paul’s heavenly vision or the various manifestations of God to the Israelites during the exodus. Paul and the Israelites were still free to choose to obey or disobey God in these cases, even though God made his existence plainly obvious to them. So God’s eliminating radical skepticism regarding his existence would I think still be consistent with human freedom. The point is that God is interested in a relationship, not in our simply adding one more item to our ontological inventory. And entering into this relationship still requires freedom of the will.


Cyrus,
The notion that “orthodox (small 'o') Christianity, [holds that] man will eventually be resurrected into a quasi-physical reality” does not conform to the mystery of the resurrection of the dead and the redemption of the saved at the end of time that is proclaimed in scripture.

We can only speak of these things humbly, for in our present circumstances, they are masked in mystery. But we have some hints of their non-physical nature through revelation. For instance, in 1 Corinthians, St. Paul declares “that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (50); thus, at the final judgement, “the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (53-54). Resurrected bodies, while remaining the bodies of the dead, are in no way simply corporal; they have divested themselves of their former physical forms.

As to the dwelling place of these “spiritual” bodies (45), it will be, according to Revelation 21, “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea” (1). Again, this vision points only obliquely at the post resurrection state, but still it is evident that what existed before, “the first heaven and the first earth” ceases to exist. In its place, Revelation speaks of “the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” and of “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God” (2-3). Whatever the nature of this new reality, which descends from heaven and is worthy of God’s presence, it can hardly be reduced to the notion of “quasi-physical.” If anything of its former state remains, it is so transformed as to supersede our earthly, dichotomous notions of physical and spiritual. Some other state, beyond our imaging, is pointed to here.

With regard to your questions “Is your "Thomist" conception of the afterlife therefore not, for all its Thomism, not orthodox Christian? How do you save the attractive, Platonic parts of your view without abandoning orthodoxy, or do you simply not worry too much about orthodoxy?” I think that these are substantially addressed by St. Thomas in the Summa Theologiae (III, Supplement, q. 21), where he writes:
We believe all corporeal things to have been made for man's sake, wherefore all things are stated to be subject to him [Psalm 8:5, seqq.]. Now they serve man in two ways, first, as sustenance to his bodily life, secondly, as helping him to know God, inasmuch as man sees the invisible things of God by the things that are made (Romans 1:20). Accordingly glorified man will nowise need creatures to render him the first of these services, since his body will be altogether incorruptible, the Divine power effecting this through the soul which it will glorify immediately. Again man will not need the second service as to intellective knowledge, since by that knowledge he will see God immediately in His essence.”

Thus, physical reality, immediately apprehended through the senses and immaterialized by the intellect, which now points to God’s existence and nature, will no longer be the conduit of (imperfect) knowledge about the divine; rather “His essence” will be immediately evident to resurrected man. Does this formulation not permit “the Platonic parts” of Bill’s position?

Best wishes,
Vito

Vito,

This a very enlightening reply. Thank you. I wonder if you would be willing to help me pin down one of the dogma from the Council of Vienne. Perhaps Bill could send you my email. . .

I'm trying to further clarify the distinction between spiritual and material bodies. The former, spiritual body exists in space (otherwise, what do we mean by “body” and why a new heaven and earth?) and as part of a nexus of causal circumstances; the latter as well. (In other words, both fit my preferred definition of matter.) The former is incorruptible, and lets one know things by God's light directly; the latter doesn't. But this latter pair of differences doesn't seem like the kind of radical, essential difference that some of your* and Bill's comments (cf. Conceiving the Afterlife: Life 2.0 or Beatific Vision) suggest for our post and pre-mortem states. Could you say a bit more about the distinction between the two bodies? Are there are any texts you recommend on this?

Does this formulation not permit “the Platonic parts” of Bill’s position?

I don't know. I'm not sure it sets up a radical enough difference between the pre- and post-resurrection bodies for what Bill wants. (I'm not entirely sure what Bill wants.) But it certainly does permit some "Platonic parts" I was unsure an orthodox position could.

*"If anything of its former state remains, it is so transformed as to supersede our earthly, dichotomous notions of physical and spiritual. Some other state, beyond our imaging, is pointed to here."

Corrigendum: "pin down" s/b "clarify"

Cyrus,

Thank you for your response to my comment.

As to your question, “Could you say a bit more about the distinction between the two bodies? Are there are any texts you recommend on this?” I claim no special knowledge on this matter, since I am neither a philosopher nor a theologian, but rather an historian of pre-modern Europe.

In my response, I sought simply to indicate a few of the New Testament texts that speak of the matter of resurrected bodies and the end times. Following these and other scriptural texts, along with certain exegetical and philosophical/theological sources, I only wish to affirm my belief in what Stephen T. Davis terms “bodily transformation,” that is, the belief that “In the resurrection, [Jesus’] earthly body was transformed into a new ‘glorified body. There was continuity between the old body and the new body, but the old body was no longer bound by certain laws of nature as was the old” (Risen Indeed: Making Sense of the Resurrection, 1993, p. 44). I think that this represents the orthodox position on this matter, which conforms to the biblical evidence in the Gospels, where the Risen Jesus has a real corporeal presence (for instance, Lk 24:39 and Jn 20:28) and yet possesses powers that exceed that of any ordinary body (for instance, Lk 24:32 and Jn 20:19. So in my understanding, the resurrection of Jesus was a bodily resurrection but, after the event of the Third Day, His body was in some way altered or transformed, bestowed with new powers. How or why this is so is shrouded in mystery and known only through faith.

As for “the distinction between the two bodies,” you might want to discuss the careful treatment of the matter in Davis (above) or consult the papers delivered at the “Resurrection Summit” of 1996, which are contained in the volume The Resurrection, eds. Stephen Davis, Daniel Kendell SJ, and Gerald O’Collins SJ (Oxford U Press, 1997). There are also classic discussions of the matter as in St. Augustine’s City of God, Bk XXII, ch. 15-28) and in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae, III, q. 54-58 and III, Supplement, q. 78-85).

Regards,
Vito

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