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Wednesday, October 28, 2020


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I too feel the pull between Athens and Jerusalem. I am a committed Christian primarily for non-philosophical reasons. I was in a bad place some years ago. But the further I walked away from God, the more I felt (experienced?) a distinctly moral pull on my life from outside myself. It grew stronger and stronger, until I realized that I was approaching a crossroads and that if I continued in my Godless ways, I would reach a point of no return. I chose to go back to God and I found redemption in Christ (no hyperbole here, I am not even close to the same person now that I was). I cannot explain it in non-religious terms. It would be impossible. But it was uncannily similar to Augustine's experience in The Confessions.

As a philosophy student, my intellect draws me to 'the God of the philosophers'. But, for the reasons above, my commitment to a personal God runs much, much deeper than any intellectual considerations to the contrary. I'm being merely descriptive here. I don't know if this is bad or good, or neither. But this is why I am able to sit with the tension. It is a real tension. But for me at least, the tension itself seems subsidiary to my deep moral and spiritual convictions and experience of redemption. I don't suspect it can ever be resolved in a satisfactory way. But, like I say, the tension sits rather 'surface level' for me, so psychologically I'm not that worried about it.

In short, my experience of grace and redemption takes precedence over any intellectual tension I might have in natural theology. Should it be this way? I don't know. But I can't imagine it being otherwise.

Bill, you asked "How is community with God possible given his absolute transcendence?"
Is that not a specific form of a more general question? "How is __________ possible given his absolute character?"
IOW, is the problem only a problem for religious believers seeking community? Or does the DDS also challenge anyone who acknowledges the existence of anything?

Interesting entries. Some problems:

(1) Likeness is a relation of symmetry. If A is like B with respect to some covering relation R, then B is like A with respect to R and vice versa. So, in what sense is the world like God if God is not at all like the world?
(2) A relation is not a person. So, if the Holy Spirit is a relation, in what sense is the Holy Spirit a person of the Trinity?
(3) If God is ontologically simple, in what sense does God have internal relations or persons?


That's a fine statement. Ideally one wants a harmonization of head and heart, and one should strive for it. But if faith seeks understanding and doesn't find it, I would say you are within your epistemic rights in remaining true to your religious experiences.

One consideration is this. Philosophy is a magnificent thing, but the philosophers disagree about everything and always have. This reflects poorly on the cognitivity of the discipline. By what right, then, does philosophy set itself up as the judge of religious experience?

Some say that if faith seeks understanding, but doesn't find it, then one ought to abandon or suspend one's faith. But it may be that there are truths that can be accessed -- I don't say 'know' -- only by faith -- truths essential to appropriate for our ultimate flourishing.

Bill and Tom, your exchange is very good in several respects.

Yes, very good exchange.


Your three questions are difficult if not impossible to answer. I should pose them to Fr. Deinhammer.


ad 1) The world-God-relation is unilateral, one-sided. Hence, in this case likeness is not a relation of symmetry.

ad 2) Person is self-presence, i.e. a relation on to itself. The Holy Spirit is a relation of the Divine nature to itself and connects the Father and the Son who are also relations of the Divine nature to itself.

ad 3) These "Persons" are not parts of the Divine nature. God's simplicity transcends our comprehension.

Fr. Robert Deinahmmer, S.J.

Bill, one might attempt to answer these questions by appealing to dialetheism. Perhaps the divine realm is dialetheic. If one makes this move, it seems there's not much left to say, if intelligible speech presupposes the law of noncontradiction.

“But it may be that there are truths that can be accessed -- I don't say 'know' -- only by faith -- truths essential to appropriate for our ultimate flourishing.”

This is one of the interesting points from the exchange.

Perhaps some truths are inaccessible by propositional knowledge, but they are accessible via knowledge-by-acquaintance (or something like it). The latter isn’t a matter of language and thus doesn’t require a linguistic version of the law of non-contradiction. But doesn’t k-b-a require the law of noncontradiction, the law of identity, etc. as laws of reality? Everything is what it is and is not something else. If I directly experience a tree, I’m not experiencing a not-tree. If I directly experience a person, I’m not experiencing (in the same sense) a non-person.

Fr. Deinhammer,

Thank you for your response. I appreciate the Roman Catholic perspective on the mystery of the Trinity. I have a few follow-up questions.

First, how can a relation of likeness be one-sided? Isn’t the concept of likeness by definition at least bilateral? If A is like B with respect to property P, then B is like A with respect to P.

Second, the definition of “person” as “a relation on to itself” doesn’t seem to be what we normally mean by “person” (i.e., a being of a rational nature). Relations are abstract objects, while persons are concrete objects. Is this a unique sense of personhood that applies only to divine persons? Does this definition hold for human persons, too? If the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are relations, does that mean they are abstract objects?

Third, the Gospel of John states that God is identical with the Logos. (John 1:1) The term “Logos” indicates intelligibility, reason, rational thought, rational discourse, etc. If God’s nature is beyond human comprehension, in what sense is God the Logos? Is God’s intelligibility and rationality inherently comprehensible, yet not comprehensible to human beings?


Dialetheism is the theory that some logical contradictions are true. So on a dialetheist approach to the Trinity one would say that while the doctrine is logically contradictory, it is nonetheless true. This is not trad. Catholic doctrine. Fr. Deinhammer can correct me if I am wrong, but the Catholic doctrine would be something like this: the doctrine is non-contradictory and true but beyond our ken. It is a mystery in the sense that we in our present state, this side of the visio beata, cannot understand how it could be true. We should distinguish mysterianism from dialetheism.

Bill, yes, there is a difference between mysterianism and dialetheism. I'm open to mysterianism. God is supremely intelligible, nevertheless, in this life we humans can't understand some things about God. Reality is comprehensible as such, why think that humans can understand all of it completely?


There is knowledge-by acquaintance and knowledge-by-description. Both are in keeping with the laws of logic. What I was suggesting above is that there may be truths that cannot be known by us in our present state but can only be believed. Revealed truths would fall into this category. We have access to them by faith, not by knowledge. Now a Thomist will speak of cognitio fidei, but I balk at this phrase because I think that knowledge, strictly speaking, requires justification in the form of direct evidence. There is no knowledge by faith; that would be oxymoronic in my book.

One of the issues that arises here concerns the 'ethics of belief.' Is it morally wrong to believe on insufficient or nonexistent evidence? What if your eternal happiness hinges on accepting a truth for which you have insufficient evidence?

"Before Abraham was, I AM." "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one gets to the father except through me." Via, Veritas, Vita. "Ich bin der Weg, die Wahrheit, und das Leben": All-important truths if indeed true; am I morally entitled to believe them on the basis of insufficient evidence? And the evidence is insufficient to make the claims more likely true than not. Agree?


My latest entry explores the belief-knowledge issue a bit further. See if you agree with it.


Just briefly:

1.) The world-God-relation is sui generis and unlike all relations within the world. The reality of the world is constituted as a unilateral relation towards God. Hence, the likeness is also unilateral. God is not a part of an overall system. For a similar view see e.g. Aquinas, S.th. I q4 a3 ad4

2.) I would say that personhood is ontologically a concrete relatedness of a reality toward itself ("Selbstpräsenz"). We as creatures actualize this relation in our selfconsciousness. In God, the terminus ad quem and the terminus a quo of this relation towards itself are really identical and only logically distinct. (Cf. "reditio completa" in Aquinas, Super librum de causis, I 15).

3.) John 1:18: "No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is Himself God and is at the Father’s side, has made Him known." We can understand God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ. But this does not mean that God becomes thereby an object of our comprehension. God in itself does not fall under concepts.

I should add that I'm not a strict Thomist although I find many insights of Aquinas very helpful.

Fr. Deinhammer,

Thanks for your reply. I’m aware of Aquinas’ position on the relation between God and the world. I hold Aquinas in high regard, but I don’t find his position very helpful. The claim that the likeness relation is unilateral seems like a contradiction in terms, and to refer to the relation as unique seems open to the charge of being ad hoc.

Bill, my reference to knowledge-by-acquaintance was a reference to the knowledge obtained during the beatific vision.

I agree with your latest entry. Magee’s argument is probative overkill, especially with respect to the ethics of belief. It is said that one should never believe anything on insufficient evidence. But it’s not clear what the sufficient evidence for that claim is. Why believe it?

Magee seems to reject the idea of reasonable belief that falls short of knowledge. His position would paralyze ordinary human activity. In ordinary life, we act (and must act) on common-sense beliefs that fall short of knowledge. Arguably, we are practically justified in doing so.

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