THE DESCENT OF GOD (II)

THE DESCENT OF GOD (II)

 In Chapter 6 of Christianity and Science John Haught’s insistence on the “divine descent” leaves no room for immanence.  God, for Haught, is distinct from the world and totally “other” — transcendent.   It is only the “descent” that allows God to relate to this other.  “Divine Descent” is a mechanism for reconciling the transcendent all-powerful “God,” identified as “spirit,” with the world of matter discovered by modern science.  Haught’s solution is not that God suffuses the world, but that God wills to be humble and relate to what is so far beneath him.   

He claims to want evolution “to open us to a new understanding of God.”  But the “new understanding” he offers is simply to claim “God’s” intentions and choices are different from the traditional i.e., God chose evolution rather than intelligent design, but all else remains the same.  In no way does “divine descent” challenge the nature of the traditional all-powerful separate and transcendent “God” of our popular (not necessarily theological) tradition.  His God is exclusively transcendent like its “revelatory sources” (which apparently means “the Book.”)  Here is Haught’s articulation of it:

 … if theology remains true to its revelatory sources, it must also envisage the divine descent as the ground of creation itself.  That is, even as a condition of there being any world distinct from God at all, the omnipotent and omnipresent Creator must be humble and self-effacing enough to allow for both the existence of something other than God, and an ongoing relationship to that other.  If the creation is to be truly other than God. and not just an accessory attached to God’s own being, then the divine omnipotence and omnipresence would become “small” enough to allow room for what is truly distinct from God — although it must be added that this self-constraint is paradoxically a function of God’s greatness.  It is out of the infinite largesse of the divine humility, therefore, that the otherness of the world is “longed” into being by God.  Creation is God’s “letting be” of the world, a release that makes possible a dialogical relationship (and hence an intimate communion) of God with the finite, created “other.”  (p.93)

      Haughts’ repeated insistence on the “otherness” of creation not only leaves out the long immanentist tradition that includes Gregory of Nyssa, Pseudo-Dionysius, John Scotus Eriúgena, Marguerite Porete, Johannes Eckhart, Nicolas of Cusa and many others, there is also no acknowledgement that Thomas Aquinas himself had presented a vision of creation as an internal occurrence within the Trinity.  Creation for Aquinas is entirely internal to God.  In fact it is an intrinsic part of the trinitarian processions.  Don’t take my word for it, check it out:  Summa Theologíae I, q.44, “De processione creaturarum a Deo,” and q.45, “De modo emanationis rerum a primo principio.” Creation for Aquinas is not an act or action, much less the production of distinct entities.  it is a metaphysical relationship of dependency among otherwise indistinguishable “being.”  The metaphysical distinctions are entirely exhausted in the relationship of dependency.  

 Unde Deus, creando, producit res sine motu.  Subtracto autem motu ab actione et passione, nihil remanet nisi relatio, ut dictum est (a.2 ad 2).  Unde relinquuntur quod creatio in creatura non sit nisi relatio quaedam ad Creatorem, ut ad principium sui esse. (ST I,q.45,a.3,cWhen God creates he produces things without motion.  Now when motion is removed from action and passion, only relation remains, as was said above (a.2 ad 2). Hence creation in the creature is only a certain relation to the creator as to the principle of its being.

 The a.2 ad 2 to which he refers (in the same q.45) says:

 … creatio non est mutatio nisi secundum modum intelligendi tantum.  … oportet quod, subtracto motu, non remanet nisi diversae habitudines in creante et creato.  Ceation is not change except after a manner of speaking. … once “motion” is withdrawn, there remain only the diverse relations in the creator and the creature.

For Aquinas there are no other distinctions.  There is no material, physical distinction between God and creation.  They are distinct, but not as separate “entities.” God and creatures cannot be separate “entities” because the created universe does not have its own “esse,” and all “esse” is God himself.

 Haught stresses repeatedly that the world is “other than” God.  It is, for him, the very reason why God created. For Haught, God creates the world as “other,” and must humble himself in order to do so and then “relate” to it.  For Aquinas, on the other hand,  the relationship is primordial and constitutive; it’s the relationship that makes things be.  The world exists as an emanation of the divine esse, part of the generation of the Word, and so God and material creation are genetically related from the very “moment” of the trinitarian processions themselves.  We are ab initio “part” of God by participation in his esse!  This is catholic tradition.

For Haught, the world and God are related as two distinct “entities.”  That can only be true if each is “outside” the other.  Notice he uses the word “omnipresence” and not immanence.  To further clarify this issue of immanence, let me offer the following extended quote from Raimundo Panikkar, Catholic priest and theologian, from his 1973 book, The Trinity in the Religious Experience of Man, (Orbis) p.30-33:

      In practice the modern West most often interprets the idea of transcendence in terms of pure exteriority ― God the Other, God on high ― and the idea of immanence in terms of pure interiority ― a .sort of divine presence within the soul, an ‘inner’ presence which leads in the final analysis to another exteriority, only in the opposite sense. In this conception, in fact, ‘God within’ transcends the human subject no less certainly than does ‘God without’, the only difference being that, instead of situating the Other above, one now conceives him in another ‘outside’ that one calls ‘inside’ which is the inexorable con­­sequence of applying any form of spatial imagery to the mystery of God. We, in this system, become somehow at the centre: above, Transcendence, below, Imman­ence.

      This conception of transcendence and immanence that makes God-transcendent ‘exterior’ and God-immanent ‘interior’, i.e. the soul’s tenant, is however extremely narrow and limited. It is without doubt incapable of accounting for what the mystics of all times and of all culturo-religious contexts have experienced of the true transcendence and immanence of God.

      Divine immanence, truly speaking, does not refer to a God who is as it were, enclosed in our inner being, while at the same time irrevocably separated from us just like God in his transcendent or exterior aspect. Nor can true divine transcendence be reduced to the aspect of exteriority or even the ‘otherness’ of God. The authentic notion of transcendence surmounts all human barriers and situates God in the light inaccessible of which St Paul speaks, in the deep shadows of the Dionysian mystery-cult, on the other shore of the river, to use a phrase of the Upanishads or from the Buddha ― in a word, beyond any ‘real relationship’. Transcendence implies heterogeneity between God and man, and rejects any relatedness which is at the root of all religious anthropomorphism whether iconolatrous or personalist. True divine transcendence does not stem from the so-called natural and rational order; wherefore, if one is not willing to go beyond that order, one is unable, speaking absolutely, either to say or think anything about the Absolute.  …

      If transcendence is truly transcendence, immanence is not a negative transcendence but a true and irreducible immanence. An immanent God cannot be a God-Person, ‘someone’ with whom I could have ‘personal’ relationship, a God-Other. I cannot speak to an immanent God. If I attempt to do so I cause this im­manence to vanish because I am rendering it other and exterior. I cannot think of God-immanent for, if I try, I make him the object of my thought and project him before and outside me. God immanent cannot be someone existing or living in me, as if he were hidden or enclosed within me. Obviously, neither transcendence nor immanence is special, nor do they belong to any ontological category. To say with St Augustine that God is intimior intimo meo (more interior than my inmost being) is still, insufficient to express true immanence, for God-immanent cannot be any where, beyond or behind, without his immanence vanish­ing. He is not intimior; the most one could say is that he is intimissimum. The immanence of God is something quite other than any notion of his ‘dwelling’ in us. God-immanent has no need of renting a place in my soul or waiting patiently till I allow him a little spot ‘within’ where he may come and dwell. The idea of indwelling is merely a very pale and distant reflection of true immanence. Man is not the host of an immanent God. The traditional concept of ‘God’ is itself so linked by usage to the common notion of transcendence outlined above that it is only improperly speaking that the immanent aspect of the Absolute can receive the name of ‘God’. For example, the name Creator attributed to God (to the transcendent God) cannot be pre­dicated of the immanent Divinity, for how could it possibly create itself?

      The Absolute is not only God in the sense of Other, Transcendent, Someone, a Person who is beyond and so Master, Lord, Creator, Father ― terms, these, which correspond to the ideas of disciple, servant, creature, son ― but, according to the terminology of the Upanishads it is also and quite as much atman, the Self, aham, I, brahman, the ultimate Ground of everything. In a word, God and brahman are the same Reality seen as it were from two opposed perspectives, God being the summit and brahman the base of the triangle representing the Divinity.

      We are thus confronted with the option of either reserving the name God to designate the dimension of transcendence, suprem­acy, otherness of the Absolute while finding another name such as brahman, atman, Ground, Foundation to signify the dimension of immanence, or of enlarging the meaning of the word God to in­clude also this second dimension. The first solution would un­doubtedly simplify certain difficulties. It would clarify, for a start, the dialogue between so-called monotheistic religions which lean heavily upon the notion of transcendence and those others which stress more strongly the dimension of immanence. However, such a simplification even within the ‘monotheistic’ religions would not account for all the richness of their own traditions. One cannot ignore the sufism of islam and still less can one put to one side the mystical experiences of judaism and christianity.

     Frankly, I feel forced to say that, for Haught as a Catholic theologian to conspicuously exclude the theological category of divine immanence in a discussion on creation is either a purposeful attempt to reinforce the anthropomorphic theist God of popular imagery, or an inexcusable ignorance.  One may validly nuance the interpretation of this traditional concept, but to omit it entirely and with such explicit insistence, drains the solutions he proposes of all substance.  The “Descent of God,” according to Aquinas would be an entirely superfluous accretion, perhaps admissible as a metaphor, a catechetical tool, a limping analogy that would require immediate correction. 

 God is the energy of existence at the core of matter.  That is what makes it be … and what makes it, like him, want to be … which makes it survive … which makes it evolve … and our astonishing cosmos, energized by esse, has thus self-extruded from the first micro-instant of the big bang.  Haught’s “descent of God” is a deus ex machina that derives from and serves to reinforce an anthropomorphic image of God — precisely the current ecclesiastical image that cannot conflate with science.

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