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Being, Becoming, and Metaphysics

Being, Becoming, and Metaphysics

The reader will have noticed that we have used the language of “being” throughout this entire book.  The book’s commitment to history and historical consciousness also indicates a commitment to becoming.  Eric Voegelin’s attractive notion of the community of being within the context of humanity’s struggling search for order within history, which we have appropriated, nicely combines both dimensions.  Inasmuch as metaphysics is the traditional site of the study of being and its relationship to becoming, this book, then, displays a commitment to some form of metaphysics.  Inasmuch as becoming is evocative of change, history, and historical consciousness, this book also displays a commitment to a metaphysics which strives to be as historically conscious as possible.

The Christian revelatory experiences and symbolisms occur within history, the site of becoming, but history, it would seem, also manifests a certain sameness throughout time, or a form of structured continuity in the midst of sometimes radical interruptive discontinuity.  “Being,” if you will, evokes this sameness or continuity.[1]  Otherwise, how could we even speak of Christian revelation, or Christians as subjects in the midst of history?  Without some sameness, subjects would vanish.  In a way, they never would have been.  In other words, it would seem that Christian revelation implies a certain kind of metaphysics, although neither a reduction to one, nor a simple identity with one, nor an imperialistic domination by one.  This book has also striven to be as historically committed as possible.  Thus, we do not find the language of “a priori structures” or “a priori conditions of the possibility” of experience adequately differentiated, inasmuch as it draws too sharp a line between being and becoming.[2]  The connection seems too intrinsic for that.

This book, then, quite self-consciously places itself within the millennial Classical tradition of the Greeks, particularly of Aristotle, and of St. Thomas Aquinas and his followers, especially the existential and transcendental neo-Thomists.  With them, it recognizes metaphysics as the science of being qua being, that is, the study of entities inasmuch as they exist and are real, or simply “are.”  It is the attempt to elucidate this “is-ness” or be-ingness of existents.  “It is clear, then,” wrote Aristotle, “that it is the work of one science also to study all things that are, qua being.”[3]  Right away, following Aristotle and his heirs, we are expressing a commitment here to the celebrated “guiding principles of metaphysical inquiry,” namely, the principle of identity (or non-contradiction) and the principle of sufficient reason.[4]  These are the principles, for example, which led an Aristotle to his articulation of the science of metaphysics.  These are “first principles” in the sense that they are not the result of an argument, but the basis upon which any argument might unfold.  They are, so to speak, implied in our participation in reality, guiding our ability to meaningfully participate therein.

For example, the principle of identity tells us that such and such is A and not not-A, thus evoking its sameness as long as it is.  “[I]t is impossible,” wrote Aristotle, “for anything at the same time to be and not to be, and by this means have shown that this is the most indisputable of all principles.”[5]  Only so, can one speak about “it” or even note “it.”  Without this, there would be no self, or cosmos, or society, or community of being about which to speak and in which to participate.  Everything would vanish into an unstable flux of becoming.  Aristotle thought one would simply lose one’s intelligence as a human, becoming like a vegetable, without this first principle, for all meaningful discourse would vanish.[6]  Everything and anything could turn into its opposite: black could be red, a circle could be a square, a person could be another person, etc.

Incidentally, as we noted at this book’s beginning, participation is a blend between familiarity and strangeness.  The dimension of familiarity points to the element of sameness, of identity, or the is-ness between one self and another self, which grounds the possibility of mutual recognition and shared participation.  This would seem to be consistent, then, with our experience of the first principle of identity.  The principle of sufficient reason is another one of those first principles which arises from the human capacity to find meaning.  If the former first principle tells us that there are beings, this second principle tells us that we can achieve a measured but adequate understanding of these beings.  The traditional formulation is that every being has its cause, either in itself or in another.  One cannot simply go on and on in an unending regress, for otherwise there would be no meaning or truth.[7]

Under the influence of Christian revelation, with its sharp distinction between Creator and creation, a Thomas Aquinas, through the application of the principle of sufficient reason, was led to posit the uncaused cause of absolute being as the final ground of intelligibility of the entire universe.  The Greek philosophers, even Plato and Aristotle, had not so clearly differentiated the matter, given a certain residual cosmocentric polytheism, despite their breakthrough to an awareness of divine world-transcendence.  Aquinas, in fact, seems more or less, alone, to have broken free from thinking of God or the “Transcendent” as one substance or essence among others, as was more or less the tendency with Plato and Aristotle, and to have emphasized God’s esse as his essence.  Esse emphasizes the “act-of-existence” or being in the sense of be-ing.  As Clarke points out, this brought a much clearer differentiation of the relationship between the Creator and created beings.  “On the one hand, it is clear how God, as pure Subsistent Act of Existence (Ipsum Esse Subsistens) with no limiting essence, transcends all his creatures as composed of existence and limited essences, and yet, on the other, why there is a deep similarity to God running through all creatures as all participations in the one central perfection of God himself, so that they can all be truly called ‘images of God.’”[8]

As W. Norris Clarke has further noted, these two first principles of identity and sufficient reason, when taken together, point to the way that being and intelligibility are correlative.  That is, being unveils itself for us, providing us with luminosity.  Such is what the Greek alētheia (truth) means.  Hence, as Voegelin has correspondingly put it, alētheia possesses “the double meaning of truth and reality” in Platonic and Aristotelian philosophy.[9]  In the terms of this book, because of this luminosity of being, our participation in the community of being yields truth, in this most profound sense of luminosity, albeit the shades of participation are exceedingly of different grades of quality.

However, our accent upon historicity and geographical location (place) seeks also to recognize and honor the dimension of becoming, and thus the metaphysics that would seem congenial and appropriate to history and place as the site of metaphysics must be capable of integrating being with becoming.  In the end, being must be energetic and plastic enough to admit of all kinds of change, and yet it must exhibit sufficient self-identity to permit us to speak of an identical sameness exhibited by beings as well.  If we cannot do the latter, our first observations above fall apart.  If you want, there is a oneness exhibited by beings enabling us to identify them as this rather than that. And there is a manyness exhibited as well, indicating that the same beings either undergo more modest (“accidental”) changes, like accumulating more knowledge, or getting older, or finding new friends; or indicating that beings undergo more “substantial” changes, like death, disintegration, or elements combining into something radically new (for example, “the atoms hydrogen and oxygen by themselves are highly flammable, whereas combined together to form water they are powerful extinguishers of fire,” as Clarke notes[10]).  Much of the drama of metaphysics is the struggle to account for both of these dimensions.

Here we seem to come to one of those basic orientations, or “our mood, our Being-attuned,” as Heidegger might put it.[11]  Some, perhaps for personal, or for cultural, reasons, or a blend thereof, are seized by a fascination for being under its aspect of self-identity and oneness.  Others seem more seized by becoming, being under its aspect of change.  Others, intriguingly, are more seized by both in their myriad forms of possible relationship.  These personal and cultural factors influencing one’s “moods” in Heidegger’s sense are so many manifestations of our lived, pre-scientific experience of being and becoming, co-confirming the need for any viable metaphysics to adequately account for both.

Eras of extreme fragmentation, for example, when religiocultural horizons of understanding are in a state of severe clash and delegitimation, can breed the extremes of dogmatic creeds of monism or pluralism, the smothering of difference for the sake of uniformity, or the explosion of all sorts of difference.  Monism would stress self-identity (being), while difference would stress becoming (change into this and that).  One might argue that our postmodern era is one which is seized by becoming and difference, while the modern and late modern era were seized by being and the one.  Each is reacting to perceived shortcomings in the other, and the struggle between them might well provide the conditions in which a more adequate synthesis might emerge.  But, of course, luck and grace, and sufficiently talented thinkers are required, for this to happen.

In any case, this book on balance finds the Aristotelian-Thomistic “solution” to the question of how to reconcile being and becoming a relatively adequate one.  That is, substances must be understood in a dynamic manner, and so as self-identical unities able to undergo process and change.  This means that substances possess a potentiality to undergo various forms of actualization.  “Each thing appears to exist for the sake of its operation; indeed, operation is the ultimate perfection of a thing,” wrote St. Thomas Aquinas.[12]  The reader will note that we are referring to Aristotle’s potency and act, appropriated by Aquinas, as basic dimensions of substance and being.  It may well be that what some philosophers term “substantialism” or “essentialism” is a form of static substance or essence, that is, precisely the kind of substance or essence Aristotle was seeking to avoid through his notion of the relationship between potency and act.[13]

When finally appropriated by Aquinas, Aristotle’s potency-act dynamism yields a universe of “endlessly different proportions or ‘dosages’ of act and potency, extending all the way from Pure Act unmixed with potency at the highest level of being, down through a vast symphony of variations on the basic theme of act and potency by different modes of limited participation in the actuality of perfection – ultimately existence itself – by different modes and degrees of potentiality extending all the way down to the lowest degree of actuality possible,” writes Clarke.  But he also notes that one cannot move “to a level of pure potency existing with no actuality at all.”  Such would be nothingness.  “Pure act can exist by itself, not pure potency.”[14]

But while we have found ourselves following much of the Aristotelian and Thomist tradition of metaphysics, we have found ourselves siding with Plato on many important matters as well.  Of course, Aristotle was Plato’s student, and so there is much overlap between them in any case, and Aquinas, for example, displays an important Platonic dimension throughout his mature thought, partly owing to the influence of Augustine, and partly owing to the influence of the Greek Fathers, particularly Dionysius the Areopagite.

First, Plato is greatly a mystic philosopher, in the sense that the thrust of many of his writings testifies that the ground of philosophical inquiry is an attunement to and growing participation in the divine Ground.  It may seem, if we follow Socrates’ Diotima in the Symposium, that one is involved in a quest for knowledge simply by oneself or along with other humans, but one eventually discovers that it was a gifted but willing participation in the divine Beauty itself, rendering one a “friend of god,” which actually originated and sustained the philosophical quest.  “. . . There bursts upon him that wondrous vision which is the very soul of the beauty he has toiled so long for . . . every lovely thing partakes of it . . .”[15]  This is similar to Aristotle’s noting that wonder lies at the origins of philosophical inquiry, but Plato’s expression of it makes it clear that true inquiry always remains rooted in a form of gifted mystical wonder.[16]  Wonder is not simply a chronological launching pad, but an intrinsic dimension of the quest.  This is, of course, implied in Aristotle’s “wonder,” inasmuch as the experience of wonder presupposes that which arouses and provokes the wonder, namely, some kind of gifted yet non-coercive participation in the mystery of reality.

Owning up to this is important, because it makes us aware that metaphysical inquiry is not a rationalistic form of study, which can be conducted in a person-neutral manner, without regard for the quality of the spirituality of the inquirer.  Reason, if you will, is rooted in and sustained by an analogous form of faith in or fidelity to the arousal of being.  Aristotle’s first principles will neither be properly launched nor will they yield adequate insight to one refusing to practice this deep down fidelity to being’s wonder.  At least not ordinarily.  One might surmise that by luck or by grace one might stumble upon important insights, but even in this case some minimal faithful attunement to being would be required.

Secondly, Plato’s writings typically do not sever the practice of philosophy from the virtues, that is, the skills and practices needed for the love of wisdom and the quest for the good life.  The “faith” or mystical contemplation just noted is one such virtue, a sort of master virtue, but Plato notes many, as is well known.  This is also connected to the Socratic style of midwifery noted in so many of the dialogues.  Philosophy is a quite practical art, involving a practical apprenticeship under a teacher, along with the skills and virtues that can only slowly and experimentally be built up over a long period of time.[17]  Whereas Plato’s writings keep ethics and politics intertwined, Aristotle’s tend to treat them in different treatises, although it would seem too much to say that Aristotle severs them.  Aristotle did tend, however, to subordinate practice to theory, unlike Plato, who seems to keep the two interrelated.[18]  In any case, inasmuch as we can speak of a metaphysics in Plato, it is an inquiry always arising from within a life of virtue of varying intensity.  It is not, in other words, a morally neutral science.

Plato, thirdly, also typically practiced philosophy in the context of the dialogue.[19]  The dialogue, in either its oral or written form, again connects with the non-neutral, participatory nature of philosophical experience and insight.  Dialogue presupposes human freedom of inquiry, and we get better or worse at it, depending upon our skills, virtues, alertness, and openness.  Metaphysical inquiry, then, is rooted in the dialogue, arising from within the to-and-fro exchange of free persons.  We can sense the affinity here between the dialogue form and the two first principles noted by Aristotle of identity and sufficient reason.  That is, being itself (identity) displays an intelligibility (sufficient reason).  Truth is both reality and reality’s luminous unveiling.  There is, in other words, something intrinsically dialogical about reality; it unveils itself, opens itself.  Our own practice of the dialogue repeats the dialogical thrust of reality itself.  In fact, our own dialogues are a part of reality’s great dialogue.

But, fourthly, the dialogue form brings up the important theme of words and language, something of great importance to postmodern philosophers today.  The dialogue form is one of communication through words.  Plato’s writings are vividly alert to this, even in a rather critical way.  For example, there is a strain emphasizing the priority of the oral over the written form of the dialogue, given, partly, the danger of the loss of the experiential grounding of the philosophical experience.  Formative insight can too easily degenerate into mere notional information, when it is reduced to mere signs on paper.  At the same time, Plato maintains a sense of the mystical depths of reality, which indicates that language cannot fully capture reality’s surplus.[20]  But saying all this, still Plato practiced the craft of philosophy through the written dialogue.  He did recognize the important role of the word, both oral and written.

Language as a theme in Plato can be connected with his other theme of anamnesis (recollection), it would seem.  That is, we do not possess immediate access to being, for it is mediated to us through becoming.  We always find ourselves somewhat distanced from being, and so we must engage in an effort of recollection, so to speak, in order to experience luminosity.  To return to the parable of the cave, despite our best efforts to think we are above becoming, dwelling in pure immediacy to being (the light), nonetheless we are in the realm of shadows to some extent.  On the other hand, looked at more positively, knowledge is like a lost memory now retrieved, because being’s intelligibility is really the truth of our being.  Reality is truth, that is, its unveiling is our own coming into luminosity.

Naturally, on this interpretation of Plato’s more compact symbol of anamnesis, we have not treated the matter as though Plato were proposing a literalistic notion of “truth as remembering,” as if he were some fundamentalist preacher.  He is working with one of his philosopher’s symbols and images, somewhat along the lines of one of his philosopher’s myths.[21]  Words, then, like recollection, suggest at best an immediacy through mediation, light refracted across distance, symbols pointing beyond themselves to a greater surplus of luminosity.  Words, like recollection, and like the dialogue form, also suggest work, effort, even conversion from forgetfulness, the practice of the virtues, as we make our way to being’s intelligibility.  And all of these suggest the rootedness of our access to being in and through the historical and narrative process of becoming.  For the dialogue and recollection lead us always to the engendering, narrative experience of being human.

The connection between language and the philosopher’s myth merits underscoring at this point.  Plato did not think of philosophy as being able to dispense with the myth, as if logos simply invalidated the myth.  This view of the matter is a rather simplistic rationalist’s retrojection back onto Plato’s thought with no foundation in the texts.  It is this retrojection which has partly given Plato’s thought the unfair reputation of being a form of idealism, as if it were a kind of advance Neo-Kantianism.  Not only did Plato regularly take recourse to the myth (with a second naievte) when dealing with matters which transcend logos strictly speaking, but he also offered a somewhat articulate philosophy of the need for such recourse.[22]  The reader may perhaps recall our leaning on Plato’s philosopher’s myth as a way of access to understanding some aspects of the miracle tradition in the New Testament, and especially the “theologian’s myth” in the prologue of the Gospel of John, among other uses of the matter.

What all of this adds up to is that the science of metaphysics has, in many respects, a much more modest look to it, when Plato’s voice is integrated with Aristotle’s and Aquinas.’  We may know being, because we are being by participation (Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas), but there is a sort of detour through becoming, recollection, dialogue, narrative (Plato).  Plato in a way shares  a certain sense of “immediacy” to being with an Aristotle and Aquinas, through his teaching of participation and illumination by the Light,[23] but his recourse to myth, logos, dialogue, and narrative also suggest something of the mediated, historical nature of this process somewhat more fully than Aristotle and Aquinas, although the latter do imply this “historical detour” through their teaching of knowledge by way of the senses and recourse to the phantasms arising from sense experience.  Both traditions, that of Plato and of Aristotle-Aquinas, avoid what is known as representation(al)ism, that is, the notion that we do not know beings, but only our ideas of beings.  For both, ideas are not that which (medium quod) we know, but that by which (medium quo) we know.[24]

This metaphysical modesty is also manifest in the in-between site within which our thought and action occur.  “Then, said I, such a one must go around the longer way and must labor no less in studies than in the exercises of the body, or else, as we were just saying, he will never come to the end of the greatest study and that which most properly belongs to him,” says the Socrates of Plato.  This “longer way” of the Republic finds its equivalent site in the in-between or middle site (metaxu) of the Symposium.  We find ourselves situated between resource and need, knowledge and ignorance, immortality and mortality, heaven and earth.  This is the site of our participation, and as such, following Voegelin’s interpretation, we do not possess an Archimedean perch beyond history and society enabling us to possess a totalistic view of reality.  We are within the flow of reality, and the luminosity that comes is of the kind shining through the quality of our participation therein.[25]  This metaxic situadeness means that knowledge is rooted in fidelity to our participation in the social and historical community of being.  The conspiracy between fidelity and reason, with the latter rooted in the former, is the engendering source of metaphysical inquiry.[26]  The first principles of Aristotle are not forms of infallible magic, but do their work through faithful participation, or they do not do it at all, or at least not very well.

This metaxic nature of metaphysics offers us a way of wading through the rather turbulent waters of what is called ontotheology in contemporary philosophy of religion, and more generally of the related problem of totalization we have stumbled upon here and there in this book.[27]  Kant, for example, defined “ontotheology” as that form of “[t]transcendental theology . . . [which] believes that it can know the existence of [the original being which causes or authors the world] through mere concepts, without the help of any experience whatsoever . . .”[28]  I take this as referring critically to the Archimedean perch position, that is, the notion that one can lift oneself outside of our situadeness between time and eternity and hypostatize in some mysterious way the “original being” (the god of either the deists or theists).  If one extends this hypostatization beyond the original being to all beings, then we are referring to totalization.  In either case, the cognitive model here is one of a subject intending objects, in such a way that the subject can gain that position above metaxic situatedness enabling the subject to achieve a totalizing objectification of beings.

Metaphysics is sometimes identified, at least since Kant, with this totalizing enterprise, along with ontology, which can be more or less considered the “logification” or systematic conceptualization of metaphysical entities.  As such, it has been widely discredited in postmodern philosophy and social science.  The metaxic approach we are suggesting does not completely break with metaphysics or ontology, but seeks to return them to their engendering experiences of participation within the community of being.  Metaxic metaphysics is a more modest enterprise, as we have suggested, but it does yield truth and guidance, sufficient and adequate for our human pilgrimage, as we have suggested.

Perhaps the reader will recall, from our first chapter’s supplement, the brief discussion of luminosity and intentionality, as formulated by Voegelin.  “It reality” is his way of speaking of the community of being; luminosity is this community’s unveiling in varying ways as we participate in this community from within.  Its linguistic expression is the symbol.  Here one can easily see the echo of Plato to a great extent, but now reworked in the light of our more contemporary historical horizon.[29]  “Thing reality” is Voegelin’s way of referring to our rather common experience of somehow knowing ourselves as subjects intending objects.  “Thing reality” is suggestive of our experience of imagining entities as things, perhaps because we are embodied beings, and this embodiment suggests something like “the already out there now real” (Lonergan) or the thing that we hit up against.  Its linguistic expression is the concept.  When extended into the story form, it becomes the narrative form.

What is interesting about the later Voegelin, since it was not always so clear in the earlier one, is that his thought honors both modes, It reality and Thing reality, along with participation in the one case and intentionality in the other, and their linguistic forms of symbolization and conceptualization/story/narrative.  We can never outgrow our need for both of these, and even when we do more philosophically and self-reflectively engage in the participatory noetic analysis appropriate to It reality, we must make recourse to the language of things, but now understood as symbols.  We are always moving in both dimensions in varying manners, and each possesses its appropriateness.  One might think of the philosopher’s and theologian’s myths as making recourse to the narrative; the story-tellers and writers, of course, always do this.  The Gospels are unique examples, and they wonderfully correspond to the embodied and historical nature of Jesus and his movement.  One can also think of the physical sciences as leaning more toward Thing reality and conceptualization, while the humane sciences would tend toward It reality and symbol.

It reality is the more comprehensive, while Thing reality is a subordinate dimension within the former.  Reflective awareness of this helps keep our recourse to Thing reality and intentionality critical, if you want, so that we speak of things with a second naivete.  Of course, it is not always easy to practice this, because it takes a meditative effort of consciously recognizing our historical situatedness within the community of being, our not possessing a totalistic perch enabling us to “capture” people and events as if they were simple things we can put in a box.[30]

The metaxic approach to metaphysics would suggest an analogical approach to our understanding and languaging of reality, inasmuch as all beings in becoming are a mixture of varying intensities between their potentially realizable and their actualized acts of being, given their level of participation in the fully actualized divine Being.  One may, as we will, follow Aquinas’ apparently final position and hold to the analogy of participation as the ground of all forms of analogy, inasmuch as it would seem to be our sharing in being that underlies the element of unity between all beings.[31]  However, depending upon the distinct manners and intensities of such participation, we could say that within the sameness-difference poles of analogy, the accent can move anywhere along the line, from falling on a greater sameness than difference, or the reverse, or something inbetween.  The Council of Lateran IV (1215), and perhaps the entire Christian tradition, teach that the Creator’s dissimilarity from the creature is always greater than the similarity.[32]

(The Roman Catholic tradition holds, however, that the souls of the just enjoy the vision of the divine essence, while the Eastern Orthodox, especially under the influence of Gregory Palamas, exclude such a vision, opting instead for a participation in the “uncreated energies” of God, the divine essence remaining beyond knowledge and participation.[33] Both traditions, however, affirm the transcendence of God, and Thomas Aquinas, at any rate, argues that the knowledge of the divine essence can never be comprehensive, God always remaining ever greater.[34] Both sides can appeal to biblical warrants, which themselves remain unclear at best (1 Jn 3.2, 1 Cor 13.12, Ex 33. 11, and Num 12.8 vs.  Ex 33. 17-23, Rom 11.33-35, etc.).

Motivating both traditions – besides perhaps a greater western kataphatic-doctrinal ardor and an eastern apophatic-doctrinal reserve — is the twin affirmation of God’s absolute transcendence on the one hand, and the radically personal intimacy with creation through the incarnation on the other. My impression is that Aquinas’ notion of absolute esse, in which creatures participate in varying degrees, provides a relatively adequate philosophical foundation for the “western” position. This is so, at any rate, if we accept the neo-Thomist existentialist interpretation of absolute esse suggested by Gilson and others. In other words, Aquinas broke free from an essentialist/substantialist interpretation of divine esse, in which God is one self-enclosed substance among others, which would be the more Aristotelian perspective.

Palamas, I suggest, was working against an Aristotelian and/or Augustinian substantialism, as represented by his opponents in the hesychast controversy, and his creative alternative was to suggest that, besides the divine essence, which remains unparticipable as substance, the incarnational intimacy is made possible by the uncreated energies of deifying grace. Thus, whereas Aquinas rethinks the notions of substance and essence,[35] Palamas, assuming a received Aristotelian/essentialist view of the divine essence, appeals to the patristic tradition of the divine energies as the key dimension opening up a possible line of explanation accounting for our deification through the incarnation. Both traditions, I think, are roughly equivalent, when due regard is given the diverse philosophical assumptions regarding “essence/substance.”[36])

Returning, then, to our discussion of analogy, our participation in being is flexible, in other words, allowing for a rather flexible use of analogy.  Participation allows for a certain proportion between the way created beings share in being’s fullness and the way in which God expresses being.  Such attributes, for example, “as activity, unity, power, wisdom, goodness, love, etc. . . .are all predicated according to the analogy of proper proportionality, i.e., they signify some activity (in the broadest sense) that is similar in God and creatures but without specifying the mode of performing the action proper to the particular subject, whether God or creature.”[37]  This protects the unique modulations in which each shares in or is (God) being, helping us to avoid simple agnostic equivocity on the one hand (radical difference), excessive claims to knowledge (such as univocity, a radical sameness of being) on the other.  Naively anthropomorphic ways of speaking, which uncritically draw the divine Being “down” to our level, would be forms of univocity, I believe.[38]

The issue of the relationship between proper analogy and metaphoricity is contested.  If one thinks of metaphors as merely decorative expressions, which only serve to embellish speech but do not really contribute new knowledge, then metaphors would be too weak to be forms of participative analogy.  On the other hand, if one follows Ricoeur more or less in thinking of metaphors as modes of suspending first-order references to literal objects in order to liberate second-order references to a world of transcendental meaning, then one might argue that metaphoricity is a dimension of the engendering experience and process through which participative analogies arise, the latter then becoming ways in which one seeks to differentiate with greater clarity regions of experience opened up by the metaphorical process.

But, and this is key, all analogies are rooted in the metaphorical process and finally must return to it as the more ample experiential matrix of knowledge.  One might also, in a wider sense, on this view, speak of metaphors as forms of analogy (by participation), but the metaphor then gives rise to the philosopher’s quest for more ontological precision, expressed in “proper” analogies of proportionality.  Consequently, we might argue that knowledge of proper proportionality as applicable to the Divine is rooted in such metaphorical experiences as those expressed by Jesus’ parables of likening the Father to a prodigal father who welcomes home his lost son (Lk 15.11-32), or of likening love to that of a good Samaritan (Lk 10.29-37), where the paradox of “good” and “Samaritan” in a Jewish context forces a suspension of first-order literalism and liberates an opening to a new and deeper world of meaning.[39]

The approach to metaphysics and ontology which we are following here is more or less midway between a simple rejection of the entire metaphysical project, as traditionally practiced in the West, and a simple acceptance.  Some of the more radical postmodern and neohistoricist thinkers, such as Nietzsche, Foucault, along with, possibly, the “later” Heidegger, might be interpreted as following the rejection option.  Many of the more traditional Neo-Thomists and Scholastics can plausibly be thought of as continuing the Classical-medieval option of acceptance.  Derrida, on some readings, might be thought of as opting for an uneasy dialectical dependence on and unending suspension of commitment to metaphysics, a sort of always deferred “presence” of being.

Levinas, as well, on some readings, does not reject metaphysics, but puts it in second place to what he terms ethics, recognizing that one cannot escape the language of being, even if one must resist its tendency toward a totalistic perspective through an ethical responsibility toward the neighbor and the divine Other.  Levinas does reject ontology, however, considering it hoplessly totalistic.[40]  Ortega y Gasset and his one-time disciple Xavier Zubiri were in search of a more historically conscious metaphysics, along with Pavel Florensky from the Russian tradition, somewhat like Voegelin.[41]  We have sought to learn from all of these, suggesting that on balance a mediating position such as that suggested up to this point brings us into the least swampy of what is a somewhat swampy area.  It seems to us that the simple rejecters, and perhaps Levinas, are reacting to a hypostatized (representationalist) view of metaphysics, which seems to result from an insufficiently historically conscious metaphysics, such as we find it among the more traditional Scholastics and some of the neo-Thomists, among others.

The problem of evil, suffering, and sin is a further consideration which tests the adequacy of any metaphysics.  Given Christianity’s crucial concerns with soteriology, the kind of metaphysics Christianity aligns itself with must offer a relatively adequate coming to terms with all forms of evil.  Our objective must be to take evil as seriously as possible, especially given our heightened awareness of it as a result of the horribly destructive twentieth century, with its Holocaust, Gulags, and trails of tears, and yet not to succumb to a fatalism which would be inconsistent with our resurrection destiny opened up for us by Jesus’ resurrection, along with all the micro-resurrection experiences which we know, such as humor, hope, joy, love, faith, meaning, protest, etc.  The challenge is especially keen for us, since we have opted for an identification of being with God.  This means that being itself is unqualifiedly good, and that to the extent that all other creatures participate in the fullness of being which is God, to that extent they are good as well.  Being and the good are one.  Consequently, we are committing ourselves to the traditional view that evil is not being, but the lack of due being.  That is, evil as such is not any lack of being; on that view, all beings other than God would be evil simply because they lack being’s fullness.  Rather, the lack of due being, such as blindness, lost limbs, etc., is what the tradition has in mind.

While this traditional view seems to relegate evil to nothing, thus landing us in the problematic position of not taking evil seriously, there is a response to this which to some extent eases the seeming contradiction, giving us hope that we are dealing with one of those border problems that in the end are not finally indicative of contradiction, but rather of the limits of human reason.[42]  The response entails several steps.  First, evil is essentially privative, that is, it cannot exist in itself.  Being exists; evil is a lack or privation of the being that should be present.  Evil, sin, and suffering are parasites on being, so to speak.  Secondly, although evil is the lack of due being, this lack or privation exhibits its “destructive” side when we consider being not in a static but in a dynamic manner.  As Clarke helpfully puts it, “It is not that there is no action [in the lack of due being that is evil], but it is a fundamentally disordered action, torn loose from the good, positive goal and intention that should belong to it, tending toward disorder and chaos, toward destruction of the proper good order of human living in the world.”[43]  The ways we speak about evil, as a “wound” in being[44], or a “distortion” of the good[45], or a “diminishment” of being, etc., are perhaps so many forms of evoking this more dynamic understanding of being.

But aporias remain.  Clarke notes how pain presents a legitimate difficulty for the traditional view we are holding.  Pain would seem to be something positively present.  Is it, then, to be considered a good?  This would seem a difficult pill to swallow, especially if one is the victim of torture or of horrible pain.  Clarke finds a partially adequate response in the view that pain can function as a messenger that all is not well, thus warning us of a need to change habits and practices.[46]  But, as just noted, torture and other forms of pain that do not seem to have this positive “messenger” purpose to them remain perplexing, and all forms of pain, in fact, qua their infliction of suffering, just remain beyond reason’s penetration.  Further, the suffering of the innocent, along with the enormous amount of tragedy that has accompanied the actualization of being throughout history, raise the traditional aporias we have mentioned earlier in our discussions of soteriology.

Working out a metaxic, historically and even geographically conscious metaphysics demands recognizing the challenges which history and place present.  Evil is among these.  But on the positive side, history and place are also the site of the revelatory experiences, among which is most especially for us Jesus and his movement.  Thus, a metaphysics adequate to history and place must be able to resonate with the revelatory experiences, articulating with more or less adequacy the metaphysical dimensions of revelation.  The approach we are following, which unites being (reality’s constants/universals) with becoming (the dimensions of time/history and space/place), ought to be congenial to an historical revelation, such as that of Judaism and Christianity, where congeniality means a to-and-fro dialogical quest for adequacy.

We have been practicing something of this to-and-fro dialogue between metaphysics and historical revelation in the above, particularly with regard to Aquinas’ “Exodus metaphysics,”[47] and with respect to the problem of evil.  But the project of a revelation-sensitive metaphysics will always remain unfinished and somewhat perplexing, given the mysterious depths of a personal divine Ground that is triune.  Being as historical, as ecstatic, as agape[48], as kenotic and dialogical[49], as personal communion,[50] as relational, as possest[51]: These are but some of the attempts to evoke how Christian revelation amplifies and challenges traditional metaphysics.  Each would seem to express something of the depths of the Mystery, and prudence suggests a humble willingness to allow the play of the symbols to enrich one another.  And this should be accompanied by a constant return to the engendering experiences of revelation, especially as mediated to us in the relatively more originary narratives and other genres of the Bible, mystical literature, martyrologies, etc.

In exploring some of the metaphysical dimensions suggested by our dialogue with historical revelation, we have noted that being, inasmuch as it is identified with God, is unqualifiedly good.  The good is the traditional site of the ethical, and certainly the Jewish and Christian revelatory experiences intensify our appreciation of the divine Being’s goodness, the outgoing and healing love of the God of the covenant and the God of the incarnation and salvation.  Through the Spirit we are brought by participation into this ethical love, and our own commitment to the others in love is the reflection of this Spirit-given participation.  In other words, a Christian-sensitive metaphysics is one that must be tightly connected with ethics and soteriology.  Metaphysics is diminished and cramped when it is severed from ethics, becoming one of those totalistic systems which ignore the realm of ethically committed, deliberative action within history.[52]  In other words, it is as we put forth the effort to live ethically that we normally arrive at authentic metaphysical insight, and this ethical effort keeps our insight correspondingly modest and always “on the way.”  In this sense, we need to heed Levinas’ challenge regarding the ethical, even if we do not want to go all the way with his thought, as we have noted above.

We have also noted that being is dialogical, that is, that it unveils itself.  Being does not remain mute and locked up within itself, but it is ecstatic and open.  We recall the traditional, two-dimensional notion of alētheia as both reality and truth (reality’s unveiling) in this regard.  Hence the first principles of identity (= being as reality) and of sufficient reason (= being’s intelligibility, luminosity, truth) cohere and resonate.  In other words, being and the true are one.  This again is something that is intensified by the Jewish and Christian revelatory experiences, which celebrate the radical depths of the communication or revelation of God to the world and humans.  For Christians, God is Word, and the Word has become flesh.  But here the true and the good need to remain connected, for in their fullness in Being as such they are one, and we only properly experience them as we through participation struggle to keep them one.  This means that we must struggle on behalf of the neighbor, who is potentially everyone, and only as we do so do we know the truth.

We have also noted Aristotle’s teaching that philosophy begins with the experience of wonder.  “This sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher,” said Plato’s Socrates as well, for “. . . Philosophy indeed has no other origin . . .”[53]  Being, in other words, attracts and even arouses our affectionate response.  Being and the beautiful are one, we traditionally say.  The will (the good), the mind (the true), and now the heart (the beautiful) are mysteriously connected.  Indeed, we do not so much first seek the true or choose to do the good, but the True and the Good first seek us, attracting and drawing us toward them.  This is why, it seems, our consciences experience and even feel guilt when we refuse to respond appropriately, or alternatively, why we feel delight and joy at accomplishing the good and learning the true.  This arousal by the beautiful is not a selfish, pampering narcissism, but a drawing toward truth and goodness, which are experienced only inasmuch as we are being so drawn.

Again, the Jewish and Christian revelatory experiences intensify our awareness of being as the beautiful, inasmuch as the unexpected and even always unimaginable grace of God’s outgoing and incarnational love in the Spirit reveals a wonder-ful and wonder-filling attraction that exceeds all expectations.  Here, as Barth and Balthasar have especially noted, the gospel reversal of values, in which what we would typically regard as ugly (the cross) becomes the beautiful (the medium of divine Glory), breaks through.[54]  This is not a sick celebration of evil, but of a love that is willing to give all for all others.  Again, a Jewish and Christian aesthetics is intrinsically one with its ethics and its truthful thought.  But the beautiful experience of wonder is also the medium through which we are kept, and maybe even at times “broken,” open to the new in our history and geographical location.[55]  This being rendered open, not to anything, but to the truly new, which would have to be one with the good and the true, means that there is always an eschatological edge with its Christological kairos in our attraction to Beauty.

With that, we should end without ending this supplement to chapter four.  But our global horizon prompts us to add some few comments yet about the need for a cross-cultural widening of metaphysics, history, and geography.  Inasmuch as being and becoming characterize all things finite, we ought to expect some recognition of them in cultures other than the western.  Being’s universality would seem to indicate that we all are participating in one and the same process of reality.  Becoming, historicity, and geographical sitedness would indicate that we do not precisely participate in them in simply identical manners.  If you will, we constitute, following Voegelin, one community of being, but the manner in which we constitute this community varies by way of a vast range of qualitative modes of participation in that community.  Thus, we are all in varying ways participating in God, with one another in community, and in and with the cosmos as a whole.  And yet it is patently clear, through our historical encounters with others across the globe, that this participation has generated a vast range of symbols and expressions and has varied even beyond the level of symbols on the level of participative experience itself.

Voegelin has suggested the notion of equivalences in experience and symbolization as one way of addressing this phenomenon.[56]  Equivalence is not precisely simple identity, but identity in difference, so to speak.  One, if you will, trusts in the equivalency of the process of participation in the community of being as it occurs globally, historically, and geographically, and yet one remains attuned to the range of varied differentiations of this participation.  The Chinese Tao and T’ien, the Hindu Brahman, Plato’s the Good and the Beautiful, perhaps Gautama Buddha’s nirvana[57], for example, would seem to indicate something of an equivalence with the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim God, although clearly shades of difference also remain all along the line.  This kind of equivalence within difference also extends to our experiences of the other partners in the community of being.  And in a way, it extends to ourselves on a personal level, it would seem.  Our own identity, for example, is something we varyingly experience and differentiate throughout our lives, and yet we trust in the equivalency of this identity, even as we sense its historical fluctuation.

All of this further complexifies and humbles our metaxic metaphysics within the context of history and geography.  But an incarnational approach claiming to heed the lessons of history and place cannot do anything else.



[1] Davies, A Theology of Compassion, 114, is sensitive to this.

[2] In a conversation with Eric Voegelin about Karl Rahner, whose philosophical theology of God Voegelin valued, Voegelin said, if my memory is correct, “But no a prioris!”  I have taken the lesson to heart.

[3] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1003b1 (The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Barnes, 2:1585).

[4] W. Norris Clarke, The One and the Many: A Contemporary Thomistic Metaphysics (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2001), 19-23.

[5] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 1006a1 (The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Barnes, 2:1588); see 1062a1 (ibid., 2:1677).

[6] Ibid., 106a1 (ed. Barnes, 2:1588): “[I]t is absurd to attempt to reason with one who will not reason about anything, insofar as he refuses to reason.  For such a man, as such, is seen already to be no better than a mere plant.”

[7] This is the view in ibid., 994a1-b1 (The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Barnes, 2:1570-71).

[8] Clarke, The One and the Many, 89. He helpfully adds: “To get hold of this insight into existence as the central perfection of all real beings, containing all other modes of perfection within its all-encompassing fullness, which is so unique in the history of Western philosophy, it may help to reverse our way of speaking for a while and say, not ‘This horse exists, a man exists,’ etc., but rather ‘Existence here is found in a horsy mode, a human mode, a rose-bushy mode . . . .’  Or: ‘There is an existent here in the horsy mode, the human mode, the rose-bushy mode . . . .’” Clarke, ibid.  He translates Aquinas’ De Potentia, q. 7, art. 2 ad 9, as a key exemplary text:

“That which I call esse (the act of existence, the to-be of things) is that which is most perfect . . . the actuality of all acts and because of this the perfection of all perfections . . . .  For nothing can be added on to esse that is extraneous to it, since there is nothing outside of it save non-being.”

The source of this insight, for Aquinas, seems to have been a truly mystical intuition coming from his meditation on the thornbush theophany to Moses, with its “I am who I am” (Ex 3.14): see St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, 1, 22, 10 (On the Truth of the Catholic Faith, 1:121); and Clarke, The One and the Many, 87.

[9] Clarke, The One and the Many, 29, 20-23; Voegelin, “Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History,” in Published Essays 1966-1985, 122.

[10] Clarke, The One and the Many, 139.

[11] Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, 1.5.29, trans. John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson (New York: Harper and Row, 1962), 172.

[12] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa contra gentiles, 3, 113, 1 (On the Truth of the Catholic Faith, 3: pt. 2:120 [trans. Vernon J. Bourke]).

[13] Clarke, The One and the Many, 123-38; see 128, 135, where he particularly notes John Locke’s static notion of substance.  See, e.g., John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, 23, Penguin Classics, ed. Roger Woolhouse (New York: Penguin, 1997), 268-86.  For Aristotle’s discussion, see, e.g., Metaphysics, Book 9 ([Theta], The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Barnes, 2:1651-61); and Jonathan Barnes, “Metaphysics,” in idem, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Aristotle (Cambridge: University Press, 1999), 94-96.

[14] Clarke, The One and the Many, 157-58; see 158, bottom, for his helpful synoptic diagram of Aquinas’ system, in which all the elements going into the making of complete real beings are so many variations of the relationship between act and potency: beings are a mix of accidents and existing substance; existing substances are a mix of existence and essence; and essences are a mix of form and matter.  Accidents, existence, and form are so many variations of Act, and substance, essence, and matter are so many variations of Potency.

[15] Plato, Symposium, 211a-212a (The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Hamilton and Cairns, 562-63).

[16] Aristotle, Metaphysics, 982b1 (The Complete Works of Aristotle, ed. Barnes, 2:1554).

[17] Helpful on this is Pierre Hadot, What Is Ancient Philosophy?, 23-76.

[18] Ibid., 77-90; Wiser, Political Philosophy, 34-37.

[19] Aristotle apparently wrote some dialogues in his youthful period, but only fragments remain (The Concise Oxford Companion to Classical Literature, ed. M. C. Howatson and Ian Chilvers [New York: Oxford University Press, 1993], 58).

[20] Central here would be Plato’s story of the god Theuth and the Egyptian king Thamus on the problem of written language in Phaedrus, 274d-275b; and Letter VII, 341a-345a (The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Hamilton and Cairns, 520, 1588-1592).  See the analysis of the Phaedrus passage in the context of a critique of Derrida in Catherine Pickstock, “Socrates Goes outside the City: Writing and Exteriority,” After Writing: On the Liturgical Consummation of Philosophy (Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1998), chap. 1, 3-46, in reference to Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy,” Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), 61-172.

[21] For example, in the Meno, 81b-e (The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Hamilton and Cairns, 364), recollection is connected to the myths of the soul’s pre-existence.  I am influenced here by Voegelin’s reworking of Plato’s anamnesis as “reflective distance”; see his In Search of Order, index, s.v., “reflective distance”; and Anamnesis, 37-38, esp. 37, where he credits Plotinus’ Enneads, 4.3.30 (Penguin Classics, trans. Stephen MacKenna, abrid. John Dillon [New York: Penguin Books, 1991], 284) with a more explicit treatment of the language dimension of recollection.

[22] Voegelin, Plato and Aristotle, 237-48, referring to the Timaeus and Critias.  Michel Despland, The Education of Desire: Plato and the Philosophy of Religion (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1985), is keenly attuned to the interweaving of logos and myth in Plato, esp. 223-30.  For an appreciation of Plato’s reception, which can help us to appropriate his work with more of a second naivete, esp. vis-à-vis our own modern and postmodern proclivities, see Melissa Lane, Plato’s Progeny: How Socrates and Plato Still Captivate the Modern Mind  (London: Duckworth, 2001).

[23] There is an important strain of participation and illumination in Aquinas, emphasized especially among recent Thomists, like Cornelio Fabro, Karl Rahner and others.  See Helen James John, The Thomist Spectrum (New York: Fordham University Press, 1966), 55-192; and George Lindbeck, “Participation and Existence,” Franciscan Studies 17 (1957): 1-22, 107-25; idem, “The A Priori in St. Thomas’ Theory of Knowledge,” in The Heritage of Christian Thought: Essays in Honor of Robert Lowry Calhoun, ed. R. Cushman and E. Grislis (New York: Harper and Row, 1965), 41-63.

[24] See, e.g., St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, 1, 85, 2; Francis Selman, St. Thomas Aquinas: Teacher of Truth (Edinburgh: T and T Clark, 1994), 46; Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy, 9 vols. (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Image, 1962-77), 5:126, referring to a seemingly representationist strain in Locke’s thought.

[25] Plato, Republic, 504d, and Symposium, 202a-204a ([Loeb Classical Library, No. 166], The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Hamilton and Cairns, 739, 554-56); Voegelin, The Ecumenic Age, index, s.v., “Metaxy [In-Between]”; idem, Anamnesis, 351.

[26] Clarke, The One and the Many, 17, 22, seems to recognize this.

[27] Inasmuch as what is known as “foundationalism” is associated with an Archimedean perch position, then a metaxic metaphysics and noesis would be “non-foundationalist.”  But not all forms of foundation-oriented thought are the same.  A metaxic metaphysics with its accompanying noesis certainly is a form of “critical foundationalism” in a carefully articulated sense: critical, because participatory; foundationalist, in the sense that the divine Ground “grounds.”

[28] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A 632/B 660, trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s, 1929), 525.

[29] Voegelin, Plato and Aristotle, 65, 330, 377, did indeed suggest that there were elements of hypostatization in Plato, but Voegelin thinks that Aristotle did not quite penetrate the problem either.

[30] The key text for much of this, although I am somewhat interpreting, is Voegelin, In Search of Order, index, s.vv., “Metaphysics,” “Ontology,” “It-reality,” and “Thing-reality.”  See idem, Autobiographical Reflections, 70-74, on hypostatization.  On the problem of ontotheology and totalization, see, for example, the different essays collected in John D. Caputo, ed., The Religious, esp. Caputo’s “Introduction: Who Comes after the God of Metaphysics?,” 1-19.

[31] Clarke, The One and the Many, 56; Davies, A Theology of Compassion, 85, also referring to Aquinas.  See St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1, 5, 3, esp. ad 3: “Likeness of creatures to God is not affirmed on account of agreement in form according to the formality of the same genus or species, but solely according to analogy, inasmuch as God is essential being whereas other things are beings by participation” (3 vols., trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province [New York: Benziger Brothers, 1947-48], 1:23).  This is an example of the Platonic, participationist stream in Thomas mediated here via Dionysius’ de Divinis Nominibus (1, 4, 3, ad 1 and 4).

[32] Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum (DS) 806, ed. Henricus Denziger and Adolfus Schönmetzer (Freiburg: Herder, 1965).

[33] See DS 1000-1, Constitution Benedictus Deus of Pope Benedict XII (1336), and for St. Gregory Palamas, the Synodal Tome of 1351, along with other decrees, in John Meyendorff, St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), 103.

[34] See the Summa theologiae 1, 12, 7; Moses and Paul enjoyed the vision before death (1, 12, 11, 2). Karl Rahner’s study of the notion of mystery, and his suggestion that the incarnation represents the drawing near of the Mystery, not its eradication, is helpful as well; see “The Concept of Mystery in Catholic Theology,” Theological Investigations, vol. 4, trans. Kevin Smyth (Baltimore: Helicon, 1966), 36-73.

[35] Recall Clarke, The One and the Many, proposing that Aquinas’ reworking of absolute esse emphasizes the “act-of-existence,” or be-ing, in the sense that God is the absolute or “pure Subsistent Act of Existence (Ipsum Esse Subsistens) with no limiting essence, [who] transcends all his creatures as composed of existence and limited essences, and yet, on the other, [brings about] a deep similarity to God running through all creatures as all participations in the one central perfection of God himself, so that they can all be truly called ‘images of God’” (89).

[36] See, among others, A. N. Williams, The Ground of Union: Deification in Aquinas and Palamas (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), for a mainly theological attempt to build bridges between Thomas and Palamas; David Bradshaw, Aristotle East and West: Metaphysics and the Division of Christendom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), for a mainly philosophical analysis, but one which unfortunately offers little hope for bridging the gap, and strangely ignores the neo-Thomist, existentialist view of Aquinas which is largely so prominent in Thomistic studies; and Aristotle Papanikolaou, Being with God: Trinity, Apophaticism, and Divine-Human Communion (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006), for a fine study of Vladimir Lossky, one of the most influential rehabilitators of Palamas’ essence-energies theology in Orthodoxy, and of John Zizioulas, who somewhat sidelines the “neo-Palamite” tendency of highlighting the essence-energies distinction in favor of greater attention to how the trinitarian theology of hypostasis/prosopon gives greater emphasis to a more personalistic and relational view of the divine Being. This is not completely missing in Palamas, to be sure, but one wonders whether Zizioulas’ line of approach might lead in a direction equivalent to the Gilsonian, existentialist metaphysics of Aquinas. The divine “energies,” in other words, might well be understood differently within a substantialist and an “existentialist” metaphysics (of the Gilsonian kind). See Papanikolaou, 196-97 n. 101, for his own “hesitations.” My thanks to both Sixto J. García and Aristotle Papanikolaou for helpful suggestions on this section.

[37] Clarke, The One and the Many, 54-55.

[38] Ibid., and St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 1, 13, 1-12, esp. art. 5, on proportionality (trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1:59-72). For Gregory Palamas on analogy, see: “The human mind…transcends itself…It, too, will attain to that light and will become worthy of a supernatural vision of God, not seeing the divine essence, but seeing God by a revelation appropriate and analogous to Him. One sees, not in a negative way – for one does see something – but in a manner superior to negation. For God is not only beyond knowledge, but also beyond unknowing” (The Triads, 1.3.4, Classics of Western Spirituality, ed. John Meyendorff, trans. Nicholas Gendle [New York: Paulist, 1983, 32]).

[39] See Clarke, The One and the Many, 55, who seems to be following an embellishment view of metaphor, and Paul Ricoeur, “Metaphor and the Central Problem of Hermeneutics,” in his Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences, ed. and trans. John B. Thompson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 165-81, and idem, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, ed. Mark I. Wallace, trans. David Pellauer (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1995), 6-10.

[40] See the individual chapters on these various philosophers in Critchley and Schroeder, eds., A Companion to Continental Philosophy.

[41] See Andrew Dobson, An Introduction to the Politics and Philosophy of José Ortega y Gasset, Cambridge Iberian and Latin American Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 117-25; John T. Graham, The Social Thought of Ortega y Gasset: A Systematic Synthesis in Postmodernism and Interdisciplinarity (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2001), 155-213; Zubiri, Sentient Intelligence, index, s.v., “historicity,” “historical,” historical reality,” and “history.”  Zubiri makes a complex distinction between being and reality, thinking that the two have been confused because of a tendency to thingify reality; see Sentient Intelligence, 46, 164, 219-38, 260.  Perhaps he is making distinctions somewhat similar to Voegelin’s It-reality and Thing-reality (?).  Also see the fascinating work of Pavel Florensky, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: An Essay in Orthodox Theodicy in Twelve Letters, trans. Boris Jakim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

[42] On “border-problem,” see Voegelin, History of Political Ideas, vol. 3, The Later Middle Ages, 109.

[43] Clarke, The One and the Many, 281.

[44] Frederick D. Wilhelmsen, The Metaphysics of Love (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1962), 152.

[45] John Paul II, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, no. 7 (p. 10).

[46] Clarke, The One and the Many, 280-81.

[47] The classic text here is Étienne Gilson, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. L. K. Shook (New York: Random House, 1956), 84-95.  See McCool, The Neo-Thomists, 137-54; and Marguerite Hall, “Citations et commentaries d’Exode 3, 14 chez les Pères grecs des quatre premiers siècles,” in Dieu et l’Être: Exégèse d’Exode 3, 14 et de Coran 20, 11-24 (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1978), 87-108.  Another pioneer in the project of a Christian metaphysics was Claude Tresmontant, The Origins of Christian Philosophy, Twentieth Century Encyclopedia of Catholicism, vol. 11, trans. Mark Pontifex (New York: Hawthorn, 1963), and Christian Metaphysics, trans. Gerard Slevin (New York: Sheed and Ward, 1965).  See now also Michael Stickelbroeck, Christologie im Horizont der Seinsfrage: Über die epistemologischen und metaphysischen Voraussetzungen des Bekenntnisses zur universalen Heilsmittlerschaft Jesu Christi, Münchener Theologische Studien, II, Systematische Abteilung, 59 (St. Ottilien: EOS, 2002).

[48] Wilhelmsen, The Metaphysics of Love, works out a view of being as ecstasy and agape in dialogue with Ortega y Gasset, Zubiri, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

[49] This is the approach sketched by Davies, A Theology of Compassion, in a valuable dialogue with postmodern thinkers.

[50] Clarke, The One and the Many, 308-13, is suggestive on this (thanks to Sixto J. García for reminding me of this); on this matter Clarke mentions his debt to Eric Voegelin’s essay, “The Beginning and the Beyond: A Meditation on Truth,” What Is History? And Other Late Unpublished Writings, Collected Works, vol. 28, ed. Thomas A. Hollweck and Paul Caringella (Available, Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1990), 173-232.

[51] Kasper, Jesus the Christ, 192 n. 2, suggesting that the biblical revelation requires an historical, process-oriented view of being, whose starting point would be a rethinking of act and potency in such a way that “potency should not be understood as the mere possibility of being, but as ability to be (Nicholas of Cusa: possest).”

[52] Metaphysic’s bond with ethics is one of the emphases of Davies, A Theology of Compassion.

[53] Plato, Theaetetus, 155d (The Collected Dialogues of Plato, ed. Hamilton and Cairns [trans. F. M. Cornford], 860).

[54] See, for example, John Thompson, “Barth and Balthasar: An Ecumenical Dialogue,” in The Beauty of Christ, ed. McGregor and Norris, 171-92.

[55] Karl Rahner, “Art against the Horizon of Theology and Piety,” in Theological Investigations, vol. 23, trans. Joseph Donceel and Hugh M. Riley (New York: Crossroad, 1992), esp. 166, on artists as “discoverers of a concrete situation . . . in a new way . . .”  Rahner seems more attuned to this openness in history, I believe, than Barth or Balthasar, esp. than Balthasar, whose aesthetics seems more classical.

[56] Voegelin, “Equivalences of Experience and Symbolization in History,” in Published Essays 1966-1985, 115-33.

[57] I write “perhaps,” for nirvana more directly seems to be speaking of the person undergoing transcendental experiences, although it clearly implies a recognition of and participation in the transcendent depth.  For Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, see Richard King, Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought (Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1999).  For a more general overview, see Hajime Nakamura, Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples: India, China, Tibet, Japan, rev. trans., ed. Philip P. Wiener (Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii, 1971).


This excerpt is from Jesus and the Gospel Movement: Not Afraid to be Partners (University of Missouri, 2006). Also see Eugene Webb’s review of “Your Kin-dom Come” and William Thompson-Uberuaga’s “Interview,” “History and Place, Historiogenesis and Geogenesis,” Mapping the Different Approaches,” “Participation and Interpretation Theory,” “Eschatology, Geography, and the Advancing Jesus Movement,”  and Craig Baron’s “The Postmodern “Christian” Theology of William Thompson-Uberuaga.”

William Thompson-Uberuaga

William Thompson-Uberuaga is an Emeritus Professor of Theology at Duquesne University and past president of the Catholic Theological Society of America. He is author of eight books and a co-editor, with David L. Morse, of Eric Voegelin's Collected Works Volume 22: History of Political Ideas - Renaissance and Reformation.

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