Becoming unity sociality and openness of God and creatures

Mindzoom Affirmations Subliminal Software

Positive Thinking Tips

Get Instant Access

In a remarkable section, 'Creation as Benefit', Karl Barth argues that the philosophical counterpart to his theological account of creation would be the concept of'pure becoming'.27 Theologically, creation as divine benefit means, for Barth, that the connection between creation and covenant cannot be weakened or broken. Creation cannot be known without the covenant; the covenant cannot be known without creation. Or, as Barth himself puts it, 'the truth of the covenant is already the secret of creation, that the secret of the covenant includes the benefit of creation'.28 For notions of creation and creature are only intelligible in the light of the God who creates as benefit.

No world view, Barth continues, has managed to hold to this insight of creation as divine benefit. Yet he seems not to rule out the possibility of such a philosophical world view: 'The philosophical equivalent for the theological idea of divine creation would have to be that of a pure and basic becoming underlying and therefore preceding all perception and being.'29 A little later, however, he appears to take back this openness to a philosophical counterpart: when formal consideration gives way to material matters, the (necessary) incapacity of philosophy to acknowledge 'creation as benefit because it is the work of God in Jesus Christ' is exposed. Nevertheless, Barth introduces an important category: becoming. Indeed, he declares that the philosophical account of pure becoming will only be acceptable to theology if 'this pure becoming is pure divine benefit preceding all knowledge and being and underlying all knowledge and being'.

As was argued in the previous section, I propose a closer rapprochement between philosophical theology and reconstructive theology than Barth would allow. But, in my judgment, the concept of becoming permits an important theological correction. The world and God are to be understood in terms not of being, but of becoming: the reality in which all creatures participate is not 'static' but dynamic. Indeed, with this correction, come further corrections to transcendental categories.30 For the categories of

27. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 111 /1 (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1958), pp. 330-4. I thank George Hunsinger for drawing this section and its significance to my attention.

28. Barth, ChurchDogmatics, 111/1, p. 333. 29. Ibid., p. 340.

30. In the discussion that follows on transcendentals, I am drawing on Norman Kretzmann,

'Trinity and Transcendentals', in Ronald J. Feenstra and Cornelius Plantinga (eds.), Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement: Philosophical and TheologicalEssays (University of Notre Dame Press, 1989), pp. 79-109; Daniel W. Hardy, 'Created and Redeemed Sociality', in God's Ways with the one, true and good are replaced by unity, sociality and openness. In such a way is becoming to be understood as divine benefit.

What are transcendentals? 'By transcendentals', writes Colin Gunton, 'I mean those notions which we may suppose to embody "the necessary notes of being", in the pre-Kantian sense of notions which give some way of conceiving what reality truly is, everywhere and always'.31 Transcendentals are therefore concepts with general reach; their aim is to give, at the most general level, an account of all reality. Being is the most obvious example of a transcendental. Attempts to interpret transcendentals require further categories and concepts which seek to 'draw down' the meaning and significance of such transcendentals; I offer some further concepts in the next section. Yet I have already made a theological correction: becoming is the key transcendental; it precedes all attempt at interpretation. Thereby, as Barth notes, the transcendental, becoming, applies also to God because the divine giftorbenefitof creation as becoming precedes all knowledge and ontology. For, as a transcendental, becoming transcends all attempts at interpretation; thereby it applies also to God, who cannot be known except in self-disclosure. Thus the 'essence' ofGod, in philosophical description, is becoming.

Other terms have been favoured in theological tradition as transcendentals. These I have already listed: one, true and good. However, I propose a more modest set of transcendentals that coheres better with the transcendental of becoming: unity, sociality and openness. Such transcendentals are general terms which, 'before' knowledge and ontology, specify the general characteristics of reality. Thus, to select any thing is to say, prior to all other specifications, that in so far as a thing is, it is one, social, open and becoming. I do not claim that these transcendentals are ways of making all reality present. When John Milbank writes that 'One cannot look at this process [sc. of worldly reality] as a whole, but one can try to imagine what it means, its significance', the four transcendentals do not resist such a claim.32 The four transcendentals proposed here do not map the entirety

World: Thinking and Practising Christian Faith (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1996), pp. 188-205; Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many; Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio:ADogmatic Inquiry into the Sociology of the Church (New York and Evanston: Harper and Row, 1960); Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Act and Being (London: Collins, 1961); Clifford Green, The Sociality of Christ and Humanity: DietrichBonhoeffefsEarly Theology 1927-1933 (Missoula, MT: The Scholars' Press, 1972).

31. Gunton, The One, theThree and the Many, p. 136.

32. John Milbank, 'Postmodern Critical Augustinianism', Modern Theology 7:3 (1991), 224-37 (226).

of reality. Rather, they specify the basic or fundamental features of that reality 'of which we are a part and in which we live'.33

A simple example will serve to illustrate this point. Consider the university as an institution: in so far as it is a single legal, corporate entity it enjoys a unity; in so far as it relies upon a series of inputs of energy (to run the light, heat and computing systems) and interactions (between administrators, Faculty and students) it is social; in so far that it is susceptible to changed inputs and interactions immanently and in relation to its environment, the institution is always open; as such the institution is not in a state of being, but rather in a process of becoming. (It should be noted that there are degrees of unity, sociality and openness: for instance, a university which closes down, lays off all its workers and dismisses all its students, still maintains a certain degree of openness: security, protection of buildings, etc. Even if these services are discontinued, and the institution is abandoned, minimal patterns of openness still occur: the abandoned institution still occupies land and is susceptible to the benign actions of homeless people seeking shelter and the less benign action ofvandals, wind and rain.)

It does not follow from this perspective that the entirety of the institution is amenable to conceptual analysis. As David Ford has pointed out, following the work of French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, there is much social action which is hard to discern.34 Support for transcendentals therefore does not lie solely in their explanatory power but also in a commitment to read the world in a certain way. Thus, for instance, in a certain situation - sexual abuse, for instance - it may be difficult to discern open and social aspects.35 Yet these features are present, even if only counterfactually.

Why these transcendentals.? First, I wish to stress that arguments in the theology of nature turn upon an implicit account of transcendentals. Consider, as a good example, the discussion of creation and covenant in Loving Nature by James Nash. What does the fact of God's creation tell us about the world? Nash presents us with the basic feature of relationality:

Since God is the source of all in the Christian doctrine of creation, all creatures share in a common relationship... This affirmation of relationality is, moreover, enhanced by the theory of evolution, which

33. Gunton, The One, the Three and the Many, p. 145.

34. David F. Ford, 'What happens in the Eucharist?', ScottishJournal of Theology 8:3 (1995), 359-81 (360-1).

35. See the extraordinary book, also in this series, by Alistair McFadyen, Bound to Sin:Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin (Cambridge University Press, 2000).

describes humans as related to every other form of life through our common beginnings in one or more living cells and through our subsequent adaptive interactions. We evolved relationally; we exist symbiotically... we are interrelated parts and products of a world that is continually being made and nurtured by God.36 Given such an affirmation, it is hard to know how to describe relational-ity except as a transcendental. Although he himself does not explicitly say so, Nash clearly means to draw to our attention the most fundamental feature of physical reality. This claim is reinforced by the appeal to evolutionary science and in light of the subsequent affirmation that God's presence to relational reality is the basis of Christian ecological ethics. Later, Nash insists that the covenant tells us of'a rational order of interdependence -which Christians also see as a moral, purposive order of relationality and ecological integrity - that appears to be universal and that demands respectful adaptability from moral agents'.37 A new word is now added -integrity - and sharp consequences are drawn: the human task is to adapt to its environment. And the order is rational, intelligible. As doubly grounded - in creation and covenant - 'relationality' functions as a transcendental. Yet because this claim is not set out in any detail, difficulties arise. Writing later on the imagoDei, Nash opines:

The image of God (including dominion), then, is... a special role or function - a vocation, calling, task, commission or assignment. Applied ecologically, the image concept recognises a basic biological fact: humans alone have evolved the peculiar rational, moral, and therefore, creative capacities that enable us alone to serve as responsible representatives of God's interests and values, to function as the protectors of the ecosphere and self-constrained consumers of the world's goods. The image is as much a responsibility as a right ecologically.38

Ambiguities emerge: the imago Dei acknowledges a 'biological fact' which in turn suggests that care of the environment by humanity is located in biology. Thus it seems that basic biological facticity somehow undercuts the cultural interests of humanity (which is rapacious of nature). Yet, if it is a biological given, how is it that human beings manage to avoid this biological imperative so successfully.? Further, amidst this biological givenness, what is the role of cultural artifice in addressing the ecological crisis?

A related difficulty can be traced in the work of Sallie McFague. In The Body of God, there emerges a strong commitment to a rapprochement

36. Nash, LovingNature,p. 97. 37. Ibid., p. 100. 38. Ibid., p. 105.

between theology and the common creation story. For McFague, two ontological characteristics of the common creation story are of interest to theology: the 'radical interrelatedness and interdependence of all aspects' together with the emphasis on the multilevelled character of the universe with the 'higher', more complex, levels dependent on the lower, 'simpler', levels.39 Further, McFague extends a philosophical transcendental to encompass God: a procreative-emanationist account of creation permits the universe to be grasped as the body of God; God is present through all parts of the universe.40 Thus, although McFague does not say so, the transcendental of relationality applies also to God.

On what grounds should we accept such a view.? McFague offers several: clues from embodied knowing, faith traditions and compatibility with scientific reality are all important. Yet there is also a fourth reason: 'it helps to make things better'.41 A world view is to be adopted because it makes a contribution to the improvement of our circumstances, for both humankind and otherkind. Yet here McFague's transcendental inquiry is at its weakest: for her theology offers, in effect, a theological legitimation of a scientific cosmology. How such a move contributes to the humanisation of our circumstances is not clear. For what is occluded in this account is a view of human practices which need to be redirected into more sustainable patterns. Thus an abstract cosmology supports an abstract anthropology. The root of the abstraction is the transcendental of relationality which does not permit the identification, analysis and criticism of the anti-nature configurations of social humanity.

This short excursus in two theological ecologies is directed towards making only one point: in ecological theology, the issue of transcendentals cannot be avoided. The theme of relationality in Nash and McFague, I have argued, can be seen as a quasi-transcendental category. Yet, because the status of such transcendental thinking is unclear and the transcen-dentals not fully articulated, ontological commitments get confused with transcendental commitments. Thus, for both Nash and McFague, there is a tendency towards seeing humanity as compelled to conform to 'laws' of nature. The way of drawing humanity into nature is in terms of such relationality; attempts to deny this move are then thought to imply the denial ofcontinuities between humanity and nature.

This debate thus has a certain politics: it does not clearly articulate how the presence of God requires the reconsideration of humanity in

39. McFague, The Body of God, pp. 105,106. 40. Ibid., pp. 151-7.

nature except in terms of the relationality suggested by the natural sciences. In that the content of the natural sciences specifies the context of theological work and the political argument turns upon an account of the laws of nature which are assumed to be benign, the case made is neither theological nor oppositional.

Yet why have I turned to the transcendentals of unity, sociality, openness and becoming? And are these transcendentals too political? These tran-scendentals are related to the philosophical theology already presented. In the previous section, I argued it was important to see how difference is common between God and creatures (although, of course, it is not the same difference). Such differentiation in God is secured in philosophical theology. Thus, transcendentals apply to God as well as to creatures. Differentiation in God points towards the notion of becoming. So these considerations are preparatory for the claims made in this section.42

However, there is a certain 'politics' of transcendentals. When Norman Kretzmann writes, 'The transcendentals are ... general in the sense that all of them express modes in which being occurs in absolutely everything, another respect in which their place among our most fundamental concepts is natural', he is right and wrong.43 Absolutely right is the claim that transcendentals are general, but it does not follow that the transcendental terms are obvious or beyond dispute. Transcendental inquiry may indeed be natural but the terms are not given. Hence, from a theological perspective, the terms must carefully articulate God's self-statement in the flesh of Jesus Christ.

For the root, foundation and rationale of the characterisation of the transcendentals is Christological: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Christ, requires, in my judgment, the interpretation that in the return of Christ to the world by God the Father, which is praise of Jesus by the Father in the Spirit, we have a Godly judgment on sociality. That is, the breach in sociality - the solidarity of human beings to be for one another - does not concretely in and for Jesus of Nazareth end in death. I have drawn out the implications of this for praxis elsewhere.44 Yet by this claim I do not mean only that, as David Nicholls has conclusively shown, there is a persistent relationship between images of God and the

42. And it does not hurt that such notions at least chime with the claim of the end of metaphysics understood as the presence of being, so often announced these days. For an account, see Hodgson, Winds of the Spirit, pp. 53-66.

43. Kretzmann, 'Trinity and Transcendentals', p. 90.

44. See Scott, Theology, Ideology and Liberation, ch. 6.

polity.45 I intend rather a theological point: God, nature and humanity are social concepts which are intelligible fully only if their social intention is drawn out. 'For the concepts of person, community and God', writes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 'have an essential and indissoluble relation to each other.'46 That is, only in sociality are the concepts of self, society and God properly explicable; these concepts presuppose and explicate sociality.

Here I wish to build on this argument by introducing an important amendment: for the resurrection of Jesus Christ is God's promise to the covenantal character of social humanity in nature; humanity and nature share the important feature of the transcendentality of sociality. Thus the promise of the continuation of solidarity even through death pertains also to nature. The promise ofGod the Father in Jesus Christ grants a future to that which is social. For nature also is social. Hence, if the act of election by God the Father in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the election of social humanity, then that same act ofGod is the election ofsocial nature.

It is important to note the logic of this claim: nature participates in the resurrection of Jesus Christ on account of the sociality that it shares with social humanity. Nature is redeemed in the vicarious action of Christ not on the grounds that it forms the natural conditions of human life but because it is social. Yet its social character is different from humanity; hence nature is redeemed from its curse, not reconciled from its sin.47 In the raising ofJesus Christ as the proleptic anticipation ofthe resurrection of social humanity, the resurrection of nature is also anticipated: the social character of reality is both affirmed and reordered.

What requires attention, in my view, is the relation between the resurrection of Jesus' embodiment and the social character of reality rather than the relation between Jesus' embodiment and non-human nature. Jurgen Moltmann adopts a form of the second argument in The Way of Jesus Christ: 'With the raising of Christ, the vulnerable and mortal human nature we experience here is raised and transformed into the eternally living, immortal human nature of the new creation; and with vulnerable human nature the non-human nature ofthe earth is transformed as well. This transformation is its eternal healing.'48 Yet, despite Moltmann's best efforts, it seems that creation is drawn into the resurrection of Christ on the grounds only that it is the condition of the covenant. Although

45. David Nicholls, Deity and Domination (London: Routledge, 1989).

46. Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio,p. 22. 47. See Bonhoeffer, Christology, pp. 64-5.

48. Jurgen Moltmann, The Way of Jesus Christ:Christology in Messianic Dimensions (London: SCM

Moltmann insists on the 'naturalness' of humanity, he is unable to articulate the notion. Thus, in the end, that which is other than human achieves its place in the covenant on account of Christ's embodiment. A more fruitful theological way, I shall be arguing, is to affirm the sociality ofall reality, human and natural.

Openness has the same root as sociality: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For, presupposed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet knowable only by it, is the claim that the ontological order, conditions and possibilities of the world are such as to permit the crossing by the becoming God into the world in incarnation, and a reordering ofthat same order, conditions and possibilities into concrete actuality by the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Philosophically, the world must be interpreted - in a formally identical claim - as absolute becoming. All ontology and epistemology must be oriented towards and proportioned by this becoming. Hence changes in social relations - that is, as founded in the transcendental of openness -are given in the resurrection of Jesus Christ; hence openness is actuality. As Jurgen Moltmann writes: 'It is theologically necessary to view created things as real promises of the kingdom; and it is equally necessary, conversely to understand the kingdom of God as the fulfilment, not merely of the historical promises of the world, but of its natural promises as well.'49 And the promise of the Kingdom is made known, of course, in the history ofIsrael, culminating in the resurrection ofJesus Christ.

What of unity? The transcendental of unity has already been addressed in the previous section: parts, as unities, participate in the transcendental of unity; the whole which is comprised of the parts is also a unity and thereby participates in the transcendental, unity. Such an account is related to the older notion of the one as transcendental; yet the notion of oneness is too static to relate easily to the transcendental of creation as pure becoming. The unity of the world has its eschatological origin and destiny in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Of course, this is a serious theoretical problem for Christian faith: how is the unity ofthe life, death and resurrection ofJesus Christ to be related to, indeed qualify, the unity of the expanding cosmos, on the one hand, and be the fullness of God, on the other.?50 This issue, in various guises, has been a central feature of Enlightenment critiques of Christology. I shall return to this point in part III.

49. Moltmann, God in Creation, p. 63. 50. Colossians 1.15-20.

My argument creates an obvious difficulty: are these transcendentals of becoming, unity, sociality and openness to be ascribed to God? I have argued that these transcendentals are general 'notes of being'. I have also argued that their root and foundation can be traced to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yetan argument ofthat sort suggests that transcendentals are properly ascribed or appropriated to the persons of the Trinity. Is this true?

The test case here is whether or not sociality may be ascribed to the second person of the Trinity. I believe it can. First, a general argument might be made, some of the contours of which have been visible through this section, that the association of Word and Son with sociality is appropriate: these terms (Word, Son) emerge from the contexts of communication and relationships and are thereby social.

Second, although the transcendental of sociality applies to God in God's essence-as-becoming and to all creatures, yet sociality is enjoyed by God and creation differently. God, we may say, has sociality perfectly. A further reason now emerges as to why sociality is to be ascribed to the Logos. God is unitive, social, open and becoming perfectly but creatures participate in the transcendentals asymmetrically, for the cause of these transcendentals in creatures is God. Thus the sociality of the world is caused by God and is the form of God's presence in the world. Nature (including humanity) is thereby invited to imitate the perfection of the sociality of God.

However, although the insight into the sociality of God is given in the witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the practice of such sociality is ambiguous and opaque. For we cannot claim that we know clearly how to enact such sociality. The appropriation of the transcendental of sociality to God and to creatures is thereby strict: divine sociality, creaturely sociality. Yet, on account of Jesus Christ, we may attribute creaturely sociality to the Godhead metaphorically. The asymmetrical character of the relationship between God and world means that the attribution cannot be strict. To seek to escape such a metaphorical application would be to speak of that which cannot be spoken: the perfect sociality of the God-who-is-becoming. Nevertheless, the metaphorical ascription to the Word/Logos acknowledges that the world is revealed to be social. Sociality is real not abstract, actual not potential: it is to be ascribed metaphorically to the Logos. However, we must remember, because the ascription of sociality to God is strict, sociality cannot be read off the immanent Trinity.

What is basic to human and non-human life is sociality. We should expect nothing else, for sociality is the counterpart in philosophical theology of the turning of God's face towards humanity and nature in Jesus Christ.

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Positive Thinking As The Key To Success

Positive Thinking As The Key To Success

Download this Guide and Discover How To Find And Monetize on Your Expertise And Strengths. Inside this special report, you'll discover: How positive thinking is one of the key factors in a successful life. Five ways and tools to help you stay positive. Use these to help you keep on track. Case studies that'll inspire you to stick to your dreams. Plus much, much more.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment