Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Zubizantine Theology: The Transcendence of God (Part 5)

To introduce Zubiri's discussion of the reality of God, I will first summarize the traditional Eastern view of the subject, which Zubiri parallels quite closely. In the Eastern view, the divine essence is "beyond being" or "no being," hyperousios ousios. Indeed, what we think of as "existence" is, according to Gregory of Nyssa, only a pale shadow of what being really is. But since we are accustomed to thinking of ourselves as real, it is necessary to put God in a wholly different category, entirely incomprehensible to the human mind (even the name "God" itself is a misnomer in that sense; the divine cannot be named). This essence is devoid of any metaphysical composition or other limits that apply to anything that exists (from our view), and indeed, can only meaningfully be described by its absence of finitude, which explains the use of Greek "alpha privatives" ("not-X" in English) to describe divinity. Thus, God is Un-created, In-finite, Im-mortal, In-effable, etc., etc. It is important to understand that when such terms are predicated of the divine essence, it is solely for the purpose of indicating how utterly transcendent God is, so that when we speak of immortality or eternal life for creatures, those properties still remain utterly unlike the Immortality or Eternity of God. The infinity of the essence allows it to be expressed in an infinite number of ways according to what we understand as "real;" these are the divine energies. The infinity of the energies in no way impugns of the divine simplicity of God nor does it mean that such expressions are not really God, being true expressions of the divine essence. Let us recall Zubiri's own words, which complement the description of the energies as "indivisibly divided":

The life of God, with all the immutability and simplicity one may wish to consider, is not the simplicity and immutability of a mathematical singularity, but is the unfathomable unity and simplicity of a real and effective activity. That is what the very divine activity is, which is not determined by the operations it “performs”, but is the infinite plenitude of the reality it formally is, insofar as active in itself and by itself.

Thus, one can immediately see the harmony between the Eastern view of God and the basic outline that Zubiri presents in his works Man and God and Christianity. Note that the material is subject to the following copyright notice: © 2001-2005 by Joaquín Redondo. Permission to republish in any form is hereby granted, provided that source is acknowledged.

Zubiri suggests the following salient points about the reality of God:

a) God has to be the fundament of the power of the real. Therefore, he is eo ipso an ultimate fundament, possibilitating and impelling. If, by way of religation, we reach God, then we shall have reached a God qua God. God is not only a first cause, a first {131} unmoved mover, etc. To such a God no one would address a prayer or a supplication. The celebrated exclamation tu causa causarum miserere mei (Oh you, cause of the causes, have mercy on me) makes no formal theological sense. But the way we have taken avoids a limine the dissociation between ultimateness on one side and possibilitation and impellence on the other, precisely because the power of the real has, at one and the same time and formally, all three of these moments; it is the idea of a God qua God.

b) This God has to be a supreme reality, but not a supreme being. The identification of what is real with being is an important consequence of the acceptance of Greek philosophy. It is what I have termed the entification of reality: things are not entities unless they have being. Now, to be is always but an ulterior act of the real. Whatsoever a being may be, it is always and only being “of” the real. Ulteriority is the precise meaning of this “of”. Therefore, reality and entity are not formally identical. Prior to being entities, and precisely in order to be able to be so, things begin by being real. The fundament of being is reality. And this is still more true, if it is fitting, when we are dealing with the reality of God. God is not the subsistent being, is not the supreme being, not even when festooned with the attribute of infinitude. God is not a divine entity, He is supreme reality. The important assumption common to St. Thomas and Duns Scotus, to which I referred above, is just the entification of reality and, therefore, the identification of God with the supreme entity. No. God is beyond being. God has no being; only worldly things have being, which by virtue of “already” being real, “are” in the world. As fundament of the power of the real God would formally be supreme reality that is ultimate, possibilitating and impelling. {132}

c) In what does the “supreme” character of this questioned reality consist? The power of the real is the fundament of the constitution of my I. And my I, according to what we have seen, is something absolute. That my I should be absolute means that it is I “confronting” the whole of reality, that is, confronting reality as such. But this I is only relatively absolute because it is an I acquired by “confronting” reality as such, i.e., because it is an absolute, which needs this reality as such in order to be absolute. In other words: the I is absolute, but in its own manner, relatively. If there is a God, He will be a reality, which is the fundament of my relative absolute being. Therefore, He will be an absolute reality, not in His own mode, but simpliciter; a reality, which is fully real and absolute, not “confronting” reality as such, but “in and by itself” qua real. This is what I shall call “absolutely absolute reality”. In this problem “supreme” means “absolutely absolute”.

From these points, Zubiri proceeds to his analysis of the "problem of God" that I described in Part 1 of this series. Because his proof is not the subject of this installment, I will not attempt to summarize that argument, but I do suggest that those interested in Zubiri's philosophy study the argument carefully, because it is difficult to understand the connection of Zubiri's metaphysics and his theology without it. But for now, I will simply proceed to his theological conclusions. First, Zubiri describes the dynamism of God as reality:

Because He is absolutely absolute reality, He is absolute “dynamism”. Every reality qua reality is in fact dynamic, not only in itself (which is obvious), but as I see it, by itself. Dynamism is neither action nor operation; to my way of thinking, it is what I have called “self-giving” (“dar de sí”). Every reality is real by being the plenitude of that, which it is; and this plenitude is a moment of the “self-giving”, a formal moment as such. Dynamism is not consequent upon reality as action or operation might be, but is a constitutive moment of it, of its formal constitution qua reality. And so, God, as absolutely absolute reality, is absolute dynamism, an absolute “self-giving”. Since by virtue of being absolutely absolute reality He is absolutely “His-own”, it follows that this self-giving cannot be transitive, either in the sense of making another out of Himself, or in the sense of making Himself out of Himself. It is a giving to Himself that, which He already is as His-own. It is, then, purely and simply auto-possession in His-ownness. Now, auto-possession is that in which life formally consists. Because of this, auto-possession in absolute its-ownness is Absolute Life. In it God does not make himself as a reality, that is, {169} the divine life is not a becoming; the only thing that in this life “occurs” (if I may be permitted such expression) is the plenary actuality of the absolutely absolute reality for itself: absolute auto-possession is but “auto-actuality”. Therefore, God is absolute life because He is absolutely His-own, i.e., because He is a person. Contrary to what is usually said, I consider that God is not a person because He is living, but is living because He is a person. His life, his auto-possession, is founded in his His-ownness. That God has absolute auto-possession means that His possession is a consequence of the fact that the autos is absolute dynamism; and this is so because He is an absolutely absolute reality, i.e., absolutely His own, indeed, because He is a person. We can then affirm that the absolute concretion of the divine His-ownness is to be life.

But Zubiri cautions that we must not confuse these metaphysical concepts with their human analogs. He reminds us that our own reality, our own auto-possession of experiences in formation of ourselves as persons, is only relatively absolute compared to God's absolutely absolute auto-possession:

When we say that God is personal, living, intelligent, volitional, etc., we must avoid the serious error of taking these {172} terms in an anthropomorphical sense, as if God were a kind of gigantic human spirit, although purified of all the human limitations. This is absurd. How the reality of God may be in itself, it is impossible for us to know. Consequently, the aforementioned characteristics have to be taken in the strict sense according to which we have proceeded to conceive them. When we say that God is personal, the only thing we say is that He is a reality absolutely His-own. When we say that He is living, we understand that God is a reality, which fully possesses itself. When we say that He is intelligent and volitional, we wish to express purely and simply that He is absolute actuality of His own transparent reality and sufficient to itself, etc. Neither should feeling (sentimiento) be conceived anthropomorphically. That these characteristics may also be found in man in some measure, cannot be denied. But we should observe, first, that we have not arrived at them through man, but through what the absolutely absolute reality is. And second, that if man possesses them it is precisely because his being is relatively absolute, i.e., because God possesses them in an absolutely absolute way. God is not a kind of immense spirit or soul but rather absolutely absolute reality. From this stem the characteristics, which concern God insofar as He is formally and constitutively present in things.

Thus, Zubiri can describe the fontanal and transcendent presence of God in all reality:

1. Above all, fundamentality is presence of God in things. As we saw, it has the character of a formal presence. It is not a presence derived from its eventual effector character, but on the contrary, God is effector in order to be present in things in a formal way, as their foundational formality. And as this formal presence concerns the character of reality of each thing, it turns out that this formal presence is intrinsic to real things. Not every intrinsic presence is formal, but every formal presence is intrinsic. That is, the presence of God is formal to things, and only because it is formal is it also intrinsic. Furthermore, it is what is most radically intrinsic in them because, as I just pointed out, it concerns reality precisely as reality. However, that God is present in real things as intrinsic foundational formality does not mean that between God and things there is no real distinction. It only means that there is no “separation”, either physical or metaphysical. Distinction is not separation. This characteristic, according to which God is present in things with a formal and intrinsic presence, yet things are not God, is precisely what I call the transcendence of God “in” reality. A formal and intrinsic presence is a transcendent presence. Here is the first characteristic of the fundamentality of God: transcendence.

Nevertheless, it is necessary to fix the exact meaning of {175} this transcendence. To my way of thinking, to transcend does not mean to be “beyond” things, because on the contrary, God is formally and intrinsically in them. The transcendence of God does not consist in being beyond things, but the other way around. Transcendence is precisely a mode of being in them, that mode in accordance with which they could not be real in any sense, unless they formally included in their reality the reality of God, without this in any sense making God identical to the reality of things. The way God is in things is to be transcendent in them. And this is, to my way of thinking, what is essential about the divine transcendence: not to be “transcendent to” things, but to be “transcendent in” things themselves. For this reason I shall constantly use the expression “God transcendent in things”, the precise meaning of which we have once and for all explained. Each thing, in what it is, in and by itself, has in itself its own transcendent formal foundation. From this it follows that each thing leads us, not to go out of the thing itself, but to enter into it deeper and deeper, into its own transcendent foundation. To be in the thing is to be transcending it, not outside, but inside the thing itself. To be in the full reality of a thing is eo ipso to be in God in it. As we shall see, to march towards God is to penetrate further and further into a thing. Each thing itself makes me transcend in it.

The preceeding allows us to forcefully eliminate two serious errors, between which it has been common to oscillate. The first is the error of thinking that the formal presence of God in things turns them into moments of the unique reality of God: this is pantheism. It is impossible. God is formally in things, but “making” that they be in God realities different from Him. Here “making” {176} simply means “founding”. The “in” is an “other-ifying” (if I may be permitted the expression) “in”. Things are different from God precisely and formally because God is “in” them, but transcendent. The second error is the opposite. It consists in thinking that because He is radically different from things, God is the great absence, the great foreign to the world: this is agnosticism in its varied forms. In all of them, this is the extreme way of conceiving God as “beyond” things. But it is equally impossible. The fact that God is not things does not consist in His being distanced from them. If this were so, things would not be real. That God is in things, means that things are real only by formally “including” in their own reality that reality, which is greater than themselves, God. God is transcendent, but in them. The transcendence of God is neither identity nor remoteness, but transcendence in things. The realitas fundamentalis is, above all, a transcendence in this sense. The transcendence “in” makes God to be, in some sense, intra-worldly.

2. God is transcendent in real things qua real. Furthermore, any reality is, qua reality, constitutively respective. And this unity of respectivity is what I have called “world”. Hence, the formal and transcendent presence of God in things is a presence in the whole world as such. God is transcendent in things, and because of this He is transcendent in the world. Indeed, for the same reason that the transcendence of God is not identity or remoteness, the presence of God in the world is neither remoteness nor identity. It is not remoteness because God is not the “other” world. God is not extra-worldly, He is absolutely intra-worldly. But He is not identity either: God is not the other world, but is other than the {177} world in which He is, because His otherness is just the formal fundament of the respectivity of the real qua real, i.e., the fundament of the world. To the unity of the world corresponds not only the uniqueness of God, but also the very worldliness of God. God is not present in the world simply because He is present in each and every thing, but rather He is present in the world precisely, and formally because any real thing is essentially and constitutively worldly. God is simply transcendent “in” the world. The fundamentality of God is the worldly transcendence of God. The world formally carries God in itself.

3. This presence of God in things is not only formal and intrinsic, but also constituting. The reality of God, in its whole fundamenting concretion, is an absolute self-giving. On this point the absolute of the self-giving means that He is giving reality to things, constituting them as real. The presence of God in things is a constituting self-giving. This means He is in things “making them be real”, i.e., making them be de suyo, and to act from what they are de suyo. This is what I have usually called the fontanality of the absolutely absolute reality. God is realitas fontanalis. In the special case of man, this is what comprises what I have called “theological tension”; the sheer fontanality in everything real is the homolog of the theological tension in man. The transcendence of the reality of God is a fontanal transcendence.

This is the definitive essence of the fundamentality of God: to be fontanal transcendence. And He is such because He is an absolutely absolute reality. Precisely because this reality is absolutely concrete, His fontanality is {178} also personal, living, intelligent and volitional. We have seen before that God is a possibilitating and impelling ultimateness because He is the fundament of the power of the real, of a power in its turn ultimate, possibilitating and impelling. Hence, we now understand why He is, and has to be what He is, since we are viewing God not only from the perspective of real things, but from Himself also. It is because He is personal, living, intelligent and volitional that God is in Himself adequately, an ultimate, possibilitating, and impelling fontanal reality. That is why His manifestation in the power of the real is what makes of this power something likewise ultimate, possibilitating and impelling, which in turn constitutes the fundament of religation. This is, to my way of thinking, the intellectual justification of the reality of God.

But this presentation leaves some questions regarding the manner of God's self-giving in various situations of interest, such as the creation and the Incarnation, as well as the distinction between ad intra and ad extra self-giving. These nuances will be explored in subsequent installments.