Tuesday, May 03, 2016

The Super Essential-Godhead (God is 'Being Itself")


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Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite (around 500AD)







Most people tend to think of God s a big man on a throne. They judge God by human standards. Like Dawkins argument that God would be more complex than his universe and thus less likely to exit. This is based entirely upon the idea that God is a magnified version of humanity. When I point this out atheists  scoff and insist that most people see God this way we Christian apologists have to as well. When I point out that Paul Tillich had this totally different view of God as being itself they insist that this is not a Christian concept.

Paul Tillich the great theologian of the 20th century, was most noted for his seemly radical idea that God is "Being itself" or the ground of being, just what that means is very hard to put into words. Essentially it means that God is not a being but the basis of what  being is, being itself. There are no good analogies but the best I've come up with is like the difference between architecture and a single house. It is not a house but the basis upon which houses are built. This is important as a distinction because atheists are always trying to judge God by human standards to treat God as though he just magnified humanity. All of the criticisms they make of religious belief revolve around the notion of God as a big man. The true Christian concept of God is more than that; and this the  "true Christian concept" because it is the view of the Orthodox church from a time before the split with the West. Most commentators on Tillich wont say this but I think I have an original observation that Tillich was trying to translate Dionysus the Areopagite into existentialism. That is to say ancinet neo-Platonism into modern existentialism. Notice the similarity in the ideas: compare this with last post.

Dionysus The Areopagite (500)


The Author claims to be Paul’s companion in Acts, but due to the almost complete infusion of neo-Platonism throughout the text, the writings have been placed near the end of the fourth or early part of the fifth century. This is largely due to the influence of pagan philosophers Proclus (lecturing in Athens around 430 AD). The true name of the author is unknown he was probably a monk, believed to have lived in Syria. His writings have been extremely influential; he in essence kicked of the whole tradition of Christian mysticism. He founds the basic foundation for Gregory and Eastern Orthodox figures quoted above. The ideas of “Pseudo Dionysus” as he is most often known in the west, are set down in a long introduction by the translator Clearance Edwin Rolt. Rolt died at thirty-seven and this was his only book, but he had been hailed as one of the finest scholars ever produced by Queens College. Thus I think it only fair that we quote from the man himself. The major concept in which turns all Dionysus has to say is daubed by Rolt as the Super Essential Godhead:

The basis of their teaching is the doctrine of the Super-Essential Godhead (ὑπερούσιος θεαρχία). We must, therefore, at the very outset fix the meaning of this term. Now the word “Essence” or “Being” (οὐσία) means almost invariably an individual existence; more especially a person, since such is the highest type that individual existence can in this world assume. And, in fact, like the English word “Being,” it may without qualification be used to mean an angel. Since, then, the highest connotation of the term “Essence” or “Being” is a person, it follows that by “Super-Essence” is intended “Supra-Personality.” And hence the doctrine of the Super-Essential Godhead simply means that God is, in His ultimate Nature, Supra-Personal.


Now an individual person is one who distinguishes himself from the rest of the world. I am a person because I can say: “I am I and I am not you.” Personality thus consists in the faculty of knowing oneself to be one individual among others. And thus, by its very nature, Personality is (on one side of its being, at least) a finite thing. The very essence of my personal state lies in the fact that I am not the whole universe but a member thereof.

God, on the other hand, is Supra-Personal because He is infinite. He is not one Being among others, but in His ultimate nature dwells on a plane where there is nothing whatever beside Himself. The only kind of consciousness we may attribute to Him is what can but be described as an Universal Consciousness. He does not distinguish Himself from us; for were we caught up on to that level we should be wholly transformed into Him. And yet we distinguish between ourselves and Him because from our lower plane of finite Being we look up and see that ultimate level beyond us. The Super-Essential Godhead is, in fact, precisely that which modern philosophy describes as the Absolute. Behind the diversities of this world there must be an Ultimate Unity. And this Ultimate Unity must contain in an undifferentiated condition all the riches of consciousness, life, and existence which are dispersed in broken fragments throughout the world. Yet It is not a particular Consciousness or a particular Existence. It is certainly not Unconscious, Dead or, in the ordinary sense, non-Existent, for all these terms imply something below instead of above the states to which they are opposed.

We can see in that description several features which correspond to the things Tillich says. One interesting discussion that I close before it is started is the “personal” aspects. I am saving that discussion for its own chapter on Being itself and consciousness. The first point of interest is the connection between being and essence. He defines ousia as either one. Ousia of course is the root words of homoousios. Rolt confirms Tillich’s view in saying that essence refers to a particular existence, but the Super Essential is in contrast to an individual person. God is beyond the consciousness of an individual, but is in fact a universal consciousness that is in all things and can identify with all beings. I’ve already dealt with Tillich’s nix on pantheism; this is not a pantheistic idea. Yet in defining it Rolt deals with many of the aspects of God as being iself expressed by Tillich. God is infinite, God is not one person among others, transcendent of all we know and dwells on a plane beyond our understanding. The term “Super Essential” can be understood as “ground of being” or “Being itself.” They are basically saying the same thing. The Greek phrase he uses for “Super-Essential Godhead” is ‘humperusios Thearkia: Super means “over” or “transcendent” a structure over something else, such as “superstructure.” Thearkia is commonly the term in the NT for “Godhead.” What is being communicated is the notion of transcendence but also the transcendental signifier, the overview to the ordering of meaning and order, that is equivalent to the concept of a ground, of course as pointed out, essential has an affinity with being. Thus we could as well translate it “ground of being.” The concept of God as “Ground of Being” is the concept of “Super Essential” God. I don’t suggest that “ground” would be a good translation as translations go, but I do think it’s hinting at the same idea.

Pseudo Dionysius himself begins by embracing the vita negative, God is beyond our understanding, we don’t try to say what God is, we experience what God is (mystical union) we say what God is not and infer from that the truth, except where we are given clear understanding in Scripture. “We must not then dare to speak, or indeed to form any conception of the hidden Super-Essential Godhead, except those things that are revealed to us from the Holy Scriptures. For a Super-Essential understanding of it is proper to unknowning which lieth at the Super-Essence thereof surpassing discourse, intuition, and Being.” The translator capitalizes being.

The one who is beyond thought surpasses the apprehension of thought; the good which is beyond utterance surpasses the reach of words. Yea, it is a unity which is the unifying source of all unity and a Super-Essential Essence, a Mind beyond the reach of mind and Word beyond utterance, Eluding Discourse, intuition, Name and every kind of being. It is the universal cause of existence while itself existing not for it is beyond all being and such that it alone could give, with proper understanding thereof, a revelation of itself.(52)

Notice that this appears to be where Tillich obtains his usage of the term “existence,” and the distinction that God does not exist. What is puzzling is that while Tillich says God is beyond existence, because existence is for contingent things, and God is Being itself, identifies God with Being, Dionysus says God is beyond being. But then he is a full blown neo-Platonist. For him being is just reality and that is a copy of the true nature of things in which it participates. Tillich seems to move one step over from neo-Platonism toward modern existentialism. Dionysus tells us that we must make no expression or positive statement about the Super-Essential Godhead except those revealed in scripture for these are actually revealed by God. He tells us that “many writers thou wilt find who have declared that it [Super-Essential Godhead] is not only invisible and incomprehensible but also unreachable and past finding out since there is no trace of any that have penetrated the depth of its infinitude.” God reveals “itself” in stages commensurate with the powers of the subject for understanding. The notion that God is so wholly other, so transcendent of understanding is right in line with Tillich’s view. It’s clear Dionysius is a major source for Tillich’s existential ontology.


The upshot is that God transcends mere personhood. God is personal but is not "a person{ but is the origin of the personal. God is universal mind, meaning God is not nature but is the foundation of nature and can speak through nature and is present in nature (though his energies) and beyond it. God cannot be Judged by the standards of anything we know in  nature although God knows each one of us better than we know ourselves.



Source:
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Dionysius the Areopagite: on Divine names and the Mystical Theology, trans. Clearance Edwin Rolt , New York, New York: Cosmio 2007, from original 1920 publication.  see also online versionChristian Classics Ethereal Library, on line version, The Author and his Influence, trans by, 1920  website URL:  by http://www.ccel.org/ccel/rolt/dionysius.iii.i.html
visited May 13,
[1] Ibid, Introduction, 4-5
[1] Pseudo-Dionysius, On Divine Names, Ibid 52
[1] Ibid, 53
[1] Ibid.

21 comments:

Rudy said...

This is really interesting -- I've saved it to my Nook to read more carefully later! I didn't know about this thinker.

Joe Hinman said...

Hey Rudy, if you are the old Austin Rudy good to know you read my blog. If you are a Rudy I don't know that's good too.;-)

Eric Sotnak said...

I’m not convinced that “being itself” really makes sense. Plato thought it made sense to talk as though “Justice itself” was a thing that stands in relation to particular instances of justice, and which made them just – the Form of Justice. It seems like you are offering the same view of God here: God is Being itself = that which confers being on things in virtue of which they exist. Is this parallel with Plato one you happily embrace? Or does your view differ notably from Plato’s, and if so in what way?

I’m also not sure about the supposed qualitative distinction between fine beings and infinite being. You seem to be saying that it is more than just “infinite being is like finite being, except there is a lot more of it (infinitely much more).” That is, it isn’t just a difference in degree, or quantity, but in kind.

runamokmonk said...

Sorry, I haven't read this article by you, metacrock. I'm just posting this off topic because this is your newest post.

That being said, I do have some degree of understanding how God doesn't exist but is the ground of being. To say God exists is to say that God is a thing along side other things that also exist. God is the ground of all that exists.

Ok, on to my hijacking of your blog. Sorry, if it offends you, this below just bothers me.

quote~"If something exists in the universe, it must have certain characteristics/influences which can be detected. That is the very definition of existence. Otherwise the entity or phenomena does not exist. Therefore, everything happening in the universe falls under the purview of physicalism and it should not be surprising if many atheists are also physicalists since the same physicalism also rules out the existence of God"
https://www.quora(DOT COM)/Are-atheists-materialists


What bothers me here, is that physicalists don't seem to be saying anything at all. Anything that is real gets to be absorbed into their philosophy because the philosophy doesn't say much of anything! They may as well call their philosophy, "Reality", or "Existence".

I'm not an educated philosopher but this seems so mindless it really irritates me.

Physicalism just seems to say, "anything that doesn't fit our paradigm, the spiritual of any kind, meaning and purpose, isn't real" and still doesn't posit anything about our world other than, "what's real"...

Then I think of Thomas Kuhn because the same article even says physicalism swallowed up materialism! Materialism didn't work but physicalism, really seems to be a consensus of what they claim isn't real and can't be real about the universe and our reality!

That's how I see and understand it, at least. Also, this does happen to relate to your blog in that they rule out God existing but don't ground existence in anything!

Rudy said...

@Eric Sotnak, I see what your getting at, but in what way does Plato's view not make sense? (Not to say that it is right, only whether it makes sense). One could think of Moore's view of "the good" in somewhat the same way, even though he doesn't use the language of forms.

Some theologians prefer to speak of God as creativity, in somewhat the same sense.

The strongest objection is I suppose that this way of using language is empty, i.e. doesn't explain anything. Or that "justice" (or "good" or "being") are too amorphous: they cover things that a family resemblance but that don't share any one feature. (Even existence: do numbers exist? Buddha's chariot? The paradoxical ship in Plato?)

BTW, yes @Metacrock, I am *that* Rudy. Deal with it! :)

Rudy said...

Oops, "is" too amorphous. I can't seem to edit stuff here...

Rudy said...

@runamokmonk,

I think it matters that we can interact with physical things, in a way that we can't with God. I know people *say* they can do so (I think they can, BTW), but you can't specify how to do it in a repeatable way. So it makes sense to restrict existence to only entities you can actually (and objectively) interact with.

Personally I want things to be Bigger/More Awesome than that, but I can't see why physicalism in that sense is inconsistent or circular. Or am I missing your point?

runamokmonk said...

Even when people meaure the "paranormal" it is "psuedo-science" because that is outside the physicalist paradigm.

I don't think phsyicalism really states anything about what the world is but it is a parameter to their paradigm.

The human mind is subjective too and some say it isn't real but an illusion.

Joe Hinman said...

Eric there's bit more to it than that, here's a quote that kind of summarizes the basis.
William F. Vallicella, , "Divine Simplicity", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/divine-simplicity/. accessed 5/7/16

\
According to the classical theism of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas and their adherents, God is radically unlike creatures in that he is devoid of any complexity or composition, whether physical or metaphysical. Besides lacking spatial and temporal parts, God is free of matter-form composition, potency-act composition, and existence-essence composition. There is also no real distinction between God as subject of his attributes and his attributes. God is thus in a sense requiring clarification identical to each of his attributes, which implies that each attribute is identical to every other one. God is omniscient, then, not in virtue of instantiating or exemplifying omniscience — which would imply a real distinction between God and the property of omniscience — but by being omniscience. And the same holds for each of the divine omni-attributes: God is what he has as Augustine puts it in The City of God, XI, 10. As identical to each of his attributes, God is identical to his nature. And since his nature or essence is identical to his existence, God is identical to his existence. This is the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS). It is represented not only in classical Christian theology, but also in Jewish, Greek, and Islamic thought. It is to be understood as an affirmation of God's absolute transcendence of creatures. God is not only radically non-anthropomorphic, but radically non-creaturomorphic, not only in respect of the properties he possesses, but in his manner of possessing them. The simple God, we could say, differs in his very ontology from any and all created beings. [2]

Joe Hinman said...

Physicalism just seems to say, "anything that doesn't fit our paradigm, the spiritual of any kind, meaning and purpose, isn't real" and still doesn't posit anything about our world other than, "what's real"...

Then I think of Thomas Kuhn because the same article even says physicalism swallowed up materialism! Materialism didn't work but physicalism, really seems to be a consensus of what they claim isn't real and can't be real about the universe and our reality!

Hey Runauck! great to see you again man!I agree and that philosophical reductionism is the main tactic they use to deal with ides that can't be absorbed into the paradigm. their thing is an ideology and a paradigm.,

Joe Hinman said...

The strongest objection is I suppose that this way of using language is empty, i.e. doesn't explain anything. Or that "justice" (or "good" or "being") are too amorphous: they cover things that a family resemblance but that don't share any one feature. (Even existence: do numbers exist? Buddha's chariot? The paradoxical ship in Plato?)

Hey Rudy great of you to drop by I think guys like Heidegger and Tillich had some pretty distinct ways of using such words.

Eric Sotnak said...

Hi, Runamokmonk,

I consider myself a physicalist, or at least someone who leans very strongly toward physicalism. For me, physicalism is tied to the question of what reason we have for saying that anything exists. I don't think there are any successful a priori arguments for anything's existence. But I don't think there is any straightforward or simple set of empirical criteria for affirming existence, either. A very rough approximation of my view is that we should believe in the existence of x only if doing so is warranted by an explanatory framework that is ultimately driven by empirical measurement. I'm also very strongly inclined toward a pragmatist-empiricism (or empiricist-pragmatism, maybe) mainly because historically this is what has the best proven track record.

One problem with materialism is the fact that as scientific understanding of the universe has improved, we have increasingly learned that the traditional concept of matter is just the wrong one to describe things. The common-sense view has very largely equated the material with the tangible, and treated very small material things as being “just like” larger things – only smaller. But this is wrong. Very (very) small things are actually quite different from larger things, which is partly why books highlighting the weirdness of quantum physics have so much popular appeal. And the whole E=mc^2 thing showed the necessity of downplaying the distinction between matter and energy, hence “physicalism”.

Eric Sotnak said...

Hi, Rudy,

“in what way does Plato's view not make sense?”

There are several notable problems with Plato's theory of Forms. One is illustrated by the question, “if the Form of a triangle is not itself triangular, then how can it account for the triangularity of triangles?” So, analogously, “if being-itself doesn't have being, then how can it account for the being of things that have being?”

Plato's argument can be summarized as the view that whenever some things have something in common, there is therefore some one thing that they have in common. That is, it makes commonality depend on some third thing that mediates between the things that are said to have something in common. So if A and B are both triangular, Plato says it is because both A and B are related to C, which is the Form of triangularity.

So to be direct about my own worries: I am not convinced there is any need for being-itself in order to explain things. To say that something x has being isn't to say that there exists some thing – Being – that x has. It is just to say that x exists. On my view, it's just like saying something is red. It doesn't help us to say that something is red because it is related to redness-itself. The concept of redness-itself, apart from things that are red, is a mistake.

Eric Sotnak said...

Joe Hinman wrote,

And since his nature or essence is identical to his existence...

Whoa. Stop right there. I am not sure this makes sense. I know it is often repeated as a sort of mantra in the history of philosophical theology, but here is where my inner-Kantian sits up and says, “I protest!” This just seems to me to be a way of trying to collapse the distinction between the description of a thing and the thing o which the description applies without also paying the price of doing likewise for everything else. I am actually partly sympathetic here, because I am suspicious of the substance-attribute distinction, in general. But my suspicion isn't confined only to that distinction when it comes to God. So let's consider any property P that God has. Suppose we say “God doesn't HAVE P, rather, God IS P”. I don't see why we need to grant either that this is true, or even that it is coherent in a way that differs from saying, for example, “a flower isn't a thing that HAS set of properties Q, rather a flower just IS a set of properties Q” where we now suppose that having a set of properties differs from describing that set or properties.

runamokmonk said...

Eric Sotnak,
"very rough approximation of my view is that we should believe in the existence of x only if doing so is warranted by an explanatory framework that is ultimately driven by empirical measurement. I'm also very strongly inclined toward a pragmatist-empiricism (or empiricist-pragmatism, maybe) mainly because historically this is what has the best proven track record."


Ah, but doesn't that suppose that you know what tools are the tools that can measure reality, and not simply tools that filter reality?

Also, as I stated above, when those who even try to measure what is called the "paranomoral" you have physicalist scientism defining that as pseudoscience because it contradicts the physicalist view of what is possibly real or not real. I pointed this out because I do not believe physicalism is simply about saying that which can be measured exists for even attempting to measure and study the paranormal has social and financial punishments.

Under scientism you may not be able measure such things meaning and purpose that may be inherent in existence, the universe. But, because it could not be measured using the chosen tools to gain information does not make something unreal.

runamokmonk said...

I think there's a difference between saying God is real and saying God exists.

When the question is asked, does God exist?, it is very much like asking is an anthropomorphic deist scientist creator exists.

It is like asking if unicorns exist.

Our existence isn't dependent on unicorns because unicorns would exist along side everything else in creation. So, God doesn't exist.

Anyway, in regards to God, I think physicalists are saying there is only the surface reality that is real. Anything deeper is unreal.

runamokmonk said...

"Hey Runauck! great to see you again man!I agree and that philosophical reductionism is the main tactic they use to deal with ides that can't be absorbed into the paradigm. their thing is an ideology and a paradigm.,"


Great to see you again too. Haha, I guess from my point of view, I will just come here and read something every so often and so it's not like I haven't seen you in so long. haha.

Eric Sotnak said...

runamokmonk said: "I do not believe physicalism is simply about saying that which can be measured exists"

Nor do I, actually. As is often (even usually) the case, it's harder to give a precise and sufficiently robust definition here. That's what the bit about measurement being embedded in theoretical models is all about. Science isn't just a matter of saying, "look here!" Observations need to be interpreted. But the most successful predictive and explanatory models we have that stand up to empirical confirmation and disconfirmation are ultimately physicalist. But that very much depends on what we are willing to count.

Consider economic models. Are they physicalist? Should we say that they are because they supervene on physical entities and processes? That is, do we expand the definition of "physicalism" to include economic models? Restrict the term "physicalism" to metaphysics and ontology? I don't think there are clean answers here.

I sympathize with your point about the difficulty of using naturalist tools to try to measure supernatural phenomena. That raises an interesting point: Is the concept of the supernatural actually coherent at all? I'm not sure either way. I'll have to think about that one some more.

Joe Hinman said...


10:56 AM
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Anonymous runamokmonk said...
"Hey Runauck! great to see you again man!I agree and that philosophical reductionism is the main tactic they use to deal with ides that can't be absorbed into the paradigm. their thing is an ideology and a paradigm.,"


Great to see you again too. Haha, I guess from my point of view, I will just come here and read something every so often and so it's not like I haven't seen you in so long. haha.


make with the comments man.they tell me people are reading my ranting.

Joe Hinman said...

I sympathize with your point about the difficulty of using naturalist tools to try to measure supernatural phenomena. That raises an interesting point: Is the concept of the supernatural actually coherent at all? I'm not sure either way. I'll have to think about that one some more.

did you see my thing about the modern misconception of SN?

Joe Hinman said...

Whoa. Stop right there. I am not sure this makes sense. I know it is often repeated as a sort of mantra in the history of philosophical theology, but here is where my inner-Kantian sits up and says, “I protest!”

tomorrow's piece will be bout simplicity of God and that concept will figure into it




This just seems to me to be a way of trying to collapse the distinction between the description of a thing and the thing o which the description applies without also paying the price of doing likewise for everything else.


they didn't need to do that in the middle ages. They had their own motivations but you had to be into scholasticism to know why.



I am actually partly sympathetic here, because I am suspicious of the substance-attribute distinction, in general. But my suspicion isn't confined only to that distinction when it comes to God. So let's consider any property P that God has. Suppose we say “God doesn't HAVE P, rather, God IS P”. I don't see why we need to grant either that this is true, or even that it is coherent in a way that differs from saying, for example, “a flower isn't a thing that HAS set of properties Q, rather a flower just IS a set of properties Q” where we now suppose that having a set of properties differs from describing that set or properties.


God is not like other things, The uncaused eternal thing. what is God? God is the basis of al that is., his essence (what he is) is to be. well rather to be being.,