Sunday, January 15, 2017

Another Take on Being Itself (this time I've got it)


Discussing the concept of being itself on my message board and my dialogue partner introduced me to a  blog article written several years ago by an atheist who read this blog and was considering it, I like this guy because he's an atheist but links to my blog, I am the only Christian blogger he linked to at that time. This Guy, "Tocho" is the only  name I can see for him, struggled to thinkof what being itself might mean,
The conceptualization of God as 'Being Itself' was, to my knowledge, first proposed by theologian Paul Tillich in the early 20th Century. It has been brought to my knowledge by a thoughtful blogger, discussant, and professional theologian with the pseudonym Metacrock ( If you can get through his posts (sorry, Meta, your writing style is a bit... difficult), you'll find that they are extremely intelligent in nature and they actually pose even greater challenges to non-believers than the arguments of more well-known Christian apologists. His conception of God is fairly unique and has required substantial thought for me to comprehend it in a manner that enables me to write about it.[1]
 At least We know the guy is very perceptive, ;-) he get's that by my reckoning (that is Tillich's) God is not a being but being itself. He tries to understand what kind of thing being itself might be, Actually the concept goes back to the Platonic Christianity of the orthodox church [2]  Tillich seems to draw part of it from St. Augustine. [3]

He recognizes the serious nature of the problem, that is for a Christian who has a "personal relationship with God to think of God as being itself, which could hardly be a person in the conventional sense of the   wed is a difficulty, "These questions seem to me to be serious problems of this view, especially to professed Christians like Metacrock, who hold onto the idea of a personal God." [4] Yet this article was written in in 2011. I've made some progress in solving the problem since then, But let's follow the guy's reasoning. He resorts to a solution in the distinction between entities and properties. He figures God is not an entity but a perpetuity, the property of being. Now the two are related in that entities have properties but properties need not be entities, "An entity is 'a thing with a distinct and independent existence,' whereas a property is "an attribute, quality, or characteristic of something" [5] I think this is actually a very intelligent solution and what's even more perceptive he sees it as a language problem, he uses a linguistic difference to sort out the problem:
"The sky is blue." Most every English speaking person would understand what is being conveyed by this sentence. What it truly means is that the sky has the property of being blue. But, it could be interpreted incorrectly as "The sky and blue are synonyms." This, of course, is incorrect, and there is a category error involved in the logic behind the statement. "The sky" is an entity, whereas "blue" is a property. They cannot be the same thing.....The distinction between the conceptualization of God as "a being" and God as "Being Itself" is that the former treats God as a specific entity and the latter treats God as a specific property. A being is a type of entity, namely an animate one. The concept of God as "a being" holds that God is an entity with whatever properties the conceptualizer claims God to have. It is worth mentioning that this concept is not limited to the view that God is a "big man in the sky," as God doesn't need to be thought of as a being with a physical body or even a spatial existence. It just requires us to view God as a thing with properties. The concept that God is "Being Itself," however, does just the opposite — requiring us to view God as a essential property of all things as opposed to a thing itself...[6]
 He even works it out where this makes a dandy God argument, one i was once tempted to use:
"Being Itself" is an essential property of all entities. It, to the best of my understanding, can be defined as the property of existing. All entities must exist, by definition, and therefore, all entities have the property of existing. This makes the logical necessity of God seem self-evident, as the following syllogism demonstrates...:
  1. God is the property of existing.
  2. Entities exist.
  3. Therefore, God is.[7]
That would sure come in handy but there's a problem. I am sincere when I say that the solution he attempts is cleaver, intelligent, perceptive, but there is a problem.. Being is not a property. This is is basically the same mistake as the  one Kant, and latter Bertrand Russell, pointed out in arguing against the The ontological argument, in saying "existence is not a predicate."
 Kant, himself a theist, argued that the ontological argument illicitly treats existence as a property that things can either possess or lack. According to Kant, to say that a thing exists is not to attribute existence to that thing, but to say that the concept of that thing is exemplified in the world. The difference, and its significance for the ontological argument, are described below.[8]
Etinne Gilson, the Great Neo Thomist, tells us that being is an act.[9] I f the statement by Holt is right it's the act of exemplifying the concept of something namely being, Gilson tells us being is "the act par excellance." in other words God's act of being is the most significant, the greatest and the original act of being, It;s an eternal act. Now you might thin this makes it worse because how could God be an act? Things act, acts don't just do themselves, Here Tocho offers us a solution without realizing it. In his analysis of the phrase "the sky is blue: he says this could be taken literally the sky is synonymous with the color blue, of course the context rules that out. The sky, which is the unlimited expanse of space above the earth, appears blue from the surface of the earth, 
He is right in saying that entities have properties, properties don't act by themselves, At the same time there is no problem with God being an entity, as long as he is not a localized entity, That's the problem with big man in sky. This also means we have to recognize Tillich's language as metaphor. Saying being itself is a way of separating us from the idea of God as a being, one of many, localized and man-like). Tillich gives us a clue in discussing the fifth-Sixth century mystic pseudo-Dionysius the Aireopagite (around 500AD). Tillich and others filter it through Heidegger, saying God is being itself. In history of Christian thought Tillich interprets Dionysius to say God is the ground of everything, the super essential God beyond everything, inclining Platonic ideas and essences, he says Dionysius thought God is God beyond God (Ibid). That ties the Dionysian concept decisively to Tillich's view. The important thing to note is that these phrases, God beyond God, and ground of everything, are phrases Tillich uses to designate his concept of God. Thus He is clearly identifying Dionysius' idea with his own,He's trying to translate Platonic Christianity into modern existentialist ideas.[10]

If such is the case then it behooves us to understand Dionysius' concept. I have written about it om this blog.[11] The concept is that of universal mind. Translator Edwin Rolt explains:

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.[12]
So the answer is God is universal mind and the act of being in which that participates is the ground of all being. Tillich used the phrases interchangeably but I  think ground of being is more meaningful because less misleading, since it implies an act apart from an actor.


[1] Tocho, Logocal implications of God as being itself. Reasonable Soup

Tuesday, (March 15, 2011) Blog URL:

[2] Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church: An Introduction to Eastern Christianity. New York:Penguin, 1964, 65.
[3] Paul Tillich, Theology of Cultuire , Lomdon, Oxford NewYork Oxford University press, 1959,12-13.
[4] Tocho, op cit
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Tim Holt,  "Existence is not a Predicate," Philosophy of Religion

[9] Etinne Gilson, God and Philosophy, New Haven,London: Yale Diversity Press, Powell Lectures On Philosophy at Indiana State University Second Edition, 1941. 63-64.
[10] Paul Tillich, A History of Christian thought, New York, NY:TouchStone books. 1967, 92
[11] Joseph Hnman. "The Super Essential Godhead (God is Being Itself)," Metacrock's Blog (TUESDAY, MAY 03, 2016) URL)
access i/10/17

[12] Dionysius the Areopagite: on Divine names and the Mystical Theology, trans. Clearance Edwin Rolt , New YorkNew 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
visited May 13,


Mike Gerow said...

yes, I bet you're right to question it, since someone might think your friend's argument is a nearly perfect example of the onto-theological-error-in-itself? - i.e. "God grounds Being, therefore God is a being..."?

Myself, I think you try to walk a quite tricky theological line....but that doesn't mean you're wrong of course....& I do really wanna read your Tillich book someday.

How close is Tillich's "God is an act" to "God is an Event" or "God is the Gift" ala Jean Luc Marion and those peeps?

Joe Hinman said...

God makes himself a gift to us that is orthodox. Now that I got the GDS book in the que I want to start tweak the Ground of being book.

Eric Sotnak said...

I'm not convinced that "being itself" doesn't make the same kind of mistake as "cheese itself". Suppose Ferd says, "I love all different kinds of cheese. Swiss, Havarti, Brie, ... But I would really like to try eating that which is the ground of all the cheeses; cheese itself!" Ferd has made a mistake. Apart from all the different kinds of cheese, there is no 'cheese itself'.

Joe Hinman said...

there are qualities that all of those cheeses share that makes them cheese that n one of them has apart from the others. Damn you Eric, now I want some Gorgonzola!

The problem is these qualities are an abstraction that can't be separated from actual cheese. You can't sell a pound of cheese itself. But in terms of being universal mind might exhibit that quality if we understand the contingencies as products of mind, thoughts in the mind so to speak. The primordial act of being displayed by the mind that gives rise to all other forms of being might be described as being itself but I think the phrase ground of being comes closer to cutting it and avoids the problem of mere abstraction.

Joe Hinman said...

Tillich answers that in system 1 but I don't remember I would have to look it up and I don't have it. I can send you my chapter from my o far unpublished Ground of Being book.