Sunday, July 22, 2018

What Would Evelyn Underhill Say to Process Theology?

Image result for Evelyn Underhill
Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941

Evelyn Underhill is best known for her book Mysticism: A Study in The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness (1911).[1]She is still regarded as a major source for a basic introductory understanding of mystical experience.She wrote 30 books and was considered in her day as an authority on the subject. Her book is still in print and found in all major book stores. A few weeks ago I wrote a piece on process theology.[2]The major issue between Christian mysticism and process theology would be that mystical theology draws upon the Orthodox Church and it's Platonic assumptions, which process theologians label as "statistic unavailable God." Yet I remembered a quote from Underhill saying that the God of mystical experience is not static but active. Unfortunately, that quote is now unavailable. I can't cite a page number, but I am left asking what would Underhill say to the process theologians?

This quote from my essay gives a background for process theology:

Process theology came into currency as a label in the 1950s. It was first used in relation to certain theologies at University of Chicago. These theologies had been influenced by Alfred North Whitehead. The phrase can also be used specifically of theology based upon the works of Whitehead and Hartshorne, (Schubert M. Ogden was at Chicago but he is really more into Hartshorne). It is not generally known but the term can  also apply to a boarder scene, John Cobb,a major figures in process the guy who coined the term in relation  to the Chicago school "Process theology may refer to all forms of theology that emphasize event, occurrence, or becoming over against substance. In this sense theology influenced by Hegel is process theology just as much as that influenced by Whitehead. This use of the term calls attention to affinities between these otherwise quite different traditions." [3] 
Here I summarize the major points of process theology:

In a nutshell process theology says that God is bipolar, the one poll being "potential" the other being "concrete." In the potential poll God is unchanging. In the consequent or concrete poll God is in process and changes with creation. This is going to be a very simplistic account because it can get really complex fast. In process theology God is not omnipotent God is not "impassable" bit changes with and can be affected by the world. Process theology views the world  not as enduring permanence but reality itself is made of serially ordered experiences or experiential  events.[4][5]
Underhill's book Mysticism was the best selling source on the subject from its publication in 1911 until the 1940s publication of Huxley's The Perennial Philosophy—. She was born in Wolverhampton, England, a poet and novelist. Her husband was a London Barrister, Hubert Stuart Moore. She began her religious journey as an agnositic.  She became interested in neo Platonism then became an Ango-Catholic. Her spiritual mentor from 1921 to 1924 was Baron Friedrich von Hügel, liberal theologian,and reformer ofthe Catholic chruch butalso an authority on mysticism,[6] "She was conferred with an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Aberdeen University and made a fellow of King's College. She was the first woman to lecture to the clergy in the Church of England as well as the first woman officially to conduct spiritual retreats for the Church." [7]

If Underhill was to address process she would probably speak first to the notion of God as static. She was Trinitarian but as we saw in my essay there are Trinitarian process theologians. Tom Ryan speaks to Underhill's view of God's active relationship in the world. In a section he labels "Spirit of God at Work in the World." he says: 
In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectsayic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram —impersonal and unattainable—the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive....She sees the religious urge to have a relationship with the Real, with mystery, with the transcendent, as a universal phenomenon.5 It is marked by two forms of desire: human yearning for Reality (God) and, more importantly, God’s desire to reach out to us.[8]
Underhill believed that through the relationship between the Spirit of God and the mystic (or the seeker) God was an active force in sustaining a dynamic relationship. This is initiated by the passionate desire of the seeker to know the truth, the good, the beautiful (ie God), although in initiating one might be responding to God's call:
In mysticism that love of truth which we saw as the beginning of all philosophy leaves the merely intellectual sphere, and takes on the assured aspect of a personal passion. Where the philosopher guesses and argues, the mystic lives and looks; and speaks, consequently, the disconcerting language of first-hand experience, not the neat dialectsayic of the schools. Hence whilst the Absolute of the metaphysicians remains a diagram —impersonal and unattainable—the Absolute of the mystics is lovable, attainable, alive.[9]
The first point is that she would balk at the notion that traditional Christian view of God is static. For Underhill, who was influenced by  von Hügel to maintain a Christo centrist form of mysticism, the Trinitarian God is not static.  A  Christian Mystic is one for whom the relationship with God is a dynamic thus God is active and therefore, God is available and thus the concerns of process are met.

The second major point  I believe Underhill would find the basic dipolar structure of process to limit God. Not because there's a problem with being dipolar pre se but because the Unitarian thinking of Whitehead and Hartshorne imposes a limitation upon God. God becomes more or less a force of nature rather than ontological necessity. The content of the particular dipolarism of both thinker means that in the permeate realm the stasis poll of "potential poll" God has no actuality. The concrete poll is the actuality and that poll leaves God as changing with creation. 

One concern of process is that of God's will imposed upon the individual. Determinism, or something like that, if not an excuse for injuustice. A:
In reading the proponents of Process Theology, I encounter the assumption that to believe God to be an all-powerful transcendent creator is to imply that God imposes God’s will onto the earth and so therefore one must also believe that evil and injustice are part of God’s will. As John Cobb writes in reference to Whitehead,[10]
The understanding of God as Creator has been closely related to the idea that God is in control of the world. Both the way the world is and what happens in it are thought to be directly or indirectly an expression of God’s will and purposes. … The idea of a ‘transcendent creator, at whose fiat the world came into being, and whose imposed will it obeys, is the fallacy which has infused tragedy into the histories of Christianity and of Mahometanism’.” 114[11]
That actually contradicts the concern about static, because if God is controlling events then he's not static but active and is not unavailable but connected. although  not responsive perhaps.If we assume that connection means control and control means determinism then the only way to have both is to demote God from creator to reactionary. If eternal means static then God must be demoted from creator to another force of nature. But if that is the case the point of belief in God is gone. Yet the superessential Godhead of Orthodox belief answers the concerns of process through God's value of free will. The concern for availability is met through the divine/human relationship inherent in the mystical experience. 

According to this concept of the Superessential Godhead (universal mind, see my essay)[12]
This notion is influenced by the Platonic Christian idea of the Transcendent God who infinitesimal transcends all and is totally other and totally beyond our understanding and beyond everything. Yet at the same time God is present in all aspects of creation  through his energies, The Orthodox Church  sets the dichotomy between God's essence and God's energies.
God’s essence is Who He is in Himself. The word essence comes from the Latin esse which means “to be.” In Greek, the word is ousia. So we can also say that it means “being.” God’s essence is God in His very nature. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all of this one essence, something that we affirm in the Creed, when we say especially that the Son of God is “of one essence” with the Father....The word energy—in Greek, energeia—literally means “working in.” That is, God’s energies are His working in this created world, His activity, His operation. God’s energies are His presence among us and in us. The Energies are what we actually can see God doing. His energies are sometimes identified with His glory, His grace, the uncreated light.[13][14]
In a sense we could speak of god as "dipolar" even in an Orthodox understanding of Christian theology. But the "Potential" poll is not merely potential.Perhaps I could be misinterpreting Whitehead's view, but there could be a permanence and stasis beyond the physical realm. That does not necessitate either determinism or control or lack of availability. Through his actions God o is related to life and the world. Part of that relationship could be automatic, deterministic and impersonal. For example Tailhard de Charin thought that God was the strong force binding together molecular  structure. If so then that aspect of God's relationship to the world would be rather automatic, and impersonal. That does not mean that God's dealing with us would be on those same terms.God's character does not change nor does the duration of his being, but the way he relates to us varies according to our reciprocity, thus the relation between God and the world is dynamic, not static.


[1] Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness.
London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1911. Modern edition on Amazon.

(accessed july 21, 2018)

[2] J.L.Hinman "Is the Process theology Version of god Impersonal?" Metacrock's Blog, (July 8,2018)
(accessed july 21, 2018)

[3] John Cobb, "Process Theology as Political Theology," Religion Online [no date listed]
(access 7/7/18) 

[4]Philip A. Pecorino, "6. Process Theology and Philosophy," 6. problem of Evil. Philosophy of religion. Online Textbook, class notes, copyright Philip A. Pecorino,  2001
(access 7/7/18)

Philip A. Pecorino: prof Philosophy, Queensborough Community College, CUNY.

[5] Both fn 3 and 4 are direct quotes of myself and the actual fn refer to the original notes I mad in the piece.

"Eveyn Underhill, 
Anglican author on mysticism" Christian Classics, Ethereal, biography, website (no date listed) (accessed july 21, 2018)

[7] Wikipedia contributors,"Evelyn Underhill"Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.

  • Page Version ID: 844680311 (accessed july 21, 2018)

[8]Tom Ryan, "Evelyn Underhill on Spiritual Transformation: A Trinitarian Structure?" Australian eJournal of Theology 9 (March 2007) 4, PDF

(accessed july 21, 2018)

[9] Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in The Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness.New York: E.P. Dutton,2002 reproduced from Dover edition 12th ed 1930. 23.(accessed july 21, 2018)

[10] John Cobb, in Julie Clawson, "God, Creation, and Theology--a Few Questions" Onehandclappim, blog, (Jan 25,2012) (accessed july 21, 2018)

[11]The original source for Cobb Quote is John Cobb, A Christian Natural Theology, Louisville: John Knox Press, 2007,114.

[12] J.L Hinman, "The Super Essential-Godhead (God is 'Being Itself")," Metacrocks blog (Feb 22,2017)
(accessed july 21, 2018)

[13] Fr. Andrew Stephan Damick,   "Who is God (4 of 8) God is Essence and Energies." Roads From Emmaus (March 28, 2016 (accessed july 21, 2018)

from the blog:
The Very Rev. Archpriest Andrew Stephen Damick is pastor of St. Paul Orthodox Church of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, author of Orthodoxy and HeterodoxyBearing God and An Introduction to God. He is also host of the Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy and Roads from Emmaus podcasts on Ancient Faith Radio, co-host of The Areopagus podcast, and he is a frequent speaker at lectures and retreats both in parishes and in other settings. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

[14] Timothy Ware, The Orthodox Church. New York: Penguin, 1965,164.


Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

this comment by Starhopper on Dangerous iea where I left a link advertising this post

Blogger Starhopper said...
Not sure I understand process theology, but here's a perhaps relevant passage from the (excellent, highly recommended) book The Catonsville Nine by Shawn Francis Peters:

"Vatican II was in session [in 1964] and its reforming spirit influenced many of the gatherings that [Marjorie Melville] attended [...] One day, she and some fellow nuns walked into a classroom and saw that their instructor, a priest, had scrawled the words "God does not exist" across the blackboard. The women were dumbfounded - until the priest walked into the room and wrote "God occurs" directly under his provocative initial notation. (Chapter 5, page 60)

Is that an example of process theology?"

7th Stooge said...

A minor point: I think it's "dipolar." To say God is bipolar makes it sound like he needs a mood stabilizer. (Maybe he does!) :)

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

they use both

Joseph Hinman (Metacrock) said...

I do agree dipolar sounds more serious.