Infinite Being

This is about the theology of Duns Scotus related to Infinite Being and Christ centred evolution. It is also about Paul Tillich “Ground of Being” and Rahner “Absolute Mystery”

We have an Infinite God for a huge cosmos.

And how is the Incarnate Word, made present in Jesus, to be thought of in relation to a fruitful universe with the potential for other rational creatures on other planets?

 

Infinite Being

In my essay on First Cause and Final Cause I mentioned that as part of his argument for the existence of God Duns Scotus argues that God is Infinite Being. I continue that theme here and then his theme of Christocentric Creation and the Primacy of Christ. As with other aspects of my studies of Duns Scotus I am considering the general outline of his thought and conceptions rather than great detail, and then apply it to some general implications of how it may help us to view God now in the light of modern science.

Many years ago meditating on the vastness of the universe in time and space I was wondering what kind of God we could have to satisfy such a situation. I was inspired with a phrase “touching all parts of time and space at once”. It is a form of tending to infinity. It was of great interest therefore to come to Duns Scotus and his description of God as Infinite Being.

Divine Infinity is central to his arguments about the existence of God and is perhaps one of our best descriptions of God for a modern theology. Scotus uses the concept of Univocity (that the difference between terms applied to God and to our selves are only a matter of degree). Thus he argues that we should think of something (say for example, goodness) as existing infinitely: so that there is, as it were, no more goodness that you could add to that goodness to make it any greater.  ‘Infinite goodness’, ‘infinite power’, and so forth, are every bit as simple as the concept of ‘infinite being’. God is Infinite Being because ‘infinite being’ contains all the other infinite perfections of God. This is not just an add-on to God’s nature, it intrinsic to what God is. God’s nature as Infinite Being contains all the other perfections of goodness etc.  It is because God is Infinite that God has all the other perfect attributes.

Scotus also argues that God understands simultaneously infinite intelligible things and hence God’s intellect is infinitely perfect. We can always count and view more things because of a potential infinity of things to be counted and known. A power and being that could know all such things is by its nature potentially infinite and unsurpassable. This is also linked with God as First Cause. The First Cause possesses all the potential causality and affected things, all the subsequent interactions and things that can be affected. Such a First Cause is infinite and unsurpassable.

The very vastness of time and space requires a source of Being as creator that is infinitely greater than is the vastness of the cosmos in expanse and age. There are so many things that can be known and so many more not even discovered that God knows. Every year thousands of new bits of research are published in journals, adding to our total knowledge of the word, already known by God. The cosmos we now know requires something far greater than its vast age and expanse and total knowable things for its coming to existence. There are uncounted bits of information that we continue to discover and have discovered about the elements of nature and their interaction in complex organisms and the ecology of interactions, and the properties of vastly new synthetic materials we ourselves produce. Every new and more powerful telescope we build seems to reveal more about the visible universe far away and the potential of greater and greater questions of what existence is like there. Thousands upon thousands more bits of information of those stars, planets and related things. If God’s knowledge of all this is perfect then perfect knowledge of these potentially infinite things means that God must have an intrinsic infinite nature.

Such a necessity for an Infinite Being as the nature of God is further extended by the huge amount of time (14.7 billion years) of the existence of the universe. 14.7 billion years of bits of information and unknown time before its starting event. Since God has existed before this vast array of information and has knowledge of it God is unsurpassable and infinite, because it is.

Paul Tillich-  Ground of Being 

Among my earlier engagements with modern theology, getting away from biblical literalism, was reading some of the works of Paul Tillich (1886 – 1965). Tillich attempted to re-interpret some of the classic Christian theology in an existentialist framework. In his “Systematic Theology” he writes of God as “the Ground of Being”

Tillich was critical of any mode of discourse where God is described as a “being” alongside other beings, even if God is described as the Supreme Being. Tillich argued that if God is A Being, even if the highest Being, God cannot be properly called the source of all being because this makes God too much like a creature. God must be understood as the “Ground of Being-Itself”. God is the origin of all being and not a being among others. 

But God is beyond naturalism and is not just another being, God is the Ground of all Being and infinitely transcends all being and existence. God is “self-transcendent” (a phrase also used by Rahner) and hence over and against the material world. The world is against God but may respond to God. The finite world points beyond itself to God as the ground of its existence. (Quite Franciscan). The self-transcendent view of God can replace the physical images of being “above”. More-over because of God as Ground of Being the world that owes existence to God can transcend itself (See comments on Rahner below). 

Scotus (and others) have tried to take natural concepts and images of God and apply them to God who is infinite and such a method of relating to God is not always applicable because of the way in which God is Other than we can conceive. Images of God are never good enough and have their limitations because they are finite. It comes back to the problem of how to relate the finite to the infinite and how we can or cannot express God in experiential terms. There must always then be a sense of “mystery” and unresolvable reasoning that is not grasped by our own finiteness. Nor an we really define how God is origin of the world or  how God may act as causative agent even if we want to affirm that God is the cause beyond causes. 

Tillich picks up a theme of some of the scholars of the Patristic period when God was understood and the “un-originate source” of all being. God is “God above God”, beyond all our conceptions of being and existence. Any statements about God are simply symbolic, but these symbols are sacred in the sense that they point to the Ground of Being and our participation in and with the Ground of Being. 

Some have argued that Tillich is close to atheism and that his description of and philosophy of  God lacks the tradition of personal interactive nature of God. If this is the case I could not fully subscribe to his view and  the very idea title for God as “Ground of Being” appears to me to be too static and we need a more dynamic view of God as moving like a stream or fountain and specially as interactive origin and interactive ongoing nature. Even so the point Tillich  makes and the kind of theology he tries to construct  wants us to be rid of simplistic ideas of some Super-being up there above the clouds on some literal throne. The true and cosmic God is above all such images and definitions we can attempt to use. Real God is beyond all of our conceptions of God or God  is not God at all. God who is the origin of all being is not simply some Super-being and all attempted descriptions and formulations are inadequate.

Karl Rahner – Absolute Self Transcendent Mystery

For another angle on the Transcendence of God I have turned to Karl Rahner to represent a modern Catholic view, taken from his “Foundation s of Christian Faith. Rahner writes from the point of view of human relations and perceptions of the divine as we are now rather than some past “history” in Genesis. The word “God” is linked to existence and asks questions of us and about our perception of the world. Our knowledge of God comes from our relations to others, including our freedom because God cannot be experienced like normal physical objects and is the Absolute Mystery. God is the Self Transcendent Mystery and because we cannot know God fully by the normal orders of our senses and intellect. Our faith is rather about God who reveals the divine nature to us and grasps us rather than us searching for answers. Any speculations about the world must include this transcendent reality to fully explain existence. While atheists may want a purely natural interpretation of the world we do actually need the greater Transcendent dimension to our understanding of reality. 

St Bonaventure – Being and Infinite Sphere 

In chapter 5 of his Soul’s Journey to God  St Bonaventure tries to stimulate contemplation of God as Being and origin of all being. God is simple and unity, above (beyond us), First before all other being and so certain that God cannot be thought not to exist. God is un caused but responsible for all other being to exist. God is also the ultimate End and consummation of all existing being, From God’s simplicity comes all the multiplicity of life that will be re-united. Expressing Infinity,  God should be thought of as an infinite sphere that encompasses outside and inside all existence and has no beginning and no end.

Christ centred origin and purpose of creation

More will be written about Christ under Jesus Christ but an important related great theme from Duns Scotus is his Trinitarian and Christocentric creation.  Franciscan theology is based upon Catholic theology and based in turn on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity as set out in the earlier councils of church and expressed in the Nicene Creed. The doctrine is derived from New Testament texts in particular and from the patristic interpretations of the Old Testament in relation to the Spirit of God and the Wisdom of God that was with God in the beginning. This doctrine is neither provable nor disprovable by modern science and cosmology. It is as Trinity that God as “three person” has such Infinity and is the Ground and Source of Being.

There is more to be written on the Trinity elsewhere on this website as it touches on a wide range of Christian theological topics. But I include something of it here because it relates to an important cosmological question in relation to the locality of divine action the cosmos. We naturally relate our view of God in regard to God’s actions on earth. However modern science makes us see our world in a greater perspective and so must our theology. Has God only acted in relation to evolved and rational creatures here on earth? What if other rational and self -aware life forms exist elsewhere in the universe? How might our terrestrial derived theologies be affected?  So I approach Duns Scotus “Primacy of Christ” and set this theology in that broader cosmic context and question.

The great Ecumenical Nicene Creed has said of Jesus Christ that he is..

the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, light from light, true God from true God,
begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made

Duns Scotus has much to say about this in his exploration of Trinitarian relationships but he has the special theme of “Primacy of Christ’ as part of the goal of creation. The point of his Christocentric theology is that divine intention was always before the beginning of the earth to have the Incarnation of the Word in human flesh and so everything in creation centres on Christ, the Son of God made present in the world by that activity. It has links with St Paul’s writing of Christ as the Firstborn of all creation.

“image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature. For in him were created all things… through and unto him” (Col. 1: 15-17).

This Christ centred emphasis includes creation and birth of Jesus Christ in one great theory of the Infinite and communal love of God. It is this Infinite and communal love that underlies all existence and for which the cosmos exists and was made. Beyond the chains of causes of matter, development and evolution of life there is this underling purpose and source of all that exists. It has purpose because it is from love and enables the development of other beings that will share this capacity of love.

This theology extends into another special strand of thought. Most of Duns Scotus contemporaries taught that God had become flesh in the life of Jesus Christ so that we could be saved from our sins and the failures and disobedience of humanity. But Scotus, following Alexander of Hales and some others, argued that God would have become man even if mankind had not sinned. It was the primary aim of God even before humanity was formed that He would enter into creation and become part of it. The goal of creation is Christ, the Incarnate agent of God, the Son and Word sharing the physical existence of the cosmos.  God has always intended to become joined with the matter and energy of the universe that had originally come into existence because of Him. God had created rational life so that he may come and participate in it and show His love in and through it.

I find this Scotus theology helpful in another way. If instead of being crucified Jesus had been accepted by people he may have lived to an old age. But as man he would still have needed to die. The Son of God would still have shared our physical state and our physical death in the world, as we must. His living and death is part of His share in the freedom He gave the universe and all that follows from it.

Even so, such a human based theology is very local in cosmic view. It assumes God becoming united with matter in one tiny and insignificant part of the cosmos. It relies on and assumes rational creatures in only this one part of the universe. There is now a widespread opinion and assumption that rational and self-aware beings could a rise by natural evolution in other many parts of the universe given the right set of conditions and environment.  Such a view raises the question of whether a “Christ” type agency, incarnate Word, joined to material world would become a necessity and even a certainty in other parts of the cosmos unknown to us? Perhaps what happened on earth in the specific action of God in Jesus of Nazareth in Roman occupied Palestine happened in other manifestations in far-away cultures on other planets. Perhaps what to us in our solar locale as a unique event is not unique for God but part of a greater and fuller cosmic expression of unity with matter in many places. It is still though the one divine Word that links with matter and enters into matter in many places with different specific and cultural expressions unique to each place, but creating a single unity based on the Word.  What happens here may be just one expression of that original divine desire of unity of the cosmos and participation of matter in the divine cosmic embrace.

 

Meditations

The Infinite, beyond all imagining beyond all images, beyond all conceptions, without beginning or ending.

With original divine purpose that when things were ripe and ready, when humanity had attained conscious existence, He would come, from His own love and purpose to be here, in this fragile and suffering existence. Just to be with us, because that was his desire to be with us.

With or without the evil of the world He would have shared our death, because He loves us.