More thoughts from April 23

Does matter has the capacity to transcend itself?  (See Ask the Beasts, p. 175f)

Barry Turner comments,

It seems to me also, as John Horsley has said, that (in chapter 6) Johnson leaves unsaid how God acts in the world, at least in comparison to the other theologies that she critiques. Johnson says that the important characteristics of the Thomistic approach of Primary/Secondary forms of causality preserve us from making God just one more cog in the process of the natural causes of the world.

So, saying that God acts in the world even through non-interventionist ways such as quantum reality, random in-determinants, and chance takes away the integrity of the natural order – and also of the divine order. But it seems that the effect of that leaves us in the two-domain approach, science and theology are about two different realities, which seems to take us back to a dualism that was our hope to overcome at the beginning.

I think Johnson moves beyond this dilemma by introducing Carl Rahner’s idea that matter has a property of “self-transcendence” by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, which is a theology of “Panentheism.” (see Ask the Beasts, p. 175f)

So, more than just making a metaphysical/theological statement that God is in the world, (which can’t be verified empirically), what Rahner is saying here is a major implication of this view.

In the long process of evolution and the increasing diversification and complexity of matter, we see it moving toward Spirit. In the process of evolution something genuinely new comes into being that is not just a product of causal forces out of the past.

This is a way to understand what Johnson calls, “deep Incarnation” in chapter 7. Of course trying to verify this by empirical means is not possible. But looking back at the long story of the coming-to-be of the universe as it is today, this would be seem to be a quite helpful way to address the mystery that evades our understandings.

I wrote a paper some years back that refers to these subjects in many sources including the work of the contemporary Denis Edwards, The God of Evolution.  (Johnson also refers to Edwards’ thought in Ask the Beasts.)  Edwards develops a Trinitarian framework for discussing these issues. Here is an excerpt from the paper:

Edwards has a different understanding of basic metaphysics (what has always been there).  Edwards says it is “being in relation,” in contrast with simply “being as becoming.”

The difference is a more definite sense of purpose or meaning as “being in relation” assumes another reality beyond itself. For Edwards the arrival of the radically new emergence of self-conscious spiritual beings is beyond philosophical explanation. We must find explanation at the level of theology with the proviso that this need not contradict natural processes. To give a theological accounting for God’s ongoing creative role in the evolution of life he draws on the suggestion of Karl Rahner, of the “active self-transcendence” inherent in nature.

God is interiorly present to evolving creatures, not simply enabling them to exist in a static way, but enabling them to transcend what they already are…The power of self transcendence comes from within the creature, but it is a power that finally comes not from the creature, but from the ongoing creative activity of God…human beings [are] the self transcendence of matter into self-consciousness before God.

To this idea Edwards links the theology of Basil the Great of the Spirit as the Life-Giver. The process of self-transcendence can be seen as the work of the Holy Spirit in whom the triune God is immanent in all things.

Where Haught sees the source of all novelty in creation as the Power of the Future, Edwards describes it in a trinitarian framework as the Holy Spirit that goes forth to bring all creation into relationship with the divine life….  The Spirit is the ecstatic one, who in the divine choice to create goes beyond the divine communion to what is not divine, and brings what is not divine into relation with the divine Persons. The Spirit as the excess, the ecstasy of divine love, brings creation into relationship with the divine life. It is this ongoing relationship that enables creatures to exist and become.

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