April 21, 2008

Some Thoughts on Anselm’s Day

Some thoughts came to mind this morning before I realized it was the feast of Saint Anselm. I suppose perhaps unconsciously I must have known this was the feast day of this admirable thinker. In any case, here are the thoughts that came to mind; some of them have been rattling about for a while; submitted for your consideration.

  • God is Spirit, prior to all other actuality, the home of all possibility.
  • The proper activity of Spirit is knowledge and love.
  • God's love of the possible engenders God’s knowledge of the actual.
  • By knowledge, then, God brings about the collapse of possibility into actuality, and by love sustains it. Love of the emergent actual leads to knowledge of the newly emergent possible. And so on.
  • In a quantum sense, God is the ultimate observer.
  • Human beings share in the divine likeness through the capacity for knowledge and love.
  • God exists in our minds because we exist in God’s mind. In one sense, this is the obverse of Anselm, and it offers another way to understand the atonement as intimately linked to the Incarnation, by which God exists perfectly in humanity, and humanity in God, yet without confusion.
Tobias Haller BSG


Fran said...

My day is made upon reading these words Tobias and I will be pondering them as I go along.

Thank you and blessings for this day and always.

Brother David said...

In a quantum sense, God is the ultimate observer.

So, if God were not watching, the outcome might be different?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

God is always watching. Were God to suspend attention to what might be, nothing could be, because even our capacity to observe (and so participate in shaping reality) derives from God -- in whom we live and move and have our being. God -- as the ever-watching ground of all potentiality and becoming -- slumbers not, nor sleeps.

Anonymous said...

"God's love of the possible engenders God’s knowledge of the actual."

Wait a minute. Isn't it the other way around? God's knowledge of the possible engenders God's love of the actual? Or maybe better: God's delight in possibilities means God loves what among those possibilities has become actual?

How can God "love" (i.e., "will the good for") what is only possible but not actual? What am I missing?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Fr JJ, thanks for this question. It is all woven together, I think: "Of the Father's love begotten, ere the world began to be..." "God so loved the world that he sent his only Son..." There is, of course, no real "before" with God; and since God IS Love, love is eternal. (There was not when Love was not.) Love is woven into the possibilities, collapses them to actuality (and "knowability"?) and then also loves the emergent acutality.

I suppose what this thought means is that God "loves the world into being" and then also "loves it to salvation." Nothing happens apart from the Love of God, which is both prevenient and persistent, i.e., eternal, as God's nature.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr JJ,
I think Mother Julian has some thoughts on this: All for by and in Love. I think of the hazelnut as the collapsed reality that God sustains by means of love, from which love is never withdrawn, but which itself emerged from the love of God, from all other possible worlds...

June Butler said...

...it offers another way to understand the atonement as intimately linked to the Incarnation....

Yes, and thank you for that, Tobias.

Paul said...

Thank you, Tobias, for upholding the better parts of Anselm's heritage!

Anonymous said...

ah well, i enjoy the reflection, but i do have a quibble...

God knows the whole quantum state, and is not confined to making observations. Another way to put it is that God knows the hypothetical results of all the observations that could be taken.

We can only figure out the quantum state by making an observation, which tells us only a little about the state, and destroys it so that we cannot find out any more. But God is not thus limited or constrained. God's knowledge of counterfactual possibilities includes as well God's knowledge of the results of all possible observations, without the need to make any observations.

The medievals put it thus: God's knowledge is direct, and not mediated. They also--despite a radical difference in the meaning of the words--would have agreed that God does not observe.

But for the Incarnation, God is never entangled with quantum states--since, of course, God is entirely non-material.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thomas writes, Another way to put it is that God knows the hypothetical results of all the observations that could be taken.

Yes, that's what I mean by "the home of all possibility." My concern is the mechanism by which potentiality becomes actuality, and it appears the process by which this happens is observation, the act by which the primordial potentials are somehow "reduced" to an initial state of actuality. So I disagree with the medieval assertion concerning God not "observing." On the contrary, creation is intimately connected with "seeing."

The question is not "Does God need to observe?" but that the Universe needs God's observation (which is the loving application of knowledge) to exist. Another way to frame the question, then, is, "Did God need to create?" That is probably a more classical way to phrase the question. I would say "need" is the wrong word -- it appears to suggest constraint -- but that rather it is in God's nature, as Love, to create.

I'm not so secure in the final assertion that God is never entagled with quantum states: it appears to me that the Incarnation demands that the Son willingly engaged in that entanglement, whereby the human nature is rendered theophoric, and ultimately theosified. This is, of course, a point of view much more common in the Eastern tradition than in the medieval West.

I recall a story from C S Lewis in which at a meeting of the Inklings a question came up concerning God's knowledge, followed by a lively discussion. Someone grabbed a copy of the Summa and after a bit of searching, pronounced the judgment, "God doesn't know anything." (I don't know if this is an accurate memory on Lewis' part, or an accurate representation by the person consulting Thomas!)

It is probably safest to say that God's knowledge and love are both of a different order than ours. In particular, as you point out, our knowledge of possibilities is very limited (as even our knowledge of actualities!); but the mind and heart of God (as Knowledge and Love) can contain and comprehend the realm of all possibilities, slowly unfolding them into particular existence, as Dante said, "through whose warmth in eternal peace the celestial flower blooms."

bls said...

Meister Eckhardt might be apropos here:

"God is nameless, for no man can either say or understand aught about Him. If I say, God is good, it is not true; nay more; I am good, God is not good. I may even say, I am better than God; for whatever is good, may become better, and whatever may become better, may become best. Now God is not good, for He cannot become better. And if He cannot become better, He cannot become best, for these three things, good, better, and best, are far from God, since He is above all. If I also say, God is wise, it is not true; I am wiser than He. If I also say, God is a Being, it is not true; He is transcendent Being and superessential Nothingness. Concerning this St Augustine says: the best thing that man can say about God is to be able to be silent about Him, from the wisdom of his inner judgement. Therefore be silent and prate not about God, for whenever thou dost prate about God, thou liest, and committest sin. If thou wilt be without sin, prate not about God. Thou canst understand nought about God, for He is above all understanding. A master saith: If I had a God whom I could understand, I would never hold Him to be God."

I always take the easy way out! ;-)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks bls,

It was reading Meister Eckhart, Teilhard de Chardin and C S Lewis that brought me back to Christianity in my college years. They've all stuck with me, in one way or another...