Skip to content

The God Who Is Beyond Predication Transcends Human Logic

February 16, 2010

(Cross-Posted on The Well At The World’s End.)

Humanity is created in the image and likeness of God. This allows us to understand something about God by understanding ourselves. “The rational man who has prepared himself to be set free through the advent of Jesus, knows himself in his intellectual substance. For he who knows himself knows the dispensations of the Creator and all that He does among His creatures.”[1] But we must not take what comes out of such self-understanding too far; being in the image and likeness of God allows us to understand God by analogy, and all analogies include a similarity and a distinction. The distinction between God and humanity is infinite in its depth, so that we must always understand that what we come to know about God through ourselves is at once like God and yet infinitely unlike God at once. We are bounded beings while God is unbounded and beyond all being. At best, what we see in humanity can only present to us a confused, imperfect representation of God while not actually demonstrating what God really is.

Now, it is well known in theology that traces of the Trinity can be found in many levels of the human condition. For example, St. Augustine shows us in his De Trinatate how the psychology of the human person is Trinitarian, while reflections on God as love, such as in the writings of Hans Urs von Balthasar, show us how familial relations reflect God’s Trinitarian nature as well. St. Gregory Palamas, in his own psychological fashion, sees human reason, the human logos as analogous to the Divine Logos in the Trinity, but reminds us that we must not take this analogy too far — we must not confuse the Divine Logos with the human logos and bind it by human reason:

Neither is the Divine Logos equivalent to the reasoning power in our mind, even though this is soundless and operates entirely according to impulses that are bodiless. For the reasoning logos, as a faculty dependant on us, requires for its functioning successive moments of time, since it emerges gradually, proceeding from an incomplete starting-point to its complete conclusion. Rather, the divine Logos is similar to the logos implanted by nature in our intellect, according to which we are made by the Creator in His own image and which constitutes the spiritual knowledge coexistent with the intellect.[2]

Human logic is limited and bound; it is a tool which has been established through several centuries of development and refinement, but yet, it is still a tool, and its limitations are easily discerned by those who examine its features. The fact that logic can take various given truths, and in each case, come to a conclusion which might not  be in accord with the conclusions which come out of other truths which we also know indicates the frail nature of the tool. Both are logically correct, and we can “understand” both as being true, even if we discern in the “and” which connects the two an antinomial paradox which our reason cannot overcome. This is especially true with revealed truths about God, because, as we shall see, God is beyond all being and predication.

But we do not have to explore divine truths to discern a problem with logic. Pavel Floresnky in his work, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, shows us how the rules of logic themselves are beyond the realm of logic by pointing out what happens when we discern any given A. Any A gives to us a problem which logic cannot overcome because it shows us that we have to go beyond the dictates of reason to receive that A:

To explain A is to reduce it to ‘something else,’ to not-A, to that which is not A and which therefore is not not-A. It is to derive A from not-A, to generate A. And if A really satisfies the demand of rationality, if it is really rational, i.e., absolutely self-identical, it is then unexplainable, irreducible ‘to something else’ (to not-A), underivable ‘from something.’ Therefore, rational A is absolutely non-reasonable, blind A, unstransparent for reason. That which is rational is non-reasonable, non-comfortable to the measure of reason. Reason is opposed to rationality, just as rationality is opposed to reason, for them have opposite demands. [3]

Human reason allows us to explore many subjects, gain great insight into the world, but it does so practically. We see in the development of the empirical sciences what such practicality means: it is a never-ending search for perfection, which at once brings us into greater knowledge but yet, conversely, the more we come to know the more we realize we do not know. The intellect, a gift from God to us to be sure, is but human, and what it establishes is but human, and can never perfect us, nor lead us to discover the inner reality of anything which surrounds us. There is always something outside of our grasp for anything we explore, always something which cannot be reduced to the words we prescribe to it. And, we must realize, that our reasoning skill, however, good, has been hindered by sin, leading us to even further imperfections to our knowledge:

Mere skill in reasoning does not make a person’s intelligence pure, for since the fall our intelligence has been corrupted by evil thoughts. The materialistic and wordy spirit of the wisdom of the world may lead us to speak about ever wider spheres of knowledge, but it renders out thoughts increasingly crude and uncouth. This combination of well-informed talk and crude thought falls far short of real wisdom and contemplation, as well as of undivided and unified knowledge.[4]

Since logic is itself a science developed by fallen humanity, it too has the imperfections of sin infecting its creation, and therefore, hampering its use and functionality in discerning the all-embracing truth behind all logic; our logic is, in effect, tainted by our egoism; it has little difficulty in dealing with individual entities cut up from each other, but it has difficulty in embracing the unitive pan-unity of creation. It is individualistic, not Sophiological.

Thus, human reason, both frail in its own limitations, is even worse off due to sin, and this provides us a double need for divine revelation. We need it to show us and lead us to the fullness of truth which transcends human logic:

It was necessary for man’s salvation there should be a knowledge revealed by God besides philosophical science built up by human reason. Firstly, indeed, because man is directed to God, as to an end that surpasses the grasp of his reason: “The eye hath not seen, O God, besides Thee, what things Thou hast prepared for them that wait for Thee” (Isaiah 64:4). But the end must first be known by men who are to direct their thoughts and actions to the end. Hence it was necessary for the salvation of man that certain truths which exceed human reason should be made known to him by divine revelation. [5]

But of course, this does not mean we are not to explore it with our fallible ability; rather, what is given to us is thus given to human reason and is to be explored, leading us to a greater understanding of the truth. “Although arguments from human reason cannot avail to prove what must be received on faith, nevertheless, this doctrine argues from articles of faith to other truths.”[6] But when we do this, we must understand some things about revelation: what God reveals is that which is capable of being understood in a human way:

Now these modes of generation being well known to men, the loving dispensation of the Holy Spirit, in delivering to us the Divine mysteries, conveys its instruction on those matters which transcend language by means of what is within our capacity, as it does also constantly elsewhere, when it portrays the Divinity in bodily terms, making mention, in speaking concerning God, of His eye, His eyelids, His ear, His fingers, His hand, His right hand, His arm, His feet, His shoes , and the like—none of which things is apprehended to belong in its primary sense to the Divine Nature,— but turning its teaching to what we can easily perceive, it describes by terms well worn in human use, facts that are beyond every name, while by each of the terms employed concerning God we are led analogically to some more exalted conception.[7]

The fullness of truth evades human comprehension, whether we talk about revelation, or revelation combined with human reason. Revelation itself is given to us in analogous terms. And since what we contemplate from revelation is derivative, and is expressed through human words and human logic, what we say will tend to reveal itself as being even more imperfect. At once it will lead us into a deeper appreciation of the truth, while at the same time, because of the imperfections of all analogy, it will lead us into greater and greater paradoxes which show the limitations of the analogies which are used — we must in those situations understand that our theological understanding is pointing to something greater than the words we use. The literal understanding of what we speak will be riddled with paradoxes, antinomies which logically follow from revelation, and can cause the one who is incapable of following the spirit of what is said to turn around and reject what has been revealed. Only once we understand that truth transcends paradoxes of theological constructions do we move beyond the games of children which seek to prove faith is irrational: it is super-rational, and intellectual, and not limited to the tools of human creation. This, then, brings us to God, who is beyond all being, beyond all predication, beyond all affirmation and negation, and therefore, beyond human logic:

There is no speaking of it, nor name nor knowledge of it. Darkness and light, error and truth — it is none of these. It is beyond assertion and denial. We make assertions and denials of what is next to it, but never of it, for it is both beyond every assertion, being the perfect and unique cause of all things, and by virtue of its preeminently simple and absolute nature, free of every limitation, beyond every limitation, it is also beyond every denial. [8]

This is in accord with our understanding of God as being perfectly simple, as St. Albert the Great brings out from his commentary on Dionysius:

Or we can say that even the reality of these names refer to does not justify their application to God. In any predication you have to have a subject and something of which it is the subject, something that is, that is in it and be taken with it in some sense, and also there has to be some sort of relationship between them that makes one of them a proper subject and the other a proper predicate; you cannot predicate absolutely anything of absolutely anything. But God is utterly simple, and so in him it is not true that one thing is in another or that one thing is the subject of another, therefore the actuality reality of God transcends any possibility of there being subjects and predicates. This means that no proposition can truly and properly be formed about God, as the commentator shows on Metaphysics XI; when  we talk about God, we use borrowed words and both subjects and predicate refer to the same reality and the distinction between them is not a real one, but only one which we make in our understanding on the basis of God’s relationship to things outside himself.[9]

We can talk about God on a human level, but we must not confuse our talk with being more than mere analogy, and we must always understand the limitations of our talk. We can describe God using what God has revealed to us, and describe what logically follows from such revelation, but yet — we must in the end deny, in the absolute sense, what it is we predicate while affirming the activity which we have done is beneficial, because we cannot talk about God without such activity: “Whatever one can attribute to him in this manner is, in a sense, all incorrect, and its negation is true. Consequently one could call him an eternal nothing. And yet, if one is to speak of how unsurpassable or even above comprehension something is, one still has to create names for it.”[10]

The paradoxes which develop have led many authors, like St Bonaventure and Nicholas of Cusa, to reflect upon the coincidence of opposites in God. Here we see opposites being united as one, showing us, of course, the limitation of human constructs such as the “law of non-contradiction.” Again, this is not to say the law has no value and use, but that there is a time and place for it, and a time and place where it is shown to be transcended and no longer relevant. Since God transcends all predications, all affirmations and negations, it is quite clear that God transcends such a human construct and has, for human reason, all kinds of paradoxical contradictions. Indeed, these contradictios appear to lead us to ends which are far apart from each other. And yet, in the infinite God, they are found as one. “Our reason falls far short of this infinite power and is unable to connect contradictories, which are infinitely distant.”[11]

The kinds of games which are played about omnipotence, omniscience, trying to show self-contradiction in such notions, are all reflections on the limitations of the human imagination. They are predicated on a false assumption of human reason and its abilities to know truth. Instead, we must appreciate that God is beyond all human logic, even if human logic can help us explore the truth about God. Nicholas of Cusa provides us a good analogy of the problem which lies before us:

For the intellect is to truth as [an inscribed] polygon is to [the inscribing] circle. The more angles the inscribed polygon has the more similar it is to the circle. However, even if the number of its angles is increased ad infinitum, the polygon never becomes equal [to the circle] unless it is resolved into an identity with the circle. Hence, regarding truth, it is evident that we do not know anything other than the following: viz., that we know truth not to be precisely comprehensible as it is.[12]

The truth of God is outside of our comprehension, though we understand something about God through analogy, and so we must not say we are incapable of talking about God. Rather, our talk is limited, and will show those limitations the more we explore God through human reason. We grasp after God. We experience him in our lives. Although we will truly see him in the beatific vision, what we understand will not be God but something less than God,[13] always drawing us further and further in to the transcendent glory of God as we rise up and become more and more like God in our eternal theosis. For this is the reason that God became man — so that we can become God participate in the unbounded divine life.

Footnotes

[1] St Antony the Great, The Letters of Saint Antony the Great. Trans. Derwas J. Chitty (Fairacres, Oxford: SLG Press, 1991), 9. Or, as he says in another letter, “For he who knows himself, knows God: and he who knows God is worthy to worship Him as is right,” ibid., 12.

[2] St Gregory Palamas, “Topics of Natural and Theological Science and on the Moral and Ascetic Life: One Hundred and Fifty Texts” in The Philokalia: The Complete Text. Volume IV.  Trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), 360-1.

[3] Pavel Florensky, Pillar and Ground of the Truth. Trans. Boris Jakim (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 24.

[4] St Gregory of Sinai, “On Commandments and Doctrines, Warnings and Promises; on Thoughts, Passions, and Virtues, and also on Stillness of Prayer: One Hundred and Thirty-Seven Texts” in The Philokalia: The Complete Text. Volume IV.  Trans. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), 212.

[5] St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Bros. edition, 1947), I q.1 a1.

[6] ibid., I, q.1 a.8.

[7] St Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius in NPNF2(5), 204.

[8] Pseudo-Dionysius, “Mystical Theology” in Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. Trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 141.

[9] St. Albert the Great,” Commentary on Dionysius’ Mystical Theology” in Albert & Thomas: Selected Writings. Trans. Simon Tugwell, O.P. (New York: Paulist Press, 1988), 193.

[10] Bl. Henry Suso, “Little Book of Truth” in Henry Suso: The Exemplar, With Two German Sermans. Trans, Frank Tobin (New York: Paulist Press, 1989), 309.

[11] Nicholas of Cusa, On Learned Ignorance. Trans Jasper Hopkins (Minneapolis: The Arthur J. Banning Press, 1990), 54.

[12] ibid., 52.

[13] “Someone beholding God and understanding what he saw has not seen God himself but rather something of which has being and which is knowable. For he himself solidly transcends mind and being. He is completely unknown and non-existent. He exists

beyond being and he is known beyond the mind,” Pseudo-Dionysius, “Letter 1″ in Pseudo-Dionysius: The Complete Works. Trans. Colm Luibheid (New York: Paulist Press, 1987), 263.

About these ads
23 Comments
  1. February 16, 2010 2:34 pm

    Henry,

    I have an affinity for the position you outline above. And, as you know from our many conversations, I very much endorse the limits of human thought when standing before the noble truths of revealed faith.

    My own position on logic, which may not differ all that greatly from yours, involves some subtle nuances and distinctions that you seem to leave out. I would assume the forum of a blog almost necessitates that, so the following could be considered an addendum of sorts.

    First, a nuance. In response to your observation that

    “Since logic is itself a science developed by fallen humanity, it too has the imperfections of sin infecting its creation, and therefore, hampering its use and functionality in discerning the all-embracing truth behind all logic; our logic is, in effect, tainted by our egoism,”

    I would add, or perhaps redirect toward, the fact that historically, logic has up until the Modern period always been considered an art. Now, common use of the term ‘science’ today would position it opposite to the term ‘art.’ But as we both know, to the premodern mind, scientia and ars were both modes of human knowing.

    My point is that while I endorse your apparent desire to critique the kind of logic that has been reduced to (modern) ‘scientific mathematicization’ (logic as univocal thought), I think it is important to understand that logic is in reality an art. Aquinas, for example, in his intro to the Posterior Analytics refers to it as an art, calling it in fact the ‘art of arts’. This is because the power of art is what distinguishes human activity from animal activity. Logic is the art not only of thinking, but of thinking well.

    What does this mean? Well, insofar as art names the power wherein human acts intermediate what is divinely given in nature (and revelation to a point), logic should also be seen from this perspective. Many want to argue that logic is identical per se to given being and that, consequently, it involves no human construction. Now clearly, this is historically and philosophically in error.

    BUT, there are those who reduce it to nothing more than a human construct, failing to recognize its ‘fundamentum in res,’ its foundation in reality. I wonder if at times you don’t push too far in this direction (of course, realizing that your rhetoric may intentionally do this for affect).

    Logic, then, is one mode in which human beings order the world so as to allow it to be better understood. It therefore establishes an ‘order’ – the logical order.

    As you and I both know, the logical order and the real order are not identical. In fact, this is the error that Aquinas and Aristotle both criticized in Plato and the Platonists. Logic, we might say, is the way that human reason orders itself. Thus, it will establish non-existent categories like genus and species. As a universal, a genus does not exist but it does have a ‘fundamentum in re’ (which means it does have a relation to existence). Subsequently, I would contend that the particular is what eludes the world of logic; any individual particular that cannot be exhaustively categorized and hence conceptualized is recalcitrant to the power of logic (as your Florensky quote demonstrates).

    I point this out in response to your statement that logic “has little difficulty in dealing with individual entities cut up from each other, but it has difficulty in embracing the unitive pan-unity of creation. It is individualistic, not Sophiological.

    Now again, if you are meaning really to criticize the kind of univocal logic that has come to permeate our modern minds rather than logic per se, the above observations are really addenda rather than critiques. But in many ways, it is logic in the premodern sense that allows a more universal grasp of the cosmos.

    Second, a distinction. Related to much of the above, it seems that you interchange ‘reason’ and ‘logic’ quite freely. But, again, historically, reason and logic were distinct though obviously related.
    As noted already, logic was reason’s way of ordering itself.

    But reason also has a poetic side, a poesis, wherein it engages the world of intellect beyond the neat systematic ordering of logic, where it breathes a truth more noble than those reduced by its own intrinsic need to order, where it is confronted by a power beyond itself that uplifts it into higher realities. But this is still reason. It is reason opening itself to revelation. It is reason beyond the order of logic.

    So I think my own position would distinguish reason and logic in that way.

    Still, as I said, I understand your forum and emphasis may be done with a particular purpose in mind. So consider these observations merely addendums.

    • February 16, 2010 2:58 pm

      Brendan

      Well, of course I am criticism the logic of the modern age; and I am not denying the value of the tool itself (which is why I say we need to use it as well). It is revealing something, but the point is of course, to understand the limitations of what it points out (in response to various “rationalists” like the ones rejected at Vatican I). I would add that the tool itself is constructed in many forms –some better than others (which I think you agree, with your point of modern logic vs pre-modern logic, which I agree with, though I would say that even pre-modern logic, in its way, was still influenced by the effects of the fall, and we do not have a pure logic, which is why questions such as the one and the many become problematic — I think even a pure human logic would be able to grasp that in a better sense than what we now have). And so I would agree it is a tool which deals with reality, and is being used to describe something positive, but I am just emphasizing the bluntness of such a tool. And so, I would say we are not in disagreement, but rather, as with all explorations, there are limitations and your caveats are necessary and indeed complement my point.

      Now, to a side question; I agree with the distinction of reason and logic ( one can say logic is in effect a phenomenological attempt to represent reason), but do you find there is a distinction between the intellect/nous and reason? I myself see that they are three levels of our experience of reality, one higher than the next, though the three are still one — which shows I think both your point and mine (the reality of logical distinctions, and yet the need to not make the logical distinctions into divisions which is what we see with “positivism”).

    • February 16, 2010 3:02 pm

      I would also add — one of the things which forms my reflection on logic is not just classical logic vs. modern logic, but also Western vs Eastern (Buddhist) logic. It is with the categorization of the three which really demonstrates what I mean by how logic is a tool — one which, again, I would agree reveals something and is not to be nihilistically rejected — but one which I do emphasize the apophatic side of the discussion because of my own general dispositions. Nonetheless, I tried to point to the affirmation and the need for “naming” as well. I think it is indeed quite important. The two are together, of course.

  2. February 16, 2010 2:48 pm

    Wow. This is such an erudite and sophisticated post, I am almost embarrassed at my own go at the topic… Great post.

    • February 16, 2010 3:06 pm

      Sam

      No, you should not be embarrassed at all. Your posts and discussions, which have been good, have led me to write this one; without your posts, and the commentary which came from it, this would not be here. More importantly, there are differences, helping to deal with different needs. But I felt I needed to put into a more in-depth form (if not comprehensive as Brendan rightfully points out) some of what lies beneath my own discussions on those threads, hoping it would help you and others interested in this important topic.

  3. David Raber permalink
    February 16, 2010 2:56 pm

    Henry,

    Has Father Mike Voris, S.T.B. weighed in on this subject as yet? We have all been counting on you to keep us up to date on this front.

  4. February 16, 2010 4:11 pm

    Henry,

    I agree with most of what you said, and as usual we are coming from a very similar perspective.

    Still, allow me to press a few details a bit further.

    First, as to the relation between reason and Intellect/nous, I would reply that it depends on a few things. Clearly, modern reason is not understood as the Intellect/nous found among classical thinkers after Plotinus. This means that when discussing these matters, ‘whose reason, which rationality’ is an important question to include (to vamp on MacIntyre’s title a bit).

    Kant seems to have set a certain standard with respect to how the Modern world viewed reason. And while I do ultimately reject his position, which sees it as an a priori established entity, I also find it to echo much of Plotinus with whom I share an affinity.
    But in the end, I side with the great (and authentic) scholastics who saw a mode of reason in concert with revelation. So in this regard, reason had a porosity to INtellect/nous; it was not equal to it, but the Intellect/nous was its ultimate foundation and telos.

    Second, let me propose a question to your assertion regarding premodern logic:

    though I would say that even pre-modern logic, in its way, was still influenced by the effects of the fall, and we do not have a pure logic, which is why questions such as the one and the many become problematic

    Is there anything in our world that has not been influenced by the effects of the fall? Even revelation must be received by (ostensibly) fallen human categories of thought. Thus the development of doctrine. So your assertion makes me wonder: what mode of communication or method of thinking has not been influenced by the fall? Can you give an example of what would have to be a communally immediate communication with the divine? (even the Eucharist is communicated through the accidental properties of bread and wine….)

    • February 16, 2010 4:22 pm

      Brendan

      Yes, the question of what one means by reason, intellect, and even logic is important — and it is one which can get into many important side-adventures. But I think you and I agree with the nous as being the the foundation and telos of reason, while I would say our logic is the attempted verbal construction of what our reason experiences. This leads to the second point you bring up.

      You are right in saying everything is affected by the fall, and even positive things which transcend how things were at creation (like the incarnation) are now understood and described by the way we encounter things in and through the fall. But my point is something else — and something I think you would readily agree — and that is the corruption of sin and its ability to affect our use of reason. The point I am making is that because of our sin, our intellect, even though it is enhanced by grace from the inside, nonetheless has the darkness of sin causing us to still have an imperfect experience of the nous, and so with it, an imperfect development of logical analysis which comes from it. Thus, the mystic will have the more poetic use of reason as you expressed, because they have already begun the purification of the intellect. But even they will always point out the limits of their words in addressing their experience, and they will be the first to acknowledge that their sin adds to that confusion. As for a communally immediate communication of the divine — perhaps Pentecost is that?

      I also think Dionysius (similar to what is found in Buddhist discussions) says some things which are useful for my point, because he points out what such pure experiences are like:

      Here, renouncing all that the mind may conceive, wrapped entirely in the intangible and the indivisible, he belongs completely to him who is beyond everything. Here, being neither oneself nor someone else, one is supremely united by a completely unknowing inactivity of all knowledge, and knows beyond the mind by knowing nothing. (Mystical Theology — pg 137 from the Paulist Press Edition).

  5. February 16, 2010 5:51 pm

    Karlson: “The paradoxes which develop have led many authors, like St Bonaventure and Nicholas of Cusa, to reflect upon the coincidence of opposites in God. Here we see opposites being united as one, showing us, of course, the limitation of human constructs such as the ‘law of non-contradiction.’ Again, this is not to say the law has no value and use, but that there is a time and place for it, and a time and place where it is shown to be transcended and no longer relevant.”

    It would be considerably helpful if you could provide an actual example of a time and place where you see that the law of non-contradiction is not relevant.

    On looking at the progress of such things like physics or Catholic theology, it is all too easy to come up with numerous examples where some things seemed to be contradictory, yet further investigation showed a way to resolve the contradiction.

    Examples:

    At one time in physics light seemed to be both a wave and a particle, and this seemed to be contradictory, yet was resolved in quantum physics.

    And at one time in it seemed plainly logically contradictory that the man Jesus could be God, yet this was resolved by careful use of the words “person” and “nature”.

    Now it is certainly the case that further apparent contradictions emerged, and will continue to emerge, after those resolutions. And this will cause more need for further resolutions — in a perhaps indefinite cycle. But people did not throw up their hands and simply say: “It’s a contradiction, and nothing can be done about it.” Instead, they worked on resolving the contradictions. And by that means, they made progress — precisely by not abandoning non-contradiction.

    On reading the Nicholas of Cusa work that you referred to, I can find no support there that Nicholas actually thought that the law of non-contradiction could fail to be relevant. For example, Nicholas says: “For our
    intellect cannot, by means of reasoning, combine contradictories in their Beginning, since we proceed by means of what nature makes evident to us. Our reason falls far short of this infinite power and is unable to connect contradictories, which are infinitely distant.” What does he mean by connecting contradictories, except some means of resolving them?

    Or again, Nicholas says that our intellect: “cannot leap beyond contradictories”. Surely so — it cannot leap past them. But this does not mean that true contradictions actually exist, but rather that we — as finite beings — lack the power to resolve them. Which God does not lack.

    • February 16, 2010 6:03 pm

      Paul

      Nicholas presents the fact that the Absolute Maximum coincides with the absolute minimum — that is just an example. And no one is talking about God lacking the power to resolve them. The issue is the human mind and its ability to deal with things which transcend its use of logic – especially God who transcends all predication, being, all affirmation and negation (I’m not sure if you don’t see one of the paradoxes there or not).

      But it seems that you confuse the ability to discern past the paradox to reality (especially if aided by revelation) as evidence that the logical analysis has been dealt with. That is not the case. As I have pointed out before, Jesus wills to eat and not to eat at the same time; though we can understand the answer is in relation to natures, that does not diminish the fact that the person is willing contradictions simultaneously — and when looking to the PERSON there is a contradiction. The fact that we talk about God via predication though there is no predication to God itself points to the fact that human logic is already superseded by God — we talk about divine simplicity by predicating it to him. See the contradiction yet? Probably not.

  6. February 16, 2010 6:23 pm

    Even beyond the human/divine “Contradiction” the cross stands as the insurmountable contradiction for all time. A God that suffers? I don’t think there is a greater contradiction than that. And it cannot be solved, or resolved, because it is not some problem given to human minds to be worked out. It is a mystery to be celebrated.

    Part of the issue of contradiction vs. Mystery is that contradiction is precisely a “problem” seeking a ‘logical’ resolution by nature. So I would question the use of the word contradiction with respect to principles of faith.

    While I would agree with Henry that there are many truths of faith that appear contradictory, the danger of arguing that these will one day be resolved is that it seems to treat these sacred truths not as mysteries to be celebrated but as problems to be solved. Faith is thus reduced to a kind of mathematics and human knowledge is elevated beyond its scope and purpose.

    But it seems that even a cursory glance through the tradition reveals that the mysteries of the Christian faith are not given to be ‘solved’ or even ‘resolved’ but to bring human hearts and minds together in contemplation of the mystery. Even the conciliar approach that yields a doctrine like one person with two natures does not ‘solve’ or ‘resolve’ the mystery; rather, as Von Balthasar once wrote, with each new revelation, the mystery is hidden all the more.

    So a logicist approach to contradiction when applied to the mysteries of the faith is doomed to subvert the gifts of these mysteries.

    • February 16, 2010 6:31 pm

      Brendan

      Right — it is not just that God suffers, but a God who dies (and goes to hell!). But you and I are in agreement, the fact that they are paradoxes which reveal “contradictions” does not mean they are to be solved, and that is exactly what I am trying to point out. It is in the realization of this great mystery we see can see, in a human context, problems, but we can discern beyond them the mystery and see the truth of it so it judges us, not us it.

    • February 16, 2010 6:34 pm

      And, for the sake of something which is not dealing with God, Moore’s paradox has become famous, and again is helpful in showing the outskirts of human logic:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moore%27s_paradox

  7. February 16, 2010 8:31 pm

    I never argued that God is not greater than or transcendent of human logic. I only argued that God does not invalidate our logic and that logic is a branch of true knowledge.

    The Incarnation is a paradox, a seeming contradiction. But it cannot be a real contradiction, because that would be a disproof of the Incarnation. But I certainly agree it is proof of the limitations of human reason.

    I think a solid understanding of contradiction itself is crucial to this argument, and I have tried to address it in part in a post to come…I’ll let you know when it’s up so we can talk Henry.

    • February 17, 2010 3:54 am

      Zach

      The point I keep making is that in human logic we end up with contradictions which show the limits of human logic. I have given an example outside of God in this thread, but I have also showed the very contradiction of saying “God is simple.” The fact we can understand what is said beyond the words, beyond the logic says we can also see the limits of our own logic.

  8. February 17, 2010 4:46 am

    Henry: “But it seems that you confuse the ability to discern past the paradox to reality (especially if aided by revelation) as evidence that the logical analysis has been dealt with. That is not the case.”

    I understand ‘paradox’ as something along the lines of: “A single statement that at the same time, and in the same way, seems both true and false.” And then I would take ‘discerning past the paradox’ as meaning that a way is found to understand why the statement is not really both true and false.

    Paradoxes are interesting precisely because they look like they break the rule of non-contradiction.

    One can indeed use logic and reason (and other methods) to penetrate deeper into the sacred mysteries — they are not going to be “solved”, but they can assuredly be thus explored.

    You’ve been suggesting that statements such as “God is X” and “God is not X” are examples demonstrating that some statements about God break the law of non-contradiction. Although they are worded in what seems like logically opposite forms, this is not sufficient to show that they really are logical opposites — since (as I said) they need to be opposites in the same way. But the words “God is X” are shorthand for various kinds of statements about God. And “God is not X” is shorthand for various other kinds of statements about God. So, regardless of how the wording makes it appear, these are not obviously logical opposites. (But they do form a paradox.)

    To give a more down-to-earth example: the two statements, “The Sahara is a very hot place” and “The Sahara is not a very hot place” are not neccesarily logical opposites. They might be; or they might not be. It depends on how the words are to be taken.

    Henry: “As I have pointed out before, Jesus wills to eat and not to eat at the same time; though we can understand the answer is in relation to natures, that does not diminish the fact that the person is willing contradictions simultaneously — and when looking to the PERSON there is a contradiction.”

    I’m guessing you’re using “will” in a sense that is not common in Catholic theology, where the explanation is given that Jesus is a person with two natures and two wills — with the two wills always acting in harmony. In which case, you need to explain what you see as the logical difficulty.

    Henry: “this is not to say the law [of non-contradiction] has no value and use, but that there is a time and place for it, and a time and place where it is shown to be transcended and no longer relevant”.

    I can agree that God (in a sense) transcends logic. But it doesn’t follow that we, as created beings, can use genuinely contradictory language about God. Paradoxical, yes: contradictory, no.

    • February 17, 2010 4:59 am

      Paul

      You still have yet to grasp the issue. Just by saying “it’s the natures” ignores THE PERSON. I have said enough. We are going around in circles. I very much know Catholic theology and the theology of the wills (St Maximus the Confessor is very important to me and my theological work). The fact that the PERSON is willing TWO CONTRADICTORY things is exactly what is happening (and the person is not to be divided). But again, it is clear, you have yet to grasp my points. And you continue to do exactly as I said. Which is why you seem to think “oh, you don’t know the two wills.” Er, sorry, how do you think I got to the point that JESUS the PERSON wills to eat and not eat at the same time? Of course I know of the two wills, and it is that which shows the personal contradiction — indeed, it is the fact that he wills to eat (sleep, etc) that shows Jesus is human and wills as a human, but those actions are not what God wills.

      And why does a paradox seem to be true and false? Because of the limits of human logic. Which is the whole point. And that is the whole point of the problem of saying “God is simple” — we are predicating something to the one who cannot be predicated.

  9. February 17, 2010 9:41 am

    If we look to Aquinas as any kind of authority in this, his assertion seems to offer helpful insight. In the De Veritate, he asserts that ‘faith is the most certain of all forms of knowledge, even more certain than the first principles of human reason.’

    The first principles of human reason include the law of non-contradiction, the law of identity, etc. Clearly, according to Aquinas, these principles, as helpful as they are to human thinking, 1)are other to the principles of faith; 2)hold a lower degree of certainty than the principles of faith; 3)will forever be limited in their ability to grasp the substance of faith.

    Furthermore, Aquinas’s assertion characterizes the principles of faith as 1) higher than those of reason; 2) communicating a substance (of things hoped for) that exceed the principles of human reason; 3) therefore indicative of a mode of mindfulness, a Denkform that is greater than what these first principles can provide.

    Now, the idea that contradiction is inevitable and somehow constitutive of divine truth could lead one to nihilistically throw one’s hands in the air, writing off any and every attempt to investigate the mystery. This may be the ground of Paul’s objection. And perhaps this is why it is important to follow the schoolmen and distinguish between the divine truths in themselves and divine truths as they appear to us.

    In themselves, divine truths of faith are the most unitive, consistent, cohesive truths there are. But precisely because they are thus, they appear to our very limited mode of thinking as contradictory. But logical contradiction is not equal to real contradiction. So a proposition like “God both is and is NOT” need not lead to nihilism if we add to it, “in the same respect”(another of Paul’s points, I think). But that addage is really only to remind the one beholden to the truth of this proposition that there is more to be contemplated. It cannot and ought not lead us to reject the proposition based on a misguided confidence in human logic.

    • February 17, 2010 11:23 am

      Brendan

      Right, as I have said (and you remind in your reply) the discussion is of logical contradiction, and within the framework of human logic.

  10. February 17, 2010 10:18 am

    Thus (I think) one of my favorite aphorisms from Simone Weil: “Contradiction is the lever of transcendence.”

  11. February 17, 2010 3:09 pm

    Henry: “Which is why you seem to think ‘oh, you don’t know the two wills.'”

    That’s not what I think. I am familiar with the idea that Jesus has two wills, with the wills always acting in harmony. So when you say things like: “..it is the fact that he wills to eat (sleep, etc) that shows Jesus is human and wills as a human, but those actions are not what God wills”, or “The fact that the PERSON is willing TWO CONTRADICTORY things is exactly what is happening”, one possible interpretation of that is to conclude that you are denying that the two wills of Jesus always act in harmony.

    So, are you denying that, or not? (I can’t tell.)

    Henry: “And why does a paradox seem to be true and false? Because of the limits of human logic.”

    But there “human logic” is being used in an equivocal sense. It evident from history that the resolution of paradoxes may require extremely careful thinking over a long period of time (e.g. Zeno’s paradoxes and Moore’s paradox). Humans think in a cloudy way. This can be described as a “limit of human logic”. That kind of limit is all you have provided evidence for.

    But you have gone further, and claim that logic itself fails (e.g. your claim that the law of non-contradiction is not relevant in some times and places). And this you have provided no evidence for.

    • February 17, 2010 3:15 pm

      Paul

      Depends what you mean by “acting in harmony.” God doesn’t will to eat. And again, you continue to ignore the person. The person is the divine person. God died, as Brendan said. A Divine person, someone who cannot hunger, hungers! That is the whole complexity you have yet to deal with. Someone who cannot hunger, hungers. That is the paradox.

      And that you just assume “thinking it out a long time will resolve the issue” shows you have not grasped the logical difficulty like Moore’s paradox. And you still have not answered me about the self-contradiction involved in saying “God is simple.” It really is that simple. I’ve done the work for you. I could add more examples, but you have not yet dealt with the ones I provided. You just keep doing as I said.

  12. Dan permalink
    February 17, 2010 6:40 pm

    The “games” Henry mentions in his post are a perfect example of a contradiction that Paul is requesting.

    If God is omnipotent, is He subject to the law of contradiction? If He is, then of necessity He is not omnipotent. If He is not, then Henry is correct.

    A further analysis of the question only confirms Henry’s point. The question is intrinsically illogical. By defining omnipotence as “power without limit” requires that an “if x” question will always result in a “yes” answer, regardless of the context of x. This includes whether x contradicts any other x, which is a violation of the law of non-contradiction.

Comments are closed.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 874 other followers

%d bloggers like this: