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Keeping Predestination in Christ

​People are often too unware about some of the Christological implications of their positions are. Someone rightly tried to avoid divine-human monergism by saying that Christ didn’t have an uncreated character at the incarnation. They thought I was saying that the divine will determined the human will and this is why it was impossible for Christ to sin. However I wasn’t saying that, since that would just be a kind of Monergism (one work/activity) where the human becomes simply an instrument or tool of the divine. However by saying Christ had a created Character, they put themselves in the same box as the monergist. 

We need to make the distinction between a person and their nature. Sincy this allows the distinction between a persons usage of that will (mode of willing) and the natural faculty of the will.   The former is a personal property, the latter a property of nature. The will is a natural property, the mode of willing however is determined by the hypostasis and thus a hypostatic property. Making the character and the person prior to the natural faculty of the will. That is how Christ can have one uncreated character yet two faculties of willing. That’s why the Logos still has it at the incarnation because he is the same Hypostasis.

What they I was saying was that Christ’s divine will determined his human will. That’s wrong and is precisely the point St Maximus per the sixth ecumenical council denied. First of all, Christ had a free human will *because* it wasn’t determined by the divine will. And second, the reason it wasn’t determined is because the Logos posses the divine will and is prior to it. There is no *will* behind the divine person determining him. So the divine Character is not a property of the will but the One willing. 

That’s why even in his humanity, being the same *person* He willed with his *personal* character.

In order for their schema to work, you would either have to conflate the mode of willing with the will itself (making character a natural and not personal property). Such that Christ had two natures thus two characters, one created and one uncreated. Or they’d concede that character is a personal property, but have to be Nestorian and say that Christ had two characters because he had two persons.

So either they conflate a personal property with a natural one, reducing persons to nature (which would imply either Arianism or modalism, since we affirm only one divine nature) or they can go the Nestorian route by saying character is a personal property, but Christ had two, ergo two persons.

This is also why predestinarian view of salvation that is monergistic is problematic. If Christ really *the* predestined Man, and our predestination is in Christ and Christological in nature, then his predestination is the model or logos after which ours is formed. In Him we find the human-divine relationship at its peak. Which means if it’s monergism for us, it’s monergism for Him. And that’s a problem. One can eithrr accept the heretical positions or they can disconnect their predestination from their Christology. But then, how is it Christian?

Or one can follow the teaching of the Church as established in the Ecumenical Councils; Christ is free in his Humanity and so are we.

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An Ode to Being

Is it possible to have absolute nothing, non-existence? Well if nothing at all existed, would it be true that nothing existed? If you say yes it would true that nothing existed, you would be saying that the reality of the reality is that there is no reality. But how is this possible? 

If something is true, it means that it’s opposite is not. The difference being that one is the way things are, while the other is not. In other words, the truth that something is a certain way, is grounded in the fact that something is a certain way. For example, to say that a triangle has three sides, is true, because triangles have three sides. It is a true statement because it is true in reality.

Just so, the statement “something exists” is true, because something does exist. To deny it would be absurd. Since to deny anything exists, would require first that you exist in order to do so. The truth of statement is true and its opposite false because it is grounded in reality.

But how can it be true that there is no reality whatsoever for something to either be true or false in? Non-existence isn’t a vacuum. It’s not a positive existence. It’s the lack of existence. The negation of being. If there were complete non-existence, then there would be one thing that is true; that nothing exists. But saying that one thing is true, would mean that there isn’t absolutely nothing. Since the truth of that statement would be true. And for something to be true requires one reality as opposed to its opposite. How can there be a reality in non-reality? There cannot.

But if the truth that nothing exists, was actual. Then it would be a self contradiction, since it claims nothing is actual. Or, there is no actuality. So you can’t say “it’s true that nothing exists” either to mean that nothing is a substance, or to mean that there is a state of affairs in which there are no states of a affairs.

But what if you said, in absolute nothing, the statement that nothing exists, in either sense is false? Well in the simplest terms, to say that “nothing exists is false”, is just another way of saying “something exists”. Which is a denial of absolute nothing. 

Secondly, to say that “in absolute nothing, the statement nothing exists is false”, in an attempt to deny that there is any remaining truth at all, is itself a statement of truth. Which is to say, that if one wants to avoid having having any thing at all, by avoiding the truth of the statement “nothing exists” being actual, then they are saying there is something else actual; the fact that the statement “nothing exists” is actual. 

Finally, someone might say that truth isn’t a thing. That it is only a manner of speaking. So saying “nothing exists” doesn’t mean that a true thing called “nothing exists” has being. Unless one wants to argue for some kind of Platonic Form. 

And I agree. That is not, what I’m saying. When I say truth, I mean the actual state of affairs. And nothing can be actual, unless it has being. How can something that has no being, have anything, let alone actuality? Which is just another way of saying something has being.

So to say it is true that nothing exists, is to say the actual state of affairs is that nothing exists. However if nothing exists, then there are no state of affairs to be true or false. There is no actuality for there to be something not actual. Which means in principle it could never “be true” that nothing exists. Truth and logic apply only to being. Truth and logic however cannot be prior to being, for what would it mean to be actual or prior to actuality? Neither is there first actuality or being, then truth and logic. Since isn’t the very actuality of actuality true? How could actuality itself not be actual? Wouldn’t that be a contradiction and therefore not true? And if it’s not true, it is not the actual state of affairs, then how can it be actual? 

It seems then that Logic, Truth and Being are one and the same. That you cannot have one without the other. 

This means that Truth, Logic and Being have always been and always will be. That all beings, all particular actualities are different manifestations of what can exist, what can be true. Of Truth and Being itself. The Font of all goodness.

Why Orthodoxy?

In the past I had written from a few different perspectives why I chose Eastern Orthodoxy. However I was asked again why I chose it instead of Catholicism. It prompted me to write a brief summary of the underlying theological issues (each requiring several blog posts of their own) in order to help paint a picture and also give talking points in future conversations.

​To understand why I chose Orthodoxy, theologically (there were other reasons), here is some background on why I had issues with my Protestant/Reformed theology. 

I was Reformed in my understanding, and strongly covenantal. Pressup apologetics was also something that I held to. Looking at and arguing for the consistency of a worldview was what I focused on. In particular arguments against naturalism. I was strongly arguing for how the personal couldn’t logically proceed from the impersonal. That ultimate reality had to be personal. But then that got me thinking about the Trinity. What was the point of unity or ultimate reality there? I had issues with saying that the three persons were kept together by an impersonal essence. As though the essence were behind them, and they somehow proceeded from it. Then I’d be making some form of impersonality the ultimate grounds of reality, just like the materialist. I couldn’t make the divine essence some type of “personal stuff” or a fourth person. And I wasn’t alone in this. Cornelius Van Til got into trouble while trying to solve this. Google his name with “God is three persons, One person”. I had a poor conception of what “person” was in Christian theology. At least, not as finely defined as necessary for good theology.

Around this time I was already in contact with at least one Orthodox person, and had heard about the doctrine of the Monarchy of the Father. Which I hated. I felt as though by making the Father the central point, and Autotheos as opposed to Christ and the Spirit, I felt it denied their Deity. But I was getting frustrated and decided to hear the Orthodox out. I don’t know what made me do it. So I messaged my Orthodox friend Daniel and we skyped for a good bit. I realised then that I had been confusing nature and person the whole time. And slowly as the weeks went by, I realised just how central these Trinitarian and Christological issues were the rest of my theology. Part of the reason why I was a Calvinist was because I couldn’t see a way out. My confusion of nature and person meant that I couldn’t see how Calvinism couldn’t be true if we’re determined in our choices by our nature. But after seeing in the incarnation that Person and nature and irreducible distinction, this Calvinism was subordinating persons to nature. Applied to God it meant that things like creation and evil became necessary. Since God’s immutable nature would eternally and unchangeably determine that He create. And create some people for damnation. This meant that either God by nature needed creation, and ergo evil. Or perhaps worse, He could have done otherwise but preferred or was indifferent to evil. 

The nature person distinction made it possible to not be a Calvinist. And slowly I saw how it meant that other Protestant doctrines were called into question. I found my denial of images of Christ, were Nestorian, saying that the person of Christ couldn’t be depicted without the divine nature. I found that my idea of a “sinful nature” confused the personal property of evil by adding it to a nature, which is impersonal. I found that the doctrine of imputation was also problematic. Because how could I be imputed and condemned for the guilt of Adam? Since guilt was a personal property. It meant either a) me and Adam are the same person to share the same personal property  b) I existed before I was born and was personally involved somehow  c) by virtue of sharing the same *nature* I was transmitted his *personal property*, which again confused personal and natural categories or d) It was in name only, God willed it to be so. But on what basis? I then saw that this idea to work required some form of voluntarism and medieval nominalism. Which I came see to as problematic in light of the teachings of historic, pre-schism Christianity.

Seeing this, I then began to see not just the issues with my old theology, I also saw how Orthodoxy answered the questions I consciously held. As well as ones I had for a long time but were more on the back of my mind. Orthodoxy also affirmed many intuitions that I long held but didn’t realise at first. 

Limited atonement never sat well with me comfortably. Even though I was logically convinced of it. But in reading 1 Corinthians 15, I could see that resurrection of all people was tied to the atonement. And couldn’t really square that with Calvinism. Also the Gospel for me had more meat to it now that it was focused on the incarnation and an ontological change as opposed to an emphasis on a judicial and legal change. Since for so long the Gospels didn’t really seem to teach “the Gospel” as I couldn’t really see justification by faith alone and imputation strongly taught there. I felt that “the Gospel” was better seen in Paul’s letters, particularly Romans. But in Orthodoxy, the New Testament had a new life to it. And passages that didn’t match my more Legal and Sola Fide theology, didn’t bother me anymore. 

What *really* drew it all together was the doctrine of divine simplicity. I strongly held to this, in particularly that God was just the one simple divine essence. But when I encountered the Orthodox teaching of the divine energies (that God had both a divine essence but also eternal and divine energies), and saw that we can truly participate in the divine, not a created reality, and still be creatures, I was then able to accept a sacramental worldview. I was also able to understand veneration of saints and relics. Since they participated in a divine power that worked in matter just as much as the soul.

I also came to understand that the divine energies meant that it was possible to have eternal and uncreated good options. Such that you can still have free undetermined persons, who are morally perfect and still have choice. The divine energies meant that free will no longer had to be simply about choosing between good or evil. But between real equally good goods. 

I saw that having only one eternal and simple good would mean that either 

a) a libertarian view of free will wasn’t necessary. In which case, God could have made us all only will the one good option. And spare the world evil and damnation. But wouldn’t since he preferred it or couldn’t since his nature determined it. 

Or 

b) a libertarian view was necessary but we lost our free will once we became impeccable. And it seemed that God never had it to begin with. 

The first for me was simply Calvinism all over again. And the latter didn’t make sense. 

But both positions ended up subordinating nature to persons. Later on I came to see how a personal and deterministic predestinarianism has problems for Christology. Since it would meant that Christ at the incarnation being subject in that manner to the divine will meant either that Christ was a creature, since the Logos would be determined by a divine activity, which means the Logos isn’t causing it, and is thus a creature, ergo Arianism. Or that there were two subjects at the incarnation, the Man Christ and the God Logos, with the former determined by the latter. Which is Nestorianism. The other option would be to say that Christ as the predestined man, does not share in our predestination. Which is to really to have a divorce of predestination from Christology, which in my books doesn’t speak highly of a theology. 

With all this in mind, I had the theological categories of Person (the who), Nature (the what), and activity/energy (what the Who does, revealing what they are) in my head. And to mix or ignore any would lead one to heresy. I now saw how small things had massive implications. Even denying that Mary was the Mother of God, either implied Arianism or Nestorianism. So now, when I looked at Catholicism, I didn’t see a clear formulation of something like the essence energies distinction. But something closer to the idea that all that is uncreated is essence. I didn’t see a clear rejection of the predestinarianism that I saw as problematic. With the same good/evil in choice dialectic that see as problematic. But which assumes an absolute simple good or a denial of libertarian free will. Even per Augustine, God didn’t give everyone the final grace of perseverance. So there is some form of determinism there. Not to say that the Catholic Church endorses such a predestinarianism, but seeing it in some versions of Thomism and scholastic thinking was suspect. A predestinariasm that could possibly be implied in doctrine of the immaculate conception, depending on whether one thinks it rendered her impeccable or somehow overcame the issue of the gnomic will. And of course the filioque, which I’m still hopeful could possibly be resolved. But I’m as of yet unconvinced that there isn’t some mixing of person, nature and activity. 

It has been largely for those theological reasons that I chose Orthodoxy over Rome or Geneva.

The Essence & Energies Distinction as Dogma

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According to the Synodikon, which was declared at the Council of 843. Which re-affirmed the teaching and authority of the 7th Ecumenical Council against Iconoclasm; the essence-energies distinction is a dogmatic teaching. It also makes it every clear that the distinction can’t be collapsed into itself as a mere conceptual one. Nor does it allow one to say the energies are the essence of God, or a created reality.

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THE CHAPTERS AGAINST BARLAAM AND AKINDYNUS

To them who at times think and say that the light which shone forth from the Lord at His Divine transfiguration is an apparition, a thing created, and a phantom which appears for an instant and then immediately vanishes, and who at other times think and say that this light is the very essence of God, and thus dementedly cast themselves into entirely contradictory and impossible positions; to such men who, on the one hand, raving with Arius’ madness, sever the one Godhead and the one God into created and uncreated, and who, on the other hand, are entangled in the impiety of the Massalians who assert that the Divine essence is visible, and who moreover, do not confess, in accord with the divinely-inspired theologies of the saints and the pious mind of the Church, that that supremely Divine light is neither a created thing, nor the essence of God, but is rather uncreated and natural grace, illumination, and energy which everlastingly and inseparably proceeds from the very essence of God,

Anathema (3)

Again, to those same men who think and say that God has no natural energy, but is nought but essence, who suppose the Divine essence and the Divine energy to be entirely identical and undistinguishable and with no apprehensible difference between them; who call the same thing at times essence and at times energy, and who senselessly abolish the very essence of God and reduce it to non-being, for, as the teachers of the Church say, “Only non-being is deprived of an energy” to these men who think as did Sabellios, and who dare now to renew his ancient contraction, confusion and coalescing of the three Hypostases of the Godhead upon the essence and energy of God by confounding them in an equally impious manner; to these men who do not confess in accord with the divinely-inspired theologies of the saints and the pious mind of the Church, that in God there is both essence and essential, natural energy, as a great many of the saints, and especially all those who gathered at the Sixth Ecumenical Council, have clearly explained with respect to Christ’s two energies, both Divine and human, and His two wills; to those then who in nowise wish to comprehend that, even as there is an unconfused union of God’s essence and energy, so is there also an undivided distinction between them, for, among other things, essence is cause while energy is effect, essence suffers no participation, while energy is communicable; to them, therefore, who profess such impieties,

Anathema (3)

Again, to those same men who think and say that every natural power and energy of the Tri-hypostatic Godhead is created, and thereby are constrained to believe that the very essence of God is also created, since, according to the saints, created energy evidences a created nature, whereas uncreated energy designates an uncreated nature; to these men who, in consequence, are in danger now of falling into complete atheism, who have affixed the mythology of the Greeks and the worship of creatures to the pure and spotless faith of the Christians and who do not confess, in accord with the divinely-inspired theologies of the saints and the pious mind of the Church, that every natural power and energy of the Tri-hypostatic Godhead is uncreated,

For more, click here. 

Is Veneration Idolatry?

The following is a short but insightful piece written by an up and coming scholar and friend of mine, David Armstrong. He deals with the issue of whether or not the Orthodox worship the saints. An issue which I have blogged about before here, going into a little in-depth on the assumptions at play. However David sets the biblical context and narrative that allow us to interpret these issues.

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When Protestant friends and acquaintances, old and new, discover that I am Orthodox, if they know the slightest thing about what that means, one of their immediate questions usually has to do with Mary and the Saints. Don’t we Orthodox (and Catholics) worship Mary as a goddess? Don’t we worship and pray to the saints? Doesn’t that make us idolaters?

Apart from the fact that this question misunderstands the nature of idolatry (which involves a lot more than simply worshiping other gods or making statues and pictures), my gut apologetic reaction is always “No, we don’t worship Mary or the saints,” and that is technically correct. We do not offer adoration (in Greek, the highest form of worship–λατρεία) either to the Mother of God or to any of the saints. Technically, the kind of worship or “veneration” (worship comes from the older English “worthship,” and can be used of many figures both heavenly and earthly who are not God–in the old Anglican marriage service, for example, the husband promises to worship his wife) that is offered to them is δουλεια (to the saints) and υπερδουλεια (to the Blessed Virgin Mary). These kinds of honor are distinct from the ultimate “service” shown to the one God, the Father, and to his coeternal, consubstantial Son and Spirit, the Holy Trinity. Indeed, to some extent, the honor we show to Mary and the Saints is derivative of the worship we offer to God–it is their role in salvation history and their role in the life of the Church, their cooperation with God, that elicits our respect for them.

But there’s another level on which I have to be honest and concede a point to Protestant sensibility: for Catholics and Orthodox, Mary is basically a goddess, and the saints are like gods. It is no accident that in many parts of the ancient world, cults of goddess worship and the worship of lesser gods were subsumed by the cults of Mary and the saints: statues repurposed, shrines reconsecrated, practices transformed. Many of the saints have particular patronages–cities, people, trades, the arts, animals, countries, love, suffering, and even finding your lost stuff. In Serbia, Orthodox Christians treat their family saints essentially like their pagan ancestors treated household gods. The Blessed Virgin is invoked so regularly and so ubiquitously for so many things that she both encompasses and transcends the purview of these lesser saints–she, strikingly, outshines Hera and Athene, Demeter and Kore, revealing their vice and stripping them of their virtue by her immaculate grace.

So, the question remains: aren’t we idolaters for thinking of and relating to the Theotokos (Gk: God-birther) and the saints in these ways?

My answer, as a scholar and an aspiring theologian, remains “No,” for two main reasons. First, biblical monotheism does not acknowledge the existence of one divinity and no other, but the existence of one divinity which is absolutely supreme in power, knowledge, and authority against which all other divinities are relative and derivative. The simple idea that there are other divine beings beside the one God–created by him, sustained by him, and limited in respect to their power, knowledge, and agency in ways that he is not (though, certainly, there is some sense in which God voluntarily limits himself to allow these beings to exist and act as independent moral agents)–appears throughout Scripture. We now call these beings “angels,” but this is a purely semantic difference: insofar as they relate to the one God, they are simply his servants and messengers (Gk: αγγελοι, angels), but insofar as they compare with us, as celestial, immortal beings, Scripture’s designation of them as “gods” is not inappropriate (e.g., Deut 10:17). 
Second, and closer to the issue at hand, Orthodox and Catholics hold such a high theology of Mary and the Saints because of what we believe Scripture and Tradition to teach about the nature of salvation. Simply put, the common hope of classical Judaism and Christianity was for the transformation of the righteous into divine and celestial glory–i.e., that the faithful should be transformed into gods. This was based, in part, on a belief that humanity itself had originally been created in the divine image and likeness and possessed a particular divinity (Gen 1:26-28), and that this godlike form came with a certain “splendor” or “glory” (Ben Sira 49:16). The idea that humanity lost a divine glory with which it was adorned at creation through sin which was to be restored in the eschaton is well attested in extracanonical literature on the subject. 

It is also a key teaching of the New Testament. So says Christ, following Daniel 12:3, the righteous will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:43). We are told by St. Paul that we will be conformed to the image of the Son (Romans 8:29) and will share his glorious, celestial resurrection body (1 Corinthians 15). St. Peter–or someone claiming to be him–says that God has given us his promises so that we may become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). 

A key part of this bodily transformation of believers into glory is their coming to share in the rule and reign of Christ over the world. The conqueror is promised in the Apocalypse to share in Christ’s rule over the nations (Revelation 2:26-28) and to sit on his throne together with him (3:21) who at present sits enthroned in heaven before his rule is to be publicly manifest on the earth (12:10). In the saints, then, the Church recognizes those of her members who, having conquered the world through their martyric witness, now share in Christ’s glory and rule in their souls (while still awaiting this glory in the body). In the Blessed Virgin, the Church, both East and West, has always recognized a unique privilege, in that she possesses in both soul and body the fullness of the glory promised to the Church, as part and parcel of other privileges which distinguish her from the body of the saints of which she is nevertheless Queen. But as the company of those already in some sense glorified and ruling together with Christ, Mary and the saints have taken a place of rulership in heaven and have been entrusted with the mediation of Christ’s messianic rule on the earth, if we believe the Scripture that that is what the faithful shall be enabled to do.
It is on *this* basis that the Church prays to them, asking for their prayers, and seeking their particular blessings. It is because, as members of Christ, Christ works through them and in them to mediate grace and blessing to the Church. As they have been deified and enthroned with Christ, they are uniquely privileged and empowered to act on Christ’s behalf. (This is not to say that Christ mediates grace through them exclusively: there are particular, immediate graces that Christ affords to his militant body. No saint, for example, is responsible for the mystery of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.) And it is in this sense, too, that veneration of the Blessed Virgin and the saints is in no way idolatrous, or distracting from adoration of the one God in Trinity. It is in fact because we are glorifying the Incarnate Christ, who having assumed human nature was crucified and then raised and exalted and so, too, exalted human nature with him, that we remember the saints: they are extensions of the mystery of the enfleshment of the Son of God, living exegeses of the truth of the Gospel. Christ was especially present as the sanctification of their lives and through them was especially present in the world, sanctifying it.

So for as much as Protestantism would like to protest that Catholicism and Orthodoxy are pagan or idolatrous for their attitudes towards the saints, I think that the counter response is equally weighty: Protestants are not incarnational and biblical enough in their theology of salvation. A true theology of glory will at the very least recognize what is going on in hagiography as an extension of incarnational and thus deificatory logic, rather than dismiss it. Protestantism that is uncomfortable with the glory of the Mother of God or of the Saints is really just uncomfortable with the glory of Christ, the God-man, and the glory that he offers to the human race. With this in mind I pray that the Blessed Virgin and the saints would become rather than a point of contention between Christians a point of unity between them–living images of the future that lay ahead of us, drawing us forward into the holiness that anticipates and makes present that future as we await it.

-David Armstrong.

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David is a talented Biblical Scholar, and Eastern Orthodox Christian for which to pay attention. He has good insights into ancient Judaism and its relation to Christian theology.

Free Will, Evil & the Greatest Good

I’ve recently had two discussions about the issue of free will, highlight some important reoccurring ideas. The first discussion was with a Christian Determinist, where the talk centered around the idea of there being a greatest good. They said:

“The greatest good is the Glory of God. If the allowance of sin and evil is the greatest means to demonstrate the Holy Justice of God, then that is what God will allow. However, it is still the choice of the person, according to their nature, to choose evil. In this, God can demonstrate His Holy Justice and, by redeeming, can demonstrate His Holy Mercy, which both glorify God.”

The second discussion was about alternative possibilities and moral praise or blameworthiness. There I was asked;

“The principle of alternate possibilities”, or PAP, holds that an agent is morally responsible for an action only if that person could have done otherwise. If the ability to do otherwise is required for blame/praise, how is God praiseworthy?”

Both the first idea on the greatest good, and the question on alternatives possibilities turn on some underlying issues which I hope will be made clearer by the end of this blogpost.

The idea of “the greatest good” assumes that there is only one absolutely simple good which stands above all other goods as the final good choice. To turn away from this final good to anything else would be a wrong ordered choice (valuing goods in the wrong order) and would be an evil. This means that there can be no morally permissible choice other than said good. In other words alternative possibility (AP) in this case means being able to choose evil. And since AP is taken by many to be an important factor in various notions of freedom, free will is almost intuitively taken to mean being able to choose between good and evil. As well as an important factor for moral praise or blame. The problem is then two fold. First God cannot do evil, or will evil as an end. It would seem then that God has no “free will.” Secondly, it brings into question how people can remain both free and sinless for all eternity.

One way to avoid this problem is to deny a Libertarian view of free will and alternative possibilities. Both God’s freedom and that of humanity is deterministic. God is determined by His nature to be good forever, and He determines all that He chooses to save, to also be good forever. But it also means that if not all are saved, God determined this as well. This view however raises, in my opinion, some very serious questions about both God’s goodness, as well as His aseity (self-existence and lack of dependence on anything outside himself).

As a Libertarian, in order to get around these issues I do two things:

1) Deny that there is only one ultimate and absolutely simple good (which isn’t to deny simplicity but just one understanding of it)

2) Since there is more than one eternal and ultimate good, free will is not necessarily about alternative possibilities of *differing* moral worth. But simply of alternative possibilities.

Greatest Good or Goods?

In Eastern Orthodox theology, we make the distinction between God’s essence and his energies (activities) which we see as the divine glory. These are the various acts of God in being which also constitute being itself. They are as such the various uncreated actualizations of the power inherent to God. They are not identical to the divine essence, but they are not parts of it or accidental to it, so they don’t destroy its simplicity. They are also not reducible to each other. But since God is simple, He is in them all completely and undivided. Such that they cannot contradict and actually inhere in each other. Which is one reason why per Orthodox theology, God doesn’t not unconditionally choose some to be damned (since the direction of God’s love and His justice would be the same). These energies are the multiple uncreated goods in the Good. God’s glory.

This glory is not dependent on evil. If so then God was lacking before creation and also needs something outside of Himself, namely evil in order to be fully great. On the deterministic schema of “the greatest good” you’d have to say things would have been less glorious had everyone met their formal and final end of loving God. And you end up with God needing evil and also willing an evil end for some in order for evil to exist (The evil end being that some are damned and don’t actualize the divine image).

Since persons only will perceived goods libertarian free will kicks in when the difference between goods is actually or apparently the same. Or there is deliberation and uncertainty about the ends. What determines which choice is picked simply is the person who is the first mover in those situations. We will all have a first mover in regards to what *ultimately* determines choices, otherwise we end in an infinite regress. Whereas the determinist starts with nature, we start with persons. I’ll get back to this idea later.

Saying there is one simple greatest choice as opposed to a multiplicity of divine goods in the Good, would mean that creation and determining evil were the only and greatest good open to God, and had He not done so, he would have chosen and evil. Which then ironically throws God’s aseity out the window since now God must have creation, and worse must have evil.

The other option would be to go the route of Plotinus and make the world a necessary divine emanation, which is essentially pantheism.

Or the route of Saint Maximos, which was to say there are a multiplicity of goods (divine activities) in the good, which means God’s glory and goodness are neither contingent on creation or evil. And creatures can be impeccable while retaining libertarian free will since their is always a multiplicity of equal eternal goods to chose from.

 

Choices and Reasons

One issue some have with Libertarian free will is that it seems things happen without any reason or good reasons. That choices become random and therefore unintelligible.

The example given to me in the first discussion was the following:

“So let’s take a man, John, who has before him as choices E and G.
1. Why does he choose G?

2. Why does he not choose E?
Let’s say that he chose G because he had reasons X, Y, and Z. Now, with reasons X, Y, and Z before him, he could still have chosen E. So let’s imagine that. John, given reasons X, Y and Z chooses E.

If John can choose either E or G, given reasons X, Y, and Z, then X, Y, and Z are inconsequential to John’s choice for either E or G.

So reasons are not part of the process.
So, then why does John choose G and does not choose E?

This is where I never get an answer from the proponent of LFW (Libertarian Free Will).”

 

There are two assumptions at play here. The first is that reasons are determinant causes. And the second is that the explanation has to be one that assumes the determinist framework. Let me break that down.

Firstly John can choose option 1 or option 2, for reasons A or B respectively. When someone asks what’s the reason for choosing option 1 or 2, there are two ways to answer this. Reason can mean the rationale. In which case if he chooses option one, the *reason* is A. If he chooses 2, the *reason* is B. Both the determinist and the free willer can say that. However what you’re asking, is what determines option 1 or 2 to be chosen, and what you’re assuming (and incorrectly so) is that per determinism, it is either *reason* A or B, which determines it, whereas the freewiller is saying their are no *reasons*.

The problem is that the for the determinist is isn’t actually *reasons* A or B which determine whether option 1 or 2 are chosen, rather it is the pre-exsting state of nature and circumstance, which determine the whether or not option 1 or 2 are chosen, the direction already being set. A or B, being reasons that come after the already set nature, do not determine the outcome either. The option chosen is done so, irrespective of A or B. In fact whether or not A or B are taken to be reasons for choosing option 1 or 2, is already determined before there even is an option 1 or 2 to choose from. The determinist then will either go back to in an infinite  regress, or they will come to a first mover that is uncaused by another when it comes to why the state of affairs is as it is.
Now for the Christian determinist, who wants to adhere to small “o” orthodox triadology there is a problem.

Per the incarnation it is revealed to us that nature and person are distinct though inseparable. The hypostasis or person is an irreducible reality that is the subject of every rational nature. We know this from the Trinity, where God is three persons, one nature. The persons are not reducible to the essence or else we would be tri-theists or modalists. If that is the case, the person must be the subject of actions, and the also in some cases the determinate orgininator, without anything behind them. Otherwise, if you have a nature person distinction, but say the person is not the origin, then persons, including the divine persons become spectators in their own nature, their nature being the real subjects, whereas the persons are but conscious observers, who are delusion in thinking themselves as the subjects. Kind of like a kid who is given a fake controller and thinks he’s playing the video game. The Christian determinist, insisting that nature must have the last say, makes the first mover of the state of affairs not the divine persons but the divine nature. So the persons become subdued to nature.

Which brings back what I said about evil and creation. Since the divine nature is immutable, and determines choices, the immutable and necessary choice of God, which is just as necessary as God Himself, is creation, and not only that, but evil. Which either means God’s aseity isn’t true, or creation and evil are divine emanations.

So first of all, if one means what “reason” was there for choosing option one or two, both the determinist and free willer can give “rationales” as the answer. If however “reason” is to mean determining factor, the rationales, contrary to what some may think, do not even determine the outcome for the determinist.

The second problem that is that the free willer doesn’t deny rationale as reasons, but says that in *some* cases the reason, if it is to mean determining factor, is the person themselves as first mover. So it is not random in the sense of without rationale. Since if I choose something in line with my character, you can play out the same scenario a billion times, my LFW will not change the real or apparent good I see, if the disparity is very distinct. But when the outcome is uncertain or the goods are judged to be equal, the LFW decision is determined by my person, with nothing else behind. To seek a further explaination behind it is simply to deny the LFW thesis and to beg the question in favour of determinism. It also mistakes a rationale for a determinant cause for either the free willer or the determinist. And it finally forgets that the determinist too wil have too have a first mover that determines but is itself not determined by anything before it. So the idea of undetermined causes isn’t incoherent broadly speaking.

The difference between the Christian determinist and Christian free willer is that for the orthodox free willer, says that where as God is the first mover and determiner of natures and existence, persons are the first movers of their choices in certain cases. Since this is part of what personhood entails, being a reflection of divine personhood. On the other hand the Christian determinist, making nature the determiner and not persons, must then make God the first mover of all choices, since God is the first mover of nature and existence, and choices are subdued into nature. This however brings up problems concerning theodicy as well the goodness and aseity of God.

Alternative Possibilities and Impeccability

If we grant that there isn’t just one single ultimate greatest good, but many uncreated goods, then libertarian free will only needs those multiple good options in order to exist. It does not require that the choice is between good and evil. But just multiple goods. To have libertarian free will (persons as first movers + alternative possibilities) whilst being impeccable (incapable of doing wrong) would just require that all possible options are only good ones. But is such an idea coherent? Can it really be *free* will if the alternative possibilities are only good? I would say yes, so long as the reason for the options being as they are partly determined by the person themselves. I’ll use 8 points to elaborate on this.

1. LFW does not require that the alternative possibilities are of differing moral worth. Just that there are more than one

2. Persons are ultimate when it comes to choice, nature circumscribes the possible choices, character limits ones use of their nature

3. The wills telos/end is always to will towards the good. And persons always choose between real or apparent goods (no one chooses evil for evils sake)

4. Since character/habituation is inevitable, and makes it such that in certain situations we cannot will otherwise (here I stand I can do no other), a person is still morally responsible for their character if the character they have is this way at least partly due to a undetermined decision on their part

5. Since the will is natural, character, which is the personal mode of willing comes by habituation for persons that begin to exist. Until such a point where their character is set (St Maximos calls the initial stage of habituation the “gnomic” will). This initial stage before habituation is one of deliberation and uncertainty about the good. Until one has their character set, becomes virtuous (or vicious), such that they no longer deliberate over certain options

6. Divine persons though not determined have a) never had a beginning and b) do not deliberate as to the good since they are omniscient

7. So their character is eternal and determined by their persons, and was not gotten by habituation since they never *started* but always were in act. Particular in act of love towards each other.

8. The divine freedom is the freedom which we get by habituation. That is, to set our character such that all alternative possibilities will only be good. So since one will either be set in virtue or vice, alternative possibilities is maintained along with libertarian free will, only if

a) The persons were not determined by something other than their own person to achieve such a character

b) There are multiple goods to choose from, instead of only one single good. Otherwise to remain good there would have to be no alternative possibilities or it would mean alternative possibilities remain, but the possibility of falling from grace is always there (essentially you’re asking to choose between Augustine or Origen in these two scenarios)

In short, all God’s alternative possibilities are good, and this is determined by His character, and his character is determined by His person

Ultimately the Orthodox understanding of freedom is rooted in the incarnation where we see the nature/person distinction, and its various implications as hammered out in the Ecumenical Councils. It is because of our Christology and Triadology that we hold these views of freedom. These doctrines held by the Church are more than mere facts, but rather safeguard our worship and understanding of the Divine.

 

Follow Up Reads:

  1. Divine Simplicty

On the Energies of a Simple God

Response to Fr Kimel

The Concept of Divine Energies

Anglicans in Exile

 

2. Free Will & Virtue

Simplicity, Virtue and the Problem of Evil Pt 1

Simplicity, Virtue and the Problem of Evil, Pt 2.

Free Will and Virtue in Athanasius

Evil Genies, Free Will and Time Travel

Who are you? 7 Lines of thought On Determinism

chess

1) Is there a you that is distinct from the rest of the world? In what way?

2) Is there a you that is distinct from the sum of your parts, and the subject of them? In what way?

3) If you are identical to your parts, then in what way is there continuity if your parts undergo change? If there is a self or I that is not identical to your parts, is the self ever a subject or only an object of them? In what way is it an object or subject? Is it only passive or active?

4) If the self is purely passive and merely aware of its existence, is this awareness itself and use thereof only passive or is it in some way undetermined by its parts?

5) If its mere awareness and use of awareness is undetermined then why not its use of its parts?

6) If its own awareness is determined by your parts then in what significant way is it a self distinct from its parts? Or even a centre of agency?

7) If the agency of the self is reduced to pure passivity even in consciousness, then in what significant way does this type of agency differ from that of an inanimate object like a rock? In what way is it agency at all?

For the theological issue click here