Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Word became flesh...

A fascinating book review and reflections by Phillip Cary at First Things. He asks:

"Could God be a material being?"

Cary notes:

In classical Greek thought, pure matter was infinite, which was not a good thing. To be infinite was to be limitless and so without form. And since form is the basis of all understanding—making it possible for us to perceive the physical or conceptual structure of a thing and thus grasp its essence—it follows that pure matter must be not only formless but an incomprehensible chaos. 
Orthodox Christianity could not accept this notion of limitless, chaotic matter. To begin with, the early Church put a definite limit to matter in one direction by rejecting Aristotle’s notion of the eternity of matter. Matter is among the things God brought into being when he created the world out of nothing. Then, hesitantly at first but in the end decisively, the orthodox theological tradition transferred the attribute of limitless infinity to God, accepting the Neoplatonist contention that the highest divinity was above the ontological level of form and beyond any level of being that a finite mind can understand. God, not matter, was both infinite and incomprehensible 
The road not taken... is to retain the limitless eternity of matter but relocate it in God, and then to break the connection between infinity and incomprehensibility. And so an infinite divine materiality—matter that God never created because it has always existed—can be the ground of our likeness to God and our understanding of him. God’s material substance is something he has in common with us and therefore something we can comprehend. And Christ has yet more in common with us than God the Father does, because even before he came into the womb of Mary he had a particular material body.

[This means] jettison[ing] every form of negative theology, or apophaticism, and even the Thomistic strategy of analogical discourse about God, in favor of Duns Scotus’ metaphysics of univocal discourse, where being means the same whether we’re talking about God’s being or ours. For both God and his creation, to be is to be material. And a material God, even if infinite, has enough in common with us that he is not beyond our understanding.

It this "road not taken"-- the location of the limitless eternity of matter in God-- the truth about God?

Cary demurs:

As Plato pointed out long ago, a material being is not simple but composed of parts that are other than the whole. Hence a material God is dependent for his being on what is not identical with himself. The material he is composed of is not only necessary for his constitution but in an important sense prior to himself—more primordial than God. A materialist metaphysics leaves God fundamentally dependent on what is not God.

The solution, Cary suggests, is in Christian orthodoxy:

Nicene Christianity has developed a robust way of affirming the suffering of a God who is not by nature material or time-bound. For Christ himself, as Gregory of Nazianzen put it in a formulation frequently echoed by Augustine, “remained what he was and took up what he was not.” That is to say, he remained eternal God, immaterial and unchanging, beyond suffering and death, even when he took flesh of the virgin and thereby made our materiality, suffering, and death his own, though they are not inherent in his divine nature...

Thus God the Son freely makes all that is ours his own, while remaining eternally what he is: not only unchanging, immortal, and impassible, but immaterial. He does not need heavenly flesh to be Immanuel, the God who is with us and one of us.

Cary probes the mystery and beauty of the greatest of miracles, which is the Incarnation-- that the Word that was God became flesh and dwelt among us. In taking on our flesh and our suffering while remaining Eternal and Infinite, God takes us to Himself, by His free choice of love for us.  


  1. Michael,

    The link is to a review behind a pay wall. Only available to subscribers. Have you read the book which the review is dealing? Perhaps you should, and comment on the book instead of on the review. Although $52 for a 330 page back even in the eBook form seems to me to be a tad expensive, particularly after the sample Amazon provides free gave me headaches.

    1. Sorry for the typos'. They all consist of matter which apparently is immaterial or illusionary.

    2. Sorry about the link, bach.

      First Things is a great publication, regardless of creedal predilection. A subscription is only about 20 bucks a year for the on-line stuff.

    3. Michael,

      No thanks. $20 is too much for me. Why Bach? Have you read the book anyway. Commenting on a book review is extraneous. You should be commenting on the book.

    4. Bach,
      Why are you anonymous now? Strange stuff.

  2. I knew someone was going to have a problem with this post.

    Is the Aaron, the lawyer? The one who says that he's not an anti-Christian bigot?

    "moronic Christian fluff" and "brain-dead Christians."

    But I'm supposed to believe that you have nothing against me?


    1. Whether or not it's Aaron, the lawyer, he's still an anti-Christian bigot.

      It's always funny to hear anti-Christian bigots explain that such bigotry simply doesn't exist in our society. Little do they know that every word that comes out of their mouths only proves that there is.


    2. "moronic Christian fluff" and "brain-dead Christians."

      You realize that neither of these are statements that lead to the conclusion of "anti-Christian bigotry". You see, criticizing the ideological claims of Christianity, even as bluntly as calling is "moronic fluff" is not bigotry. And saying that it is for "brain-dead Christians who seek to have their faith affirmed" is only a criticism of those Christians who are (1) brain-dead, and (2) seeking to have their faith affirmed with moronic fluff.

      "But I'm supposed to believe that you have nothing against me?"

      Well, are you brain-dead and seeking to have your faith affirmed by moronic fluff?

    3. Anon,
      You're a bigot. That's all. You may return to your pornography or hate sites now.

  3. “To be infinite was to be limitless and so without form.”

    Pure uniformed gibberish, as is everything that follows from it.

    Our universe is quite probably infinite in extent. We have identified galaxies that where over 13 billion light years away when the light we see left them. Those galaxies are now approximately 40 billion light years away, and thus we have solid evidence that the laws of nature we experience every day hold sway in a volume 80 billion light years in diameter.

    Of course we can’t observationally know what the laws of nature are beyond our cosmic horizon, but there are solid theoretical reasons to believe the same laws hold sway in what is almost certainly an infinite volume.

    You don’t need to read a book to know its crap if you see it contains unsupported nonsense.


  4. ...quite probably...approximately...we can’t observationally know...
    Why don't you just shut up then?

    1. “Quite probably” is simply a place holder for a body of knowledge that I don’t have the time to waste trying to teach you. Please feel free to ignore my comments and continue to revel in your ignorance.

    2. Translation: I could deign to instruct you, but you're too stupid and I'm too smart, so it would be a waste of time.

      Oh, this is definitely the lawyer.

      The arrogance gave him away.


    3. Nastiness is the hallmark of the "liberal." Pure, unadulterated bile.

      Not tolerance, not reason, not a genuine desire for discussion. None of those things matter to a "liberal."

      Understand now why you're not really liberals?


    4. "Oh, this is definitely the lawyer."

      No, if you paid any attention at all, you'd know that it was KW. But that would require reading, which doesn't seem to be your strong suit.

    5. KW a une carotte dans le popotin!

      (Just ask Google Translate for help)

  5. You've shown you're awfully good at being a bigoted person crusadREX, but you're a little weak on the meaning.

  6. My comment is supported by your own utterly shallow and hate riddled statement immediately above.
    Your response to mine, on the other hand, is utterly baseless as well as totally juvenile.
    Anyone can read the comments. Only a psychiatrist, utter fool, or fellow traveller would consider yours worthy of anything more than derision, bigot.