Originating Consciousness and Emanation within God

by Br. Dunstan Robidoux OSB In Lonergan’s theology of the Trinity as this is given in his The Triune God: Systematics, Lonergan postulates explanatory principles (as needed) in order to move toward richer experiences of meaning with respect to how the God of Christian belief is to be conceived and understood. If one can postulate an explanatory principle which allows one to apprehend a larger number of connections, a dogma of faith becomes more fully known with respect to its intrinsic meaningfulness. A truth by meaning acts within a person’s soul to effect a change in consciousness (which becomes a change in one’s life and how one lives one’s life). From a standpoint which is grounded in an interiority analysis of human subjectivity, Lonergan proposes that one can speak about an intellectual emanation within God if one supposes that God is conscious. As Aquinas had noted in the Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 18, a. 3, God has life “in the most perfect degree” by existing as an act of understanding. Nobody or nothing is more alive or more present to itself than God. God is intellectually conscious as an unrestricted act of understanding and, because this is so, it is not possible to conceive about how God can exist as an unrestricted act of understanding and, at the same time, not be aware of himself as someone who is existing as an unrestricted act of understanding. In lacking organs and acts of sense, it cannot be said that God is sensibly conscious. He cannot be conscious in a way which is determined by any act of seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling. However, from a degree of self-knowledge that we have achieved–a degree which tells us that intellectual consciousness is specified or determined according to what kinds of intellectual act we are presently engaged in–on the basis of this principle, we can say about God’s intellectual consciousness that it is determined by only one act. From God’s perfect unity and utter simplicity (a simplicity that we have no direct experience of but to which we may conclude), with respect to God, we can say of him that he exists as an unrestricted act of understanding. No real distinction exists between his existence as an unrestricted act of understanding and the existence of intellectual consciousness in God. The two are identical. However, with respect to God’s existence as an unrestricted act of understanding, the unrestrictedness of this act, at the same time, also clearly suggests that it is an indeterminate act, i.e., it is whollly lacking in any restrictions or limitations (as an essentially reasonable, rational act). An infiniteness exists with respect to it, and this infiniteness or lack of restriction leads one to conclude that it possesses an inherent boundlessness. In the kind of language which Lonergan uses, God is inherently dynamic. Cf. Lonergan, Triune God: Systematics, p. 163. The lack of restriction suggests a degree and level of activity which can only belong to God and to no other being, i.e., no other subject. And so, we can say about God that God’s activity is always full and complete. There is nothing potential in it. There is nothing to be realized, nothing more to be done. Everything is always fully in act. As Aquinas had put it, God is pure act (actus purus). Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2. He understands everything about everything in an understanding and knowledge of self that, as dynamic, is to be perfectly identified with the unrestrictedness of God’s willing, doing, and causing. From the boundlessness of God’s understanding comes an understanding on our part that acknowledges a fittingness for the existence of emanations or processions within divine understanding (where one thing comes from another), a fittingness which Lonergan refers to as a “conscious exigence.” Something about the nature of divine understanding (in its infinity) suggests that intellectual emanations should exist within it although in a manner which should exist in a perfectly natural way (in a manner which is wholly proper to God). From the boundlessness or the essential dynamism of divine understanding, Lonergan then concludes that one can move from the unrestrictedness or infinity of God’s understanding to an understanding which can grasp how God’s understanding can be understood as a point of origin: as an “originating act.” Between an infinite act and an originating act in God only a conceptual distinction can be postulated and affirmed since, as has been noted, divine understanding is perfectly simple and one in itself. An infinite act cannot really differ from an originating act. But, on the other hand, to understand why the infinity of God’s understanding can be understood as an originating act (an originating act of understanding), one can refer to a datum of human consciousness which refers to our human self-consciousness and the knowing about knowing which exists in our self-consciousness. And so, with reference to God as an unrestricted act of understanding, a consciousness of self cannot but also exist in God’s unrestricted act of understanding since, in the unrestrictedness of his understanding, God cannot be unaware of the knowledge which God has of himself and of the unrestrictedness which exists in his divine understanding. In divine self-consciousness, in divine self-understanding, and in divine self-knowledge, an infinite knowing exists about an infinite knowing. The infinity of God’s understanding includes an infinity which refers to divine self-understanding and which is rooted in divine self-understanding. And so, when we advert to divine self-understanding and as we think about God’s self-knowledge (as much as this self-knowledge is unequivocally perfectly united with God’s being as an unrestricted act of understanding), we have a principle that can be used to help us understand how or why God’s existence as an infinite act of understanding can also be understood as an originating act of understanding–an origination act which exists as a first, most basic principle from which other things follow in a sequence which emanates but which is not caused (given that what is being emanated, in its infinity, possesses a status that is no less than the infinity of what is emanating in an originating act). In divine self-consciousness, an originating always already exists. It is already, constantly occurring. Everything else comes from it. With respect thus to how one might attempt to think about the possible existence of intellectual emanations within God, by attending to what Aquinas has to say about the subject, one finds two things. First, in Aquinas, an analogical explanation also speaks about God in terms of God’s existence as an act of understanding and the perfect kind of self-knowledge which exists in God. One understands something about the origins and provenance of Lonergan’s discussion even if one finds that Aquinas prefers to speak of movements within divine understanding in a manner which prefers a metaphysical form of expression and less a form of expression that refers to inner experiences of conscious acts. As Aquinas argues, for instance, about God’s self-knowledge (in different texts): what is understood in God’s act of understanding is the same as God’s act of understanding and, since God’s being is to be equated with God (existing as an act of understanding), God’s understanding is engaged essentially in self-understanding or self-knowing. See Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 1, 48; Sententia super Metaphysicam, 12, 11, 2613; 2617; 2620; and Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 14, a. 2. Self-understanding accordingly exists as a fecund first principle from which everything else comes by way of sequences but not as effects. In the language that Aquinas uses, in or from God’s perfect self-understanding comes a perfect divine self-movement which is strictly internal. In Aquinas’s wo

rds (which suggest that Aquinas is working from a reflective understanding of human cognition), “what understands itself is said to move itself.” Cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 18, a. 3, ad 1. And so, in this movement, one finds a kind of self-movement which is unlike any other kind of self-movement because it is the self-movement of a being (a “divine subject” as Lonergan would speak of it), who is fully and entirely perfect as he exists in himself (being fully in act in terms of its self-movement). Nothing in any way is lacking which is quite unlike the self-movement or any acts of origination that exist in other kinds of being. Second, in the metaphysical arguments of Aquinas, one finds discussions which add to the kind of understanding which Lonergan tries to give and to provoke in persons–discussions which move one’s understanding of subjective events toward an understanding which can grasp an order of transcendent objects. As an adage which can be quoted from a number of Lonergan’s writings: “the path to objectivity is by way of authentic subjectivity.” Hence, through introspective psychological analysis, one can find sources of meaning within the self which help move one toward an appreciative understanding of metaphysics (as the science or study of being). However, if one wants to understand how different thing fit together in a general scheme, as one naturally moves through subjectivity toward objectivity, one yearns for some kind of overall metaphysical grasp, a general understanding of things which can reveal a broad horizon–a wider scope of meaning which takes in a greater whole. And so, one finds this kind of meaning if one burrows into Aquinas’s texts. For instance, if one attends to a close reading about what Aquinas has to say about the existence of life in God (cf. Summa Theologiae, 1a, q. 18, a. 3), one finds a chain of reasoning which moves from one grade of being to another within the hierarchical order of being which exists in the universe. Self-movement (or origination) exists more prominently and more radically as one moves through created things: from plants to animals and then to human beings. Plants engage in self-movement when they send out shoots and move their leaves toward brighter light although they are not capable of locomotion. But, in contrast with plants, animals can move themselves from one location to another though some animals are more capable of locomotion than others. And then, when one turns to human beings, one finds that physical locomotion is sublated by a new species of locomotion which is intellectual or rational–a movement which belongs to the discursiveness of human cognition. In human inquiry, questions function as originating acts. Without inquiry, nothing else can follow. Nothing can come later in terms of acts of reasoning, understanding, and judgment. From acts of understanding, acts of conceptualization always follow. Relative to acts of conceptualization, acts of understanding present themselves as originating acts. However, as one attends to self-movement (or origination) as this exists in contingent things, one finds that the origination always exists or occurs in a conditioned way. If originating acts are to exist and function, other things need to happen. Prior acts need to occur; they need to be received. Acts of sense, for instance, need to be operative if questions are to arise about what is being experienced and known through our acts of sense. Acts of understanding in human beings always exist as receptions and not as actions. Hence, as one attends to the conditioned character of originating acts in the contingent order of things, and as one also attends to a trajectory which exists among contingent things and which points toward the necessity of some kind of act that is purely or radically originating, we are moved to acknowledge something which is purely and essentially originating in God’s existence as an unconditioned, unrestricted act of being and understanding. Something about this act is purely originating. It is purely originating from within itself even if this originating is a reality which we cannot properly know or comprehend in this life (though our reasoning and arguments does lead us to acknowledge the fact that such a thing exists–a special and unique originating which exists only in God and which accounts for every other kind of originating that can exist in other acts). In conclusion thus and more as a corollary than would otherwise be the case, if one recalls that, between the order of knowing and the order of being, an isomorphic structure exists (Aquinas speaks about proportionality while Lonergan speaks about isomorphism), one finds that an explanation of things that is proffered either in psychological terms or in metaphysical terms is not too comprehensive. Each is not quite adequate. Each is limited in some way since, in terms of meaning, each offers a different slant, a different perspective. But, if in one’s studying, reading, and thinking, one can intelligently move from one species of meaning to another (back and forth as is needed), one will better understand things if one can work with a critical philosophy of human cognition that can be combined with metaphysical apprehensions of meaning which are cognate. If one thinks in general about the relation between knowing and being (knowing and reality), one must conclude thus that knowing exists as a service to knowers. It exists so that potential knowers will be able to enter into a world which is greater than all the acts of cognition that are needed if one is to encounter into this greater world which is constituted by sets of real objects. On the basis then of this orientation of knowing to being, one can conclude that, in theology (and in other disciplines), in giving explanations for things, if consciousness (if activities which are constituted by consciousness) are to experience the transcendence which is proper to them, metaphysical apprehensions of meaning will serve as a corrective antidote. Between these two spheres or realms of meaning, a mutual enrichment in meaning should properly result.

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