God neither needs nor wills sin. Epistemic Distance requires ontic privations, not deontic depredations.

​Logically, it seems possible to me that soul-making and the greatest good are divinely willed ends. The necessary and sufficient means of those ends would include epistemic distance and theosis. If so, then, actual moral evil or sin would not be necessary in the divine economy.

While an adequately determined personal, intentional agency, itself, would be a necessary condition (ontologically) for any moral evil, alone, it would remain insufficient requiring, perhaps, what might, analogically, be called a co-creative ex nihilo, whereby an indirectly intended (unavoidable) divine ontic privation gets perverted into a directly intended ontic privation via a creaturely fiat of deontic depredation.

In no way, then, would God be implicated in moral evil. Moral evil would never be necessary and never divinely “intended” (teleologically).

Any epistemic distance would be traversed synergistically

I suppose we could analogically borrow medical terms for a typology of synergeia and then explore how the divine will might be disposed toward each variety. For example, any synergistic progress might variously mark advances or retreats to the extent a moral agent would be 

  • able and willing to cooperate via synergistic dynamics
  • not fully able to cooperate due to varying degrees of a-synergistic dynamics, which would quite naturally attend to different formative stages, early vs later
  • unable to cooperate due to the dys-synergistic dynamics of deformative influences
  • unwilling to cooperate due to the anti-synergistic dynamics of sinful refusals to cooperate

While formative a-synergies and deformative dys-synergies might very well necessarily (respectively, essentially and unavoidably) inhere in any divinely willed epistemic distancing, they would only involve – not moral evils, but – ontic privations (perhaps a presence of pain and/or absence of pleasure, neither causing suffering).  Such privations, as means, are justifiable by proportionate reasoning, only because they are required for the directly intended highest good, which is their end. Taken alone, then, such unavoidable ontic privations, when employed instrumentally as means, would not in or of themselves invite a moral calculus. Only when otherwise directly intended as ends would ontic privations ever entail moral culpability.

What about the anti-synergistic dynamics of sinful refusals?

The divine will neither directly wills them as an end nor indirectly wills them as a necessary means in the divine economy of a theotic epistemic distancing. 

Neither a necessary raw material, such as the ontic privations attendant to epistemic distancing, 

nor an indispensable process, such as the stages of theosis, 

nor an end-product, such as the highest good of our aesthetic, beatific realizations …

our anti-synergistic sinful refusals to cooperate with grace are unequivocally an unnecessary waste-product!

As unintended and unnecessary waste-products, God only ever tolerates the effects of sin, however likely or unlikely its occurrence, providentially knowing that He can most sovereignly recycle them. 

As for sinful agents, themselves, they too can be recycled in a supremely efficacious manner …

both apokatastatically …

as well as via Her divine economy — eschatologically, soteriologically, sacramentally, ecclesiologically and sophiologically — where neither sin nor evil, in and of themselves, have any currency.

Soul-making & the Greatest Good as divinely willed ends in an Anti-theodicy – 

From Fr Al’s blog:

Fr Al explained: McCann even goes so far as to suggest that God purposefully created a world in which free human beings must sin, as only those who have alienated themselves from the divine presence can appreciate the good of communion and thus make an informed decision to live with God. <<<<<
and also shared McCann’s words: In short, it is only from a stance of sinfulness that we are able to settle our destinies in an informed, responsible, and morally authentic way.  <<<<<

While, arguably, evil and suffering can be employed instrumentally, McCann apparently considers them essential raw materials rather than unavoidable, but recyclable, waste products. Of course, some nonconsequentialists would consider evil irredeemable, not recyclable.

Even if one stipulates to the consistency and plausibility of consequentialist theodicies, I suppose one could broadly or narrowly conceive epistemic distancing. One might consider both natural and moral evil essential. More narrowly, one might consider natural evil as not only necessary but sufficient? In other words, mere human finitude and formative dynamics would suffice. Humans could learn enough from the consequences of exculpable mistakes without needing to suffer the consequences of sin?

I am not interested in the above nuances toward the end of evaluating their competing plausibilities, not being sympathetic to such projects, in general, but I do wonder about their varying degrees of heterodoxy. I’m also interested in how they relate to the various logical defenses.


Regarding determinism and free will, both McCann and McCabe seem to be theological but not natural compatabilists/determinists. Both seem to invoke a non-causal view of theological determinism (grounded in the analogical predication of causal concepts between Creator and creatures, hence no threat to human freedom). 

McCann employs a non-causal (teleological) conception of human intentionality. 

McCabe suggests that God brings about creaturely causes, allowing them to cause one another, intermediately. Human freedom is, however, not mediated but directly caused by God. 

McCann, McCabe and Tanner suggest that free human choices are created by God, very intimately so. God’s omniscience and omnipresence seem to be transcendent in the sense that He’s radically, almost inconceivably, intimate with us as persons.

Both McCann and McCabe reject a free will defense.

McCann goes on to further suggest a consequentialist, soul-making theodicy, wherein evil is essential in the divine economy. In other places, McCann has drawn a distinction between direct and indirect divine intentions, so, it’s unclear why he wouldn’t embrace a “double effect” theodicy, wherein evil would be unavoidable. McCann hews close to Aquinas and Augustine regarding the creaturely will, so, perhaps a consequentialist stance isn’t wholly problematic if he, similarly, views evil per the Augustinian privatio boni (nothing of ontological substance). Still, I don’t understand why a “privatio as epistemic distance” would “necessarily” require – not just natural, but – moral evil. I suppose that’s what happens when we start arguing plausibilities with an insufficient amount of skepticism or sufficient epistemic humility.

McCabe, for his part, was much more modest, remaining more mindful of analogical predications and, as a result, staying in a theodicy-free zone. He does suggest that, insofar as they are “good,” God directly creates our free acts. Wrong acts are our perversions, creaturely negations, which God, incomprehensibly, permits. 

McCann certainly did not subscribe to the theological determinism of Jonathan Edwards. Arguably, his also must be distinguished from the soft determinism of many compatabilists, especially those who speak too univocally regarding divine causes (or even of natural teloi, for that matter).

For McCann, divine and creaturely (over)determinations were only analogous, and very weakly so, because, while divine determinations confer existence, natural determinations merely alter various existents. 

That’s my succint observation. I continue with my over-answer:

McCann’s God wouldn’t determinatively “alter” free human intentionality in a manner mediated via event-causal natural processes. Instead, God’s creative activity would “produce” the very content of any free decision or intention. Such a creative activity would be no mere nomicity among nomicities but the primal ground of all nomicity, itself.

For other compatabilists, a creaturely act, subveniently, could remain non-nomic and undetermined, while superveniently, hetero-nomic (externally caused) and overdetermined. For example, this could entail a free will, whereby a person’s own intentions, alone, would be sufficient to provide the cause and explanation for their any given act. At the same time, via some causal redundancy (whether God, The Matrix or various neural states), there could be other causes that would also sufficiently explain the very same act. So, we would have two or more independent causes, each which could bring about the same effect in the absence of the other. This would seem to be consistent with some forms of soft determinism or compatabilism, whether secular or theological? 

Of course, Jonathan Edwards’ determinism would not invoke overdetermination as God’s will would be the exclusive cause of any act.

Hugh McCann’s account allowed for some creaturely acts to be indirectly and intermediately (subveniently) caused by God but not overdetermined (secondary causality & permissive will?), while others could be directly and immediately (superveniently) caused by God, in some sense overdetermined. Presumably, the latter would include “free” human acts. However, McCann’s overdetermination would not in any way be physical, mereological or quantitative, in other words, an act among acts, but, instead, would be existential, conferring their very reality. In other words, he employs no notion of independent competing causes as they’d apply to free human acts, only a broader conception of causation, which refers to both its teleological and existential aspects, both which remain as ineluctably unobtrusive as they are utterly efficacious. I say “refers” and not “describes” mindful that none of us are proffering an explanatory account of causal joints, whether divine or in certain parts of nature, herself.

Interestingly, it would thus seem that, for McCann, a secular indeterminism would not, necessarily, entail a theological indeterminism, as they are only related analogously. In my view, though, affirming a secular indeterminism, as I do, does makes it easier for me to consistently conceive a theological indeterminism (precisely via analogy), even though further argument would be required to establish same.

I would like to add that, while not an explanation of synergeia, McCann, McCabe and others’ approach to double agency, are spiritually evocative for me. They seem consistent with the notion that —

when I am authentically free, traversing various epistemic distances via Marian-like fiats, I am loving with the very Love of God …

there was only ever one Ascension, while there will be many, many Assumptions …

whatever is good, beautiful, true, unitive, authentically free comes from the Author and Finisher.

RE: Hugh McCann’s account allowed for some creaturely acts to be indirectly and intermediately (subveniently) caused by God but not overdetermined (secondary causality & permissive will?), while others could be directly and immediately (superveniently) caused by God, in some sense overdetermined. <<<<

I might could abide with something like this by including one’s free acts and intentions (and some circumstances) in the direct divine will but one’s motives (and other circumstances) in the indirect divine will.


Noncontradiction (PNC) and excluded middle (PEM) must be judiciously invoked.

There’s more than mere propositional logic involved when we reason, under uncertainty, backwards from observed effects & properties to putative causes & entities. We must also employ modal logic, which provides conceptual placeholders for temporality (past, present, future tenses), formal distinctions, epistemic in/determinables, metaphysical in/determinedness (possibilities & probabilities) and for both over- and under-determinacy. 

For modal possibilities and overdeterminacy, PNC folds while PEM holds; for probabilities and underdeterminacy, PNC holds while PEM folds. 

When we encounter an explanatory or epistemic overdetermination of causes, we may investigate further for a putative and genuine ontological overdetermination. It’s not always uncontroversial but many find it extremely plausible. I believe we observe it ubiquitously in our creaturely realm. Analogically, it could reasonably extend to divine causation.

In the same way that human telos, a non-nomic intentionality, transcends and effects downward causations on other creatures, so might we reasonably imagine being similarly transcended and efficaciously affected by a Divine Telos (with no traces of physical nomicities).


Per the Damascene: “It is definitely wrong ever to ascribe immoral and unjust actions to God. Indeed, nothing remains but the fact that man himself as acting and doing is the principle of his own works and is free.” And also: “He permits our evil actions, because he wants us to freely love and obey him. He permits others to suffer these evils, in order to exhibit his power to redeem.” <<<<<

In each defense or theodicy there are presuppositions regarding whether or not an evil is 1) genuine or illusory; 2) in/compatible with omnipotence; 3) essential (consequentialist, directly intended) or unavoidable (nonconsequentialist, indirectly intended); 4) instrumentally apt or irredeemable; 5) non/moral?

It appears that St John employs a nonconsequentialist theodicy, wherein genuine but unavoidable evils, both moral and natural, are compatible with an omnipotent Creator with the power to redeem?

Based on his overall thrust, it seems that he might have better said that “God permits others to suffer these evils but exhibits his power to redeem.” Saying “in order to exhibit” sounds too consequentialist, contradictory of his general stance. In other words, for St John, while evil would not be essential to the divine economy, instrumentally, it can be redeemed therein? 

To paraphrase Dr Bouteneff’s words, our contrary acts are ‘willed’ nonetheless, in the full knowledge that they MAY become the very means of return and growth God-ward, which is not to say that they MUST become the means, as God, for example, could have otherwise ordained, antecedently, epistemic distancing (ontic privations) with theosis as the sufficient soteriological means toward His eschatological ends that all be saved and attain to His Kingdom. This is to suggest that the redemption of our sinful acts and selves remains sufficient but certainly wouldn’t be necessary if we humbly availed ourselves of sophiological, theotic processes.

Fr Al puts forth a question for St John: “Once the free actions of rational beings are exempted from God’s providential working, does not the notion of providence lose its theological traction?”

Here we might use Hugh McCann as a foil, dedicated as he is to a very robust divine sovereignty? 

What if, with McCann, we take free human intentions and acts to be directly and immediately created by the antecedent divine will, but any human “motives” (variously free per formative, deformative and transformative dynamics) as willed permissively by God’s secondary, consequent will?

Human intentions and actions would be provided, providentially, but nonmorally or pre-morally, while our motives would be caused, solely, by ourselves, who would determine their moral character, which would be known to God via His consequent will and defined by God per His antecedent will.

Any good (moral), loving (including supererogatory) motives would entail synergistic participations in divine activities and energies. 

Any exculpable a-synergies (failures to participate due to our early stages of formation) and dys-synergies (failures to participate due to deformative influences) would result from our theotically necessary epistemic distancing, while culpable anti-synergies would be due to our sinful refusals to participate. (I’ve borrowed the asynergetic-dyssynergetic distinctions as analogies from medical terminology, not that I’m not occasionally guilty of idiosyncratic neologisms).

As a follow, since certain questions would beg, I only mean to explore a possible logical consistency to McCann’s robust sovereignty and not to argue, necessarily, for its evidential plausibility (as I’m anti-theodicy). In the vein of plausibility, though, following the injunctive not to judge, might we not reasonably hope that most human behavior is either laudably synergistic or exculpably asynergistic or dyssynergistic rather than antisynergistic? Might this hope, when coupled with at least a slightly more robust notion of divine sovereignty, a tad more narrower – yet meaningfully essential – conception of human freedom, not further bolster, also, our hope in a universalist eschatology? I refer to a practical not speculative universalism.

As to the distinction between moral and pre-moral or ontic evil, I only affirm virtually (not absolutely) intrinsic evils as I view the concept of intrinsic evil as a cluster concept, which imports evaluative and normative aspects into descriptive accounts.


God’s goodness, in this account, refers to a lack of improvability but not to a moral agent with obligations to create goodness, in the first place, much less a certain degree thereof. Once one stipulates to that metaphysical presupposition, which some bolster exegetically thru Scripture, it renders any so-called “problem of evil” the result of a god-talk category error. Furthermore, if evil refers to a kind of lack, it has no Source. 

Essentially, God is being defended — not on the grounds of being somehow ex/culpable after having been caught in this or that act, but, instead — via a claim of mistaken identity.

Davies frames divine and creaturely causality in much the same way as others who’ve rejected the free will defense and who claim that any charge of theological determinism is a category error grounded in the univocal predication of divine and creaturely causes. Unlike McCann, who proffers a theodicy, Davies proceeds more like McCabe, who retreats into theological skepticism.

What has puzzled me about McCann’s theodicy is this: Why did he bother?

Since he stipulates to divine impeccability, by denying a divine moral agency and by affirming an analogical predication between creaturely and divine causations, avoiding the same category errors as Davies, McCabe et al, what exactly is he doing in explicating a divine economy of soul making?

In McCann’s defense, he seems to take seriously the questions so many have raised, not wanting to burn all epistemic bridges with them regarding the problem of evil, even if, at bottom, to be logically consistent and internally coherent, he’d have to consider it a pseudo-problem metaphysically. 

What McCann does, then, essentially amounts to only a logical defense …

which aspires only to show how a divine economy of soul making would be consistent with his Thomistic God-conception. 

In the end, however, when pressed evidentially on the plausibility of gratuitous evil …

he’s deeply sympathetic to theological skepticism and … 

existentially and theologically prescribes Job’s response and that the sinner abandon any pretense to question the divine will. 

In other words, his theodicy is thin, perhaps moreso a logical defense, while his theological skepticism is thick-enough?

Alas, I feel I might often be guilty of eisegesis in trying to interpret another’s approach in a manner more consonant with my own. There’s no getting around the notion, in my view, that McCann was telling an untellable story by arguing that “some” evils, even sin, are essential in the divine economy. Happily, he desisted from explicating “all” evil. I’ve even wondered if he at least restricted “necessary sin” to the venial variety and just how heterodox his stance might be or not, especially since so many celebrate felix culpas over against the Scotist view that the Incarnation was in the divine deck of cards from the cosmic get-go.

Some theodicy attempts I find especially off-putting, approaching blasphemy in their arrogance regarding God’s ways and means, cruelly risking a callousness towards – and a trivialization of – the enormity of human pain and immensity of human suffering.




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