Regarding Antonio Spadaro S.J.’s Account of a Surprising Ecumenism

Did everything in Western Civilization really just get ugly when couples started using contraception and gays and lesbians asked to be married? 

Sam Rocha once characterized Rod Dreher’s view of the US culture wars by describing Dreher’s sense of catastrophe as kitsch and parochial, his sense of despair as emotivist and modern. Same with +Chaput’s vision.

Rhetorical confrontation, political, legal, canonical & military coercions all have their rightful place as the hard powers that we must call upon at times. But prudence and subsidiarity give primacy to the less coercive soft powers of dialogical communication, diplomatic consultation, pastoral accommodation, moral enculturation & Gospel inculturation. What most characterizes the neocon cultural engagement strategy is their reflexive & inordinate reliance on hard powers. Kaveny has characterized +Chaput’s approach as prophetic utterance? That’s fair-minded. But his theological anthropology seems too pessimistic, his imagination too dialectical?

+Chaput’s pastoral approach flunks Pope Francis’ critique of legalism & rigorism. His problems run much deeper, though, as his infallibilism inappropriately extends beyond essential dogma to moral realities, where the sensus laicorum, theologians & magisterium yet continue their search for the sensus fidelium.

While it is encouraging that pastoral solutions are being reinstated to their place of primacy over legal approaches, the problems are often more fundamental. For example, too often, pastoral accommodations for objectively “irregular” relationships are recommended when, instead, one’s primacy of conscience should be recognized and a moral probabilism should be affirmed over against a creeping infallibilism.

Even Pope Francis’ approach, which emphasizes mercy, can become unmercifully condescending to the divorced-remarried, contracepting & LGBTQ couples, who – not unreasonably and suffering neither invincible ignorance nor poor formation – believe that their relationships to God & each other are loving and upright.

+Chaput once lectured: “Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls our period the ‘secular age.’ How we got to this moment is far too big a subject for us tonight.”

It apparently remains too big a subject to address in this book, too, for he does not offer empirical sociological support for his hasty anthropological generalizations. One can only infer from his diagnosis that he precisely believes in the “subtraction account” that Taylor opposes.


Those needling MSW for more argumentation to support his dismissals of +Chaput’s facile anthropological account need only consult Taylor for a sound, thoroughgoing refutation.

I cringe, however, at the thought of thus juxtaposing those books.

From First Things: re: “Francis sees what Spadaro and Figueroa do not: that ‘the organic link between culture, politics, institution and Church’ is necessary.”

That sounds right. The John Courtney Murray approach is alive and well in the USA. That’s not what’s wrong with many in the Religious Right. What’s wrong is more fundamental and derives from a pessimistic theological anthropology (dialectical imagination, depravity, etc) combined with various impoverished moral philosophies (sola Scriptura, solum Magisterium, facile natural law reasoning, etc). Those deficits then foster an overemphasis on hard powers like confrontational rhetoric and legal, political and military coercions at the expense of soft powers like dialogical communication, diplomatic consultation, moral enculturation, Gospel inculturation and pastoral accommodation, which should, instead, enjoy primacy.

This argument is fleshed out below.

Antonio Spadaro, SJ, recently wrote of a Surprising Ecumenism in the U.S. between Evangelical fundamentalists and Catholic integralists.

I agree with its editors that First Things has precisely resisted any tendencies to theologize political stances and, in fact, the neoconservative critique, in part, first emerged as a response to chasten such a tendency from the Left. 

It may be that Fr Spadaro’s critique did not proceed from explicit principles but it does in my view seem to implicitly fit the context of Amoris Laetitia and to flow from its prudential logic, consistent with subsidiarity.

To wit: If we consider a spectrum of coercive influence, which ranges from the soft powers of dialogical communication, diplomatic consultation, pastoral accomodation, moral enculturation, Gospel inculturation & so on, to the hard powers of confrontational rhetoric and political, legal and military coercions and so forth, then, clearly the soft powers enjoy a prudential primacy over the hard powers, any escalations warranted by Just War-like Principles. 

If there’s one thing FT has clearly stated in recent years, it’s that, when it comes to statecraft, pastors must defer to competent and legitimate authorities, who, sharing the same ends, must prudently deliberate over the suitable means. This is true whether waging a war on poverty, a war on terror or a moral culture war.

To some extent, then, there is an incredible irony in First Things getting caught in the crosshairs of the Spadaro critique. I really can’t see where any that critique’s rhetorical arrows have hit any particular mark vis a vis criteria regarding prudential judgments and/or subsidiarity principles.

Any problems with Evangelical fundamentalists and some radically traditionalistic Catholic cohort don’t so much lie in how the Catholic faith comports with various notions of classical liberalism. The problem as I see it lies more so in how they too often seem to share a rather pessimistic theological anthropology coupled with rather impoverished moral philosophies. They don’t just rage against a militant secularism but cannot see or affirm what is otherwise implicitly true, beautiful, good, unitive or liberative in the secular order or even other religions. When the Catholic analogical imagination gets coopted by a dialectical imagination, it forfeits an anthropological vision that should otherwise be profoundly incarnational and profusely pneumatological in exchange for one of total depravity. When a time honored natural law approach is not bolstered by the insights of a more robustly personalist perspective with its relationality-responsibility model, it devolves into the biologistic, physicalistic, a prioristic, rationalistic account of a sterile scholasticism (and using the personalist idiom sans principles to cloak old physicalistic conclusions fools no one, e.g. so-called theology of the body). 

With such a pessimistic anthropology and impoverished moral philosophy, one’s prudential judgments will logically tend toward hard power coercions and deemphasize soft power persuasions. Culture warriors will resort more to confrontational rhetoric and legal coercions. Communion warriors will resort to church disciplines and canons with a frequency and in ways that most bishops properly discern as imprudent. The war on terror will try to install Jeffersonian democracies in tribalistic cultures. Too many social justice warriors, for their part, too often take the hard power approach by default, facilely and cynically demonizing those who otherwise prudently advocate for federalism and fiscal sustainability and not at all in an attempt to wage class warfare.

Enough with the war metaphors! Enough with the overemphasis on hard power! Left and Right!

It is a blessing that in the US, beyond the Constitution, federal statutes provide for strict scrutiny in any attempts to advance a compelling government interest & require the least restrictive means practicable where matters of conscience are at stake. Now, of course, we cannot entirely avoid remote material cooperation with perceived evils in pluralistic societies, but religious freedom statutes do prescribe such avoidance to a most reasonable extent!

For example, if there exists a less restrictive means than signing an opt-out form to conscientiously object to a mandate, the onus is on the government to provide it. But we can trivialize our own moral philosophical distinctions, e.g. remote material cooperation, by pressing such claims too far, especially with hyperbolic cries of religious persecution, e.g. of Little Sisters of the Poor. More tragically, we then trivialize the real religious persecution taking place elsewhere across the globe.

I would add that the reason the Religious Right is now more often taking refuge in the religious freedom statutes, as a strategy for advancing their agenda, is because they have failed to make compelling arguments in the Public Square and, resultingly, have thus failed, too, in their legislative & judicial strategies.

The Biblical fundamentalists lack arguments transparent to human reason. The natural law fundamentalists lack the more robust relationality-responsibility model of an authentic personalism. Both lack adequate noncoercive inculturational & pastoral strategies. Neither recognize the rights that flow from moral probabilism, rights gifted by one’s humanity & not by various magisteria.

So, ecclesiastically, they overzealouly use church canons, while, in the public square, they disingenuously invoke religious freedom, in their cynical attempts to deny others (e.g. LGBTQ) their rights to both the Church’s sacraments as well as the secular order’s implicit sacramentals.

+Chaput, for example, doesn’t get that Rome’s not as much critiquing his moral, legal & political strategies as they are his impoverished evangelical & pastoral approaches.

+Chaput seems right in that his is no essential theocratic stance, but his impoverished evangelical & pastoral approaches lead to a practical theocratic aspiration as he and evangelicals overemphasize legal & political strategies and underemphasize inculturation & pastoral sensitivity vis a vis various moral realities. In such an evangelical approach, any attempts to then align divine & natural laws with positive laws, whether ecclesiastical & canon law or civil & criminal law, will inevitably devolve into an exclusivistic ecclesiology with moralistic, legalistic & even ritualistic rigorisms.

Whither A Christian Political Realism?

The political thought of two theologians, the Catholic, John Courtney Murray, and the Protestant, Reinhold Niebuhr, can be reconciled and contrasted with more idealist, absolutist, fundamentalist approaches.

This is because a shared moral realism and ethical naturalism will be transparent to human reason prior to any putative special religious revelations. They are best combined with a pragmatic, political realism, which practices the art of the possible.

Realism, as in moral realism, refers to a metaphysical stance, asserting an objective basis to morality.

Naturalism, as in ethical naturalism, refers to an epistemic approach, asserting that our natural sciences (not religious or ideological dogma) should guide our ethical norms to optimally realize moral truths, albeit fallibly.

Realism, as in political realism, refers to —neither a metaphysical (what is) nor epistemological (how we know what is) reality, but — to any practical realization regarding what’s achievable, recognizing value in what’s suboptimal, eschewing any tendency to let the best become the enemy of the good.

Taken together, these moral, ethical and political stances can be reconciled with both secular and religious humanisms. When supplemented by the vocational and relational norms of the Gospel, one can, in my view, best practice a Christian realism, politically. Its default bias would necessarily be conservative and libertarian (in the classical liberal sense and not as malpracticed by many currently).

For yet another attempt at reconciliation between these theologians, I commend:

John Courtney Murray and Reinhold Niebuhr: Natural Law and Christian Realism
Journal of Catholic Social Thought, Vol. 3, 2006
U of St. Thomas Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-20
21 Pages

Thomas C. Berg
University of St. Thomas, St. Paul/Minneapolis, MN – School of Law

​What the Contemplative Stance Means to Me

A contemplative posture orients one’s disposition toward reality more than it offers propositions about reality. It more so norms “how” we see and less so describes “what” we see.

Contemplation effects metanoia, which includes intellectual, affective, moral, social and religious conversions. While these conversion dynamics are distinct from developmental growth mechanisms (for example, as described by Piaget, Maslow , Kohlberg, Erikson and Fowler, et al), they are not unrelated as they do foster those processes. 

The conversions gift us horizon-situated dispositions, which 

1) open our minds via an awareness that there’s more to any given reality than our own thoughts can suggest; 

2) open our souls by expanding what’s reasonable to expect regarding any given reality beyond what our own feelings might suggest; 

3) open our hands by enlarging our sense of responsibility toward any given reality  beyond our own moral and practical concerns; 

4) open our perceptions to recognize the intelligence on display in other interpretations of any given reality outside of our own social and political circles; and

5) open our hearts to being in love and beloved by God, others, the cosmos and even one’s self.

These conversions gift us with what Lonergan described as human authenticity, when he articulated his transcendental imperatives: be aware, be reasonable, be responsible and be intelligent. 

Still, what theorists like Lonergan, Maslow, Gerald May, Viktor Frankl and others all eventually came to understand was that self-actualization was in fact a by-product of self-transcendence (not the end-product of self-interested strivings). Any pursuits of self-actualization, authenticity, Enlightenment and such for their own sakes, i.e. as sought after end-products, would be self-defeating, frustrating their own realizations. Any who would aspire to be aware, reasonable, responsible and intelligent — would best realize those values by, first, being in love

Without following the imperative to be in love, one could not realize sustained authenticity. Without seeking Enlightenment out of solidarity and compassion, rather than for one’s own sake, Enlightenment would forever elude one.

The contemplative stance, then, while mostly dispositional, does entail one universal, even if vague, propositional posit, which is that reality’s origin and end, being and essence, value and appeal, meaning and purpose, is love.

Thus contemplation, as entailed in the spiritual practices, asceticisms and disciplines across traditions, expresses a singular, orthodoxic, soteriological trajectory. This orientation goes beyond the norms of authenticity or of a suitable epistemic humility, dis-positionally, to also include, pro-positionally, a belief that reality is robustly relational. It warrants an existentially actionable interpretation that, wholly and thoroughly beloved, we simply must be loving. (As the children sing why they love Jesus … because He first loved me).

In many cases, through interreligious dialogue, we are discovering that, beyond this singular, shared, orthodoxic, soteriological trajectory, the great traditions and indigenous religions will otherwise diverge with pluralist, diverse, polydoxic, sophiological trajectories, which, more simply put, correspond to different ways of being in love with different aspects of reality, including God, others, self and cosmos. This is to recognize that, in many ways, as we move beyond the vaguely spiritual to embrace more specific religious paths, it will not necessarily entail competing interpretations of reality but only complementary approaches to reality, which can be variously more inchoate or developed, more or less inclusive, variously emphasizing our unitary being or our unitive strivings, more or less suited to foster conversions and to sustain authenticity, more or less perfectly articulating truth, celebrating beauty, preserving goodness, enjoying comm-unity and growing freedom. 

When institutionalized religions fail in fostering conversions and in sustaining authenticity, many followers will, understandably, retreat into a spiritual but not religious stance. When religions are at their best, though, well, we “see how they love one another” as they foster open minds, open hearts and open hands!

And we see where the quest, itself, becomes our grail; the risks of faith, hope and love, themselves, become our rewards; the journey, itself, becomes our destination; the spiritual process, itself, becomes our transformational product; the next good step becomes the entire recovery program; the commitment, itself, becomes our outcome; the prayer and sitting, themselves, become our consolation. 

Life’s highest goods, alone, can thus be enjoyed without moderation, as the pursuits of truth, beauty, goodness, unity and freedom are, intrinsically, their own rewards. The contemplative stance embodies that real-ization. Good religion enhances it.

Hugh McCann, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell & the Ens Necessarium

​Hugh McCann writes:

As Hume pointed out, there is no process by which past events confer existence on future ones, nor do we observe any form of “natural” necessitation. Moreover, scientific laws — classical ones, at least — do not even purport to describe such a process. In fact, they are not even diachronic: they describe simultaneous interactions in which dynamic properties such as energy and momentum, which the laws treat as conserved rather than created, are transferred from one entity to another. Assuming the world continues to exist, future events will then emerge naturally and predictably from those that went before. But they will not be produced by them. In that respect, the idea of natural causation is on the same footing as agent causation: neither is a process in its own right, and neither guarantees the existence of an thing. It turns out, then, that free exercises of the will differ from the rest of the world only in being nomically discontinuous with it. The problem of their provenance of a piece with that of the provenance of things in general.

Even if the empirical world were deterministic through and through — which the evidence indicates it is not — nomic causation cannot explain why we have this world rather than some other, or no world at all.

Derek Parfit writes:

Why does the Universe exist? There are two questions here. First, why is there a Universe at all? It might have been true that nothing ever existed: no living beings, no stars, no atoms, not even space or time. When we think about this possibility, it can seem astonishing that anything exists. Second, why does this Universe exist? Things might have been, in countless ways, different. So why is the Universe as it is?

Why anything? Why this?

In the 1948 Copleston-Russell Radio Debate, the question of whether or not the universe’s existence was brute seemed to turn on a possible fallacy of composition, in other words, whether or not the whole begged further questions, transcendently, or could be understood merely in terms of its parts, phenomenally.

All of this seems to beg Heidegger’s question: Why not rather nothing?

And this all seems to invoke Wittgenstein’s musing: The mystical is not how the world is, but that it is.

And it brings us back to McCann and Parfit’s recognition that, even if we accepted the existence of the universe as brute (or refused to predicate existence of being), questions would not cease begging.

Heidegger would, instead, ask: “Why not rather something else?”

Wittgenstein would instead muse: “The mystical is not that the world is, but why this world is.”

In either case, whether the question begging remains “Why anything?” and/or “Why this?”


McCann’s observation would still obtain in that “free exercises of the will differ from the rest of the world only in being nomically discontinuous with it” …

And McCann’s insistence would still apply regarding both natural causations and non-nomic exercises of the human will insofar as the “problem of their provenance [would remain] of a piece with that of the provenance of things in general”

For the provenance of things in general would merely transmute from a question of Why anything? to one of Why this?
And the question would become Why this nomicity?

And our Peircean argument would yet infer the Ens Necessarium, if not in terms of being, then, in terms of doing.

Philosophical god-talk, Theology of Nature God-talk, Dialogical God-Talk & Polemical GOD-TALK

​There’s god-talk and then there’s God-talk.

Philosophical (or natural) theology, or god-talk, refers to the hypothetico-deductive propositions, which take philosophy as their starting point, then argue to establish the reasonableness of various a/theological presuppositions, more generally speaking. Beyond conceptual consistency and internal coherence, which help demonstrate a/theological possibilities, logically, they also rely on a modicum of external congruence, which helps to demonstrate a/theological plausibilities, to generate reasonable suspicions, evidentially. 

The propositions of god-talk, then, are essentially tautological in that, while they may or may not be true, they add no new information to our systems. Since not all tautologies are equally taut (plausibilistically), we do aspire to construct them as congruently as we can with the empirical evidence we have available.

Generally speaking, while not all a/theological propositions are equally virtuous, epistemically, we can rest assured that, if we do dig deep enough, we will discover that philosophy, which includes common sense, has long ago demonstrated that both theological and atheological stances can be eminently defensible and not unreasonably held. Most popular a/theological debates engage caricatures of those stances, are not philosophically interesting and are a sad waste of time.

There are other hypothetico-deductive propositions, which take a given creed as their starting point, then argue to establish the reasonableness of various theological conceptions, more particularly speaking. Rather than a natural theology, starting outside the faith, these represent various theologies of nature, which begin within the faith and employ the facts of natural science and interpretations of various metaphysics to better express how the universe, as a general revelation, is related to the God of one’s creed, a special revelation.

In god-talk, philosophy enjoys primacy. God-talk, though, proceeds beyond one’s presuppositional god-talk, while remaining consistent with its general theological priors, to better articulate one’s creedal commitments. In a theology of nature, we don’t appeal to science and philosophy to prove creedal dogma. Instead, we use their concepts – along with the ideas, languages, values and interpretations of other cultures – in a process of inculturation to better share our faith, which norms our God-talk.

Another type of God-Talk, the dialogical, includes both interreligious and ecumenical dialogue, including apologetics, where we can deepen our self-understanding using other stances as a foil, deepen our understanding of others via active listening and possibly discover common grounds.

Finally, we often encounter the polemical GOD-TALK, where others are effectively shouting and proselytizing, argumentatively.

Notes re: philosophical theology to be fleshed out later

  • modal contingency refers to 1ns (EM w/o NC or Possibility or Past), 3ns (NC w/o EM or Probability or Future) 
  • modal temporality refers to modal contingency
  • modal adequacy refers to in/finitude
  • trans-modal necessity refers to brute 4ns (Necessity or Atemporality)
  • dependent contingency refers to 2ns (NC + EM or Actuality or Present), where fallacy of composition may or may not apply from case to case

from blog comment:

I no longer enjoy natural theology as most popular conversations engage only caricatures of history’s greatest a/theological thought. As it is, most of its suggestions can be evaluated in a single parlor sitting.

I am really put off by any proselytizing or polemical theology, whether a/theological or internecine.

I have a deep appreciation for dialogical theology, both interreligious and ecumenical. It gives me hope — for peace.

Finally, I really support good theologies of nature, which are mostly about inculturation processes and making the Good News more recognizable using the languages, ideas and interpretations of different sciences, philosophies and cultures to better express the kerygma. 


    The Light of Faith: Fideism sets the epistemic bar too low, Positivism – too high

    Our common sense weighs various burdens of proof and evidentiary standards, which it uses to both morally and practically justify our actions to ensure that they are commensurate with the quantity and quality of available evidence.

    A burden of proof tells us who must produce the evidence. Evidentiary standards define the level of evidence that must be produced. A given level of evidence, in terms of its quantity and quality, thus will establish various degrees of epistemic warrant. The higher those degrees of warrant, the wider the range of action that can be normatively justified, morally and practically.

    In our everyday endeavors, we often reason with uncertainty (nonmonotonic reasoning). This is also true in the life of faith. 

    What level of epistemic warrant normatively justifies, more generally, everyday reasonings from uncertainty, more specifically, the life of faith

    Regarding the life of faith, fideists are accused of setting the bar rather low, while rationalists and empiricists imagine it to be much higher than most deem necessary. How do we resolve this disparity?

    We need only turn to the natural sciences, which not only traffic in falsifiability, experimentally, but which, unavoidably, must also engage in highly speculative, theoretical interpretations on the various thresholds of nature’s causal joints. 

    On nature’s causal joint thresholds, whether in quantum physics, theoretical cosmology or speculative neuroscience, for example, scientists must often reason backwards, analogically, from effects and properties as would seem to be proper to no known causes or entities

    Such reasoning employs the weakest form of inference, abduction or retro-duction, in conjunction with the strongest, deduction. 

    The dyadic cycling of abductive-deductive inference remains a necessary aspect of all human inquiry, but, without inductive testing and falsification, it remains, for some purposes, insufficient, sometimes unavoidably so. 

    Such an insufficiency, alone, may or may not render our hypothetico-deductive frameworks inactionable, for sometimes, our reasoning with uncertainty is axiologically forced on us by vital existential (especially ultimate) concerns.

    In such cases, we must appraise such alternate interpretations of the facts of existence and aspire to base our existential leaps on options that remain truly live in light of various criteria for epistemic virtue, epistemic warrant and normative justification. 

    This all applies to the analogical-abductive and hypothetico-deductive reasoning (sans inductive) of our quotidian existence, of the natural sciences, of metaphysics and of theology.

    We thus sometimes resolve questions of epistemic disparity by properly recognizing epistemic parity!

    As Karl Popper so aptly observed:

    “We may see from this that Wittgenstein’s criterion of meaningfulness coincides with the inductivists’ criterion of demarcation, provided we replace their words ‘scientific’ or ‘legitimate’ by ‘meaningful’. And it is precisely over the problem of induction that this attempt to solve the problem of demarcation comes to grief: positivists, in their anxiety to annihilate metaphysics, annihilate natural science along with it. For scientific laws, too, cannot be logically reduced to elementary statements of experience. If consistently applied, Wittgenstein’s criterion of meaningfulness rejects as meaningless those natural laws the search for which, as Einstein says, is ‘the supreme task of the physicist’: they can never be accepted as genuine or legitimate statements.”

    In the life of faith, then, which, most people of large intelligence and profound goodwill agree, can be sufficiently warranted, epistemically, and eminently justified, normatively …

    it’s not enough vis a vis its normative actionability for a given option to be both vital, existentially, and forced, axiologically (a value will be decisively frustrated or realized) …

    an option must be truly live, exceeding fideism’s low bar of epistemic warrant, while not banging one’s head on the high bar of the rationalistic and/or empiricistic positivists, who, in their anxiety to extinguish the light of faith, would destroy — not only the beacons of the natural sciences, but — the brilliant luminosity of good, old-fashioned common sense!


    Misconstruals of Classical Theism’s Analogia are often located on the anthropological side

    ​Many misinterpretations of classical theism, and its analogia, are not so much grounded in misunderstandings regarding the revealed divine nature, which as primarily love seems straightforward enough, but in impoverished conceptions of nature, in general, human nature, in particular.

    If we don’t begin with a good anthropology of humanity and good phenomenology of nature …our analogical predications between our existential orientations (such as via an aesthetical primacy) and the transcendental imperatives — both suggested in nature, metaphysically, and specially revealed in the divine attributes, theologically (such as via an aesthetic teleology) — will be impoverished.

    A theonoetic of divine omniscience gets misinterpreted due to misunderstandings of the nature of the future (open?), metaphysically, the nature of the human will (in/determined?), anthropologically, and the nature of freedom (libertarian & absolute?), itself, phenomenologically.

    A theopathic account of divine omnipathy gets misinterpreted due to misunderstandings of the nature of passibility, substantially and accidentally rather than relationally, such as vis a vis the esse naturale or esse intentionale, whether divine or human, such as between natural formal distinctions and divine trans-formal distinctions.

    And so on and so forth, re the theoethics, theo-perichoretics and theopoietics of omnibenevolence, omnipresence and omnipotence.

    Below is just An Inventory of Questions.

    It’s not an essay, just a punch-list of categories to help identify distinctions that can make a difference anthropologically, phenomenologically and theologically.

    are metaphysics moonshine?

    trying to thread the needle between an epistemic humility or hubris, epistemic virtue or vice, between apophatic and kataphatic, affective and speculative, or encratism, quietism, fideism, pietism, rationalism, evidentialism, as well as univocal, equivocal and analogical predications

    but, before these are epistemological issues, theologically, we encounter them metaphysically, not just vis a vis divine causal joints but vis a vis emergent layers of complexity and their respective teloi or creation’s causal joints, hence, e.g. trans-formal distinction

    so, metaphysical agnosticism and theological skepticism go hand in hand
    re epistemic warrant, normative justifications, evidentiary standards and burdens of proof, all which must attend to the given subject matter at hand in an apposite way

    are evidential, plausibilist arguments im/possible and/or un/necessary vis a vis various interpretations, whether quantum or theo-logical?

    if im/possible and/or un/necessary in metaphysics, how so, then, theologically?

    the weaker our arguments (via suitable epistemic humility and warrant) the less necessary any evidential, plausibilist argumentation, e.g. peirce’s humble argument or reformed epistemology’s proper basicality and the stronger our metaphysical agnosticism and/or theological skepticism, the less possible any evidential, plausibilist argumentation

    the stronger our argumentation (via an unsuitable epistemic hubris and imagined epistemic warrant) and the stronger our metaphysical rationalism, the more necessary our evidential argumentation?

    any perceived need for a plausibilist evidential argumentation is proportional to and commensurate with the perceived degree of epistemic warrant (scholastic notations?) for any given argument (abductively and deductively, possibly inductively)

    epistemic parity metaphysically extends theologically and both thus require equiprobabilist principles and evidentiary standards applied to normative justifications

    cumulative case of abductive-deductive musings like Peirce’s neglected argument contrasted with the virtually impossible evidential theodicies, which are, in many ways, like irreducible complexity arguments

    the reasonableness of faith’s leap, an existential disjunction, avoids fideism via epistemic parity (equiprobability principle and normative justification), avoids rationalism via epistemic humility (e.g. metaphysical agnosticism and theological skepticism), avoids quietism via analogical predication and epistemic warrant, avoids encratism via analogical predication and liturgical cultivation

    philosophical theology

    reality of God, established via equiprobable epistemic warrant and defensible normative justifications

    existential disjunctions at equiplausibility junctions w/axiologically forced, existentially vital and equiprobably live options

    logical, abductive-deductive argument akin to argument, not argumentation, for reality, not being, of god

    evidential theodicy, plausibilistic argumentation as im/possible and/or un/necessary?

    type of creatio, whether ex nihilo, profundis, tohu bohu?

    mereological relationships vis a vis fallacy of composition, mereological reality as mute, brute or fruit?

    Divine Attributes

    attributes of God, variously established


    via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

    analogy of anthropo-noetic vs theo-noetic?

    misunderstandings, phenomenologically re nature of future and anthropologically re nature of human will?

    open vs foreknown, but bad phenomenology re nature of future, 3ns, even 4ns?

    compatabilist or incompatabilist? but bad anthropology re libertarian free will which involves epistemic distancing of personal agency via formative dynamics, freedom as authenticity?


    via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

    analogy of anthropo-pathic vs theo-pathic?

    misunderstandings of the nature of passibility, substantially and accidentally rather than relationally?


    via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

    misunderstandings re nature of evil, hence of goodness, privatio boni

    e.g.  moral vs ontic privation, suffering vs pain, intrinsic vs ontic, proportionalist vs consequentialist vs deontological?unavoidable double effect, essential instrumental vs unavoidable 

    instrumental vis a vis human moral calculus, anthropologically?

    and God’s relationship to evil, moral and natural?

    analogy of anthropo-ethical vs theo-ethical realities?


    via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

    and per

    panen- via classical or process, which must be phenomenologically triadic/pentadic and theologically penta/trini/tarian?

    misunderstandings re communal and social-relational realities?

    analogy of anthropo-perichoretical vs theo-perichoretical realities?

    misunderstandings regarding essential, modal, conceptual and formal distinctions as well as univocal, equivocal and analogical predications


    via kerygma, mystagogy, polydoxic sophiology and not metaphysics, God is love

    analogy of anthropo-poietical vs theo-poietical realities?

    misunderstandings re nature of evil, e.g. moral vs ontic privation, suffering vs pain, intrinsic vs ontic, proportionalist vs consequentialist vs deontological, unavoidable double effect, essential instrumental vs unavoidable instrumental vis a vis human moral calculus, anthropologically?

    and God’s relationship to evil, moral and natural?

    omnipotence compatible or incompatible with evil? 

    if incompatible, no genuine evil
    evil genuine or illusory?

    consequentialist or nonconsequentialist? 

    essential vs unavoidable?

    irredeemable vs instrumental?

    and in/defensibility of presuppositions re nature of divine constraints (essential, metaphysical and/or kenotic) vis a vis sovereignty?

    and in/defensibility of logical arguments vis a vis the integrity of our god-conceptions (christopher mchugh) vis a vis compossibilities?

    • omnipathic defense
    • free will defense
    • tehomic defense
    • greater good defense
    • soul making defense

    and in/defensibility of evidentialist argumentation?

    arguments, logically, not argumentation, plausibly, evidentially?


    epistemic distance and theosis are necessary and sufficient, so, suffering and evil are not necessary or essential, just unavoidable

    epistemic dx as formative & exculpable vs moral & sinful?

    ontic privations (absence of pleasure and/or presence of pain w/o suffering

    suffering & moral evil not in divine economy, none necessary or essential, not raw materials, some unavoidable waste products? recyclable vs irredeemable?

    consequentialist  or essential & nonconsequentialist or unavoidable? 
    some instrumental and/or recyclable vs irredeemable? 

    some essential or unavoidable, pain and ontic privation of epistemic dx?

    epistemic distance via ontic privation w/o essential or necessary suffering or moral evil (nonconsequentialist) using epistemic dx and theosis as necessary means, but some suffering or evil instrumentally transformative, recyclable, some irredeemable, perishable

    plus apokatastasis and constellation of eternalized human goodness: all wholesome trivialities, every beginning of a smile, an eternal constellation of luminaries of various intensities and diverse multiplicities

    key concepts:

    • essential constraints
    • metaphysical constraints
    • kenotic constraints
    • cumulative case 
    • forced, vital, live options
    • pragmatic – but not vulgar
    • equiplausibility
    • epistemic warrant
    • existential disjunction
    • normative justification
    • too weakly probabilistic
    • mere competing plausibilities
    • too bayesian, no consensus re priors
    • logical defense vs evidential plausibilities or theodicies
    • naturalist moral realism
    • minimalist aesthetic teleology
    • aesthetic Teleology
    • pentametric holonic
    • metaphysical agnosticism
    • theological skepticism
    • pneumatological imagination
    • panSEMIOentheism
    • anti-theodicial
    • pluralistic theologoumena
    • polydoxic 
    • diverse sophiological trajectories
    • essential soteriological trajectory
    • human authenticity
    • lonergan’s conversions

    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.