Presence and Thought (Balthasar)

Von Balthasar’s Argument: our being is rooted in time and is a “becoming in infinity,” or creaturely infinity. This doesn’t mean the creature is infinite, but has the capacity for endless growth. Since we can never fully “grasp” God, “there arises Being itself” (von Balthasar 22). Out failure to grasp it conceptually brings “a feeling of presence” (Gregory In Cant. II; 1, 1001 B).

gregory nyssa

There are two infinities for Gregory. One is the infinity proper of God, which can never be applied to the creature. The other is the “infinity of growth in man.” In heaven, the soul is always moving towards God, yet because God will always be “beyond” the soul in heaven, the soul will always be growing. The self “perpetually surpasses the self” (Balthasar 45).

Spirit and Matter

This section is hard. Throughout this chapter von Balthasar will say things like “sensory knowledge is the foundation of spiritual knowledge.” As it stands, besides the statement being laughably false; no early Christian (or pagan) thinker would have said something like that. So he must mean something else. What I think he means is that the divisions between spirit and matter become so porous that they can be switched. We can almost speak of a materialization of the soul (which Balthasar says explains ghosts in cemeteries–those people who had given themselves over to matter).

Our knowledge is rooted in time and “the creature can never go outside itself by means of a comprehensive knowledge” (Gregory, Contra Eunomius 12; II, 1064 CD). We know the logos of a thing by an ascensional movement towards the logos (Balthasar 93). It is ana-logical (upward-to-the-logos).

Every limit involves an essence beyond it (98). This means the soul can only rest in the infinite. Knowledge by representation takes us right to the limit. One can never be face-to-face with God because that would place the knower “opposite” to God, and anything opposite to the good is evil (102). Therefore, in order to see God we must see “the back parts of God.”

Gregory sees our knowing God as imaging God and he sometimes sees the image as an active mirror, “whose interior activity is entirely ‘surface’” (115). Indeed, “image-mirror-life” are the three terms that “designate the whole created medium that allows the soul to see God” (116).

Balthasar has the interesting suggestion that Gregory rejected the distinction between image and likeness, since image for Gregory was dynamic (117-118).

The Incarnation reconciles the opposites and contraries of human nature. Becoming, to be sure, is contrary to Being, but it is not negatively so anymore. Now, notes Balthasar, we can summarize this book in three points:

1) The immediate communication between God and man is now rendered accessible (147).
2) This fact is a social fact; our nature is “common.”
3) This dynamism requires a free response on man’s part.

This is a rich and learned work. Von Balthasar captures the nuances of Gregory’s thought. Some passages are exquisite in their beauty.

Key Terms

Spacing: the exterior limit–finite being’s being “enveloped” by the infinite. It is the receptacle of the material being (29ff). Spacing is the mode of creaturely being. It is the same thing as diastesis/diastema.

Time: a progress by alteration (31). It is a tension directed towards its end but always within “the bounding limit” of spacing.

Concrete universal: priority of genus over individual (65).

Epinoia: subjective representation which does not reach the essence of a thing (91). It is an “inventive approach to the unknown.” It is the middle term between dominance and ignorance.

Dianoia: human intelligence in its entirety; no distinction between inferior and superior reason.

History and Spirit (de Lubac)

“The Law is spiritual.” This one sentence allows Origen to seek “mystical” meanings beyond that of the literal text–and in de Lubac’s hands he does a fairly impressive job. In many ways this work can be seen as a case study of de Lubac’s Medieval Exegsis (3 vols). Henri de Lubac’s argument is that the spiritual sense justifies the literal sense (de Lubac 121). Furthermore, “allegory” (whatever that word means) always has metaphysical and epistemological overtones. What you say about allegory will reflect what you believe about the soul and how you know that. As de Lubac will conclude, allegory is a “symbolic transposition” (437). All thought is mediated and “positioned” by figures. Allegory, although often abused, is simply a logical outworking of this truth.


De Lubac’s Origen begins by noting correspondences between a trichotomous view of man and the 3-fold sense of Scripture. Man is body, soul, and spirit; not surprisingly, so Origen reads, so is Scripture. Up to a point, anyway. Scripture is unfolded as shadow, image, and truth (250). But we run into a small difficulty. The “three senses of Scripture” aren’t always locked in stone. Sometimes they can be “two senses.” When the mediating term is omitted, Scripture is elevated to the heavenly places. I think Origen paints himself into a corner here but we shouldn’t lose sight of his key epistemological insight: “Truth never appears to us completely free from figures” (253). If Scripture is mediated by figures, then there is nothing inherently wrong with allegory.

All of that is quite wonderful, but if the “mediating term” in Scripture is removed, does that mean the correspondence between Origen’s trichotomism (which I accept) and Scripture’s trichotomism breaks down? I think so. De Lubac leads to that conclusion but he refuses to draw it.

Origen doesn’t use the New Testament in exactly the same way as the Old Testament. There is a principle of New Testament operation: Christ’s actions are symbols of his spiritual operations (253). But “spiritual” doesn’t mean “not really real.” For Origen and Paul, “spiritual” mean eschatological newness (309). Jesus doesn’t explain the Old Testament; he transforms it (316).

De Lubac’s most fascinating chapter is on the relation between History and Spirit and the multiple modes of the Logos. In fact, that’s what the whole book should have been about. Origen’s Logos isn’t the same thing as Philo’s. De Lubac notes, “Philo’s Logos penetrates” into the multiplicity of matter, but Origen’s Logos speaks. He is “as much word as reason” (391).

And it is in this chapter where de Lubac most skillfully weaves together the logos of the soul with the Logos of Scripture. There is a “connaturality between Scripture and the soul” (397). The soul and Scripture “symbolize each other.” Origen applies this reasoning beyond the soul to the whole universe. Reality is an ordered hierarchy.


As wonderful as this book is, there are some negative points. It is about 100 pages too long (a problem with some of de Lubac’s writings). Further, de Lubac hasn’t fully escaped the prison cell of historical criticism, as he somewhat admits.

Metaphysics of Symbol

Hans urs von Balthasar suggested that Letter is to be transformed into Spirit.  This isn’t necessarily a spirit-matter dualism (which I don’t think existed before the fall), though that is certainly true post-fall.  Man before the Fall saw the connection between the forms to the universal Form, or Logos.


St Maximus said that the one LOGOS is the many LOGOI (I am summarizing key parts from his Ambiguum 7). Collectively, the Forms are LOGOI, which is LOGOS, which is the Second Person of the Trinity. The Logos is revealed and multiplied in the Forms (logoi) which are then recapitulated back into the Logos (Ephesians 1:10). The Logos is the interconnecting cause that holds the Forms together. The Logoi, therefore, pre-exist in God.

The Logoi is the content of the manifestation of the Logos.  That manifestation is the Holy Spirit.

Being and Time (Heidegger)

In one sentence:  Being is always being-there. Heidegger is examining the question of the meaning of Being.  If we ask “What is Being?” we have already presumed some understanding of the meaning of being by our use of the word is in the question.  Heidegger lists three common answers:

Heidegger uses Husserl’s category of “intentionality.”  We are always intending-towards or -about something.  We don’t simply “think.” We think about something.  Consciousness is consciousness about something.  

There are different modes of intentionality.  We don’t simply “think.”  We are “involved” (what Heidegger called “care”). Heidegger shifted the discussion from the cognitive to the sub-cognitive level, from the head to the kardia.

Dasein manifests itself in falling, thrownness, and projection (329ff). Care–my being-in-the-world is wrapped up/alongside with others’ being-in-the-world.  I exist in the world within an already-existing-network-of-relations. (2) Thrownness: my Dasein in the world is already-in-a-definite-world.  This world has facticity.  Its boundaries are fluid. (3) Projection: we can only understand Dasein in terms of the world. You can’t transcend yourself to understand yourself.  You are finite. (4) Being-as-falling: this is the threat to being. Dasein has to face flux, uprootedness, and anxiety.

Death and Time

“Ahead-of-itself” = in Dasein there is always something still out-standing which has not yet become actual (279).  Death reveals this limit of Dasein.  Death is the end to which Dasein is thrown.  The possibility of death releases us from the illusions of the “they” (311).

Death reveals the contingency and flux of all that is.  Death manifests finitude.  Grasping this finitude “snatches one back from the endless multiplicity of possibilities…and brings Dasein into the simplicity of its fate” (435).

In the second section Heidegger revisits many of his main points in his analytic of Being (care, mood, falling, etc), but now he situates them within temporality.  If being is always a being-there, then it is always a being-there-in-time.  Temporality establishes our horizon.

In conclusion Heidegger is important because he shows how the truth found in Plato’s forms is manifested in everyday experience.

The Hermetic Tradition: Review and Principles

Evola, Julius. The Hermetic Tradition.

Short of it: the first half was quite good, but the second half was either incoherent or just plain wrong. Julius Evola correctly notes that the ancient teaching of alchemy wasn’t simply about transmuting metals. It was about developing the soul (or ascending to higher realms). Using alchemical language, he offers a manual for purifying the soul.

In the first half of the book he decodes numerous symbols. These discussions are often exhilarating and always exciting. They reveal a robust metaphysics which has strong affinities with Christianity and Torah/Prophets. For example, “chaos” simply means the realm of undifferentiated potentiality–prime matter. Saturn is heaviness, inertia. “The Tomb,” infamous in Plato, notes the body By itself and apart from the animating spirit, it is dead matter, the flux of chaos. The hermeticist does not want to escape the body because it is bad, but to temporarily separate to reestablish a dominating and causal solar principle.

All well and good. And then comes the second half. To be honest, I am not sure what he was getting at. And it’s probably best I didn’t.

Theses of Hermeticism (and many of these are quite insightful to a classical metaphysic)

En kai pan and Orobouros

  1. Unity: it is not a doctrine but an actual state.  It is represented by a circle 🌕, a line that encloses upon itself.  It is the realm of transcendence.  
  2. Chaos:  the realm of undifferentiated potentiality; prime matter.  
  3. Solar principle:  when the One takes on a center we get the solar principle, ⊙. This is the realm of form and the power of individuation. It is the power of differentiation, of coagula as opposed to solve (37).
  4. The lunar principle:  that upon which the Solar operates.  This is the world of changing and becoming, opposed to the uranian realm of being (35).  
  5. Arsenikon: an alchemical element similar to sun.  Its ideogram is 🕕, A cutting through of prime matter.  
  6. Water principle:  ∇, represents desire, pointing downward to the earth.
  7. Flame: △, oriented to the sun, to the world of forms.
  8. Earth: , the flat line represents the stoppage downward. It stops the fall of the waters.
  9. “Like is known by like.”  To know the four elements man must have in himself the four elements.
  10. Air: breaks the ascending direction of fire.  
  11. Saturn: principle of “heaviness” preceding man. Primordial individuation; Demiourgos.  It is inverted gold, or lead. The Golden Age of yore symbolizes the eternal kingdom of being.
    1. Saturn carries the sickle, which is dissolution and the compass is the power to measure and set limits.
  12. Tomb of Osiris.  This might explain what Plato meant by calling the body a tomb.  By itself and apart from the animating spirit, it is dead matter, the flux of chaos. The hermeticist does not want to escape the body because it is bad, but to temporarily separate to reestablish a dominating and causal solar principle.
  13. Wheels:  Chakras, in Hindu thought.  Resembles a lotus, a key of life and regeneration.

Primordial Man: The original Form being reflected.  The myth of Narcissus; cf. also Plotinus, Enneads, 6.4.14.

Notes on Plotinus

In light of the recent discussions on analogia entis and such, I decided to post these notes.  I am neither agreeing nor disagreeing with Plotinus. This is just what I jotted down when I read through the Enneads last summer.

First Ennead


“The power of pronouncing upon things how they are and differ with others” (I.III.4).  It is combining and Dividing until one reaches perfect Intellection.

Happiness and the Soul

All living things proceed from one principle but possess life in different degrees. The Intellect contains the soul (soul is a lower part; I.IV.10).  The soul reflects and refracts–as a mirror of sorts–the higher images from the Intellect.  

Eternity is Timeless Being (I.V. 7).  

Our knowing the Transcendental allows us a standpoint for the wider survey.

Beauty isn’t symmetry but symmetry participates in Beauty.  

The Soul exists within a Hierarchy of Being

Second Ennead

By matter I don’t think Plotinus means simple corporeality.  It seems to be the chaotic substratum of flux and difference.  It is the manifestation of flux and disorder.  What accounts for unity within the flux of the cosmos?  How can matter serve the immortality of the cosmos (II.1.3)  Answer: the flux is not outgoing.  Does Plotinus mean that the flux doesn’t emanate like the higher orders of being do?

“The ground of all change must itself be changeless”

A soul, then, of the minor degree, reproduces that Divine sphere, although lacking in power. The coherence of extremes is produced by virtue of each possessing all the intermediates (II.1.6).

E1 ——-I₁——–I₂—————E2

The lower soul is moved by the higher (II.II.3)

On Necessity

Necessity is the mother of the fates. There is an agon in the soul as it relates to matter.  

Structure of the Cosmology


Intellectual Principle (but even here there are gradations of being, as Plotinus allows for an image of idefiniteness

World Soul


Each causes the lesser, which in turn is inferior.  The cosmos is an image continuously being imaged.  


Definition and description:  it is undetermined, void of shape (II.IV.2).  Matter suggests movement and differentiation.  By motion, it is a cleavage.  Matter only has real being in the intelligible realm.  Yet, how can the realm of form have matter?  Plotinus suggests that the matter there is a type of complete unity.

Epistemology problem

Likeness knows by likeness.  The indeterminate knows the indeterminate.  How can soul know matter?  The indeterminate must have some footing in the realm of form.  “In knowing matter it must have an experience, the impact of the shapeless” (II.IV.10).  

Matter = Indeterminacy = The Void = Nonbeing (?).

To clarify, matter isn’t corporeality, but the base of the identity to all that is composite. An absence is neither a quality nor a qualified entity, but the negation of a quality (II.IV.13)

Fifth Tractate: Potentiality

All potentiality has a telos.  It is a “substratum” to states.  It requires an intervention from outside itself to bring itself to actuality.  Therefore, anything that has potentiality is actually something else!

Ennead 3


  • A cause penetrates all things
  • This cause cannot be material in origin, since matter = disorder
  • All things are brought to eventuation through causes. There are two kinds:
    • Originating from the soul
    • Originating from the environment

Matter and Evil

  • Conflict and destruction are inevitable (III.II.4).
  • Evil is a falling short in the good (III.II.5).

Structure of the Cosmos (B)



Human beings

Man has come into existence because he occupies an intermediate state. The reason-principles are acts of the Universal Soul. The reason-principle has two phases: one that creates and the other that links the creations.

Ennead 4

The soul is not a quantitative object.  It is a manifestation of Logos (III.5). Much of this Ennead is a long defense of reincarnation, which I won’t cover here. The soul is the medium between Logos and creation (III.11).  

Ennead 5

Problems that are raised for Plotinus.  (Here I am following Rowan Williams’ Arius: Heresy and Tradition).  

  • Can the One have self-understanding, since he would be both subject and object–an active mind working on a passive object (Williams 199ff).  The problem here is that the Form of the one is not simply a structure, but a structuring principle.
  • Thinking and understanding involve distance and duplication.  Understanding is complex because it seeks itself in Otherness (201).
  • Therefore, apparently, when the nous knows itself, it produces multiplicity of the world of ideas, which separates itself from the one.  

Analogia Entis

As Hans Boersma notes, the analogia entis is first and foremost a “sacramental link” between God and creation (Boersma 71).  It is “hinged” or “suspended” by God.  Yet, and here is where an analogia entis cannot be equated with chain of being, it “also insists on the infinite difference between Creator and creature.  In fact, dissimilarity is the main point of the doctrine of analogy.”
last judgment

The following is from David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite.  “The analogy of being does not analogize God and creatures under the more general category of being, but is the analogizing of being in the difference between God and creatures” (241-242).  It rejects both the univocity of Apollos and the equivocity of Dionysius, “neither of which provide a vantage point on transcendence.”

Further safeguarding the Creator/creature distinction, Hart notes, “if the primary analogy is one of being, then an infinite analogical interval has been introduced between God and creatures.”

Hart suggests that without the analogia entis, revelation is impossible.  If there is no analogy or connection between God and man, then either man cannot understand God’s words (equivocity; difference) or man is God’s words (univocity; identity; the problem of Cratylus).


  1. If analogia entis implies a sacramental link between God and creation, and if Barth rejected this as the invention of Antichrist, is it no surprise that Barth (and his followers) have such an anemic view of the sacraments?
  2. There is a connection between God and the world. It is a sacramental one.  The “sign” is filled with deep meaning.  It is “thick.”
  3. Yet, the connection is not an essentialist one, which is the case with chain of being.
  4. This means human “faith,” human “reason,” and human “discourse,” all participate in God
  5. Contrary to chain of being, creation isn’t a diminution; rather, the “most high principle…is present in the very act of each moment of the particular” (247).  In other words, the “lowest” particular reflects the highest transcendence


Boersma, Hans. Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry. Baker Academic.

Hart, David Bentley.