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Dogmen- und Theologiegeschichte


Bracken, Joseph A.


The One in the Many. A Contemporary Reconstruction of the God-World Relationship.


Grand Rapids-Cambridge: Eerdmans 2001. XII, 234 S. gr.8°. Kart. US$ 22,00. ISBN 0-8028-4892-3.


Douglas Hedley

»Cum igitur Deus sit extra totum ordinem creaturae, et omnes creaturae ordinentur ad ipsum, et non e converso, manifestum est quod creaturae realiter referuntur ad ipsum Deum; sed in Deo non est aliqua realis relatio ejus ad creaturas, sed secundum rationem tantum, in quantum creaturae referentur ad ipsum.« (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a.13,7)
Aquinas is holding fast to the Neoplatonic view of the Godhead as a strict simplicity lacking an intrinsic relation to the many in claiming that ›being related to God is a reality in creatures, but being related to creatures is not a reality in God‹. With too strong an emphasis upon Divine aseity, any robust Christian theology would seem to evaporate into metaphor. One major attempt to address this core problem of classical metaphysics is the process model of God as bi-polar. God has an eternal primordial and a consequent aspect. God is dependent upon the decisions of creatures. The genuine realisation of potentialities by the creature, and not the creator, breaks down the classical one-sided dependence. Human beings are not just secondary causes within an unchanging Divine plan for creation, but the Divine plan depends upon the free action of creatures. Not the One and the Many, or the One over against the Many, but the One in the Many. Austin Farrer observed: ›One of the strong­est motives behind the several forms of that protean phenomenon which I call anima mundi theology is the desire to bring the divine life into the stream of time.‹ (Austin Farrer, Faith and Speculation: An essay in Philosophical Theology [London: Adam and Charles Black, 1967], 163)
Joseph Bracken S. J. in The One in the Many: A Contemporary reconstruction of the God-World Relationship (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001) adroitly uses the Whiteheadean notion of societies (i. e. a non random group of entities persisting in time) in relation to the concept of ›fields‹ or more precisely ›structured fields of activity‹. This is a book to be welcomed, a work that addresses some of the deepest questions of metaphysical theology. And it takes seriously the challenge to develop a coherent concept of God, with clarity and rigour. As a way of replacing the old static metaphysics of ›sub­stance‹, we have a dynamic metaphysical vision of reality within which Whitehead’s societies, i. e. structured fields of activity, constitute the fundamental stuff of the world and God. There must be a dynamic and open relation from God to the creatures just as there is a relation from the creatures to God.
At the core of his process metaphysics is what he calls the ›logic of intersubjectivity‹. Using the Japanese thinker Kitaro Nishida, B. explores the vertical dimension to intersubjectivity, which in Hegelian fashion turns out to be the relations of the Trinity. He also explores the horizontal dimension of the dynamic interrelation. Though he remains closer to the classical process thought of White­head and Hartshorne, B. discusses thinkers as diverse as Jean-Luc Marion’s theological phenomenology, and Habermas’s theory of Communicative Rationality, as well as contemporary metaphysi­cians like Robert Neville and William Desmond. The discussions are judicious and non polemical. The book is in some respects a review of contemporary positions in philosophy and theology which B. wishes to relate in more or less critical ways to his own thinking. B. is situating his own position in relation to various theo­logical and crypto theological positions. We even find that Derrida is an unwitting advocate of process thought!
B.’s position may be seen as a vertiginous via media between Whitehead style metaphysics as practised by David Griffin and a traditional Christian Orthodoxy which is nevertheless sensitive to the problems inherent in the received Augustinian-Thomist tradition. In relation to Christian doctrine B. refers in very constructive ways to the late distinguished English reformed theologian Colin Gunton. He exhibits affinities with writers in religion and science debate like Arthur Peacocke, Philip Clayton and Nancey Murphy. Peacocke’s retrieval of emergence from early twentieth century philosophers such as Broad and Alexander, and the role of this in writers like Philip Clayton and Nancey Murphy is clearly an important influence upon B.’s work. Von Hügel said that science is the purgatory of religion. In contemporary debate it tends to be either its inferno or apotheosis. There seems something odd to me in using inanimate nature as a model for the Divine rather than the mind itself. A typical instance is the usage of the term ›field‹, especially in his ›field orientated understanding of Whiteheadean societies‹ to the problem of the mind brain relationship. B. claims to be using the notion of field as a ›philosophical‹ rather than as a strictly scientific term: ›it corresponds to the classical notion of substance as the underlying principle of continuity or endurance within a philosophical cosmology‹ (11). Doubtless B. wishes to avoid the Cartesian associations of mind or self-consciousness, but one may wonder whether his use of the term ›field‹ is smuggling some scientific respectability into an essentially metaphysical debate.
Much stress is laid, as one might expect from a process theologian, upon the dynamic and relational rather than upon the static and unique. B. wishes to rethink the tradition rather than to de­mol­ish it, renew metaphysics rather than overcome it. But if this means the identification of being with becoming and the repudiation of one sided dependence, it seems for the present author too high a price to pay. The traditional view of the physical cosmos is as an imperfect representation of ultimate reality. The world is the expression of God but it is not necessary to God. Austin Farrer writes pertinently »It is no doubt a very foolish piece of theology which makes the time-transcendent mode of God’s being a bar against his entering into the temporeity of his creatures’ existences by his knowledge of them or action in them. The first capacity of the infinite is to fill every finitude. But it is a folly no less extreme to think that we bring God and his creatures together by attaching our temporal conditions to his existence. Is God to enrich his experience as he goes forward in developing the world-process? How can he, when there is no world-process nor any world time?« (Austin Farrer, Faith and Speculation: An essay in Philosophical Theology [London: Adam and Charles Black, 1967], 165) Farrer’s point is that what­ever the benefits of the reciprocity between God and creature in process thought, the Divine is too closely tied to the degenerative processes of becoming (and the ultimate annihilation of the universe) if God is emerging through the cosmos. Doubtless a resolute pantheist can accept this, but how can B.?