Outline of God, Revelation, Authority (vol 5)

By Carl F Henry.

carl henry

The first four volumes dealt with epistemology.  The final two deal with ontology and the doctrine of God.

“God who stands” = personal sovereign containing in himself the ground of his own existence.

“God who stays” = governs in providence and in eschatological consummation (Henry 10).

Substance language

Does have its uses.  Its basic meaning is “to stand under.”  It is not an essence distinguishable from the divine personality (11).  God stands under, not as an underlying substratum, but as the free originator (12).

“God stands” includes his revelational initiative.

“Secular religion lacks revelational criteria to distinguish the divine from the demonic in its promotion of social revolution” (39).

Chapter 2: The Being, Coming, and Becoming of God

Thesis:  The Bible has no problem with “being-language,” but such language is always conditioned by God’s self-disclosure (48-49).  And this self-disclosure is known to us (if not exhausted by) by valid propositional truths.

Chapter 3: The Living God of the Bible

The ambiguous status of cosmic powers in the Bible is not because of some evolutionary move towards mono- or henotheism.  Rather, it is because that world has an ambiguous ontology of rival spirits (74).

Chapter 4: Methods of Determining the Divine Attributes

Henry surveys the three ways (negation, eminence, causality) and finds them inadequate.  Even neo-orthodox scholars must presuppose some positive statements about God in order for them to posit a crisis-intuitive encounter.

Can we know God “in himself?”  Henry cautiously affirms that.  If our knowledge of God’s nature and attributes comes from cognitive, propositional statements from God’s self-disclosure, then there is no reason why we can’t have metaphysical knowledge about God’s nature (96).

God’s attributes are determined by a logically ordered exposition of scriptural revelation  (100).

Chapter 5: Relationship between Essence and Attributes

Realism: “nonmental ‘substance’ is the ontological core of all finite realities.”

Henry’s position: rejects that there is an underlying substratum in which attributes inhere.  This would make the forms and logic “other than” and superior to God.

Chapter 6: God’s Divine Simplicity and Attributes

Essence or nature of God: a living personal unity or properties and attributes (130).  “Essence and attributes are integral to each other.”  “A living unity of perfections.”

“God’s activities are divine qualities or attributes.”

Chapter 7: Personality in the Godhead

Person: the medievals applied it, not to God’s being, but to the distinctions within the Godhead (153). For us there is both personality of God and personality in God.


Chapter 8: Muddling the Trinitarian Dispute

Divine personality is not simply the human self infinitely expanded.

Chapter 9: The Doctrine of the Trinity

Gregory of Nyssa: the Trinity is a Platonic idea where the three persons are subsumed under the one idea of God just as three men are subsumed under the one idea of Man.

Shedd: There is a personality to the Godhead.  This is not the same as the person of the essence.


Chapter 11: God the Self-Revealed Infinite

Barth: Infinity is the plenitude of God’s perfections (Henry, 230).

Chapter 12: Divine Timelessness or Unlimited

Thesis:  God is timelessly eternal (239).  This is not the same thing as an “everlasting now.”

Chapter 13: The modern attack on the timeless God

Question: If God is timeless, how does he respond in time to humans? The answer lies in his sovereignty.

Chapter 14: Divine Timelessness and Omniscience

Omniscience: God’s perfect knowledge of all things, actual or possible, past, present or future” (268).   “The biblical view implies that God is not in time; that there is no succession of ideas in the divine mind” (276).

Chapter 15: Immutability not borrowed from the Greeks

The changelessness predicated of an eternal being is different from the changelessness of a being in time (288).

Chapter 16: The Sovereignty of the Omnipotent God

God’s power is not exhausted by his universe.

Chapter 17: God’s Intellectual Attributes (very important chapter!!)

Thesis: God is the source and ground of all rational distinction (334).  The laws of logic are the architecture of God’s mind.  “The divine Logos is creative and revelatory.”

Revelation is divine self-disclosure.

Chapter 19: The Knowability of God

Incomprehensibility does not imply unknowability.

Chapter 20: Man’s Mind and God’s Mind

Our minds “coincide” in certain propositions, but not pantheistically (383).

Review: Untamed God

This is a magnificently fine book.  Richards seeks to offer a robust defense of classical theism, yet he is sensitive to the challenges. He mostly succeeds.

Thesis:  “Christians should affirm that God has an essence, which includes his perfections and essential properties, and should attribute to God essential and contingent properties” (Richards 17).

Essentialism: belief that so-called ‘de re’ modality is relevant to our understanding of God.  It is appropriate to speak of a cluster of properties which God necessarily exemplifies and without which he would not be God, and contingent properties which he only has in some possible worlds (18 n1).

In chapter 2 he gives a dizzying, yet helpful account of modal logic.  He presents the S5 system, in which all possible propositions are necessarily possible.  This allows him to draw upon Plantinga’s account of possible worlds as “maximally consistent states of affairs.”  

The definition of essence is a set of properties that an entity exemplifies (64). A property is some fact or truth about an entity in the world.  In our usage we want to say that Socrates has necessary/essential properties without saying that Socrates is necessary to every possible world.  We would say it like this:

“S has P and there is no W in which S has the complement ~P of P.  

Property actualism states that S has no properties in worlds in which he does not exist.

□(x)(P(x) → E(x))

Therefore, The essentialist argues that there is a distinction between essential divine properties and accidental (contingent) divine properties (90). Property: a state of affairs concerning entities of different types. While saying there are contingent properties in God seems to depart from the tradition, it really doesn’t.  God’s deciding to create the world is a contingent divine property. God has P in every world.  God’s essence is concretely instantiated in every possible world (95). God’s essential attributes, those he has in every possible world, are divine ‘perfections’ (96).  “They include all those properties susceptible to perfection.”

Richards has several chapters on Barth and Hartshorne, noting some promising moves in the former and rebutting the latter.  The chapter on Barth traded on an unresolved question:  Did Barth hold to strong actualism?  I think he did.  Richards isn’t so sure.

He ends the book with a fine chapter on divine simplicity, noting the numerous ways it has been employed in the Tradition:

(1) all divine properties are possessed by the same self-identical God.
(2) God is not composite, in the sense that he is not made up of elements or forms more fundamental than he is.
(3) God’s essence is identical with his act of existing.
(4) All God’s essential properties are coextensive.
(5) All God’s perfections are identical.
(6) All God’s properties are coextensive
(7) God’s essential properties and essence are strictly identical with himself.
(8) All God’s properties are strictly identical with himself.

Question: when the medieval denied God has accidents, is he denying what the essentialist is affirming, that God has contingent properties (225)?  Maybe not.  The essentialist, for example, says contingent relations are divine accidents, but Thomas calls these external relations ad extra.

The medievals denied that “goodness” and the like were accidental to God, because they (rightly) wanted to deny that God participates in the form of Goodness.  But this isn’t what the essentialist is claiming.

Therefore, the essentialist accepts (1)-(4), noting that “existence” today doesn’t have quite the same connotations as existence did for Thomas.  (5) is tricky.  (6) seems unproblematic.  (7)-(8) are deeply problematic.

Heidegger Review: Introduction Metaphysics

Thesis and Conclusion: our asking “Why is there being rather than Nothing?” is a historical process and in that process opens us to different vistas. Heidegger concludes, “Being is the basic happening which first makes possible historical Dasein amid the disclosure of the essent as a whole” (Heidegger 201).

So what is “being?”  It is permanence, already-thereness, given–enduring presence (202). When we ask “why is there essents rather than nothing,” our questioning is itself placed midway between being and nonbeing (29).

Whenever being is delimited, it is determined.  There are four basic delimitations (becoming, appearance, thinking, ought). This constitutes the longest and most difficult chapter of the book.  Simply put, being is permanent presence, becoming is emerging appearing, thinking is The breaking out, the agon, opens essent as sea, earth.  It happens as language is mastered in violence (157).  Knowledge: techne, putting into work the being of any particular essent. Truth is unconcealment.  Unconcealment is the space created for the appearing of essent.  

This book is difficult because it isn’t always clear where Heidegger is going.  Nevertheless, while it can’t replace Being and Time, it represents a clear advance on some of the concepts.

Incidentally, Heidegger sees National Socialism (which he calls a great movement) as embodying the encounter between global technology and modern man, 199).

Husserl: Crisis Phenomenology

I am not enough of an expert to comment whether this is a good introduction to Husserl. It is, however, a good preparation to reading Husserl’s student Martin Heidegger. Husserl also introduces the reader to numerous key moves in phenomenology which have payoff potential in later discussions of philosophy of mind. Nonetheless, many of Husserl’s ideas are undeveloped.

Phenomenology is a study of essences only. Essences belong to the ideal sphere and are grasped in intuition. Absolute knowledge is contained in the phenomena. Phen. reveals essences and reverses the standard correspondence theory model. The real world corresponds to true thought. It reveals consciousness. Husserl’s goal: overcome the wall of separation between being and consciousness (47).

Husserl’s most important moment is his discussion of intentionality. Intentionality is to give meaning to an expression. It is a movement of consciousness towards something; thus, it is objective (109). When we perceive an object, we perceive it in its givenness-to-us. What I think Husserl means is that the object’s essence is related to its being a determinate object (114). At this early point in Husserl’s career it seems he is positing a real relation (and relation is a category of essence) between object and perception. As the editor comments in a footnote, to know the thought is to know what is thought about.

Improving upon Descartes: the cogitatum is given with the same immediacy as the cogito itself. Thus, there is an intentionality to consciousness (59). To be is to be-given-to-consciousness. The essential is the ideal, and the ideal is located in acts of consciousness. Therefore, subjectivity = objectivity.

Husserl ends with a lecture on the crisis of European man. It’s interesting, though he doesn’t advance any substantial ideas. The book isn’t perfect but it does contain valuable insights. In short, I wonder how natural bracketing out ideas in an epoch really is. If an object is an object in its givenness-to-us, then what exactly does the epoch advance?

McCormack on Thomas on Justification

From Bruce McCormack’s essay “What’s at Stake in the Current Debate?”

I do not intend this as a “refutation” of Thomas, nor is this McCormack’s larger goal in his essay.  Thomas is simply too powerful a thinker to be refuted in a 600 word blog post. But McCormack nicely highlights conceptual difficulties in Thomas’s account in particular, and various evangelical-catholic paradigms of “ontological healing” in general.

And to be fair, if one were given the option of choosing between a strong Thomism or the evangelical-catholic goofiness today, Thomas is the obvious choice.  But there are more choices.

(1) For Thomas grace is two things: the work of God upon the soul and the effect of that action.

Two things are considered in the soul: the essence of the soul and the work of its powers.  The form of the soul is intellectual in orientation

The Subsistence of the Soul

Thomas: Nothing acts so far as it is in act, and nothing acts except that whereby it is in act. The soul is the form of the thing.  The soul’s powers are its mind and will.

(2) Form is the act in which a thing has its being and subsistence.

For Aquinas justification, in short, will consist of reorienting the intellect back to God’s proper order.  It is important to keep in mind that the soul is a spiritual substance that is intellectual in character (and this isn’t unique to Aquinas.  This is roughly the historic Christian position).

(3) Grace finds its seat in the essence of the soul, not in the powers.

What metaphor does Aquinas use to explain the nature of this grace infused into the soul?  Light.  Light, however, suggests an intellectual range.  This would place grace somewhere else than the essence of the soul–some place like the intellectual powers of mind and will (87).

This doesn’t mean Thomas is wrong, of course, but it does highlight a conceptual confusion.


(4) Justification, for Thomas, is a movement from a state of injustice to a state of justice.

And for those who know their Thomas and Aristotle, this means

(4*) There must be a mover (God), which sets things in motion: the movement itself and the object of the movement.

In short, God moves all things (in justification) according to the proper mode of each.  It looks like this:

Infusion of justifying grace → a movement of free choice → forgiveness of sin

There is one big problem:  infant baptism (89). Infants are not capable of movements of free choice towards justifying grace, and it won’t work, pace Thomas, to speak of this as an exception, since Roman Catholicism practices infant baptism as the norm.

For most of Thomas’s account, justifying grace finds its “point of entry” on the level of the intellectual powers of the soul.  McCormack writes,

“In other words: there would be no need to locate the infusion of grace in the essence of the soul if it were not for the fact that the Church’s accepted practice was to baptize infants.  And that also means that Thomas’s tendency to understand justification as rooted in an ‘ontological healing’ of the soul, rather than in a more personal understanding of the operations of grace, is a function of the fact that the regeneration of the infant is the truly paradigmatic case where that infusion of grace which initiates justification is concerned (89).

Thomas’s project would be largely free from this confusion if, say, he were a Baptist and baptismal justification worked only with adults–but that isn’t the case.  And here is where Thomas will switch metaphors from “light” (which suggests intellectual illumination) to seeing grace as a quasi-substantial “thing.”

Thesis: The work of God in us was being made the basis of God’s forgiveness (90).

And this is what the Reformers rejected and what is at stake.  If imputation holds, then the hierarchical mediations of Rome are unnecessary.  And this is precisely what is glossed over in many “ecumenical” discussions.


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.