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Mir - Panentheist Reading of John Milbank

Mir - Panentheist Reading of John Milbank

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Modern Theology 28:3 July 2012 ISSN 0266-7177 (Print) ISSN 1468-0025 (Online

)

A PANENTHEIST READING OF JOHN MILBANK
moth_1763 526..560

AMENE MIR
There is no one place in Milbank’s writings where one can point to a clearly delineated doctrine of God. It is scattered amidst a range of theological and philosophical commentary covering the whole range of theology and philosophy from Plato to Derrida, Augustine to McFague. This article does not question Milbank’s sometimes controversial readings of these thinkers. It seeks rather to glean the tenor of Milbank’s own understanding of the nature and attributes of God and their bearing on the question of creation’s relation to the divine, especially in the light of his return to the participatory theology of Augustine and Dionysius.1 In this return Milbank radically uproots much of the theological and philosophical endeavour of modernity2. This article, however, will argue for evidence of a far more radical turn in Milbank’s thought towards panentheism. Namely, that creation is embraced and contained within the life of the divine, such that creation and the divine can be said to be in dipolar asymmetrical relation.3 Milbank makes no explicit mention anywhere in his work of the word “panentheism”. Yet, as one looks more closely at his writings, it certainly becomes possible to give a panentheist reading of his thought. This article, then, is essentially a “colouring-in” of the latent and implicit underlying panentheistic contours to be found in Milbank’s thought in order to reveal the hidden implications flowing from his understanding of God and the divine relation to creation. Initially it appears that Milbank offers a strong defence of classical theism and divine transcendence4 as found for example in the thought of Aquinas. Here God is “pure act”, “As infinite power which is unimpeded, nothing in God can be unrealised, so that it would appear that God is actus purus. . . .”5

Amene Mir 9 Mylne Close, Upper Mall, London W6 9TE, UK amenemir@ymail.com
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank

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Milbank speaks of God as “. . . a plenitudinous supra-temporal infinite which has ‘already realised’ in an eminent fashion every desirable effect.”6 In God there is “. . . an infinite coincidence of act and power. . . .”7 God’s “simplicity” has “. . . no outside, and therefore it is also beyond the contrast ‘self-sufficient’ versus affectable-from-without.”8 God does not “become”9 or enter time.10 Divine aseity, immutability and impassibility are underlined in that God “. . . never, properly speaking, interacts with creatures.”11 God is “. . . utterly replete and self-sufficient. . . .”12; “. . . nothing can be added to divine knowledge or divine power.”13 Nor can anything be taken from the impassable God.14 Considering the problem of evil, Milbank agrees that it would be an error even to argue for a temporary putting aside of divine omnipotence.15 He notes Aquinas’ “agnostic reserve”16 in considering finite reality’s relation to the divine: “It is only Aquinas’ agnosticism which really exemplifies the principle that there is no ratio between finite and infinite, and upholds the ontological difference.”17 We will see, however, that in his desire for a return to a participatory theology Milbank will depart from a straightforward reiteration of classical theism allowing for a strong panentheistic reading of his work. Milbank is well known for his rejection of Duns Scotus’ univocalist ontology. This rejection rests in part, I would argue, in its failure to offer an adequate doctrine of divine transcendence. This may seem an odd claim to make. After all, Scotus’ God is not that of an immanent force identified with creation but a distant and removed deity who if he intervenes does so only occasionally and by seeming arbitrary acts of will.18 The offence, however, against transcendence in Milbank’s eyes is that Scotus allows for an ontology in which Being is itself a transcendental category prior to the divine, in which both creation and the divine share, albeit God possessing Being to an eminent and infinite degree unlike created beings which possess it only finitely. In turn, Creation, by sharing in transcendental being, comes to possess its own autonomy grounded in this prior transcendental category without need for the initiating and sustaining presence of the divine. “Being” becomes “. . . transcendentally indifferent to infinite and finite . . . the finite Creation fully is, in its own right as Creation. . . .”19 With Scotus we end up with the wrong type of transcendence (a mere removal of the divine from an autonomous creation), and the wrong type of ontological divide (God, although separate from creation, univocally shares with creation in a transcendent ground of Being). God is “reduced” to being one more “being” (albeit infinite) amongst other “beings” (finite). Milbank names this error ontotheology.20 It is an ontology unconstrained by, and transcendentally prior to theological truth.21 Milbank would assert that modernity and notions of the secular in part arise from this theological error, in which finite reality can be understood as having an ontological grounding apart from its participatory relation to the divine. Finite reality becomes an end in itself to be studied both philosophically and scientifically.22 Milbank responds that unless we
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

528 Amene Mir . . . redefine being and knowledge theologically . . . the radical otherness of God, will never be expressible in any way without idolatrously reducing it to our finite human categories.23 Further, for Milbank, this theological error undergirds the nihilism implicit in modernity’s world-view, for a transcendental univocal Being can only “exist” in so far as it is instantiated in some way or other, beyond which there is nothing.24 Milbank’s rejection of Scotus’ transcendental univocity as the medium of “differentiated content” will be important in arriving at a panentheistic reading of his work. For Milbank believes Scotus’ position leads to a pure heterogeneity of instantiated content25 in which God’s relation to creation comes to be understood as “. . . a bare divine unity [who] starkly confronts the other distinct unities which he has ordained.”26 For Milbank such a relation denies to theological discourse the use of analogy and hierarchy which he holds essential to a correct understanding of creation’s relation to the divine and the preservation of a correct doctrine of divine transcendence. For heterogeneity exemplifies itself as non-hierarchical and arbitrary,27 resulting in difference (in contrast to analogical “likeness”) that has to be continually held back from conflict by a “ruling monarch” and a coercive and arbitrary will in a shared theatre of action. God becomes one more causal influence amongst others.28 Divine transcendence, then, for Milbank is not primarily about God’s distance from creation, from which the divine occasionally intervenes, but certainly it does, as we shall see, include a notion of “ontological divide” through an analogical and hierarchical understanding of participation that Milbank truly believes preserves a correct understanding of divine transcendence. Milbank’s defence of divine transcendence is further displayed in his rejection of “immanentism” and his attack on so-called “eco-theology”.29 Part of the reason for the rise of this particular “error” Milbank suggests lies in the Scotist roots of modernity. Here, creation is no longer understood in its participatory relation to the divine but as occupying its own autonomous ground of “being”. Subsequently, nature in and of itself can be “objectified” according to “laws” governing the inter-relationship of physical bodies through scientific “experiment”, to be supplemented later by the determination of the “laws” governing the nature of human societies.30 Ironically, God becomes identified with these immanent laws.31 Such a “. . . purely immanent, embodied, developing limited Godhead . . .”32 becomes merely a “spiritual” factor within the world, which in turn imposes limiting constraints upon him.”33 With immanentism God comes to be identified with “lure” and “process”.34 Divine omnipotence is rejected in favour of a God who “. . . does his best . . . to persuade recalcitrant nature. . . .”35 It is in the context of defending divine transcendence that Milbank confronts what seem to be certain theological “impossibilities”36. Namely, that a
© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd

a God who shares his life with what is “not God”. “Impossibilities” because they offend against divine transcendence and divine aseity. leaving “. . but by a creation that can only be viewed and finally defined by its orientation to the divine. . . . Creation’s relation to the divine rests not with a “far off” God revealed by an extrinsically imparted revelation in which grace comes from “without”. . . . language and history. The one is necessarily selfcontained. He argues that for the Church Fathers “. there cannot really be an exterior to God since he is all in all”?37 Whilst preserving divine transcendence Milbank seeks to give answers to these aporias and begin to undo what he sees as the errors of modernity by a return to the participatory theology of Augustine and Dionysius. . For Milbank pushes further the Dionysian idea that God as utterly replete and self-sufficient can share himself with another38: a God who is replete. nothing in nature which the light of faith might not re-interpret and indeed no true nature which has not been transfigured by © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . the secular. Why should God to whom nothing can be added create? How can this God become incarnate in time? Does not the incarnation involve change in the Godhead? Milbank notes that whilst for Aquinas creation “. since “. . is . We will see evidence of a developing yet unacknowledged dipolarity in his doctrine of God: God as he is in himself. . . I will show that this pushing further of the Dionysian idea leads Milbank into important qualifications of classical theism. Milbank’s treatment of God’s ecstatic “going beyond” self-containment to “another” underpins his understanding of the nature of culture. . Given the importance of divine transcendence to Milbank’s theological position. For the question at the heart of his Radical Orthodoxy project is the question of creation’s relation to God and of how much of the theological understanding of the last six hundred years has undermined a correct understanding of this relationship. to which all created events to a lesser degree .”40 God is revealed to us not from without but is embedded within culture. Here revelation is received arbitrarily from “without” to become an “object” of theological study and scrutiny. Scotus’ univocal ontology allows creation an autonomous space. . . the other goes beyond self-containment to another. is exterior to God . conjoined intrinsically and inseparably with a created event which symbolically discloses that transcendent reality. God in his ecstatic sharing in relation to another. point. in language and history.” Milbank asks how should we understand this.41 Here lies the essence of Milbank’s return to a participatory theology. it might seem incredible to offer a panentheistic reading of his work. on which God “acts” occasionally and from “afar”. . revelation .39 Milbank’s understanding of “revelation” is very different.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 529 transcendent God can create and that such a God can become incarnate. and indeed pre-eminently in human makings. . Yet I will suggest that it is only within such a reading that the method by which Milbank deals with these aporias can properly make sense.

the created is the gift through and through. In place of an autonomous grounding for the created order Milbank agrees with Jacobi and Hamann in their insistence that no finite thing can be known. gratuity arises before necessity or obligation and does not even require this contrast in order to be comprehensible. . not even to any degree. The hard and fast distinction between revealed religion and natural religion. of the corporeal depth of things . . .44 not in terms of a remote designing deity (whose vestigial effects we can discern in the “laws” governing an autonomous nature “leftto-itself”) but rather in terms “. with no being. or else argued that if they were valid their conclusions would be nihilistic. . In terms of the relation between the created and the divine Milbank writes.”47 This “grounds” actuality in the divine rather than in Scotus’ transcendental Being which is in and of itself “nothing” other than it’s finite instantiations. .530 Amene Mir grace. . It is only within the infinite that the finite can be known as “gift”. between nature and grace. substance or material that is ontologically “prior” to or independent of gift. The creature as creature is not the recipient of a gift. . Here created actuality is understood as pure “gift”: “.50 in which there can be no ratio between the finite and infinite. . . we see a shift.”51 Created things can only be gifts.49 We have noted that in defending divine transcendence Milbank mentions Aquinas’ “agnostic reserve”. the world is God’s speaking it out of a void. . .48 In dealing with the aporias of how a God who is replete can create we begin to see here intimations of a panentheist position as Milbank pushes further the Dionysian vision of God’s ecstatic “going beyond” self-containment to “another”. .52 © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . in Creation there are only givens in so far as they are also gifts: if one sees only objects. it is itself this gift. however. The “gift” is only through its participation in the ecstatic outpouring of the divine. for creation in toto cannot be understood other than in its relation to the divine. This is not in terms of an assertion that God and creation operate on the same plane of activity only to be distinguished in terms of a ratio of lesser or greater proportionality as found in a univocalist ontology. thus upholding the ontological divide between the divine and creation. is overthrown. we take the surface of things as signs disclosing or promising such depth. . . outside its ratio to the infinite. but rather in terms of a gifted participation.”45 This “depth” relates to a thing’s actual existence over and against nothing in so far as it held in the mind of God46: “. In Milbank. . such that the finite cannot be known outside its ratio to the infinite.” in which “. . between faith and reason. .43 For Milbank such an approach can be interpreted as a kind of appeal to a natural religion and natural theology. then one mis-apprehends and fails to recognise true natures. hence they denied the validity of the enterprises of ontology or epistemology as pure philosophical endeavours. . all that they are is given. .”42 It is a creation that participates in God.

not even to any degree. Another way of describing this would be panentheism. since only the effect realises the causal operation and defines it. . . in the case of divine causality. “Creatures. .”57 This Milbank describes as a Neoplatonic rather than as an Aristotelian understanding of cause58. It is a creation as contained in the divine such that to understand God as “cause” and creation as “effect” is not to understand “cause” as preceding “effect” but rather “cause” as realised in “.”60 In contrast to the ontotheology of Scotus. for Aquinas. There can be no substantial medium between © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . who acts from afar. the decision to create and the ‘eminent’ reality of creatures are included in the eternal uttering of the Logos. . in which grace (like revelation) is conveyed to a pure nature extrinsically.53 Consequently. . the event of the giving of the effect. Milbank makes reference to the language of “accidents” and “substance”. such “. . between creation and the divine for Milbank is not of an “exterior” God. In developing his own return to a participatory theology Milbank himself. . in relation to Aquinas. We see here that. To deny this is to fall into the trap of the univocalist ontology of Scotus in which “being” becomes a universal common medium between God and creatures in terms of a shared esse. but one of deepest intimacy.63 In place of “substance” Milbank wishes to speak of relation: finite reality can only be understood in relation to divine gratuity. there can be no prior medium to which grace is conveyed extrinsically. rather they subsist by participation in this substance. . . Creation is intimately and internally related to the divine: . an effect does not really come after a cause. for Aquinas. but more precisely a creation that is in God. rejects the use of such language in talking of the divine relation to creation. which itself defines the cause as cause.54 Milbank’s position here reaffirms the rejection of any shared ratio between the created and the divine in terms of a proportionally “shared” or “prior” ground in which both divine and finite reality participate as distinct unities. participation is to be understood in terms of the “movement” from the divine understood as pure gratuity.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 531 “Apart” from this “givenness” there can be no “being”. outside its ratio to the infinite. are radically accidental. then. . . . .”62 The relation being described here “between” the divine and creation is not of a God who is in creation. that no finite thing can be known. . . accidents of the divine substance.59 Indeed it is “. . the entire gift of the effect and the emanation of the effect. But not thereby of course.”56 The relation. Milbank insists on reading Aquinas within this participatory tradition. however.55 Rather. It is in the light of this Neoplatonic understanding of causality that Milbank reads Aquinas. creation is to be understood in terms of sheer divine gratuity. . Rather. Milbank describes his own position as a theontology61 which avoids the need for theological discourse to be first situated and defined within the parameters of a metaphysical discourse concerned with “being” and “substance” indifferent to its finite and infinite instantiations.

namely. God acts and knows because he internally ‘makes’ or ‘creates’. . . [he] is therefore more profoundly Christian than Aquinas. . .”66 i. indeed it is this differentiation insofar as it is finitely ‘explicated’. allowing creation to be understood as purely external to the divine. thus preserving divine transcendence. . of Scotist Being. . but solely through their actual participation in the divine. . rather than infinitely ‘complicated’. . not through a sharing in some external “being” or “substance”. . The whole act of creation is radically and completely internal to God. The clear implication of Milbank’s rejection of “substance” in favour of “relation” is panentheist. that because God includes creation we should deem God and the world to be in symmetrical relation. . substance does not underlie God’s creative activity. . . . Nor is actuality for Milbank the inhering of some formal or abstract idea in any prior substance. as the manipulation of some pre-existing external “substance” or “matter”. is not a ‘substance’. for if creation here is not within the divine what other relation to God can it have? There can be no without. and of Thomist language of substance and accident for that of an understanding of finite reality as a relational participation in the pure gratuity of the divine allows a strong panentheistic reading of Milbank’s position. the doctrine of the Trinity discovers the infinite God to include a radical ‘external’ relationality. Rather there is only a pure relationality flowing from a transcendent asymmetrical divine gratuity. not by inhering in any prior substance. Just as God . because he is © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . . .e. . It is a relation through participation in the divine. The rejection of ontotheology.532 Amene Mir divine gratuity and finite reality. that there is nothing “external” to God. It is through and through relational in terms of a participation in the divine. no autonomy through any shared ground in terms of a univocalist ontology. The created world of time participates in God who differentiates. There is no symmetry between God and creation. thought of making as merely a modification of existing forms.”65 Why should this be so? The answer for Milbank is that under the influence of Aristotle Aquinas “. Creatures are. Milbank writes approvingly of Eriugena’s assertion that “. need to be understood in this context:67 not that creation should be considered as outside the divine68 but rather as not identical with the divine yet nevertheless internal to it: The harmony of the Trinity is therefore not the harmony of a finished totality. For panentheism too affirms the error of pantheism.69 We can read this in terms of an asymmetry between God and creation— God includes creation but creation cannot be said to include God. based on God as internally ‘creator’ . Milbank’s references to creation’s “externality” then. but nor is there any “medium” between God and creation.”64 That creation is not identical with God (pantheism) but is rather within God in relationship— panentheism—is underlined by Milbank when he says because Eriugena’s ontology is “.

the “breath” of the divine which “goes forth” in creation and “returns” deified: “God’s goal is the existence of creatures outside himself. only in returning to God and attaining an outcome in excess of their first occasioning. . . as always cancelling this lesserness and otherness. which is already himself. .”71 This “cancelling” of the “lesserness” and “otherness” of creation occurs through the excess that the divine gratuity engenders in creation itself. For example the Plotinian One cannot be participated in since it dissolves all distinctions and even reasonings. Here the final upshot—deification—is extraordinarily in excess of the original goal—Creation—since it would be pointless for God to aim for deification. For the divine cannot be understood in terms of an undifferentiated unity. all that is “other” to the divine. . in some sense. not just humanity. .)75 The “in some sense” of this last quotation leads us to ask. all creatures suspire . . “In what sense can Milbank mean?” A panentheistic reading of Milbank explains “in what sense” creation can be “as itself” yet “more than itself”. such that it can be understood “. be imparticably participated. so there are no absolute self-standing substances in creation. and is a result of its ‘impossibility’. a “portion of divinity”. . is already as itself more than itself.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 533 nothing fundamental underlying anything else. After all it is Milbank himself who criticises Scotus for destroying the basis of a participatory understanding of creation’s relation to the divine precisely by his elevation of finite being to ontological equality with infinite being. everything . (Everything is therefore engraced. Milbank uses the analogy of “suspiration”. a henological totality74 as in Neoplatonism where the accommodation of difference was problematical. .70 Milbank further reads Aquinas as saying that creation can only be understood “. . . . no underlying matters not existent through form and no discrete and inviolable ‘things’. . and this more is in some sense a portion of divinity. By contrast. . yet since there is nothing outside God. for Christian theology the hyper-diverse and eminently intellectual essence of God can .”76 What Milbank rejects is the very ontological “exterior” complementarity of creation © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd .”72 This leads Milbank to suggest that even the resulting “excess” the divine gratuity engenders goes beyond what God himself envisages. This strange structure—outcome in excess of goal—only applies to the relation between God and Creation. as standing ‘spatially’ alongside the infinite. . is held and “contained” within the divine. . For it is the intimate relation between the divine and creation by which all that is.73 This idea of creation going “beyond” and in “excess” of its goal colours Milbank’s understanding of the divine and its relation with creation. as already “engraced” as. as a self-exceeding—that is to say as the lesser and other to God which only exists .

. here understood as more than an undifferentiated unity but rather as the origin and source of all difference. the Trinity discovers the infinite God to include a radical ‘external’ relationality. Creation for Milbank is not “lifted up” into the divine as in Scotus’ theology. For the Trinitarian God does not possess the unity of a bare simplicity. a naked will.”85 It is only in this context that one can understand Milbank’s elaboration of human poesis.”82 “External” is once more in inverted commas because there can be no “externality” in any Scotist sense but rather because creation is “other” to the divine. . .” where the divine is understood as an extraneous presence.78 This panentheistic intimacy between creation and the divine can be read in Milbank’s treatment of the Trinity. .77 This stands in contrast to the panentheism to be found here. and nor does it stand in a Scotist external relation to all difference but rather “. “Properly speaking there is only an immanent Trinity. His prioritisation of the immanent over the economic Trinity79 allows him to speak of a coinciding of human and divine poesis in history. . participated in by creation. As such the Trinity is not a finished totality. . yet enfolded and included within the divine. . but as that which “suspires” from within the divine in such a way that creation can never be “exterior” to the divine life. between God and difference. . starkly confronts the other distinct unities. . creation is brought to the very heart of the life of the divine in a very intimate and dynamic way so different from classical models of God’s relation to creation.”83 Hence.80 Once more Milbank sets this understanding against that of Scotus where the world is no longer “. . for its very being is to participate in the divine. God’s love for what he creates implies that the creation is generated within a harmonious order intrinsic to God’s own being. including human history. as found in Scotus’ theology. of an incidental relation between God and creation. where in the case of human being the possibility of the beatific vision can only be a divinely extrinsically willed supplement. . but one that goes to the very heart of what the divine is as the inclusive source of all difference. between finite and infinite. In Milbank’s Trinitarian theology. . © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . therefore.”81 For Milbank creation can only be understood within a consideration of God as Trinity. . “.84 Milbank writes. Milbank argues that the economic Trinity can only really be understood in relation to the Fall rather than to the act of creation itself. not only in the Godhead itself but in creation too. rather it already is “engraced”. God in his creation ad intra in the Logos ‘incorporates’ within himself the creation ad extra. Milbank criticises Scotus for disassociating the act of creation ad extra from the act of generation ad intra that is the life of the Trinity. nor does he stand in an indifferent relationship to what he creates. enfolded within the divine expressive Logos. One is not talking. . where creation is related to the divine not as divine itself. a bare divine unity which “.534 Amene Mir in relation to the divine.

98 Is such a panentheistic reading of creation’s relation to the divine as I am attempting here merely a type of emanationism as found for example in Neoplatonism? The answer is “yes” and “no”.88 The “logic” of this position. culture. .86 There is no “remove” between God and creation by which the divine “underlies” finite reality. the idea that human beings.99 We have referred above to Milbank’s use of the idea of “suspiration”. as Milbank points out. .91 whom he draws upon to develop his own understanding of both human and divine poesis as coincidental and as opening up the dynamic possibilities of participation. and history God is revealed not from without creation but from within it. Neoplatonism attempted to explore the boundary between supernatural deity and material nature by reference to the innate belonging of the soul to the supernatural. networks of relation”. as grace-given participations in the divine unity. there can be nothing “discrete” or “inviolable” in and of itself. It is in this light that Milbank reads the Cappadocian Fathers. in their cultural reality. as completely and utterly constitutive of all that is.95 but in which all difference originates and is contained within the divine. . In this essentially panentheistic understanding.100 But the answer is also “no” because. cosmic and unassisted vision .” of an ordered reality. . .87 for finite reality is through relation to the divine and because of this is intimately related to all other “difference” as “held” within the divine life. infinitely revisable . . It is for this reason. . . in his return to a participatory model we see that there is nothing “alien” to the divine. .” which are held together “. whether in terms of a divine “substance” or indeed of any other “substance”. . in terms of a participatory theology. Milbank makes a crucial qualification of Aquinas’ metaphysics to better accommodate Aquinas to a participatory understanding of creation’s relation to God: if Thomist participation in esse is prised apart from “lower level” form/matter dualism then this would permit “. between God and difference. are clusters of differentia .93 Rejecting this in favour of a participatory model leads to a multi-faceted view of actuality in terms of “. . It was this latter vision that the Church attempted to “Christianise”. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd .”97 Milbank terms this a metaphysics/metasemiotics of relation rather than of substance. Yes. “discrete” and “heterogeneous”.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 535 culture and history in terms of its coinciding with divine poesis such that in human poesis. . Created reality is none other than its relation to the divine through participation in the divine. . is that God never interacts with creation89 precisely because there is no “remove” between God and creation. a peaceful affirmation of the other. there is no “divide” or “medium” that acts as an interface between the divine and creation.92 For Milbank a substance metaphysic gives rise to a “once-and-forall” definition of “things” as “static”. Milbank himself recognises that in contrast to Aristotelianism’s “. . . .94 not in terms of the agonistic heterogeneity of Scotus’ transcendental univocity. as Milbank elaborates. consummated in a transcendent infinity.90 Creation is panentheistically embraced within the life of the divine.”96 This allows Christian thought to arrive at “. . . .

. albeit as a potentia absoluta. and through which the divine grants participation in its life. Rather. . pertaining between an ontically reduced God on the one hand and ontic creatures on the other. . that sometimes Milbank’s language can be confusing if one does not pay close attention to it. however. we are not talking of creation’s relation to the divine in terms of an “externalisation” through emanation but a panentheistic “internalisation” of creation within the divine that stands in contrast to Neoplatonic emanationism. there was now a dubious reciprocity . but is itself within God. For instance. It is the case. This stands in contrast to a divine gratuity which transcends any ontological realm.”102 Milbank. but it is a relation of the greatest possible intimacy though the participation of finite reality in the life of the divine as a result of an initiatory divine gratuity.”104 Further evidence for this reading is given in how Milbank contrasts his participatory theology with that of Scotus.536 Amene Mir Creation does not “fall” into something “alien” and intrinsically evil. but posits creation as influence. actually colours this word’s meaning more subtly. . . . the relation here is radically asymmetrical. Rather the relation of creation to the divine is understood by Milbank in terms of the prioritisation of the internal life of the Trinity itself as pre-eminently immanent. in which divine causality began to be thought of as a “general” influence. . in his discussion of the shift in meaning around the mid-thirteenth century of the Latin influentia as applied to the understanding of creation’s relation to the divine. understood as “. a ‘flowing in’ of something higher to something lower to the degree that it could be received. . the single unilateral and total cause of everything.101 So. . After the mid-thirteenth century influentia came to be understood as an extrinsic conditioning. an © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . in that “higher” and “lower” although other to each other are not “alien” to each other in a way that for instance “matter” would be to the One in Neoplatonic emanationism. “The creative influence of God does not influence creation. supplemented by “special” influences—miracles and the action of grace—competing with specific finite causes in a shared concursus or ontic plane. “Hence God is the single influence. Creation is not a “medium” through which God is in “external” relation. . as “contained” in the “movement” between the persons of the Trinity.”103 Certainly. by giving his gifts to-be. that gives rise to the distinction in the Trinity between the immanent and the economic. giving rise to finite reality. . he causes by sharing his own nature.105 Here creation is no longer held within the divine for the divine “comes” to the finite “discretely” and “externally” very much in the way of any other “cause” sharing an ontic plane. Milbank writes of this that “. .”106 Here too we see an example of the “wrong” sort of divine transcendence in which the infinite and finite collaborate in a single field of operation. Milbank’s summing up of this can be read as strongly panentheistic. . . creation is nothing other than divine influentia. in unpacking the meaning of this word in the context of his own participatory theology. for Milbank. since it is the infinite God who posits finite creation as influence. however. In essence. .

such that through participation there is always a “depth” to things that actually makes them what they really are. which is the condition of their mutual externality . without which relation there would be nothing. . not as a Prime Mover. . the divine is the animating principle of all that is. the Giver of the gift. inherently interconnected ‘qualities’ which . .A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 537 influentia or “flowing-in” of the infinite to the finite. It is in the context of this panentheistic reading that we can make sense of Milbank’s uses the word “coincident” to describe the relation between divine and human poesis. then. . . for Milbank. thus preserving the divine transcendence. theologically all we can point to when we speak of what is truly real:115 . or a causal principle within creation. sutured by psyche. Thus. .114 For Milbank. . Whilst the finite is. Milbank can describe nature as “. as grounded within the divine.109 We can draw out the implications of this further and say that.111 It is true that Milbank rejects the notion of God as “world-soul”112 but he does so very much in the context of an “immanentism” that identifies nature with the divine and thus overthrows divine transcendence. for how one “thing” is ordered to “another” lies not in Scotus’ distinct unities confronting © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . a natural orientation towards the supernatural which exists only by participation. there are no absolute self-standing substances in creation . entirely psychic in character.108 and of how Milbank rejects notions of “substance” for that of “relation”. Within this context Milbank comes as near as possible to a notion of the divine as “world-soul”. held within the divine. . but rather is an “unfolding” of the finite within the infinite. in the unfolding of creation from the infinite there is an innate belonging of all reality. participate in the divine creative power/act . . One can only think of . . . not just the human “soul”. “being” having no ontological status other than what is “gifted”. . . creation is the work of the divine as much as it is the work of the finite as it participates in this “unfolding”. but as the gratuitous ground of creation’s very own “unfolding” through its participation in the divine. through time. The relation of the finite as held within the infinite is.” and that its unfolding is realised in a participation in the divine vision that is “. As such. We have mentioned above how Neoplatonism attempted to explore the boundary between supernatural deity and creation by reference to the innate belonging of the soul to the supernatural. it can be read as held in complete and absolute asymmetrical relation to the divine.107 This is not a “coinciding” in terms of causal action within a shared ontic plane.”110.113 Panentheism avoids such an identification as it can be elaborated within an asymmetrical understanding of the relation between creation and the divine that preserves divine transcendence. . no discrete ‘things’. to the divine. . . . . .116 Milbank writes in this last quote that the participation in the divine of all that makes up finite reality “is the condition of their mutual externality”. This calls for a panentheistic emphasis in reading Milbank’s work. for Milbank. . . .

as Dionysius says. . . which participates in the divine. For Milbank here lies a Christian transformation of Neoplatonism “. which relation is the infinite’s “finite explication”.”121 In this context Milbank can speak of God’s infinity as a “. both a dynamic happening and a complex relation. .538 Amene Mir each other. . God’s knowledge is not ‘before’ but in the infinity of generation.125 Dipolarity. introduces relation as a moving and dynamic element. in that. however. the unlimited of pure possibility. only be. . situating the infinite emanation of difference within the Godhead itself.”118 The relations between finite “things” reflect that found within the divine unity. . ‘limited’ if it is the infinite happening of the new in harmony with what ‘precedes’ it. in favour of allowing there to be potential within the divine understood as “infinite unrealised power”. .”122 Unlike finite reality. . and it must be this that supports the circular ‘life’.”119 For Milbank. It is because God’s infinity is a never exhausted “surplus” that The unity. . As Eriugena realised. . God can never be limited. of the Trinity. allowing an “openness” to creativity in which “.”123 It is because God is Trinity that Milbank can approach the divine in terms of unity in difference and difference in unity. . and that which is still yet “surplus”.”124 This in turn qualifies God’s knowledge.120 The divine is not a unity beyond the infection of difference. the play of potential . ‘preserving [all things] in their distinctness yet linking them together’. a Dionysian understanding of divine unity.117 Milbank calls this “. is not static but is one that “overflows”. transcendental peace which ‘overflows in a surplus of its peaceful fecundity’. even for God himself. harmony and beauty of the emanation of difference cannot . be anticipated in advance. the finite cannot be but in relation to the infinite. a plenitudinous supra-temporal infinite which has ‘already realised’ in eminent fashion every desirable effect. is to be found too in Milbank’s understanding of divine knowledge. This divine unity. then. in whose unity all difference is “interconnected” and contained. in some sense. It is . thus preserving divine transcendence with the finite in participatory relation to it. as “. Again we find a further dipolarity here. . . on the one hand. This is presented within a Trinitarian framework: “Infinite realised act and infinite unrealised power mysteriously coincide in God. it lies rather in the hierarchical ordering of one thing to another as enfolded within the divine. Milbank ends up radically modifying the classical understanding of God as actus purus understood as infinite “realised act”. . that which emanates from the divine. . that is more than stasis. the actual. the finite and infinite are inextricably related: the infinite “overflows” within itself as “surplus”. God’s knowing appears not to anticipate © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . a dipolarity held together in asymmetrical panentheistic relation. and this knowledge can only be ordered. There is an unacknowledged dipolarity to be found in Milbank’s thought between the divine and creation. . never exhausted ‘surplus’.

. . but a God who speaks in the harmonious happening of Being. human beings are to be understood as co-partners of God. is panentheistic in nature. . this latter infinite plenitudinous vision forming the “template” of the finite as it is realised in participation. which reaches out ecstatically beyond its frame towards its supporting structure. but the design itself is but a continuous unfolding. culture and language. and yet is unified. . . the one the unlimited transcendent infinite “surplus” of all possibility. Rather. . is a ‘fold’ within an overall design. and as an inexhaustible plenitude of otherness. every detail . Milbank illustrates this dynamic character of creation’s relation to the divine by drawing on Deleuze’s insights into the nature of the Baroque understood as an “infinite” ornamentation “overtaking” that which it actually embellishes. The unfolding of the infinite plenitudinous vision that is the creation then is also an enfolding of its finite instantiation within the divine as it originates and as it is known. . .”127 We can read in such a description the asymmetrical relation between finite and infinite.130 For Milbank any attempt to deny this is to desacralise creation as participatory in the divine. creation within divine gratuity. . .”129 Here the intimate relation between human and divine poesis is revealed: history. The recognition of transcendence in terms of an asymmetry between the finite and the divine does not then release a “secular” space of human autonomy. is not a God sifted out as abstract ‘truth’. playing down the importance of language. Milbank’s “return” to a participatory theology is a “return” to a Dionysian baroque in which creation’s relation to the divine is one of utmost intimacy. the divine making. “. who includes difference. “The God who is. realised and unrealised. those who stress these © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . . time.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 539 the actuality of participation. not only in creation but in history. For he accepts that those who have espoused a participatory theology have usually limited participation to a divine sharing of “being” and “knowledge”. . . of “fold” to “unfolding”.131 It is here perhaps that Milbank’s “return” to a participatory theology is at its most radical. God’s infinite self-realisation. culture and language are not alien to the divine but are the divine’s actual revelatory unfolding. the divine self-realisation in finitude. . in which he can be participated. Conversely. the “finite” within the “infinite”. . . and history as engendering divine relativism. which overflows into an exuberance of difference within the unity of an overall vision (its supporting structure) that is not constrained but emanates ecstatically in creation. This process is nothing other than “.128 As Milbank says elsewhere. . . . the other the created partial finite realisation of the divine vision in time. God must be known both as the ‘speaking’ of created difference. .”126 The dipolarity we find here reinforces the panentheistic nature of this vision which can be read in terms of the asymmetrical realisation of the finite in the infinite. the “unfolding” as contained within the “fold”. yet God does have perfect knowledge of all the possible ways. with the divine. Such a vision of creation’s relation to the divine. illustrating the dipolarity we have found.” and creation’s own participation in “. culture.

and God acts and knows because he internally ‘makes’ or creates’. in one important passage he admits that Aquinas actually denies participation. Creation does not come to the divine from “without” but is clearly understood as already being “within”. but enter further into its recesses by what for us is the only possible route. however. The great failure of modern Christian ontology is not to see that secular reason makes the unwarranted assumption that ‘the made’ lies beneath the portals of the sacred. Milbank criticises Aquinas for falling short of Eriugena’s vision where “.136 Whilst for Milbank all “making” has its origin in the divine this is not to say that creation cannot fall short of the divine vision for it. Thus when we contingently but authentically make things and reshape ourselves through time. He writes. Panentheism after all is not the same as pantheism where symmetry between the divine and the world means that creation cannot “fall short” of the divine vision for it. . ‘making’ . because of a dual rejection of the idea of God as internally creative and of the created as itself creative—the created being for Aquinas merely as something “which is”. Aquinas saw “making” as merely the modification of existing forms.132 The language of panentheism is clearly evident here: that of not being “estranged”. . secondly. a transcendental reality located in the infinite. with the ability to “deepen” this “within-ness”. He does so for two reasons: firstly. . under the influence of Aristotle. and.134 I shall argue in the conclusion of this article that Milbank’s return to a participatory theology actually leads him to qualify the classical attributes of God in some very easily overlooked but significant ways as he grapples with these aporias. for Christianity. In so doing we shall see further evidence of what essentially is a panentheistic participatory model at the heart of his understanding of creation’s relation to the divine. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd .133 Milbank accepts that such a perspective throws up massive aporias for understanding the divine and its relation to contingency. This brings us to a closer consideration of the place of analogy and hierarchy in Milbank’s thought and of how creaturely “making” relates to the vision the divine has for creation. Milbank. . is. an entering into the deeper “recesses” of God. marries the two. an entering “further into” the divine. . .”135 Whilst Milbank seeks throughout his work to read Aquinas in a participatory light. we are not estranged from the eternal. it is vital to realise that contingent ‘making’ should naturally be conceived by Christianity as the site of our participation in divine understanding. . . . . He goes onto say. such that a humanly made world is regarded as arbitrary and as a cutting off from eternity.540 Amene Mir areas have usually rejected the possibility of participation in the divine in order to preserve creaturely autonomy. Human “making” appears to be a further intensification of finite creation’s participatory relation to the divine.

and the equivocity of univocal transcendental being which ends in an ontology of pure antagonistic difference. as an entering more fully into the divine: . beyond which manifestations being is “nothing” in itself. in such a fashion that one starts to know more of them also in their source and origin. . In contradistinction to both the univocity of Neoplatonism in which all distinctions are dissolved.145 Creation is analogical “reflection”. . albeit analogically. a theological rather than a metaphysical perspective on the nature of “cause”.148 creation’s participatory analogical “likeness” to the divine points to the image of the divine. must mean to enter more deeply into effects. But as we have seen above.139 Analogy for Milbank embraces difference as contained within the divine and so does not seek to reduce it to a common essence. Milbank is offering an alternative to Scotus’ transcendental univocal ontology and a “return” to what he understands as an older tradition in which everything is linked. The metaphysical understanding of “cause” is that which is “prior” to its “effect”. then.146 Against the Scotus’ “plane of immanence”147 in which “being” manifests itself. the finite explication of the infinite in terms of participation in the life of the divine. to know God as cause—as supreme form. variety. then.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 541 In his insistence on the central importance of hierarchy and analogy for Christian thought137. without detriment to unity. God’s Oneness contains within itself a superabundant plenitude which our very diversity—or very difference from God—seeks to express. . . Milbank argues for a God who is “hyper-diverse”. . Thus Milbank speaks of God as “. the infinite realisation of this [analogical] quality in all the diversity and unity of its actual/possible instances.” and this “.140 nor does it arrive at an external equivocation of distinct unities standing over and against each other. no otherness lies outside Him. .144 Creation.”141 Creation is the analogical reflection of this “holding together”. For in the most fundamental of senses all things belong together in God without fusion of difference.138 more especially linked within the divine. . To understand causality in terms of participation is “.142 Milbank says that his understanding of participation is a mathexis of donation. as supreme goal. as supreme being. . for Milbank creation in and of itself has no autonomous “being” as found in Scotus’ transcendental univocity. . that © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . . . .149 Milbank offers. One might argue that this finite analogical reflection of the divine is “without” the divine rather than held panentheistically “within” it. . is not an equivocal “other” nor is it a univocal “same” but a relation that proceeds from and within the divine in participation and analogical “likeness” such that it bears the “mark” of the giver. it is nothing. and since this oneness cannot ever be diminished. Precisely because God is One. . it can be entirely shared amongst all .”150 There is no “prior” or “after” but rather “effects” are contained within their “cause”. . creation can have no reality.143 Apart from participation in the divine. . perfection and manifestedness of things .

. univocal category of mere existentiality . It is for this reason that Milbank insists that analogy is more than the merely semantic.”153 When we read Milbank panentheistically this last quotation is of even more significance. “Thus analogy presupposes not just a metaphysics of participation. The essen© 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . an infinitude of participated knowledge. through its participation in the divine. Milbank characterises this in terms of a contrast between an Aristotelian teleology which aims at a self-realisation of an original given potential and a Proclean teleology which is always orientated to a “raising above” to a new potential. .” abstract “architectonic” possibility. is not “. To “enter more deeply into effects”.” and “. the “mark” of its giver. . . .152 Milbank sums all this up when he says. since God’s theoria is also practice.542 Amene Mir is panentheistically within the divine. . . but rather the “artisanal” is an entering into the architectonic.159 Creation can never be a static and achieved “external” realisation of the divine vision but a dynamic “going deeper” into the life of the divine in terms of a realisation of the finite in the infinite. is to enter more deeply into that relation that gives them “effect”. . an attribute of perfection . Milbank agrees that in this respect God is both architectonic and artisanal.” but “. then. . .157 Created “being”. .156 Participation is not in a “fixed” and “determinate” range of possibilities precisely because participation in the divine is participation in an infinite which cannot be contained. . . . . Here once more we find a dipolarity: one “pole. Neither can be divided in the sense of a “cause” and “effect” metaphysic. . the other.160 Discussing Aquinas in this context. a participation of the finite in the infinite. concrete “artisanal” actuality. his ‘preceding’ idea is only realised with the completed ‘work’ of his emanating verbum. This essentially is a dynamic dipolar panentheistic vision of a creation “driven” and unified within the life of the divine. an agnostic construal of analogy.158 Creation is the analogical finite reflection of this infinite range of eminence. . an empty. . . he does indeed immediately contain in a unified expression which is also a single intuition . .155 And to enter deeper into creation is to enter deeper into the divine. but also a phenomenology of participation. the “prior” before the “after” of creation.151 This stands in contrast to the “effects” of an “exteriorised” God who ends up as an “abstract” postulation derived from finite reality. framing as it does his suspicion and rejection of any apophatic view of theology and language as ending with “. an infinite which is dynamic rather than static. And since God is esse. an uncatholic Deus Absconditus . .” the finite expression of the divine.161 “Practice” and “theoria” cannot be separated but are “contained” in a unified expression that emanates “from” and “within” the divine. . . . to know more of creation in its source and origin. .”154 Analogy can never be “agnostic” because creation always bears. for Milbank. for it points to a real participation in an infinite degree of eminence rather than simply pointing to a range of finite meaning contained within a linguistic concept. then.

such an understanding can allow no “new” events for within a causal perspective the preceding always “accounts for the later. . the ad extra which is creation. creation in the light of grace. . then.167 As Milbank himself says. neither are they the same. is not as a result of “causal sequence”163 but because within the divine plenitude all things are held together in graded relevance. . transcendent infinite “giver” of finite “gift”. Yet the two poles. which the finite by its relational participation in the divine reflects.162 That all things “relate” each to the other.” Creation. as itself graced or supplemented. . Only if reality itself is regarded as ‘given’ from some beyond does it become possible to trust that that which is communicated and circulated may assume new meanings which can blend seamlessly with the old. We can only read this in terms of a panentheistic dipolar asymmetrical relation. . This is to “. for unlike pantheism creation and God are not in symmetrical relation nor do they stand as distinct “unities” in external relation to each other. a reality limitlessly receptive to the renewal and perpetuation of gift. . is to be understood in terms of the “vertical” which allows for each “event” to be individually constituted in relation to its participation in the divine plenitude. poesis). God and creation.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 543 tial point to grasp here is that “creation” is not to be understood in terms of a horizontal plane of immanence where “effects” are “caused” from without and which can only be understood necessarily and wholly in relation to these said causes. “I am not speaking of the other-worldly as something opposed to the world-intime. understood as that which both surprises and unites . The contrast is between “caused” sequence and “hierarchical emanation”. Milbank writes. the “more” that creation can become lying within the infinite plenitude that is the life of the divine.164 Each new “event” is a theological “supplementation” of the superadded (the vertical) in which the finite points to the “more” that is a reflection of the infinite plenitude to be further instantiated in the finite. must be a reality that derives from a source that is always and eternally the plenitude of such blending. rather. is panentheistically enfolded within the divine. That which is “not God”. . grasp .”165 The actuality of finite reality relates not to any “causal past” but wholly to its present and future participation in the divine such that “apart” from the divine quite literally it is nothing. . Such dipolarity is to be expected with panentheism. ad intra. for Milbank. Or inversely. .”168 And yet. Hence he rejects the idea of God as an immanent “process” and “lure” active and at work within © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd .166 We find here more evidence for a panentheist reading but also for a dipolarity: God is both architectonic (theoria) and artisanal (praxis. cannot be separated but are held together in asymmetrical relation. We have noted above Milbank’s dislike of the notion of the divine as a kind of “world-soul” primarily because of its immanentist connotations which can so easily topple over into a vague kind of pantheism. Indeed.

. creation by its participation in the divine has many paths it can pursue. . that certain human products are more desirable than others. This movement is asymmetrical. as opposed to that which merely falls short of the “best” it can possibly be.544 Amene Mir creation. We can only contrast these references to the immanentism he rejects if we are able to read Milbank panentheistically. Hierarchy here is dynamic rather than static. and creative effort. . © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . and human being in particular. So in reflecting this graded and differential hierarchy. is.169 Yet elsewhere Milbank himself makes certain references to God as “lure”. . Thus to understand this use of “lure” it is necessary to relate it to Milbank’s description of the divine unity as a “differentiated hierarchy”170 and creation as the reflection of it.” but balances this with creation’s own orientation to the divine in which “.”174 The “lure of the analogical” then is not irresistible. of the divine. then. Hierarchy here is understood not in terms of a static immutability which creation must reflect. there are “preferred additions” if the finite is to pursue its “optimum direction” but these “additions” are not inevitable. . in terms of a two-fold movement. within this understanding of God’s relation to creation that Milbank’s references to “lure” have to be understood.” and it is within this context “. . . . .173 Thus. certain preferred additions . unlike the divine which “moves” to creation as pure Giver. And as we have seen. . for there is no fixed single hierarchy that creation must follow. Divine “lure” does not involve pantheistic immanentism. . this means that creation. . for creation can only move to the divine because it is first gifted by the divine. Let us imagine an infinite series of points expanding in all “directions”. deemed essential to our conception of the true direction of this process . Milbank speaks of the “. for Milbank. we have to discover the content of the infinite through labour. . be a discontinuity between what God may see as the “ideal” path for creation to follow and what creation actually achieves in participation in the divine.” Within the “lure of analogical participation” Milbank goes on to say that there are “. for all that it does achieve is “located” in the infinite plenitude that is the divine life. always privative—it has no reality for it can never be “located” within the divine vision which creation analogically reflects. of the divine to creation and of creation to the divine. then.172 Evil. . Creation “mirrors” this infinite series in a finite and limited way in so far as it “traces” itself horizontally. vertically or diagonally. history. may and does “fall short” of the divine vision for it but even as it does it still participates in the divine. culture are not only the poesis of the finite—and of humankind in particular—but also of the infinite.171 There can. but is to be read panentheistically: the transcendent and infinite plenitude “lures” or draws creation deeper into the itself. . Creation. Each point is distinct. . . but a hierarchy in which differences are ordered in graded relevance each to the other. It is. where creation and God are not in symmetrical relation. namely. lure of analogical participation . We can use a simplified analogy to try to understand what Milbank is trying to say here. yet related to all others around it in an overall unity.

For. . is immediately and implicitly a phenomenology of seeing more than one sees. the participation of beings in esse involves © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . .” in which God’s presence to creatures “. Creation .”181 But what are we to make of Milbank’s seemingly approving reference to Aquinas’ assertion that “. . rather than being understood as an autonomous realm—as in Scotus’ univocal ontology—can only be understood in its relation to the divine. . As Milbank says.”179 In creation. but that this reality can ever be understood as “exterior” to the divine.” but that because God’s knowledge is perfect he “. and all creatures “subsist by grace”. .178 An asymmetrical dipolarity is once more evident here. . . faint conveying of a plenitude of perfection beyond its scope. as the limited realised finite manifestation of the infinite. . if there “cannot really be any being other than God”. . indicates that God’s omnipresence simply is God himself. knows perfectly the myriad ways on which he may be participated in by creatures. . the manifestation of perfection is not in an a priori proof pointing to some sublime and unknown horizon (as with Kant). . however. to be found in the created as a “. . “. we do not “leave” God but go deeper into the divine who encompasses all. that always draws or “lures” creation further. . there can be a created exterior to God. then. we do not refer to the ‘good’ or ‘life’ of God because he is the source of good or life in creatures. . . . because God’s interior is self-exteriorisation. it essentially posits a creation that stands in external relation to God. . because of its partial vision. “. for Milbank. . It is the divine plenitude. .183 Yet Milbank says that in participation that which is “not God” cannot stand in distinct “external” relation to the divine.”182 This reference is wholly at odds with the tenor of Milbank’s understanding of creation’s relation to the divine as we have so far discussed it. The only other alternatives Milbank has rejected: immanentism (pantheism) and Scotus’ transcendental univocal ontology. .”180 If “grace” is nothing other than the divine presence. . Milbank reads Aquinas in this light and understands him to mean that “.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 545 Creation can and does. all creatures subsist by grace in the sense that they only subsist in their constant ‘return’ to full divine self-presence. . . albeit always in terms of its participation in the divine. if God is not related. God is not really related to . As Milbank says. in which the divine has knowledge only through contemplation of the divine self beyond infection of difference. . . . pursue other paths and ends. It is. .”175 It is this “more” that draws creation deeper into the divine. the metaphysics of participation . . rather we refer to the good or life of creatures because they manifest a good which is pre-eminently precontained in God in an exemplary and more ‘excellent’ fashion. and that there cannot really be any being ‘other’ than God. . Milbank believes this understanding lies at the heart of Aquinas’ endeavour. Milbank himself comes close to admitting such a dipolarity in discussing Aquinas’ arrival at a “. of recognising the invisible in the visible. rather.176 Thus. . then creation can only be such as embraced panentheistically. .”177 Creation. “. . The impossibility that creation involves is not that there cannot be a reality that is “not God”. most extraordinary chiasmus .

in which what is “not God” is held within the divine.”191 Milbank contrasts Scotus’ God understood as a distinct unity externally confronting other distinct unities as ultimately “empty” in itself192 with that of Augustine and Dionysius whose Trinitarian theologies.187 God’s knowledge then “. in consequence. As Milbank writes. by situating the infinite emanation of difference within the Godhead itself. stretches down to every last particular. the finite “self-exteriorisation” of God through the divine gratuity that overflows into a creation that participates within the life of the divine. This latter knowledge is not Scotus’ external knowledge-through-relatedness achieved in terms of efficient causality but a knowledge in terms of the essential relatedness through participation of all that is within the life of the divine. is more than an unrelated. as infinity and freedom . . . . for us. to that of omniscience as a never finished totality.” and “.185 It is the infinite “interior” of the divine which is also. harmony and beauty of the emanation of difference cannot. according to Milbank’s readings of them. go further than Neoplatonism “. will be able to do justice to the theme of essential relatedness. and is. God’s “eminent” knowledge is not an abstract “totality” but like the divine gratuity itself overflows and embraces all difference in its dynamic and open eventuality. The infinity that is God is a never exhausted “surplus” in which finite reality participates and resulting in development and novelty in the finite realm. . even by God himself.”193 God’s © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd .”190 There is a dipolarity to be found in Milbank’s treatment of divine omniscience: a move away from the classical understanding of God’s omniscience in terms of a pure contemplation of the divine self.546 Amene Mir something quite other than the external relation between beings. The Trinity is not that of a finished totality. “The unity. is as much present in the individual and accidental as in the general and substantive . because this must include the idea of a knowledgethrough-this-relatedness.”188 It is the God who is related who creates and knows. following Scotus. . “abstract” and “fixed” selfknowledge of the various ways in which the divine can be participated in—as would be implied by a classical conception of divine omniscience. then. . “No theology which defines the divine essence.”184 The “something quite other” can only involve a panentheistic understanding of creation’s relation to the divine. leading to a displacement of the Trinity from the centre of Christian dogmatics to a God of infinite will beyond creaturely participation. unlike the knowledge of the metaphysician. . . . . .189 It is precisely in this context that Milbank criticises Scotus for disassociating the act of creation ad extra from the Trinitarian generation ad intra. be anticipated in advance. It implies the relation between God and creation. . in terms of a plenitudinous “supra-temporal” infinite. by which God “knows” his creation.186 This has a bearing on how one understands divine omniscience. . eternal “static”. Milbank himself goes beyond this classical conception in a way that prioritises a panentheistic reading of his work. ultimately unthinkable.

also human making participates in a God who is infinite poetic utterance: the second person of the Trinity. inclusive of all difference. no sum which might add to his amount. the finite reflects in its life the transcendent and infinite divine vision in which it participates and in which it is embraced. can one conceive of an absolute that is itself difference. As such the divine unity does not merely embrace the difference of the three persons but all difference is embraced within the life of these relations as “. God’s love for what he creates implies that the creation is generated within a harmonious order intrinsic to God’s own being. . .194 The God Milbank presents here is decidedly panentheistic in character. that we can make better sense of Milbank’s statement. Not only do being and knowledge participate in a God who is and who comprehends. Here we discern an asymmetrical dipolarity between God and creation: through its relation to the divine. . We have noted Milbank’s prioritisation of the immanent Trinity. It is in terms of panentheism. “. . As Milbank says. God must have gone outside of himself. and of how the divine emanation that results in finite creation cannot be divorced from the relations between the persons of the Trinity. cannot be understood in terms of a God “alone” nor a static and eternal “completion” beyond the inclusion of difference. nor does he stand in an indifferent relationship to what he creates. God .201 For only in terms of “. For this to be possible.”197 The divine is “hyper-diverse”. for Milbank. then. unlike nihilism. . . and yet there is no exterior to God. . we are not estranged from the eternal. which can only posit a transcendental univocity.”195 Nothing is added because creation is not in any external relation to God but is panentheistically embraced by the divine. . . . . an absolute origin that is ‘always already’ difference and succession.198 “. an outcome exceeding occasion.”202 Likewise. Thus when we contingently but authentically make things and reshape ourselves through time. is replete Being. God as actus purus is qualified in terms of a creation that is constituted solely by its relation to the divine in which it participates and in © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . an analogous exchange of predicates between God and finitude. For the Trinitarian God does not possess the unity of a bare simplicity.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 547 knowledge. . but enter further into its recesses by what for us is the only possible route.”199 A simplicity that involves the inclusion of all difference calls for a panentheistic understanding of creation’s relation to the divine.196 Divine simplicity. then.200 Nor does the “harmonious order intrinsic to God’s own being” mean that God can be understood here as an archetype that creation reflects apart and separate from the divine. cannot be that of a static and fixed “self-identical reality” or a Neoplatonic One beyond the sphere of division and contrast. . a naked will.

means that God can also be described as “eminently becoming”. exceeds the contrast of being with becoming. . .211 God’s self-sufficiency can only be understood panentheistically. .”205 We can further expose this dipolarity by reference to Milbank’s discussion of Dionysius’ conception of God as “. and together modify their shared objective medium to produce history.”. . . from unity to difference. . The “fixed” and “static” conception of the divine as actus purus comes to include an open “eventuality” and “dynamism”. and it must be this that supports the circular ‘life’. the harmony of difference . It is this “surplus” that “overflows” panentheistically within the life of the Trinity in terms of “. a power within Being which is more than Being.”208 Milbank sums all this up by saying. as constituted purely in relation to the divine. .”209 Divine omnipotence comes to be re-understood as nothing other than the exercise of “. a “. . the finite explication of the divine vision. This is a God who embraces creation within the divine. God. . . . eminently that moulding or shaping through which alone subjects communicate with each other.” which is a “. “Infinite realised act and infinite unrealised power mysteriously coincide in God. .” in “. but rather as that which is “persuasively communicated .” Milbank argues that this must qualify how we understand God as “pure act”. . . exhausts God’s power. an internally creative power. . . even an infinite one. In this context. . .210 the finite realisation of the infinite plenitudinous vision of the divine.” as “. . . . . .206 This means that there is indeed a surplus in the divine that gives rise to creativity and results in actuality. . movement . that is more than stasis. . .204 Nor can divine aseity be understood in separation from the God who includes all difference. something continuously added to this world. a gratuitous creative giving of existence. creative love . Milbank makes the point more strongly: that which denies “surplus” in favour of a pure © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . .203 This again is significant in pointing to an asymmetrical dipolarity within the divine in that whilst God possesses the fullness of the infinite plenitudinous supra-temporal vision. . Milbank can write that God is “eminently becoming”: . and is eminently becoming. . so that it would appear that God is actus purus. . nothing in God can be unrealised. moving and dynamic element . . Milbank says we cannot arrive at God or a First Principle in terms of that which remains self-identical.”207 We see here a dipolarity at the heart of the divine. as esse.212 Indeed. rather than God understood as “pure act”. . . As infinite power which is unimpeded. of the Trinity.548 Amene Mir terms of which participation all things are related within the divine unity. and so difference. . for this would render it merely finite after all. . yet it must equally be the case that no actualisation of every ‘limit’. given that the Trinity is not the harmony of a finished totality.

. ‘power-act’ plays out through. as essentially creative. the Trinitarian relations. . . material things are paradoxically removed © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . God’s “simplicity” is not “bare” but involves the inclusion of not just the Trinitarian relations but of all difference.222 There is real relation between creation and the divine. This is a God who is related. a God who embraces creation (that which is not-God) within the life of the Trinity that goes beyond itself in “dynamic surplus”. God’s “. “compelled” from within the divine being to give life to that which is not-God. we can see how Milbank moves away from a classical conception of the divine.218 God is not indifferent to the world he creates because it lies—“panentheistically”—at the heart of the Trinity itself. the ‘compulsion’ of this immanent goal. but rather like the Trinity is not a “finished” totality and goes beyond itself in “surplus”. dynamic. and is constituted by. unchanging. . . freedom (as the Spirit) arises. rather. immutable God devoid of any degree of potentiality. In summary. we have a God who embraces all difference in unity. . God’s self-sufficiency is not that of a self-identical enclosed being but one that “suspires”.217 It is the immanent Trinity which is the “site” not only of the immanent divine relations but also of the participatory inclusion of creation itself. . “. a loss also of a sense of exchange between infinite and finite. . . is the God who is related. . Creation is not the finite realisation of an immutable and static divine vision but is rather itself an analogical reflection of the nature of the divine as open. as ‘compelled’ . To reject participation of creation in the divine leads.”221 That all things “hold together” rests not in any causal nexus belonging to creation itself but rather because creation is embraced panentheistically within a divine that holds all difference in graded relevance. . God’s “act” is not “fixed” but can be described as “eminently becoming”. .” on the part of the divine. . Creation for Milbank can only be understood as “dynamic surplus”. . and that from. he refers to God “.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 549 self-sufficiency can only be doomed to mere “repetition”.” to create. The divine knowledge is not confined to an ideal and eternal vision of all things. and within. . as always “going beyond” itself in “surplus”. . as a self-exceeding . . in relation to which God is not indifferent. Rather it “. Son and Holy Spirit. to “.216 Elsewhere. Creation here is held within the divine as opposed to being “without” a wholly self-sufficient.213 a God who is a static and “complete” totality. “This process is our participation in divine Being. whose very own nature compels and entails that the divine creates.219 God is self-sufficient because the divine need not look “outside” itself for “completion”.”223 Rather. as Milbank says. Here. now understood as a participation also in the divine creativity which reveals itself as ever-new through time.”215 From God’s “essential relatedness” Milbank notes that creation is “intrinsic” to God’s own being. His God is not “static” and “self-enclosed”. who creates.”214 From within the dynamics of the divine relations between Father. Yet all is embraced within the life of the Trinity to which there can be no “outside”220. . . “. giving rise to a “lesser” and “other” to God. the divine gratuitous love brings to birth finite creation.

for analogical participation reflects the very nature of the divine itself as “dynamic”.235 © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . time. the infinite and the finite. where the Logos is not really related to the human Jesus. in which the polarities between infinite and finite are not irreconcilable “opposites” but complementary dipolar aspects “contained” within the divine.228 Certainly. one can see how it might be possible to address the aporias Milbank faces in his “return” to a participatory theology. Yet surely this is to deny divine “dynamic surplus” in favour of creation understood as the absolute repetition of the completely static that Milbank criticises?230 It is a “foreknowledge” that can never change in relation to another and is “frozen” eternally.”226 Reading Milbank panentheistically. . omniscient and immutable in that nothing can be “added”. In places he seems to want to maintain a purely classical understanding of God as replete. the divine self-realisation in finitude . nor the divine really related to the finite creation. self-sufficient and in “pure act” without any degree of potentiality. giving life to what is not divine in terms of the emanation of all reality from a single divine source231 which includes all difference and is the ground of all differentiation. . Milbank’s “return” to a participatory theology does not allow him to hold a purely classical theism. within which it cannot be contained. (creation. . in which the relation between the divine and the finite can be understood as both dipolar and asymmetrical in character.234 Here. .233 in which there is a “concursus” of the divine and creaturely. Thus. immutable. creation analogically reflects a hierarchy that is neither a “fixed” nor an eternally “static” foreknowledge. historicity. If one does not accept an explicitly asymmetrical panentheist reading of the relation between the divine and creation. Such “knowledge” is the antithesis of all Milbank has been trying to say elsewhere in relation to a God who is not eternally “closed off” and “static”. there is a tension in Milbank’s thought. These aporias rest mainly in accommodating the contingent in relation to the divine. .550 Amene Mir from themselves—referred beyond themselves in order to be recognised as themselves. . . for the answers are already embedded in his own work if so read. His doctrine of God “overflows” its “classical” framework. how else is Milbank able to locate all poetic activity. God’s infinite self-realisation. it is Milbank who criticises secular reason for seeing the world as cut off from eternity.232 a God who is internally creative. language) in contrast to a classical conception of a God who is “simple” and who cannot contain any “other”. both divine and creaturely. culture. and eternally omniscient.” and creation’s own participation in “.”224 We need look nowhere beyond creation in order to recognise the divine. . within the life of the Trinity?227 After all. it is only in the divine “foreknowledge”229 of both (a “foreknowledge” which actually is “eternal”) that they are not cut off from the divine. then how else can the aporias Milbank mentions be resolved? Indeed. since created esse is nothing other than that which is “borrowed” from the divine.225 It is “. .

edition. Certainly he wishes to recover the insights of the Platonic tradition as found within their work. of creation by the divine in asymmetrical relation. in that it contains all difference within the divine unity. Nor is it to be found in pantheism. the task of theology is to learn from the mistakes of pre-modern thinkers (BR. Milbank’s thought demands a reading in which the relation of the divine to the created is dipolar. p. however. They are distinct yet in asymmetrical relation. (Oxford: Blackwell. p.238 Rather it is the embrace of the finite by the infinite. John Milbank. . but as Milbank has stated. that it can go beyond itself in “.”240 As Milbank has said. xix. of a God who is infinite in relation to a creation that is finite. asymmetrical and panentheistic. x. p. His new reading.239 Yet it is the nature of the divine.”236 After all. the created arising out of and panentheistically embraced within the life of the Creator. This does not make the divine dependent on creation. . 2003). absolute uninterrupted giving. what are the choices open to Milbank if he is to escape the aporias of a God who is replete yet who creates. of a God who is eternal in relation to a creation that is contingent. of a God who is selfsufficient yet goes beyond himself? The answer does not lie in the univocal transcendentalism of Scotus which. to be inseparably bound within the life of the divine. (London: Routledge 1997). such a God would be wholly “abstract”. cf. To this end Milbank elaborates a new reading of Augustine and Dionysius (TST. . It is only in relation to divine gratuity and graciousness that the finite can “be” through the gift of its participation in the divine life. We can agree with Milbank that this is nothing other than “. Word Made Strange (hereafter WMS). .”243 NOTES 1 John Milbank.” (TST. .”242 Such dipolarity stands not in an antagonistic relation to be resolved but lies at the very heart of the divine creativity itself. for Milbank. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd .237 to be “resolved” in some final synthesis of complete inclusion. is the source of many of the woes of modernity. such that the divine is the transcendent constitutive ground of all that is. the divine self-realisation in finitude. “Just because there is no outside to God. . . This dipolarity stands in contrast to Hegelian dialecticism which is rooted in an ontological subject in opposition to its object. now understood as a participation also in the divine creativity which reveals itself as ever-new through time. . 136). 263). 2006). particularly with regard to the integration of philosophy and theology. Theology and Social Theory (hereafter TST). . “This process is our participation in divine Being. p. . p. God can most freely and ecstatically exceed himself. Being Reconciled (hereafter BR) (London: Routledge. because God’s interior is self-exteriorisation. latent . . . .A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 551 Milbank goes on to say. is not a nostalgic one in terms of some kind of lapse into pre-modernity (John Milbank. Rather. xxiv). . BR p. To be “created” is to be “related”. . Creator and created. involves bringing to the fore their “. p. for if creation did not exist God would still be God. that gives rise to that which is “not God” from the transcendent infinite “ground” that is the divine life. concern both with historicity and with human poesis. however. . 7f).”241 This “excess” is nothing other than panentheistic “. Milbank’s “return”. 194. Rather.

. Most of the citations used in this article come from Chapter 2 of this work as authored by Milbank himself (see Preface TA. p. WMS. pp. SM. p. 1999). 302. TST. p. p. BR. TST. TST. p. 77. WMS. p. 99. Milbank here is discussing the views of Gilson. 110. pp. cf. Panentheism here is to be understood in contrast to pantheism where the “relation” between the divine and creation is held to be symmetrical such that we would not speak of a divine-world “relation” but an identification of the divine and the cosmos. TST. . In contrast. 431. Milbank sees Kant’s “offence” as an undermining of the divine transcendence. TST. p. (London: Routledge 2001). an infinite God must be power-act. 24. pp. p. p. Milbank makes the point that for Aquinas there cannot be any such ratio between God and the world or the infinite and finite. ontic. John Milbank. p. BR. p. . even though he accepts Kant is agnostic as to what God is in himself.” TST. a regional. 93 and 94. . 85. p. 78. Hence God “constructs” the world outside himself according to this greater ratio of univocal efficient causality. 23 (hereafter RO). 43. WMS. an artisan. Here God and man share in a univocal “efficient causality” in terms of a ratio of proportion: man having the lesser ratio. p. where Milbank discusses how this conception of voluntarist sovereignty influenced in part a new metaphysic of political power. the Scotist God has become more like a bestowing tyrant. p. xiv). p. of a sense of exchange between infinite and finite. MI: Wm. 9. 74. without reference to transcendence.” God ends up as “.” Cf. In contrast. John Milbank and Catherine Pickstock. a one-way giver. 16. WMS. p. BR. cf. TST. p. 430. I take it. p. . “. however. 306. p. 203. 297. . p. 194. RO.” WMS. .)” RO. . and indeed the medium of a sheerly differentiated content. p. . 194: For Milbank modernity begins from the 1300s onwards with the shift towards the created gradually being “. 432. TST. BR. “. accorded full reality meaning and value in itself. 262. p. . cannot possibly appear in itself to our awareness. 96. WMS. pp. BR. constructs his object outside himself according to a lesser ratio.552 2 3 Amene Mir BR. . being entirely empty of content. . . 22. xxvii. . TA. John Milbank. p. 35. 2005). This error too gives rise to philosophy as an autonomous discipline. 309. This claim is made in the context of a discussion of Kant’s understanding of God’s relation to creation in terms of an analogy of “proper proportionality” (Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics). p. Truth in Aquinas (hereafter TA). the content of which is the elaboration of this ontology and the separation of reason and faith. 35. . . 15. 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . p. Cf. Eerdmans Publishing Company. SM. TST. grounded either upon certain revealed facts or upon certain grace-given inner dispositions or again upon external present authority (the Counter-Reformation model. but can only be assumed and exemplified in the phenomena which it organises. BR. p.”. . 306. p. 330. cf. TST. Thus. for Milbank Scotus’ God involves “a loss . for example. . that TA as a whole accurately reflects the views of Milbank in that he is happy to give his name to it as co-author. Radical Orthodoxy (London: Routledge. p. TST. TST. 14 and 26f. 74 and 76 cf. later giving rise to modern absolutism. (Grand Rapids. . 111. 13. TA. p. 15. positive science. p. TST. The Suspended Middle (hereafter SM). p. in which theology becomes “. “This transcendental univocity. 40ff. . 15 and 435. BR. classical theism’s underlying assumption can be typified as holding that creation is in external relation to the divine. TST. . p. BR.” Cf. p. 23. p. p. TST. God the greater. p. xxii. for God and the world do not operate in the same plane of action. The few citations outside Chapter 2 therefore are made in this light. p.

119 where Milbank describes how with the birth of modernity a “.” RO. p. . . p. . now the only trace on earth of an inscrutable deity. . or the search to know being by reason. Cf. . Creation can only participate in the divine as in toto wholly constituted by divine gratuity. as “.” Cf. or a ‘deposit’ of propositional revelation]. p. and which in turn strengthens our grasp of “natural” reason. Thus too. “. p. . to ever greater complexity. cf. 262. the only possible route. and BR.” RO.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 553 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 See WMS Chapter 11: “Out of the Greenhouse” pp. . . 139. . TA. there can be no reason/revelation duality: true reason anticipates revelation. 40f. 30. 85. Creation is not ex nihilo. . p. ix. RO. p. Rather the distinction between faith and reason is located “. WMS. TA. p. This stands in contrast to the more partial and limited understanding of participation in strands of Hellenistic thought. 27.49: “. WMS. . 33 note 1: “Theology is not positive knowledge of an object [whether of God. 32. . general law. human origination is seen as coincident with divine. RO. . for Milbank. God as embodied in nature. p. 24 where Milbank. . [then] there can be no truth of any sort. . 34. Part of the limitation Milbank sees in Aquinas is due to Aristotelian influence (TST. SM.—where Milbank discusses Herder’s “expressivism” such that unless we recognise human creative expression is something “. 27. as gravity. literal punctilinear revelation . p. WMS. p. p. 252 where Milbank with Aquinas rejects the view that reason can ever be autonomous in relation to faith. Christ. WMS. p. . . BR. xi). 85. E.” Milbank criticises Barth’s theology as being complicit in this model that has so fashioned modernity—see RO. .” Cf. cf. WMS. 24. .” RO. extrinsic divine decree. 85f. RO. a philosophical treatment of being on its own. says. . where Milbank says acknowledgement of transcendence does not release “. . p. 24. 257ff. p. will reach aporetic and nihilistic conclusion. WMS.” became “.”(WMS.” RO. 97f. discussing Jacobi and Hamann. . 29. xi. we are not estranged from the eternal but enter further into its [the divine’s] recesses by what is . 30. SM. p. 101). . . SM. . . p. sacral origination. but an evolution from small time beginnings somewhere on the cosmic prairie. cf. See e. . we cannot really find the key to ‘value’.” TA. 34. Platonism has the advantage over Aristotelianism in that it ultimately speaks of what is as partially the manifestation of a transcendent source (see © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . 43. 29. p. TST. cf. Whilst. p. “. pp. world-soul. . p. . in which an eternal and uncreated “matter” takes “form” by participating in an “ideal” (transcendent or otherwise) or in which a semi-divine power “moulds” prime matter. p.g. . while revelation simply is of true reason which must ceaselessly arrive.” rather “. 150f.” Such that all knowledge remotely implies faith in God. 432). p. TST. TA. p. . where Milbank refers to sociologists and others who delineate the “hidden hand” of God as being at work in these social “laws”. p.g. . newly limited by the intractabilities of matter. . 264. in a much more fundamental framework of participation of all human rationality in divine reason. . . TST. presupposing notions of a prior “selfsufficiency” or “self-grounding” for finite reality (BR. p. . 28f. TST. . p. 264. p. p. p. . p. “. 31. 258f..” RO. which is not merely our own. 262. for Milbank the arrival of Aristotelianism from the 1300s onwards created a crisis for the theology of grace (SM. BR. p. . WMS. WMS. . RO. RO. when we contingently but authentically make .. See above p 527. cf. mysterious ether active principle. p. p. 260: “For by ‘turning to nature’. a secular space of human autonomy . 37 n. 260). “. and newly verifiable through the evidence of his operations. 38. RO.” Cf. p. p. Milbank goes on to say. but finite intimation of infinite understanding. p. . p. p.

because of this partiality.” Cf. recognising the impossibility of creation. p. p. TST. [and] must aspire to return to God. 110 where Milbank says we cannot actually talk of God’s self-sufficiency. 15—my italics. For Milbank the “suspicion” of substance arises from “. 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . for to do so implies that there is an outside to the divine. p. Cf. 63 where Milbank discusses the theological “. p.” BR. pp. BR. p. metaphysics tends to view cause as straight-forwardly prior to. 65f. .” “Substance” for Milbank is not integral to the definition of Christian orthodoxy. its effects. nevertheless. . 40). . 431—my italics. p.. p. WMS. 31—my italics. [in terms of which] the finite Creation fully is. no sum which might add to his amount. Cf. . TA. TST. TA. TST. 66—my italics. p. 24. p. BR. impossibility that anything else should exist outside God. 45f. p. 76—my italics. p. p. For this to be possible. p. Indeed it was the “suspicion of substance” that for Milbank allowed “. 32. p. 74—such that “. WMS.” In contrast. being is transcendentally indifferent to infinite and finite . p.” WMS. TST. 431—my italics. p. 35—my italics. p. TA. p. Cf. the first ‘linguistic turn’ in modern thought. p. cf. TST. p. SM. TA. 66. It is in this context. 35. 69f. cf. p. 93. pure nature in fact ruins the articulation of divine gratuity. BR. p. p. 110. WMS. SM. TST. and yet there is no exterior to God. cf. 74f. just because God can’t share anything. 92.: “Just because there is no outside to God. simply as what God has determined it should be. BR. 50). . 435f. 437—my italics. held that for the finite to be constituted by the infinite it must “suspire” and in this “.554 Amene Mir WMS. be self-cancelling. p. p. he can share everything. Even with Plato there is a chaotic material residue that does not participate in ideal reality. the finite creation fully is. 432. and holds ground ontologically. WMS. . p. . 431—my italics. a theological metacritique of the metaphysical tradition. . Scotus does not share the perspective of the impossibility of creation. simply as what God has determined it should be. 31. that participation is logically more Biblical than Hellenistic. . 98. p. p. 96. BR. 40f. . . TST. p. Also. being is transcendentally indifferent to infinite and finite . BR. 432. 46 where Milbank agrees with de Lubac that any notion of a “. p. God can most freely and ecstatically exceed himself. 430. Aquinas.” And BR.” TA. Cf.” Cf. p. 31f. . . p. WMS. Here Milbank is delineating a theological understanding of creation beyond metaphysics where “. . p. and independent of. and holds ground ontologically. God must have gone outside himself. . for Scotus takes the view that “. SM. BR. . WMS. TST. WMS. in its own right as Creation. . p. TA. 431. . .” RO. p. 115.. where Milbank discusses Bruaire’s comparable “ontodology”. SM. . p. 74 where Milbank points out that unlike Aquinas. BR p. . Milbank’s aim is to provide a Christian critique and theological transformation of Neoplatonism in terms of the location of all difference within the divine itself (TST. who is replete Being. . Thus for Milbank humans in particular have an infinite natural capacity capable of the highest possible relation with the divine by virtue of their participation in the divine. in its own right as Creation. TST. Milbank argues. . 182. 110. p. p. where Milbank discusses the origins of both ontotheology and theoontology and their bearing on subsequent philosophy and theology. 80.

pp. p. . whereas the Cappadocian Fathers are clearly Platonic in their thinking.” Cf. p. Spirit. indeed one might go further to say that the fall alone occasions the existence of an economic Trinity. p. WMS.” a position abandoned by late medieval and early modern scholasticism. p. 182. WMS. a Trinitarian vision can arrive at a peaceful affirmation of the other consummated in a transcendent infinity. 113—my italics. “hold on to” and “store”. human origination is seen as coincident with divine. 85: “. BR.” Milbank for instance points to the hard and fast dictionary denotation and location of things that a substance metaphysic entails (WMS. pp. 202. 89f. TST. accuses capitalism of being complicit in a metaphysic of spatial identity which it seeks to “define”. no underlying matters not existent through form and no discrete and inviolable ‘things. p. and thereby desacralise.” (TST. WMS. p. 308). . p. 99) ending in “.” and TST. since the fall ‘entraps’ the divine glory which is Trinitarian. p. Milbank notes de Lubac’s reading of such a position in Aquinas as “gift without contrast. WMS. 101f. all being is sustained by the Creator’s power alone. . . 80. . . so there are no absolute self-standing substances in creation. TST. Milbank also notes the affinity of aspects of Berkeley’s thought with this tradition. involves something quite other than external relation between beings. is not a God sifted out as abstract ‘truth’. 438: “The God who is.” (WMS. SM. It is no surprise. WMS. The problem for Milbank lies with Aquinas’ Aristotelian legacy. closing off the created to its transcendent origin. p. . . p. . 69f. See SM. SM. but a God who speaks in the harmonious happenings of Being. p. . Milbank. is not a ‘substance’ because he is nothing fundamental underlying anything else. p. p. WMS. See WMS. then. 112. 431: “Just as God . 97ff. p. 97f. 15. p. . WMS. . . that Milbank’s return to a participatory understanding of creation’s relation to the divine will find difficulties dealing with the divine attributes as understood by Aquinas in which creation is understood as somehow “exterior” to the divine (see TA. cf.’ ” TA. retains a profound ontological kinship with the divine origin . p. sacral origination. See BR. . 43. pp. 155 where Milbank points out that in contrast to postmodern nihilism. who includes difference. . the glorification of mere originality. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . . an ‘economic’ presence of the Trinity as such in creation (Incarnation. p. SM. Or. 15f. WMS.” See SM. . 90. Elsewhere Milbank notes Olivier Boulnois’ contention that it was the arrival of Aristotelianism that ultimately gave rise to the notion of a “pure nature” and the conception of “grace” as extraneous. 107). Basil of Ceasarea: that there is no substratum of “material” behind “appearance”. 18. p. p. p. human being . 177. 111—my italics. .A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 83 555 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 “However. 170 and 171. BR. . TST. . This forms part of the basis of Milbank’s criticism of modernity in that science comes to be understood as the manipulation of autonomous fixed “objects” in contrast to the plasticity of the postmodern world view (the latter which actually “fits” better Milbank’s understanding of the pre-modern as the prioritisation of ever-changing relations) in which meanings are “fluid” (BR. . Gregory of Nyssa: creation is to be understood in terms of combinations of divine logoi. Cf. 203. 99—my italics. E. 139: “. and yet is unified. .” Cf. . 112. . p. 127 in which Milbank describes God as “. . 85). p. . co-partner in responsibility. p. 432). 182). pp. See page 533 above. .g. p. where Milbank discusses de Lubac’s understanding of this position in terms of which “. WMS. . . SM. . p. SM. Insofar as there is a form/matter dualism in Aquinas we can say there is too a residual medium that conveys the divine from without in contrast to a participatory model in which creation is wholly constituted by divine gratuity. p. Thus Milbank admits that participation is actually denied by Aquinas (see TST. too. participation of beings . Church) becomes tragically necessary. p.

cf. p. “.” (TST. TST.” (TST. TST. TST. TA. 133. . BR. 92f. 15. 436. 431. p. p. .g. 430. cf. . 430. p. and not a Plotinian unity beyond Being and difference . p. “Beneath” should be taken in the sense of “beyond”. 436—my italics. TST. E. 91—my italics. TST. 114f. . p. TST. Thus Plato. p. 430).—my italics. TST.” E. Note the dipolarity here. infinite. constituting a relation in which unity is through its power of generating differences and difference is through its comprehension by unity. . truth is also a property of all finite modes of being in so far as they participate in God. a power within Being which is more than Being. . . p. p.’ ” This too is the basis of the theological understanding of Truth that Milbank and Pickstock espouse in Truth in Aquinas. p. SM. 126f. could ensue. TST. . SM. 257ff. given that Plato 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . p. 430. p. 260. not in relation to God. i. 432f. p. p. in which the political community is to be seen as an “individual” ruled over by Christ and its bearing on the analogical relation of the divine as the world-soul and animating principle of creation. an internally creative power. 94. It is interesting to note here that for Milbank the origins of modernity and its errors have their roots not just in Scotus’ univocalist ontology but also in the medieval reappropriation of Aristotle. human origination is seen as coincident with divine. 23 discussing Aquinas’ understanding of Truth: “Were one to attempt to comprehend a finite reality not as created. p. 438. TST. . 436. 103 where we see how close Milbank’s position is to that of Berkeley’s. Deification is not the imposition of an external grace but something that is already inherent within human being.” Cf. pp. God is superabundant Being. . p. 139. . 18.” And TA. p. BR. WMS. p. WMS. . . as Dionysius explains. Augustine’s overcoming of the antinomy of the polis and psyche. p. BR.556 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 Amene Mir SM. TST. 408f where Milbank discusses St. TST. p. p. p. BR. 112—see above page 535.66. WMS. TST. such ‘that they seem animated and held together by one soul.g. Cf. TST. then no truth . 431—my italics. p. ix. 436. 436. SM. 103: Milbank looks favourably on Berkeley’s propagation of a “theological physics” in which the latter takes the Platonic step of seeing that all the parts of the world are “. . that is to say. See BR. x. .” TST. p. 11: “. . stands in contrast to Aristotle. see TA. . TST. p.” Milbank writes. WMS. “This movement. . p. WMS. p. p. p. 139). p. WMS. . . 309. 107. supremely in the divine Soul. since finite realities are of themselves nothing and only what is can be true. . . . is from unity to difference. p. TST. 436. “. p. 435—my italics. p. latent . sacral origination. plenitude of “otherness”. “outside”. concern both with historicity and with human poesis. .e. TST. Milbank holds that the writers of the Old Testament understood this. xxiv where Milbank refers to his new reading of Augustine and Dionysius involving bringing to the fore their “. TST. TST. for Milbank. p. p. God as the “speaking” of created actual difference and God as an inexhaustible. p. Cf. p. TST. p. of a creation “animated and held together by one soul”. p. 8: The Truth of a thing is an aspect of Being as it exists “.

p.g. p. and no longer an attribute of perfection. 34). Cf. SM. and through. p. TST. beyond containment and so involves an “always-goingbeyond” (a transcendent “lure” that is found through our participation in the divine). p. In no way does the created anticipate grace. 13f. nor is ‘subsistent’ of itself. . p. p. TA. Analogy is not.” in which a thing’s existence is a question of its simple “thereness”.. . WMS. SM. by Barth.” Cf. nor explained what is in becoming through an ultimate efficient or final causality. p. cf. p. 101. an empty. p. . 194. WMS. p. 30f. p. Nothing. WMS. in which revelation stands over and against a nature depraved and passive in the face of the divine. . p. p. . p. . TA. BR. p. BR. for Aquinas.” Cf. 194. 299f and TST. and is. p. 13. p. p. TA. © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . p. ultimately unthinkable. and permits the event. . p. p. univocal category of mere existentiality.” This results in sheer arbitrary heterogeneity and equivocity which has become the defining theme of modernity. . not as an Aristotelian achievable “mean” between two extremes to be “arrived at” through heroic effort (an immanent telos discoverable by reason). .” (TA. xxvii where Milbank favourably points to Eckhart’s Trinitarian theology in answering these sorts of issues. virtue is understood as a “surplus” that is always “more”. (WMS. . 306f. See TST. cf. pp. 436. Cf. the participation of beings in esse involves something quite other than the external relation between beings. primarily linguistic. writing with Pickstock. 338 and 366. Thus for example. 30. p. p. p. SM. p. TST. . See TST. cf. . 107: “Emanation by contrast is not causality (efficient causality). 111. E. Xi. . SM. its likeness to the divine. . Milbank points out that for Cajetan and the neo-scholastics human nature can be specified without reference to God or only in relation to God as an external efficient cause. finite being is not on its own account subsistently anything. 13. as he conceived it. . TA. 80. TST.A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 557 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 “. 44. p. p. BR. a question of “being” in abstraction from any consideration of its divine derivation according to a participatory framework. 429f. p. TA. . Rather. . . BR. p. TST. 15 where Milbank notes that it is no surprise that Scotus played down the Trinity in favour of voluntarism: “No longer is the world participatorily enfolded within the divine expressive Logos. 17f. It is in this light that Milbank reads Aquinas: “. . This conception too colours Milbank’s understanding of virtue. in the finite realm properly ‘is’ of itself. p. 85 where. BR. . 115 where Milbank criticises Scotus for creating “. p. 99. 44 where Milbank describes transcendental being as “. p. for example. but is granted to be in various ways. 307. . but rather referred what becomes to a partial manifestation (donation?) of a transcendent source. . xi. WMS. 48. p. . never sought a categorical inventory of what ‘is’ in the world. 48. BR. . cf. 40)” Cf. nor is essentially formed of itself. cf. xi. TST. BR. 115. but is instead a bare divine unity starkly confronts the other distinct unities which he has ordained. p. . Milbank says. 101. . TA. 9. which itself unfolds and defines its very nature. 40.” Cf. See SM. TST. “. BR. TA. Thus when grace “arrives” it is as overwhelming exterior force. TA. see BR. 32. p. . cf. 15: “For Aquinas the possibility of analogy is grounded in this reality of participation in Being and goodness. because it views an effect as the development of the cause. p. 46. a new space of univocal existence . cf. SM. all finite being emerges from nothing only as. for us.” Cf. TA. p. TA.. . This too throws into question the stark divide between natural and revealed theology as portrayed. . . 297. p. p.

beyond the sphere of division and contrast. 17. TA. TA. p. in this context the Trinitarian God is more than just social. . 51. BR. . . . . 42 where Milbank notes de Lubac’s suggestion “. who creates. p. BR. . 432. p. . cf. 180: “. . unity ceases to be anything hypostatically real in contrast to difference. Milbank’s assertion elsewhere: TST.” See WMS. that Milbank criticises: “. see TST. unity has become both a dynamic happening and a complex relation. 15. p. . p. as found both in Plotinian Neoplatonism and Scotist voluntarianism. . there is Unum or Esse which holds in ‘complicated’ fashion the entire ‘explicated’ sequence. cf. p. through humanity. p. . p. p. p. . . . BR.” TA. SM. 264.108. went further by situating the infinite emanation of difference within the Godhead itself. p. . p. . . TST. and becomes instead only the ‘subjective’ apprehension of a harmony displayed in the order of differences.” And WMS. . p. See BR. TA. p. 432f. BR. p. . or force . . 29. 86. . . . Cf. BR. p. the cosmos as lured by grace. p. SM. . 37f. future contingency is super-added to the present. . BR. deified humanity comes more and more to participate in the Son’s return to the Father within the Trinity. stand in an indifferent relationship to what he creates. the only transcendental self-identical reality is the recurrence of an empty will. a cultural God. p. it is “. one should insist that God is the God who is related. . 31. . .” It is a “going-deeper” of the created into the divine of that which is already properly there within the divine. p. . p. . 435f. 41 where Milbank says his approach is to give an essentially Platonic and theoontological reading of Aquinas. p. . 171. Hence Milbank’s rejection of apophaticism and any agnostic construal of analogy. God is able in the Creation to realise a telos commensurate with his own infinite nature.” For Milbank both Augustine and Dionysius “. for Aquinas. p. . p. .” emphasising respectively divine unity and 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . 37—my italics. 107: “. .558 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 Amene Mir RO. p. BR. SM. p. 139.g.” For Dionysius “. WMS. 47. .” TST. . TST. 42: “. .” TA. p.. Cf.” BR. p. . .” TA. p. Thus. of . . p. p. . 177. 80—Milbank’s italics). It is such a being. that without the lure of grace there would be no self-exceeding élan that generates the diversity and restlessness of human culture. 180. 182: “.”—my italics. he gives his reading of Aquinas: “. 107. retrievable without revision. TA. cf. and not emergent from it by mere instrumental causality—whose absolute sway would demand that everything was given from the very first instance of time. p. 40.” TST. material things are paradoxically removed from themselves— referred beyond themselves in order to be recognised as themselves. . 309. p. 66: This “going deeper” ends for Milbank in “deification”. cf. . ix. . TA. 47. . 119. 48. BR. 309. 437: “For the Trinitarian God does not . p. . p. See BR. TST.” WMS. 126f. . . . . it is. revelation is embedded in culture and history rather than arriving from some extrinsic source. Even though elsewhere Milbank says Aquinas “denies” a theory of participation. where Milbank contrasts the Christian accommodation of difference within the divine unity as found in Dionysius with that of pagan Neoplatonism where the One is “. p. TST. able to make an adequate return of love and honour to God. See TA. where Milbank writes “. the Creation is not really outside of God. . at the top of the ladder there is Unum or Esse which holds in ‘complicated’ fashion the entire ‘explicated’ sequence (to use Nicholas of Cusa’s terminology).” (WMS. . p. . TA. p. . . . 86—my italics. p. p. 107 where Milbank discusses this with reference to Nicolas of Cusa: “. p. Thus. TA.” But this too involves the whole of Creation: “And since. . 122. . See TST. . . . This too allows Milbank to escape the charge of relativism as certain historical and cultural “makings” will be more conducive to “discovering” the divine purpose for creation than others. E. 434. This denial explains Milbank’s assertion that Aquinas is not “.

TST. “. . realised. 437. See TST. . BR. p. who “. movement . TST.” (TST. Milbank here approvingly refers to Eriugena and Dionysius. . . WMS. 309). p. . p. For Milbank this does not simply refer to the procession of the divine persons but also to creation itself as originating within the life of immanent Trinity. p. . ix. Being is not ‘mere fact’ [but] .” TA.” “Empty” because Scotus’ God is devoid of difference. BR. . 71. 437. hyper-diverse. God’s knowledge is not ‘before’ but in the infinity of generation. 440. who includes difference. . . 437. but a God who speaks in the harmonious happening of Being. univocity of being . 544. . in some sense. cf. where Milbank argues that Christian theology must hold to a God who is “. 435—my italics. that “The God who is.’ ” BR. . p. WMS. .” and this “. p. p.” © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . 170. TST. p. ‘preserving [all things] in their distinctness yet linking them together. upholds difference as violence (TST. . See WMS. . Milbank’s understanding of divine unity and simplicity as inclusive of all difference stands in contrast to the strongly voluntarist Scotus. unity has become both a dynamic happening and a complex relation . . 182. . Phrases such as “stretching down” need to be understood in terms of divine emanation and not as from one distinct unity to another. . p.” which is a “. p. . 430: within the divine there is a “. and this knowledge can only be ordered. cf. 176. p. . . . TA.” (TST. . . is not a God sifted out as abstract ‘truth’. . . it denies difference as embraced within a primordial harmonious unity and order. TST. 182.” and BR. . See WMS. no sum which might add to his amount. 539 above. p. “The only transcendental selfidentical reality is the recurrence of an empty will. TST. 115. TST. p. p. . p. xxvii. they need to be understood as not involving any degree of efficient causality but in terms of relation and donation by which the finite is constituted by its participation in the divine.’ ” WMS. 436: “. as Dionysius says. Milbank therefore favours “surplus” over pure self-sufficiency. 437: in contrast the divine “. means that the context for development is always open to revision by the development. . is an absolute that is itself difference. . p. BR. p. as we have seen. cf. .” BR. and is thereby constituted by ontological violence: “. p. . TST. TST. p. 436. .” (TA. 435. 437—my italics. . TST. p. 115. . see TST. the arbitrary limitation of violence by violence (TST.” Cf. 436: God is a “. . See BR. p. TST. TST. p. TST. apart from which it has no reality in or of itself. . inclusive of all difference. from unity to difference. p. p.” In terms of the nature of the divine. p. 139. WMS. . 87. only be. and yet is unified. . p. p. p. 126f. .). 85). See above p. 391f. . p.g. 63.. 63: “. p. . moving and dynamic element . 86. The use of the word “persuasive” is interesting here. . p. E. p. . 435). TST. .A Panentheist Reading of John Milbank 559 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 absolute simplicity at the expense of the inclusion of difference and ultimately issuing in nihilism. never exhausted ‘surplus’ . 438). being indicative of God as the ultimate “lure” of creation. 177. p. ‘limited’. 308 where Milbank points out that univocity leads to the glorification of the original whilst analogical process “is a constant discrimination of preferences and erection of hierarchies. 435: “The only way the voluntarists could characterise God in contrast to this was to emphasise his unity and absolute simplicity. TST. if it is the infinite happening of the new in the harmony with what ‘preceded’ it. Cf. . there is no exterior to God.” Pagan “peace” and “order” becomes nothing other than “. . 14: “. . In the context of an ontology of difference. BR. cf.” Cf. 78. Cf. . This “dipolarity” is illustrated not only in Milbank’s understanding of God as Creator but as we have seen in how he understands God as the God of culture and history. 435—my italics. p. In that “transcendental univocity” issues in pure heterogeneity for Milbank. TA. p. there cannot really be an exterior to God since he is all in all. p.” Creaturely participation in the divine means. See p. p. p. 85—my italics. . TST. sheer ‘givenness. p. . these become properties of a sheerly inscrutable will of whom no finite qualities can be eminently predicted.

God is the God who is related. TST. 433. and within. p. and that from. TST. TST. TST. p. 429. p. who creates and that from. See TST. TST. p.” (TST. TST. WMS. cf. 65f. p. . 182: “. p. TST. 431. “If analogy is seen as entering into all unities. p. 437. then it is rendered dynamic: the likenesses ‘discovered’ are also constructed likenesses (whether by natural or cultural processes) which can be refashioned and reshaped. WMS. 430. p. p. “One can only think of the elements of creation as inherently interconnected ‘qualities’ which combine and re-combine in all sorts of ways . TST. cf. TST.” (TST. 170. . BR. BR. Milbank of course recognises that Hegel does not achieve quite such an eventuality. hence. 67. 177.” WMS. p. p. 73f. BR. .560 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 214 215 216 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 Amene Mir TST. BR. . 215. arises. As Milbank writes. . 429. TA. TST. 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 © 2012 Blackwell Publishing Ltd . p. . the notion of a participation of the poetic in an infinite poesis is to be complemented by the notion of a participation of reciprocal exchanges in an infinite reciprocity which is divine donum. p. . . 431. 436. 86—my italics. p. cf. WMS. And if certain things and qualities are ‘like God’. 430. 182—my italics. TST. 77. 308. . 430. 308. p. relations and disjunctures. . . cf. 438. p. p. TA. p. p. 437. p. x). he deems Hegel as at heart “gnostic”. the only transcendental self-identical reality is the recurrence of an empty will. TST. 431. p. p. p. p. TA. p. BR. See TST. . 431). TST. TST. 156. . freedom . . . 170. . 182: “. and within.” WMS. cf. . p. p. p. the ‘compulsion’ . TST. 161. TST. TST. p. p. p. 307). one should insist that God is the God who is related. p. p. 42. TST. p. “. p. p. 308. then it must also be true that the analogising capacity itself is ‘like God’. TST.” BR. WMS. p. . p. 308. p. 65f. TST. . BR. the ‘compulsion’ of this immanent goal. 436. p. 23. p. freedom . 41. 416. . 182. 430. arises. which participate in the divine creative power/act. who creates. . p. p. p. TST. 435: “. Creation is not the glorification of an “original” but the constant discrimination of preferences. 437 and TST. .” (BR.

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