Humility .. its personalist connection with justice
“Are my ways unjust, says the Lord; are not rather your ways unjust!” [Ezechiel 18:29]. This poignant line was occasioned by a carping against God’s gratuitous mercy. Vaunted pride is what God casts down in declaring how unjust is the way of expecting or demanding what one claims is due, since no-one can earn the goods that last.
We are dust, and unto dust we return. Isaiah’s [45:9] image of potshards complaining against their potter, clay against its molder and firing glazier, is a clear signifier that we have made the most egregious category mistake.
The mind, clouded already, is darkened by the toxin of sophisticate pride, making natural justice unrecognizable. Instrumentalist ethics now suppose a deformed child is dispensable to make way for a better one. Cleverly as the argument may go (it almost works for standing in proxy), what morally could be more stupefied?
Walking humbly before a cosmic demiurge would not be personalist. It’s easy to feign humility before powers that dwarf human stature: hands are often wrung over our infinitesimal footprint in the universe. But Gaia as concept substitutes for God as real when I wax laudatory over mother Earth but lack concern for pre-born persons.
Humility is to prefer others to me, recognizing the value of those who as yet have hardly started or are radically vulnerable. Humility before God is to accede to his preferences in all things; but deference to preference is a charade if God be not personal. A preference for persons is rendered (by persons’ God) the ultimate in personalism.
If I am not sincerely differential to others I cannot in justice expect them to treat me better; and if relations devolve to ‘each to his own’ or survival of the fittest then disregarded is God’s preference to exalt the lowly. If lacking humility I balk at divine reward for lowliness, I’m neither just nor in personal relation with God.
Well then, where is the evidence that God is personal? A huge number of religionists including monotheists, do not concede a personal God. Some Jews and even Christians over-focus on Elohist texts to the loss of the personal in Yahwist ones, and of course Moslems think personhood is beneath God. One beauty of the personal God is that his declamation for pure religion implicitly allows room for less, as a starting point.
What is personhood: Anselm’s Proslogion
For humility take St. Anselm’s fine example. He’d been in prayer, humiliated in a fruitless striving for a way to express God, or devise a nomenclature (nomen) that captivates the essence of what God is to us. Having dropped the quest as beyond his ken, Anselm in uncomplaining contemplation of God was granted a light. He grasped that God is he “than which no greater can be conceived”; and thus he inked the Proslogion.
On studying Augustine’s abortive attempt to describe the blessed Trinity (or what in us comprises an image of it), Anselm realized that uniqueness, eternity, the ground of being, oneness in plurality (communion of love) and every perfection must be included in what is such, than nothing greater can be conceived. He saw that the One, more than a concept, is greater by actually existing.
What may not be quite obvious from the Proslogion is that God reveals himself as essentially Person. The agent conceiving the greatest thing is mind, and this conceiving is critiqued by mind. Minds belong to persons, and God is (just) knowable through what a mind does most essentially: conceive. Far past being a concept (I use concepts to behold many non-concepts), to be ultimate it must be so full of existing as to be and define existence.
No thought about reality can make rational sense if there is not a believed supremum or ground of reality; and Anselm found that it is logically unsound to deny the existence of that “than which no greater is conceivable”. No meaningful argument can proceed, even with oneself, if being real doesn’t emerge from a ground of real being. The soundness of Anselm’s demonstration was modally proven by Alan Turing (corrected lately for a minor gloss).
One who uniquely is “than which nothing greater can be conceived” tells the mind to look to its own possessor’s essence as a good that the One cannot lack in perfection. He cannot lack personhood and its nature of conceiving if He speaks with authority about the conceiving. To comprehend what is shown, if from God, is to correspond: to have something of His likeness which He knows corresponds. That, at the very least, is Personhood.
An aside is in order, to consider misgivings that Aquinas had with Anselm, for Anselm did maintain that no sane mind can deny the existence of what is at least as great as anything rationally conceivable, since not-existing would make that conceptum less. Not all accept the nomen as premised, even if Anselm argued it is required of sanity.
It is fair to say that a sound mind in pursuit of truth is able in principle to touch the essence of God unaided - if man can retain clear rationality without aid, as may be debated. But it is now accepted as shown, for instance, in the late Anthony Flew. Yet Aquinas found it suspect, since not all about God follows from grasping Anselm’s nomen.
Anselm however did not say that (a) all, without help of grace or hearing, ought to find God; nor (b) all that’s true about God is found in this amulet. Anthony Flew didn’t get to a personal God before God took him home. That the mind’s light can just touch His that is uncreated does not mean our darkness can at all ‘comprehend’ God. This has its mundane parallel: you can find me human, but not till I said it would you guess I’m an Anselmian-Augustinian.
God’s totality wasn’t something Anselm saw nestling there in the nomen. Certainly no necessity that God be loving and merciful or ready to die for men: greatness beyond conceivable greatness had to be revealed. But to a mind able rationally to conceive, these truths when revealed are digestible - if not without mystery and awe.
Still, as Ambrose had advised Augustine to let him be found by God - not the other way round - much about the Trinity is amenable when open to Personhood as perfectly God’s. One might guess that while incommunicable simplicity is a divine perfection, it is not without also the good of communion. God alone combines all perfections. As cardinal Dieudonnee Nzapalainga recently put it: “in a family [including God’s selfsame] singularity does not exclude communion and collaboration.”
Communion in plurality is an incontrovertible good: conceived-of it is seen to be unifying and not multiplying and dividing, unlike vying demiurges or anti-Gods (as in heresies like Manes’) which failed to embrace the crown or Sh’ma of oneness.
Yet through insights like the nomen one glimpses that God in oneness will encompass plurality, no divine Person being less holy and perfect than the other. Genesis speaks of God and the Spirit (and implicitly His Word), calling the One in plural form: Elohim, so ‘apt or fitting’ in Anselm’s phrasing. One finds then the Trinity most fitting because a Two will be in perfect Love, which itself cannot lack any divine perfection, including Personhood (pace Augustine).
Rediscovery of God’s personhood
Wisdom gives herself personally to those who desire her, enabling them to walk humbly before God. “Before God” is reminiscent of the dancing of Wisdom before Him [Proverbs 8:30]: and it means ‘in His sight’ like ‘the apple of His eye’ - as David did dance.
This personhood of God was well known in religion, by Abraham or Noah long before Micah; for which the increasingly academized mind swimming in a tide of skepticism must belabour a tortuous rediscovery. That has delayed a full recognition of God’s personhood, where our personhood and mutual-love personalism are rooted.
In a real sense the ‘mentalist’ enlightenment began with the magi, men of science in their day. The magi, if Zorastrian, believed in a Wisdom (Mazda, in the end victorious over evil) that budded humans as leaves from a plant. Man having not form nor breath from impersonal Mazda was hardly grounded in personalism, depriving him of deep reasons for the sanctity of human life.
Still, the saviour Soshans was to be incarnate through a virgin; so through reverence of signs far above earth, the seers followed the rising of a unique luminary. Finding the son of Mary, they “returned a different way”: an understatement of what’s far more than a ‘new trail’.
[ Legend has the sages remaining in India as proto-Christians, catechized later by Saint Thomas, who made them bishops. Their relics are interred at the basilica of Koln, Germany. ]
They were saved from any part in Herod’s pogrom against the Christ, so fresh was their epiphanic reverence for Life. Seven months earlier the Spirit baptized John prenatally, who was not yet seeking Christ; how readily would God not fill these, going leagues after Soshans, to find Hosanna ?
What made the change from a deistic outlook to the personalist and theist wouldn’t have been speech. It had to be Jesus’ presence (Norris-Clark calls that the essence of personhood) and the inimitable sanctity of His mother, conceived without the corruption that Zorastrians thought inescapable: both in the care of ‘just a man’, Joseph.
Awaiting all who encounter Christ with open heart, is confirmation in faith and truth. Wisdom, that ‘thinking in the heart’ Augustine called for, is guaranteed: “how much more will God give the Holy Spirit to those who ask?”
Rediscovery of what was long since known in the heart and in personal encounter, with angels ‘like men’, is impeded when the mind sets forth its own sceptical criteria as ruling its capacity to receive truth. Dictating terms of truth or perceived consistency is a self-protecting but limiting aspect of predicate logic, for any level of consistent systematics must engender true concepts that cannot be demonstrated within its confines.
The mind is not limited to to the stratified, enumerable levels of arithmetical formalism (which were used by Godel to prove his theorem); but while it thinks it is, the important worry about consistency will hamper it in addressing matter that it grasps as ‘meta’ or mysterious: any of the true mysteries it might conjecture. But a trust in true and proven, ‘pure’ and testified religion enables mind either to ascend to a more encompassing “new register”, or to receive as true what it could not have proven in the layer where it mired itself like the wheels of Pharaoh.