The Absoluteness of the Absolute

A reader asked me why men otherwise so intelligent could be deceived by a heresy like Arianism. I think the question misguided.

Myself, I do not see Arianism or Orthodoxy necessarily as a matter of smart or not smart.

To be fair, if anything, the orthodox position is more mysterious and paradoxical than the heretical position either of Arianism or Docetism.

For those of you unfamiliar with Fourth Century heresies, Arianism holds the position that God the Father is eternal and first, and that his only begotten Son was born, hence not eternal. In other words, Christ was fully man (or some sort of created being, even if elevated above all others) and not fully God.

How one can be begotten eternally without a specific birth date is something we humans can only grasp by analogy: imagine a tree outside of time. Its fruit and roots exist eternally, but whose fruit nonetheless is fed from, and depends on, nutrients drawn up through the roots.  Inside of time treeroots are always older, for the seed puts them out before the sapling breaks the soil, and the dependency of leaf and fruit on the action of the root means the root is older. But in eternity, this is not so, even if the dependency is maintained. The Father begetting the Son is analogous to this dependency of fruit on root.

Likewise Docetism makes the opposite error, saying Christ was merely an appearance or avatar of God the Father, not a separate entity with a human nature. In other word, Christ was fully god and not fully man.

How Christ can be the Son of Man while being the Son of God is likewise an enigma. Nothing else in creation or eternity has this property, and even analogies falter. I can imagine a diamond made of pure carbon atoms with no other substances present, and say that when sunlight fills it with light, it has the bright nature of light as well as the hard nature of diamond, but also say the diamond is wholly bright as well as being made no less hard by being illumined.

To hold, as the orthodox do, Christ to be both fully god and fully man, neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance, brings ease to the heart, but it disquiets the mind.

Intelligent people, or those so called, have an allergic irritable reaction to truths not easily put into words. They don’t like poetry as a way to grasp truth. They are creatures of sunlight, and twilight worlds, things half-understood, exasperate them. To them, a paradox like asking whether an omnipotent being can create a rock too heavy for himself to lift is daunting and interesting.

This is why intelligent men, or, at least, those with an allergic reaction to twilight, are so prone to heresy and so easily tempted.

However, there are two areas where words fail: one is where the matter is too subtle, but the other is where the matter is too substantial.

Any absolute, we humans have grave difficulty discussing. It is more real than we are.

Look at the confusion surrounding a concept as simple as causation.

Philosophers refer to cause and effect as ‘category’ of thought, that is, an axiomatic assumption discovered in all thinking about movement and change, which is so fundamental that no thought on the topic is possible without it. It can neither be proved nor denied. Either you have faith in causation, or you don’t.

If you don’t have faith in cause and effect, this does not mean you are free to act as if you lived in a world without cause and effect. Only a baby in the womb can do that. Once born, a baby at least has to act as if it lived in a world where that the act of suckling soothes hunger pangs, that is, the means adopted seeks the ends sought. (End and means is yet another absolute category of thought).

Because causation is an absolute, it provokes endless difficulties in poor mortal brains, even the wisest, to ponder. But it is still an absolute. Either you have faith in causation, or you don’t.

Free will is also a category, without which one cannot think a coherent thought on any matter of law or ethics.

Again, like cause and effect, you are free to doubt the absolute in your mind. Such doubts usually arise on procedural grounds of being unaware how you first came to know it (HINT: absolutes underpin all reality, so you are like a fish discovering himself to be wet).

But the final truth is that you know you have free will because you cannot NOT know it, procedural objections or no.

I suppose a man who tried to live without cause and effect would step through an upper window or a television picture as you or I might step through a door, because no action necessarily leads to any result. But the fact remains that the result still happens (a long fall or a broken telly) whether he acknowledges anything or not.

Likewise for pretending to be a meat robot. Even those who argue that there is no free will hence no choice, by the very act of argument appeal to the judgement of the audience to weigh the evidence and render a verdict, or, in other words, to chose to believe the argument. The fact remains seeing human acts as motivated by choice is inescapable, and even the man pretending to be skeptical for the sake of argument will continue to do so, whether he acknowledges it or not.

But any matter involving ethics involves change because it involves the moral consequences of an act. Here we have two absolutes, apparently in conflict, but both inescapable.

(I say apparently because the two are not actually in conflict. The fact that every material event, including the actions of brain particles and energies correlative to thought processes, neither lacks an efficient cause, nor defines nor describes any final cause correlative with that event, abolishes the possibility of conflict between the two descriptions. They are unrelated. The fact that the carpenter made a hammer with an iron head does not tell you a hammer is meant to pound nails, nor renders the description of the final cause needless, since you cannot understand why he used iron unless you understand what use a hammer is.)

An idea as simple and lucid as “I chose to do this” implies “it might have been otherwise, but it was not” which implies “since everything has a cause, the cause of this choice determined the choice, which means I did not choose at all, ergo choice is an illusion” — or, if you choose to believe choice is not an illusion, the implication is “the path not chosen, had it been chosen, would have seemed inevitable after the fact; but since it was not chosen, this path now being run seems inevitable.”

Either option involves a mind-warping paradox.

From this daily paradox which we get endless confusion about free will and determinism, first cause, fate, multiverses, self-caused causes, uncaused causes, acausality, and the arrant nonsense of saying “it arose from nothing by chance” (as if one could call statistical chance a type of cause, when it is a type of confession of human ignorance of causes).

A word to the wise. Nothing comes from nothing.

If you think you saw something coming from nothing, check the pockets or sleeves of the magician, and look to see where he cunningly placed his mirrors.

Likewise God. That there is an ultimate or absolute being, a being, so to speak, above being, or in other words, a thing that defines what beings are being when they be, is an absolute category of thought.

There is almost no way to talk about this and make sense.

That the Absolute Being also is the Father of a Son who nonetheless shared the same unity of being but was not the same person is so bewildering to the human mind, that the temptation to become and Arian, and just say Christ is an inferior and separate being like an angel, or become a Doectist, and say Christ is an avatar or appearance of God, the way the apparently physical body of an angel is merely an appearance, overwhelms intellectuals like me or anyone who places too much faith his own reason.

So it is not a question of how smart a man is when he falls into temptation. It is a question of how willing a man is to be humble, and admit the limits of human reason.