In Chapter 6, Pannenberg discusses the unity and attributes of the divine essence, continuing his theological concern of identifying God as Christians understand God. At the close of this discussion, I will have a brief reference to his use of one of his other books. Karl Barth discusses the reality of God in Church Dogmatics Chapter 6, Volume II.I. He will also discuss what it means for God to act, to act freely, and to act freely as one who loves. After discussing the perfections of God, he will discuss the perfections of divine loving in contrasting terms: grace and holiness, mercy and righteousness, patience and wisdom. He will also discuss perfections of the divine freedom in contrasting terms: unity and omnipresence, constancy and omnipotence, eternity and glory. Paul Tillich discusses the reality of God in Volume I of his Systematic Theology. He will discuss God as ultimate concern. He will discuss the actuality of God as Being itself, as living, as creating in originating, sustaining, and directing creativity, and God as related to the creature in holiness, power, and love.
In Section 1, Pannenberg discusses the majesty of God and the task of rational discussion of talk about God. The inconceivable majesty of God means our attempts to identify God will never fully capture who God is. God is already near to those who ask and seek, as we see in Deuteronomy 4:29, Jeremiah 29:13-14 and Matthew 7:7. The end of history will reveal the unity of the hidden and revealed God, for the course of history will always be ambiguous in this regard. The unity of the Trinitarian God is the central theological problem. He agrees with Aquinas that the undivided simplicity of the divine being that results from the notion of Infinity, and therefore one can ascribe to God the multiplicity of divine attributes only in the mode of undivided unity. God is incomprehensible because of the notion of Infinite in relation to God. The question for Christianity is whether such a statement is still true in the context of its Trinitarian statements.
In Section 2, Pannenberg discusses the distinction between the essence and existence of God. He discusses John of Damascus, Gregory of Nyssa, and Aquinas. His particular concern is that Aquinas appealed to the notion of God as “first cause” as a proof for the existence of God. Gregory and Duns Scotus would focus on God as Infinite rather than as first cause, and Pannenberg wants to follow them rather than Aquinas. Descartes in his third meditation shows that the thought of the I rests on an intuition of the Infinite. For this reason, he does not follow the common assumption in the history of modern philosophy that he is the source of modern subjectivism. He sees Locke and Kant as that source. The mistake Descartes made was that he attempted to make this intuition a clear and distinct idea of God. Rather, all he had done was demonstrate that an unthematic awareness of the Infinite precedes all representations of the finite. The intuition is a witness to the original presence of God with all human beings and therefore to divine existence. In the tradition of John Wesley, one might refer to it as prevenient grace. He disagrees with Paul Tillich and John Macquarrie in avoiding the notion of divine existence and throwing out the idea of God as “a being.” I should say that Peter Hodgson modifies Tillich here, focusing on God as the power of Being, which becomes the power by which finite things are. Every finite thing participates in this creative power. When he discusses this power of Being as primal energy, it reads much like what Pannenberg will say about his notion of field theory and the divine energy. Hodgson also relates his vision of the divine to that of Teilhard de Chardin. This will mean creation “out of the future,” the actualization of possibilities. His point is that if God is this power of Being, then God is the one who calls us forward into being and new possibilities of being. Yet, admittedly at stake here is the personal language about God, which Hodgson thinks is imprecise and likely wrong. Yet, God is “in some sense personal,” but not a person. The power of God is the constitutive power of personhood. What Pannenberg will want to show is that God is an active presence in the world as well as a power that transcends the world. He will rely on Hegel in saying that essence (bringing us back to the theme of this chapter) must appear. Yet, appearance in this time and place points to a reality that transcends that only the future will fully disclose. Thus, in Jesus we have the appearance of the future rule of God. Essence appears in time, becoming a moment of the existence of God. The essence of God transcends finite things and their world. He uses field theory in science to provide a way of understanding this. The unlimited (infinite) field is identical to the nonthematic presence of the Trinitarian God in creation. The Son reveals the Father. The Son reveals the divine essence as love. The Spirit effects the communion of Father and Son and is a gift to the people of God. He sees an analogy in how the self shows itself in the I and in how the essence of the Trinity has its existence in the persons of the Trinity. The field of the Infinite to which the human mind is open does not yet have its definition as God, but of course, in the Christian view, it will be identical with the Trinitarian God.
In Section 3, Pannenberg will discuss the essence and attributes of God and the link between them in action. He has already stressed that divine power is essential to religious belief. The distinctiveness of the divine essence will need to show itself in the works of God. The revelation of the name, the revelation that the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, the revelation of covenant righteousness, the revelation of God as eternal, almighty, and holy, are qualities of the works of God. He will want to ponder how this plurality relates to the unity of the divine essence. He goes to Hegel for aid here in pondering the relation of essence and attributes. His point will be that divine essence shows itself in the attributes. He wrestles with the idea that the traditional distinction between the multiplicity of the qualities of God and the multiplicity of the outward relations of the divine led to the inner contradiction of God being separate from the attributes. For him, this inner contradiction will form the basis of the projection hypothesis of Feuerbach. Kant had already pointed to the anthropomorphic problem in theology. Schleiermacher understood divine qualities as derived from human experience. The notion of God as first cause is the culprit here. Theology separated the essence of God from the causal relation of God to the world. His point, however, is that all the qualities (infinite, eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, mercy, righteous, and love) are such only in relation to the world, and not simply unrelated and transcendent. Hegel will stress that the concept of essence is always in relation to something else. With the introduction of relation into the concept of essence, Pannenberg wants to revise the traditional notion of God. Peter Hodgson would seem to agree. God is personal and communal in the sense that God is the one true and perfect person, whose acts of love and freedom constitute divine personhood in three modes of being or existence. Such modes are moments of relating, modes of being, and shapes of acting. His point is that the absolute quality of God includes relation, where the Father (I), Son (You), and Spirit (We as the intersubjective social matrix of relation within God) form the Trinity. He likens this notion to the dialectic in Hegel of identity (unity), difference (separation), and mediation (reunification) that God includes within divine life. The “play of love with itself” that occurs within divine life would be non-serious did it not include the serious relation to the world and its suffering. The world becomes an element of divine life and thus becomes the “body” of God. The Spirit becomes the “power of Being” that creates and redeems the world. For Pannenberg, while this notion raises problems, it offers opportunities to solve other problems traditional theological notions raised. It allows for a new discussion of the relation between the persons of the Trinity and between divine essence and the Trinity. He appeals to Hermann Cremer and his discussion of divine action. He focused on allowing the historical revelation of God in Israel and in Jesus to teach us the identity of God. By choosing the end or purpose of an action, one identifies with that end. The problem Pannenberg sees here is that even the choice of love as shown in Jesus may be too anthropomorphic.
Therefore, in Section 4, Pannenberg will discuss the spirituality, knowledge, and will of God. Common sense tells us that if God exists, God is a self-consciously acting and personal being. Yet, such anthropomorphic notions received criticism from Spinoza, Hume, Fichte, and Feuerbach. This led modern theologians to avoid such language. He traces the movement of the biblical notion of God as Spirit to the early Christian notion of God as mind (nous). It led to an anthropomorphic view of God. Anselm would use psychological analogies to explain the Trinity. The use of Aristotle in the middle ages made it possible to think of God as supreme reason. All of this led to the contradiction implied in choosing a goal, that God lacked something and therefore needed to act with a goal in mind that would fill up the lack. Further, the notion of a personal God seemed to place finitude in God. Such criticism arose from the left-wing Hegelian pupils. For Pannenberg, Hegel did have a balance of the transcending relations of the Trinity as the playing of love with itself in relation to a world that has its independence and rights. Creation is an act of freedom in Hegel. He also thinks Hegel promoted personality in God, for the Absolute is person and subject. Hegel laid down the condition for the freedom and subjectivity of the Absolute. Hegel viewed the concept, that is, the true, infinite universal, as creative power that is constantly realizing itself. He refers to the anticipatory nature of the Hegelian logical categories, which opens the door for freedom and the significance of the future. Such reflections can help us explain Trinitarian relations, but they do not help us describe the unity of Trinitarian action toward the world. He refers to the limits of applying human emergence of the self from the Trinitarian relations, pointing to how human beings always distinguish between I and the self and our self-consciousness. We are on the way to our identity, but never fully possess it. In contrast, we can assume that the relation of the persons of the Trinity mediates the fullness of their identity. He grants Spinoza the point that to refer to divine intellect is as metaphorical as referring to God as rock, light, or to the Word of God. The knowledge of God means nothing in creation has escaped the attention of God. The notion of the will of God derives from the human experience of a reality that presses upon us with power. The orientation of this will is as creative and life-giving Spirit. Pannenberg does not discuss the notion that we find in classical and process theology of the will of God as primordial (what God wills eternally) and the will of God as consequent (what God wills in light of certain contingencies after creation).
In Section 5, Pannenberg discusses the concept of divine action and the structure of the doctrine of the divine attributes. While the notion of action suggests a singular subject, how can one apply the notion to the Trinitarian God? He thinks he has shown that the Trinitarian persons are centers of action of the one movement of the divine Spirit that embraces and permeates them. We need to recall here his discussion of field theory. He wrestles with the nature of divine action at this point. The divine action of creation has had the result of intense suffering. The divine action of the history of salvation is also full of suffering. Of course, for him, the clarification of divine action will not occur until the end of history, in which we will find the revelation of the deity of God as the Creator of the world. With divine action, the eternity of God is present at all times. The goal of divine action incorporates the creatures of God into the eternal fellowship of the Trinity. The goal is nearer to God than its commencement. He points to the proclamation by Jesus of the imminent rule of God as an example. This notion suggests the power of the future as it impinges upon the present and provides the unity that past and present do not have. His point is that the goal is already present in the rule of God as proclaimed in Jesus. We can speak of divine self-actualization because the identity of God is present in the spiritual and loving relations of the Trinity, while we cannot legitimately speak of human self-realization because human beings are always on the way to their self.
In Section 6, Pannenberg will discuss the Infinity of God in holiness, eternity, omnipotence, and omnipresence. What he is doing is replacing the traditional notion of God as first cause, derived from Aristotle and promoted by Aquinas, with the notion of the unthematic awareness of God to which he has pointed, based upon his examination of Descartes and Schleiermacher. I should add that Gregory of Nyssa based his notion of the incomprehensibility of God on the notion of infinity, and Duns Scotus followed him in this. Robert W. Jensen discusses the Being of God. He acknowledges that Christian theology developed at a time when Greek philosophy discussed “Being” as a way to satisfy the longing of the mind for absolute assurance and the transcendence of the surprises of time. He argues that Christian theology needs to devise a Trinitarian concept of being, pointing to Gregory of Nyssa as a mentor. For him, God refers to the mutual action of the divine energies of the identities, and therefore to the perichoretic triune life. Since all divine action is the singular mutual work of Father, Son, and Spirit, there is only one such life and therefore only one subject of the predicate “God.” The divine nature or Being is infinite, by which he meant temporal infinity. The Bible would refer to this as the eternity of God, which it also saw as the faithfulness of God. For Jensen, the Being of God is the future of God. The Spirit brings the arrival of the future, but what the Spirit brings is love. Thus, the modern philosophical notion in Descartes and Schleiermacher has Christian connections. The point of Pannenberg here is that consideration of the philosophical notion of the Infinite through the lens of Hegel can help us understand certain biblical attributes of God. Thus, our first thought of the Infinite is that it is in contrast to the finite. Through Hegel, we learn that if all we do is contrast the Infinite and the finite, we place a limit on the Infinite, which would be a contradiction. We can resolve the contradiction in a Hegelian way by understanding that the true Infinite embraces the finite. He then considers the biblical attributes of God as this philosophical notion of the Infinite might enlighten. What he is doing is suggesting that this non-thematic awareness of the Infinite can gain in clarity as we engage in theological reflection. Let us consider the attributes of God that Pannenberg thinks connect with the philosophical notion of the Infinite. As we do so, I cannot help but mention that John Wesley (On the Omnipresence of God [Sermon 111] and On the Unity of God [Sermon 114]) draws this close connection between the Infinite and Eternal and the attributes Pannenberg will discuss here. I would especially point out that Wesley connects the holiness of God at this point rather than a reflection of the “moral” attributes of God. One, considering the Infinite as embracing the finite (Hegel), divine holiness is separate from the profane, but also embraces it and brings it into fellowship with the holy God. Two, the eternity of God opposes the frailty of the finite, but is more than just endless time; it becomes the basis for our experience of time. The path to the goal is time, suggesting again the primacy of the future in our understanding of time. Boethius describes eternity as the perfect possession of life. Eternity has a positive and embracing relation to time. I would add that John Wesley (On Eternity, Sermon 54) seems to argue in the same vein. He admits that it is not easy to determine what time is, even though we use the word so much. Yet, time appears to be a fragment of eternity, broken off at both ends, measured by the revolution of the sun and planets. Time is between that which was before it and that which is to come. In the “end,” brought by God, time will be no more, for it will sink into the ocean of eternity. Wesley says the Creator has made us partakers in the Eternal, referring to an ancient writer who referred to the human soul as a picture of divine eternity. Of course, Wesley applies such thoughts in a practical way, saying that the natural condition of human beings is to focus on the temporal rather than the eternal. He refers to it as folly and madness to prefer present things to the eternal. Our minds focus only on the portion of space and time that is immediate, rather than recognizing their context as the Infinite and Eternal. Returning to Pannenberg, all of this will oppose Heidegger and Sartre, both of whom reflect on time while dropping its connection with the eternal. His point is that we experience life with an anticipation of its wholeness. He uses the example of hearing a melody, which has a sequence of notes, but we hear the whole. Speech is a sequence of syllables, but we hear it as a whole. Three, with the notions of the omnipresence and omnipotence, we can see the Infinite as the presence and power of God as comprehending all things. The Trinity makes the transcendence and immanence of God compatible. To turn aside from the source of life is to fall into nothingness, while the omnipotence of God shows that God can save the creature from the nothingness the creature chooses.
In Section 7, Pannenberg will deal with the love of God. He shifts from the philosophical notion of the Infinite and what it might say about the attributes of God to the biblical witness to the revelation of the divine essence as love in Jesus. In terms of love and the Trinity (a), he points to John 3:16, Romans 5:5ff, and Romans 8:31-39. He also refers to Hosea 11:1ff, 14:8, Jeremiah 31:3, Deuteronomy 7:8, 10:15. Further, in I John 4:8, 16, God is love. God and love are identical ontologically. Love is the power or spirit that animates the relations of the Trinity. If “spirit” is like the scientific description of field theory, the divine Spirit is the power and fire of love glowing through the divine persons, uniting them and radiating from them. The divine Spirit fulfills itself as love. He makes the point that reflection on the relation of the persons of the Trinity led to a relational understanding of the human being as person. Of course, in the human arena, persons remain separate from each other and the human I and the human self are different. Next, (b) Pannenberg discusses the attributes of divine love, summarized in Exodus 34:6, Psalm 103:8, and 145:8. He discusses goodness and mercy, righteousness, faithfulness (leaving room for becoming in God because time matters), patience (in moving creation toward the saving purpose of God), and wisdom in divine governance of the world (which is always in question due to the unreconciled nature of the history). Next, (c) Pannenberg discusses the unity of God. The difficulty he finds in believing Sections 6 and 7 is that the world and humanity do not in fact correspond to the living will of the creator. The consummation of the world in the rule of God will mean that divine love has reached its goal. On the way to the goal of history, atheism remains a live option. Robert W. Jensen will discuss our place in God by stressing that to have being is to be knowable. He agrees with classical philosophy and theology that knowability means participation. The transcendental concepts of unity, truth, goodness, and beauty participate in all that “is.” Therefore, all that “is,” are true, good, and beautiful. God is roomy, in a sense, in accommodating unity, truth, goodness, and beauty to the reality of the creatures God has made. God has a body in Jesus of Nazareth, in the church, and in the sacraments, and in that sense, God accommodates us by becoming an object. In fact, human beings know God only in this giving.
Throughout Chapter 6, Pannenberg will refer to Chapters 4 and 5 of his Anthropology from a Theological Perspective. He refers to it in order to show the similarity and the contrast between the growth of human identity in the self and the identity of the Trinitarian God.
Pannenberg discusses subjectivity and society. He points out that William James proposed his concept of the social self, influenced by the ego psychology of Freud and influencing the social psychology G. H. Mead. He wants to ponder whether the social world is the place where the exocentric destiny of individuals becomes a reality and where they establish their identity. He wants to explain the process of the development of the ego or subjectivity as this takes place in the field of social relations. The tension present in such studies is that while human beings create the cultural world, they have an orientation to culture and achieve their identity in cultural environments. He sees a tension between the centrality and subjectivity on the one hand with the exocentric nature of human behavior. He sees the tension between the destiny of individuals in the image of God and the egocentricity that marks the living of their empirical lives. While Marx painted an alienating relation between the individual and culture, and Hobbes said human beings surrender their freedom to gain security, Locke said people enter society to preserve their freedom. Kant thought human beings had a natural inclination toward society. He views G. H. Meade as the starting point of any nuanced discussion that the relation to the Thou constitutes the ego.
Pannenberg explores the problem of identity. In the process, he discusses the ego and the process of identity formation according to psychoanalysis. Historically, classical psychology was analysis of conscious acts. In depth psychology, unconscious impulses and specific motives affect human behavior. It did so with the philosophical background of Nietzsche and Feuerbach and in concert with behaviorism and existential philosophy. He focuses upon Freud, G. H. Mead, and Erik H. Erikson. The portion of Freud that is important to him is that the ego undergoes a process of development or formation marked by its processing of the social environment. In Erikson, the development of the ego becomes a process of identity formation in which at each new stage of integration of all vital factors in an ego synthesis occurs. However, Pannenberg thinks we need a better way to reflect upon the relation between ego and self. He grants that initially, the process of identity formation takes the sameness of the self as its point of departure. Only through this identity does the life of the individual acquire constancy and stability. This identity makes possible the formation of a stable ego that can only be the subject of behavior and a subject of deeds. Identity makes possible reliability and accountability. Identity formation is the process where the self and the ego form. The ego remains a censoring agency. The cohesion and unity of the individual have their basis in the self, not the ego.
Pannenberg discusses the personality and its religious dimension. Self-identification occurs as we modify our social identity and integrate it into our projects that will become our identity. Our identity is something we create and define in the course of social interaction. He agrees with Erik H Erikson on the importance of basic trust as something we must carry with us in life, even as it has its source in our relation to the mother. Such basic trust opens us to the world. Self-identification involves us in trustful self-opening to the world. Identifying oneself always requires courage, appealing to Tillich’s notion of the courage to be. We do not make a decision to have basic trust; basic trust emerges from a process, the opposite of which is mistrust and anxiety that will lead to deformation of identity. In relation to God, however, the element of decision gains in its influence. Basic trust directs itself toward the wholeness of the self. Such wholeness is the goal of our development. He refers to Heidegger and Sartre in his consideration. The wholeness of the self finds its present manifestation as personality. Person signifies this wholeness. Boethius defined person as rationality, which set the stage for self-consciousness as constituting the person. He wants to define personality as the presence of the self in the ego. He finds it important that we consider the temporal structure of wholeness. Heidegger would say that we could anticipate wholeness by awareness of death through the call of conscience, even though the actualization of such wholeness remains obscure. For Sartre, human beings surpass the given in the direction of their totality. Each of us is an ego at every moment of our existence. We are still becoming ourselves. Yet, we also are ourselves now. Person establishes a relation between the mystery of the still incomplete individual life history that is on the way to the special destiny of the ego. Freedom is the real possibility of being myself, and thus freedom and personhood belong together. He stresses the social conditioning of personhood. Personality arises out of the relation to the Thou and to the social world. The relation to the Thou and to the social world determines personality. In a similar way, the self arises out of the mirror of the appraisals and expectations of others. The reference to God arises out of the theme of the wholeness of the self, as it shifts attention to that which transcends the individual. Because of this relation, persons are free in the face of their social situation. This relation frees us to be critically independent to any given social relation. The self-assertion of the individual against others and society may be the expression of a call to a more perfect fulfillment of the human destination to community. The dignity of the person suggests their divine destiny, a destiny that is the basis for the inviolability of the person. The person is not at the disposition of others.
(Hodgson 1994), 137-50.
(Hodgson 1994), 151-72.
(Oden 1987), 60-2.
(Jenson 1997), 214-21.
(Jenson 1997), 224-9.
(Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective
Chapter 4, 157-90.
(Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective
(Pannenberg, Anthropology in Theological Perspective