Saturday, March 1, 2014

Personhood


This idea of the universe as being an expression of the personhood of God interests me. 

There is, after all, a long-standing argument about whether any transcendent being can be a "person" or not; that is, is God a person? Swedenborg certainly said He was; and there are many who seem to encounter God on this basis, even though it seems quite impossible to understand, in some ways, and scientists for the most part dismiss such a possibility.

The word person Came from the Latin persona,  which means an actor's mask, or a character in a play. Later, the term came to mean human being; but it is the first and original definition that interests us here.  What it implies is that a person is one who plays a role. That is to say, the real Being behind the appearance — the role — is hidden, and that real Being has adopted a guise, put on a mask, in order to fulfill a function.

The function is to play out a drama, to enact a series of events that are meant to illustrate principles or ideas of one kind or another. The ideas, as it were, are always external to the drama itself; that is to say, the ideas themselves are a deus ex machina, a divine force outside the drama itself, that sets it in motion. So here we already have two principles regarding personhood: it is an agent that acts out a series of artificial, or created events scripted by an outside authority; and it embodies and illustrates a set of principles or ideas, defined by the script, which are larger than the agent. We can furthermore say that personhood implies that the agency exists in order to demonstrate these principles to an audience.

In understanding the universe as an expression of the personhood of God, we would therefore say that the universe is an agent that fulfills the same functions as described above; and, in general terms, that's true. Although we can't say for sure whether the events in the universe are scripted by an outside authority, the universe itself emerges in its state of being from an unknown place. It does act out a set of principles or ideas defined by a script — the progression of development of the material realm, that is, this universe, from the Big Bang onwards through time, as scripted by the laws of this universe — and there is a set of principles and ideas which is larger than the events themselves, which the events described. Those principles are what we call the physical laws of the universe.

 The analogy of the drama does play out to the individual level with human beings; but it implies a little bit more than Shakespeare's all the world's a stage; in a sense, it implies that the whole universe is an actor, a person, a mask that conceals the appearance of a Being behind it, who is expressing a set of universal principles through its role and by way of its actions.

If the universal principles being expressed are simply ones of the laws of physical science, then it is a naturalistic universe, with no intelligence behind it. But the laws of physical science seem to be intimately and supremely intelligent, creating, as they do, this universe, which, without any argument, contains intelligence both within human beings and of the order they perceive.

 I would argue that the question of what, exactly, is expressed by God's personhood is precisely that goodness which Meister Eckhart cites:

I spoke recently of the gate through which God melts outward, which is goodness. But essence is that which keeps to itself and does not melt outward - rather it melts inward. But that is unity, which remains one in itself, apart from all things, and does not communicate itself, while goodness is where God melts outward and communicates Himself to all creatures.

—Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, p. 212

 Hence, I wrap up this post today with the quote where I began yesterday.  

The universe is a person that expresses God's goodness, in a drama that plays itself out through time.

Hosannah.

1 comment:

  1. "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO AM.' And he said, 'Say this to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" Exodus 3:14.

    God is a subject, "I AM." However, being a subject does not require being subjective. And so, although God is a person, He is not merely personal.

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