An addendum to the “Damascene Ontological Argument”


I recently explored the Cosmological Argument of St. John of Damascus (or what I would now call the “Damascene Ontological Argument”) and have realized something in the argument that needs clarification, namely, how could God remain unchanged in light of the Incarnation? (Much thanks to my friend Vic and commenter CK for bringing this problem up)

My first proposition looks like this:

(1) All things are either created or uncreated
(1a) If they are created then they are changeable
(1b) If they are uncreated then they are unchangeable

For God to be eternal, this means that He must be unchangeable, but how can this be so in light of the Incarnation? Wouldn’t this indicate “change”?

St. John sheds light on what he means by “change” when he argues that an angel or human can “change” by doing something moral or immoral. A human can have another human, thus increasing the quantity of humans, indicating a change. A human also changes physically. Thus, humans change. Christ, who is God, was also a human. The question then becomes, how could Christ be both man and God, but not change? If Christ didn’t change, then He isn’t human. If He did change, then He isn’t God.

The problem with such a critique is that it assumes the Divine nature and human nature somehow fused in the Incarnation. This, however, did not occur. A “third thing” was not created when Christ became human, likewise, though the fullness of the Deity dwelt within Christ, the whole of the Deity (that is, all three persons of the Holy Trinity) were not within the flesh. Thus, it was the person of Christ becoming human and not the whole of God becoming human.

The best way to explain this is to look at two different illustrations.

The first example summarizes the way the objection is formed (“how could God remained unchanged in the Trinity?”):

The problem with the above view is that it puts the wholeness of the Deity into the Incarnation. This leaves us pondering how Christ could have been raised from the dead by the Spirit or how God could have forsaken Christ on the cross when all three were actually present in the flesh. It should also be noted that if the above example truly represented what occurred in the Incarnation, then we are left with a changeable God.

However, the appropriate view looks more like this:

Notice that in the above example, only the Son took on the human nature and not the Divine nature (located in the middle of the three ovals). Thus, the person of Christ added a nature, which does not indicate a change in the Divine nature nor in the other two persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus, God did not change in the Incarnation.

But does the fact that the Word became flesh indicate a change in who He is? John 17:5 (along with other passages) would indicate the opposite. In John 17:5, Jesus lays claim to pre-existence with the Father. Though Christ took on the human nature, such a nature did not change Christ’s personality or who He was as Christ (whereas much of what we humans encounter in this life can change our personalities or who we are as individuals).

In fact, the ancient “Hymn to the Only Begotten Son” by St. John Chrysostom reads:

O only begotten Son and Word of God,
Who, being immortal,
Deigned for our salvation
To become incarnate
Of the holy Theotokos and ever-virgin Mary,
And became man without change;
You were also crucified,
O Christ our God,
And by death have trampled Death,
Being one of the Holy Trinity,
Glorified with the Father and the Holy Spirit—
Save us!

It appears that this problem faced early Christians and they dealt with it by also saying that the Word did not change in the incarnation, but merely took on a human nature. While Christ may have limited certain properties of His divinity (e.g. foreknowledge, omnipresence, omnipotence, etc), who He was as God did not change.

We must never forget that “change” means “to become different.” This means that whenever Christ changed His mind as a human or even in the Old Testament examples of God changing His mind, God did not become different. He merely changed His course of action on how He would bring about His Will, but who He was as God never changed and what He planned with His Will never changed. The essence of God never changed, even when the person of Christ took on the substance of matter, He still remained God while also being man.

Thus, God did not change and has never changed, indicating that He is the only uncreated Entity in existence.

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5 thoughts on “An addendum to the “Damascene Ontological Argument”

  1. Interesting post. Just a couple of brief comments. First 1b is appears false. We can imagine an electron, call him Jim, that has existed everlastingly. Jim is uncreated yet he changes; he switches between different atoms, proceeds through both temporal and spacial dimensions and may even have his charge affected over time (depending on your preferred theory of physics). You might argue that electrons like Jim are necessarily created things, but to do so in the context of a argument for God would beg the question. At best, 1b is only possibly true, though I am inclined to think otherwise.

    Secondly, Its been a while since I had a class that dealt seriously with the controversies of the incarnation, but i thought a main result of that debate was that the trinity participated in the same substance (homoousious). If that is the case then how the divine nature remains unaffected by the human nature of christ is unclear to me, since if a part of a substance holds some property then that substance has the property as well. You need to explain further how We can bracket off the properties of each individual of the trinity without attributing all those properties to God.

    Nonetheless, very interesting stuff. I find the diagrams especially useful.

    1. The problem with such an analogy is that it actually does beg the question. It asks us to assume something that we know to be false, namely that electrons are uncreated. We know that electrons can be created through beta decay and we also know that electrons can be ‘destroyed’ through electron positron where an electron and a positron collide, both are destroyed. So the idea that Jim the Electron could proceed throughout time, constantly changing without being created begs the question because it asks us to assume electrons are eternal, but we know they are not.

      Likewise, the idea that energy is eternal is a theory posited on the idea that the universe is a closed system. I am attacking the idea that the universe is a closed system, so to respond with an answer that is the equivalent of, “Well it’s a closed system” ignores the attack.

      Also, I am not guilty of begging the question because I am not asking people to assume God exists (or at least the Christian God). I am merely pointing out that all things that are moved have a cause. Matter moves, therefore matter has a cause. We can’t say that it has eternally moved, because:

      1) Scientifically we know from the Big Bang that all things began to move and

      2) Logically, we cannot have an infinite regress, which eternal movement of matter/energy would cause

      Based upon the two premises, it logically follows that someone must exist, and this someone we would call God. Thus, God is the conclusion and not assumed within the argument or presupposed.

      As for the Incarnation, the human nature did not become a property of the substance of God. That is why the hypostatic union refers to the “two natures” or “two substances.” This is because the Trinity as a whole was separate from the human nature that the person of Christ took on. If the human nature became a property, then it would be an extension of the Divine nature and thus create a “third thing” where Christ was neither God nor human. This did not happen. There was no fusion between the two and instead the person of Christ held dual natures.

      Thanks for the input though. I plan on making this into a much longer article and having these objections helps me know where I need to go with the article in explaining my premises.

  2. Actually, I don’t think this shows that electrons are all created beings. All this shows is that not all electrons are uncreated. whether or not its electrons is also unimportant, the main point of the example was “I can imagine some uncreated thing that changes and perdures through time.” So I still hold that 1b is not a necessary principle, though I’m willing to admit that it is possible (though not to extent that the claim is a de re modal claim like: all created beings are essentially unchanging, just that the proposition “All uncreated things are unchanging” obtains in some worlds). In order to show that 1b is a necessary principle and for the St. John’s Cosmological/Ontological argument to go through, you need to argue that everlasting beings are impossible in a different way then you have above because 1) is not obviously true, as there are competing scientific theories about the number of big bangs in a cosmological series. Also even if 1) is true of our world, it does not show that all possible worlds have a beginning. As for 2), whether or not infinite regresses are possible are not is pretty hotly debated, and no theorem of logic says anything about their impossibility. We have theoretical reasons and arguments based on various formulations of Principle of Sufficient reason to think that any possible world does have a beginning, but it is far from the self-evident principle you give above. We also have very strong Cosmological arguments that work because of the possibility of infinite or everlasting series, such as Rowe’s.

    As for the second point, i believe i recall the notion of two natures. However, I think that solution produces some strange antinomies. For instance we find that we cannot say that Jesus is identical with God, since Jesus changes over time (ages, etc). God can’t do those things, so by Leibniz’s law, the identity statement is false. I find, for a Trinitarian anyway, saying that Christ is not identical to God is strange. He, of course, might not be identical with other parts of God, like the holy spirit and so forth, but certainly he is identical with the God-Head. Also I have some Spinozist worries about how two wholly different substances can interact. It would seem that when Christ is aging, it is only the human nature which does the aging, but not the divine nature. and when miracles are being performed its the other way around. So are there two persons in the figure of Christ? Christ the God and Christ the Man? That’s odd by most standards of common sense. Perhaps this is a bullet you’re willing to bite though; i know many Christians are so willing anyway. Maybe the claim is something more like, both substances are proper parts of God, and therefore not identical to God. But then, if those proper parts have properties that require temporal change, then i don’t see how God can’t have those properties as well. I see how the divine nature wouldn’t have those properties, since it would just be another proper part distinct from the human nature of Christ, but the whole (God) would have those properties as well.

  3. Joel,

    I think this whole discussion depends on one’s definition of “change” and other such words. For example, if I am happy and then become angry, while my essence (human nature, the rational animal, however you want to conceive it) does not change, how I act and what I do definitely does change, and that is real change, even if it is ontological change. And I believe the Old Testament shows us that God changes at least in that sense — that he is moved by his creation.

    In any case, I think attempting an explanation of the Trinity or the Incarnation is just a little bit futile, since both are a mystery. The best we can do is say what they are not, but it is almost impossible to say what they are. Reading Luke 1 theologically — where Gabriel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will impregnate her with Jesus — we see that Jesus is the union of the divine and the human, the two being wedded together. That we can affirm, so that Jesus is not just a man, and he is not just God, but he is the full expression of both in a way that we cannot work out or explain.

    1. I need to correct a statement I made. I said, “If I am happy and then become angry, while my essence. . .does not change, how I act and what I do definitely does change, and that is real change, even if it is ontological change.” That should read as, “even if it is NOT ontological change.”

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