Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Yet More on Limits to the Divine Will

Bowing to Allah's Arbitrary Will?
(Image from Wikipedia)

By looking around more at the Chiesa website, I found a fuller version of Aref Ali Nayed's views. These occur in the same passage that I quoted from yesterday, but on a different Chiesa webpage, "Two Muslim Scholars Comment on the Papal Lecture in Regensburg" (Sandro Magister, Chiesa, October 4, 2006), where Nayed comments upon a passage from the Pope's Regensberg lecture:
Benedict XVI, being a scholar of medieval theology knows that he can not deny certain facts:
"In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions."
This passage, while serving its author's ultimate goal of undermining the theologies mentioned in it, does at least show that Benedict XVI is somewhat aware that other possible theologies do exist, and that Muslim theologians were not alone in caring about the affirmation of God’s sovereignty against human pretensions to govern Him with human criteria.
Here, Nayed appears to be affirming that the voluntarist views of such Nominalists as Duns Scotus are precisely the same as the Muslim view of Allah, and if that is so, then Islam does hold that Allah can willfully flout that principle of noncontradiction. Nayed then dryly observes of the Pope that, "Unfortunately, he goes on to totally undermine such theologies as not being the true 'faith of the Church'." I can see that this is unfortunate for Nayed's claim that the Christian and Muslim views of the deity are identical, but it's certainly not 'unfortunate' for the Pope's argument.

Nayed's larger article is worth reading (despite its strongly ironic but misplaced jabs at Catholicism for its violent history and its deplorable Eurocentrism) but still doesn't seem to me to directly engage with the Pope's point about reason and the nature of God . . . or Allah.

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At 6:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You say that Nayed does not seem "to directly engage with the Pope's point about reason and the nature of God . . . or Allah." I will go further and say that this is because Nayed is primarily writing for and to (certain) Muslims. He at no point indicates clear and genuine interest in philosophical engagement or dialogue.

As to Benedict's "show[ing] that other possible theologies do exist", it seems that Nayed's own response leaves intact as at least possibly true Benedict's apparent opposition to extreme voluntarism.

Of course, any such direct acknowledgement on Nayed's part would likely not sit well with significant portions of his intended audience. The audience to whom he likely wishes to appeal is composed of folks who will be much more impressed by what you refer to as Nayed's "misplaced jabs". These folks are of the sort who desire nothing more the certainty which can be afforded only by a significantly constrained apologetics.


At 6:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Michael Pearl (just in case the other Michael comments), you may very well be right about Nayed's implicit audience. Also part of that audience would be the European secular left, I suppose.

Nayed appears learned but either not philosophically acute or not willing to engage with the crucial point.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Regensburg speech: was it a good thing? Was it the act of a Pontifex, a bridge builder or the act of someone who forget that he had put off the old Ratzinger and put on the new man? People died and all for a very thin thesis. If there were complaints to be made of Islam they ought to have been made on the basis of present day events and not through the use of obscure stalking horses of byegone ages. Much blood has flown under all bridges since then. The present day lack of religious freedom in Muslim countries or areas where they are the majority is a legitimate focus of complaint and that would have been the previous incumbents modus operandi.

I've always entertained the exotic notion that Christianity is a Middle Eastern religion. Check the scriptural locus classicus for a discussion of the place of reason in Christianity viz.1Cor.1,2.
Relate back from that to the writer's experience at Athens, Acts 17, 16pass. To just take one theme. Dionysius the Areopagite was one of the two converts who was able to transcend what was foolishness for the rest of the Greeks. He became falsely identified with the 5th.Century writer who is central to the Christian mystical tradition. He was a central figure for St.Thomas who wrote about him, as you will know:
"Thus God is known in all things and yet apart from all things; and He is known through all knowledge and through ignorance. On the one hand; He is apprehended by intuition, reason, understanding, touch, sense, opinion, imagination, name and so one; while on the other hand he cannot be grasped by intuition nor can he be uttered or named, and He is not anything in the world nor is he known in any existing thing." (De Div.Nom. vii. lect 4)

There is much material for bridge building there. Rational notions of God are going to differ but the men and women who have shed 'holy tears' know each other.

At 4:30 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Michael Reidy, I would agree that the Pope's citation of the material on Islam might not have been prudent, but I think that the issue was hyped by the press. Also, the Pope's statement in German was far less provocative than in the English translation (a point that I raised at the time of the controversy) -- though, admittedly, that provisional translation was offered by the Vatican until it had time to prepare an official text with a better translation and proper footnotes.

As for the central point that concerns me in these posts on limits to God's will, I think that it's a matter that requires clarification. Is the orthodox Muslim view of Allah voluntarist?

I don't think that the orthodox Christian view is voluntarist, but there are certainly voluntarist strains, and the Pope was correct to point this out and to note the dangers.

This is part of the dialogue, or so would appear to me.

Jeffery Hodges

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