Saturday, November 13, 2010

Can God Change His Mind?: Dialogue with Bob Sungenis on God's Immutability, Omniscience, Atemporality, Simplicity, and Impassibility

By Dave Armstrong (11-13-10)

[words of Bob Sungenis will be in blue]

I had originally written an article in May 2008, entitled "Robert Sungenis' Denial of the Catholic De Fide Dogma of God's Immutability and Profound Confusion About Time and Eternity" (now offline). I stated there:
Sungenis (rather dramatically and amazingly) denies God's immutability (inability to change), transcendence of time (knowing all things that to us are past, present, and future), the nature of eternity (he seems to think of it as somehow a "super-time," rather than transcending time altogether), and asserts that clearly anthropomorphic qualities assigned to God in Holy Scripture, such as jealousy and "repenting" are to be taken quite literally.
This portion was cited in a PDF, "Robert Sungenis responds to His Biography on Wikipedia" and he replied:

What the Wikipedia authors do not include is that as a result of my discussions with Mr. Armstrong, he decided to remove my name from all the articles in which he criticizes the above view. I commend him for that decision. Although Mr. Armstrong still has his own opinions on this issue, I think it is safe to say that his judgment of what I teach has been drastically modified due to the new information I provided him from the very sources he recommended that I read. Mr. Armstrong discovered that these sources allow God's immutability to incorporate divine emotions and contingencies. In fact, one of the Fathers to which Mr. Armstrong had appealed to support his view (St. Augustine) was the very Father that one source indicated had agreed with my view. I also found a number of new Fathers who also had the same view, and I shared these with Mr. Armstrong. All in all, the recognized authorities on the subject (the ones Mr. Armstrong referenced) agreed that the issue is much more open-ended than Mr. Armstrong originally thought it to be.

The above description of my supposed opinions and change of same is inaccurate on two counts. My view was never "drastically modified due to the new information" that Bob gave me. Nor was this the reason I removed his name from the articles (in January 2009). I did that out of a charitable impulse and desire to avoid the public wrangling of two Catholic apologists (he reciprocated by removing some materials about me on one of his sites). My opinion of his errors had not changed at all. I wrote to Bob on 1-27-09:
I'm gonna revise all the papers of our dispute and remove all references to you, and just make them my own arguments. That way, all the charges of heresy will be gone. I also plan on making a clean sweep of the comboxes involved, so that will take care of whatever negative remarks you object to there. I'll keep substantive remarks that I made. I may also retain a post about geocentrism; i.e., what I think about it, because I worked hard on the response that dealt a lot with that. That one may reference you, but the word "heresy" won't be in it, in any event.

So I will retain my arguments that I have worked hard on, but at the same time I'm making a gesture of conciliation towards you and taking a more openly neutral stance on what is heresy and what is not, in this regard.

This also has the advantage of removing the open opposition of two Catholic apologists, which is no good for our cause, and has been made the topic of derision in at least one anti-Catholic venue. I delight in kicking the legs out from under that table. . . .
He replied on 1-27-09 and 1-30-09:
All very good gestures on your part. I, indeed, respect you and your efforts toward conciliation and understanding. . . . Again, thanks for all your efforts. God bless you for it.

God bless you, Dave. Thanks for your cordiality, honesty and Christian spirit. It is refreshing to see.
On 2-1-09, he stated about his book on Galileo and geocentrism that he was sending me:
If you're like most people, you won't be able to put it down once you start reading it. I'll be interested to hear your reaction. If there is anyone who I believe will give it a fair hearing, it is you.
I also wrote to his close associate, Rick DeLano on 2-12-09, clarifying what my editing Bob's name out of the papers signified:
. . . all reference to Bob was removed from the posts under consideration. I simply give my case. My position hasn't changed on that. . . .

Beyond that, I don't see that I have any further burden of responsibility of fairness. As far as I am concerned, I have bent over backwards to be fair (and you acknowledge that yourself in no uncertain terms). You guys can't have it both ways: I'm either "fair" or I am not. Which is it? LOL I removed the charges of heresy, even though I am not at all convinced that they are not true. I did it out of charity, and in hopes that they may possibly be untrue (me being a very fallible non-theologian) and that a constructive discussion could occur at some point. But I'm not convinced that Bob's views are not heretical, which is why all the papers I wrote are still up there arguing the same things, minus Bob's contributions.
Secondly, it is untrue that Bob "shared" with me information about a bunch of Church fathers who agreed with his erroneous view of God having emotions. I was eagerly looking forward to getting that information, and requested it (he cites my letter where I did so in his reply noted above) but he never sent it to me. Instead he sent me his two books on Galileo and geocentrism. I had written on 1-27-09:
Also, I still would like to get any references you have regarding the Church fathers and emotions in God, for my own curiosity and continuing study of this issue. It would be a bit difficult to search for that, as they may not always use the term "emotion" but rather, any number of individual emotions, which would make it very difficult to comprehensively search. . . .

I appreciate being able to see what you have regarding the fathers and "divine emotion." I may write more on that after I see it,
Again, on 2-11-09 I wrote to Bob:
I made all the arguments that I had at my disposal and provided references to those who elaborated upon the classic position far better and more knowledgeably than I could. I am, however, still interested in seeing where any Church fathers held that God had emotions akin to that of human beings. If I could get those references, I might do a public paper, interpreting what I saw there as either consistent or inconsistent with impassibility as understood by the consensus of the fathers.
And on 2-12-09 to his close associate Rick DeLano:
I want to focus on the Fathers and if any of them teach anything approximating what Bob claims to be the case with the attributes of God. I can't do so without the references, because it is too difficult (or at least excessively time-consuming) to search for all that. But I'd love to see it. So in that way the discussion could continue in a mutually agreeable sense.

* * * * *

I am putting back up dialogues I had with Bob in January and February 2009 because he
decided to post a new piece (his first full-length critique of me on his site, ever), entitled, Refutation of David Armstrong's Teaching on Galileo in the "One Minute Apologist" [sic; the book title includes "the"].

That being the case, I am now happy to return the "favor" and critique his mistaken views about God and the theology of God, that are seriously at variance with Catholic dogma, and indeed, heretical: concerning the very nature of God Himself. And so the old dialogues are now being restored (mostly minus his words), and new related materials documenting Bob's serious errors in theology proper (the theology of God) will also be forthcoming.

I've made all the arguments on these points that I can make (without a great deal of further study), and so I'll be referring back to these papers as the presuppositional support and basis for my position, as needs be.

Robert Sungenis to Dave Armstrong (1-14-09)

The length of your paper doesn’t bother me as much as the fact that you go on for pages and pages making assertions, but you never proved the premises on which you base the assertions. You can write a 100 pages if you wish, but if your premises are wrong, then your paper is not the least bit convincing.

Once again, if you are really interested in the truth, just answer the simple questions I posed in my last email. They really aren’t difficult to understand. It will help everyone get a quick answer to whether you really have something or not. It will determine whether you are able and willing to deal with the “premise” issue I am raising about your paper.

You made a serious accusation against a fellow Catholic, Dave. The least you could do is clarify your position now that you’ve been asked to reiterate it and simplify it, for me and the larger audience that is reading this exchange.

Hoping you oblige.

Dave Armstrong to Robert Sungenis (1-14-09)

You say I haven't established premises, or proven my contentions from Church documents. I vigorously deny this. My main argument is quite simple (though the topic overall is complex):

1. God is immutable.

2. Immutability means a complete absence of change.

3. Change of mind is a change.

4. But God can't change at all.

5. Therefore, God does not change His mind.

6. And to assert that He does is to assert heresy (in the category of theology proper: "theology of God."
Robert Sungenis to Dave Armstrong (1-14-09)

If that is the "summary" you want, you got it (though my paper and critique also had to do with time and God's relation to it, and anthropomorphism). I have thought all along that it was patently obvious, but I suppose since you clearly don't agree, or somehow missed it, there is some usefulness in making a very simple summary of the key element of my paper.

Regarding the six "summary" points you mention above, please let me reiterate that this is precisely the problem with your paper. You make all kinds of assertions but you proved none of them.

I'm not interested in Dave Armstrong's six-point logic. I'm only interested to see if you can show me where the Church has officially stated that immutability means God can't change his mind.

You had a perfect opportunity to be a gentleman and a scholar by answering that simple question, but instead, you just make more assertions based on your own logic.
As for the "burden," it is on you, since you are the one who is accusing me of heresy. Since that is the case, then it behooves you to have the chapter and verse in official Catholic dogmatic teaching that says God's immutability means he can't change his mind. If you don't have it, then you are simply engaging in calumny.

Until you provide the dogmatic proof for your assertions, it's no use in discussing the issue any longer. Thank you for your time.

Exchanges of 1-15-09

Dun did that in the paper that you refuse to "wade through":

Dave, as I warned you, everything you have garnered to prove your position only shows how inept your position is. Let me show you, once again.

1) Lateran Council IV (1215) God is "unchangeable" (Denzinger 428)

Granted, but Lateran Council IV does not say that God cannot change his mind or that immutability means God cannot change his mind. It only says God is unchangeable. With that I agree whole heartedly. The problem is, you are deliberately avoiding the distinction between God’s nature and God’s free will decisions in order to maintain your presumptuous position. As I stated previously, God’s nature is unchangeable, but if God’s nature already includes the fact that he can change his mind when confronted with the free will decisions of man, then God is not changing his nature when he changes his mind about man’s fortunes.

2) Vatican I: Dogmatic Constitution concerning the Catholic Faith, ch. 1: ". . . He is one, singular, altogether simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, . . ." (D 1782)

Did you read that carefully, Dave? It says God is “unchangeable spiritual substance,” not that God cannot change his mind when dealing with man’s free will decisions. I’ve never said, and never would say, that God’s substance can change.

3) Lateran Council (649): Canon I: ". . . immutable" (D 254)

Yes, immutable, but where does Lateran Council, or any council, say that immutability means God can’t change his mind when confronted with the free will decisions of man? Allow me to answer for you, Dave. The answer is nowhere. I’ve searched every official document of the Church of the last 20 centuries, and it took quite a long time to do. Hence, my challenge still stands. You either find the official Church statement that agrees with your premise the immutability means that God cannot change his mind, or you retract your claims and stop the calumny against me.

4) Council of Lyons II (1274): Profession of Faith of Michael Palaeologus: ". . . unchangeable . . ." (D 463)

Yes, the Council of Lyons agrees with both me and you that God is unchangeable. But where does the Council of Lyons agree with you that unchangeable means that God cannot change his mind when confronted with the free will decisions of man? You need to stop avoiding the real issue, Dave, and face what you are really being challenged with. Perhaps you think it is impressive to proof-text your way through Church documents, but in reality, you are only showing that you haven’t thought out the issue very much at all.

Ott also cites St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa, I, 14, 7, "Whether the knowledge of God is discursive": St. Thomas concludes: "God sees all things together, and not successively" and "His knowledge is not discursive." This reference to the Summa was in my paper, as part of a citation from Ott, but not itself quoted.

I never said God did not see all things together, and never would say such a thing. What I said is that God’s immutability does not mean he cannot change his mind. Obviously, if God sees all things together, then he knew from all eternity that he would change his mind when confronted with the free will decisions of the man he created. That is apparently, a twist of this discussion to which you had never given consideration.

Holy Scripture is also quite clear:

James 1:17 (RSV) . . . the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Malachi 3:6 For I the LORD do not change . . .

Psalms 102:27 but thou art the same . . .

Hebrews 1:12 . . . they will be changed. But thou art the same . . .

Numbers 23:19 God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. . . .

1 Samuel 15:29 And also the Glory of Israel will not lie or repent; for he is not a man, that he should repent.

But none of them say that the “change” in view refers to limiting God from changing his mind when confronted with the free will decisions of man. The verses above are referring to the divine character of God, that is, he is not a capricious or undependable being, but is always consistent, just and fair.

That being said, how much more just and fair could he be, Dave, if he were to change his mind about condemning someone if that person repented of his sin?

But with the God you envision, once he said he was going to condemn someone, then it wouldn’t matter how many times that person repented. Since God “cannot change,” as you claim, then he cannot forgive that person once he states that he will condemn him.

But that type of theology runs smack into many other Scriptures that show God does indeed change his mind about his judgments once he is appeased and the guilty repents:

Ex 32:14: “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”

Jer. 26:19: "Did Hezekiah king of Judah and all Judah put him to death? Did he not fear the lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and the Lord changed His mind about the misfortune which He had pronounced against them? But we are committing a great evil against ourselves."

Amos 7:3: The Lord changed His mind about this. "It shall not be," said the lord.

Amos 7:6: The Lord changed His mind about this. "This too shall not be," said the Lord God.

2 Chr. 7:14, 19-20: “and My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray, and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin, and will heal their land…. "But if you turn away and forsake My statutes and My commandments which I have set before you and shall go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will uproot you from My land which I have given you, and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight, and I will make it a proverb and a byword among all peoples.

Jonah 3:10: When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.

There are many more, but this should be sufficient to establish the point.

I'm done with this. Go in peace.

No, you are not done with this, Dave. You’ve only just begun. You’ve accused me of heresy and have engaged in serious calumny as long as you keep that erroneous paper on your site. As a responsible Catholic Christian, you need to rethink your position, and do it quickly.

One thing that may help, as I noted above, is that you must incorporate the fact that since God sees all things together, then he knew from all eternity that he would change his mind at certain points when confronted with the free will decisions of the man he created. This goes hand-in-hand with my other premise that, if the ability to change his mind was already part of his divine nature, then he is not changing his nature when he changes his mind; rather, when he changes his mind due to someone’s repentance, he is being entirely consistent with his divine nature. As I said, if you make the proper distinctions (which is the essence of good theology) then it will become clear. If you avoid the distinctions, then confusion and calumny will result.

God be with you.

As I said, I'm done. You are beyond reasonable discourse, and (besides thinking flat-out illogically) you are burdened with the woodenly literalistic fundamentalist Protestant mindset (hence your ludicrous rejection of biblical anthropopathism and anthropomorphism, as applied to God: accepted by both St. Augustine and St. Aquinas and even Martin Luther).

Unfortunately, Dave Armstrong has chosen the path of ignoring the direct questions and challenges I posed to him and has chosen to resort to the unethical path of making false charges of theological aberrations that I have neither used nor to which I would give any credence (e.g., woodenly literalistic fundamentalist Protestant mindset, anthropopathism, anthropropmorphism).

For the record, there is a vast difference between the caricature Mr. Armstrong seeks to create (i.e., “woodenly literalistic fundamentalist Protestant mindset”) and the Catholic methodology of literal interpretation of Scripture that I employ and which has been taught by the Catholic Church since its inception. For example, it is the Catholic Church, holding to an unswerving literal interpretation of Scripture (and which Protestants see as a chance to accuse the Catholic Church of maintaining a “wooden and literalistic mindset”) which has insisted upon an extremely literal interpretation of such passages as Mt 26:26’s: “This is my body,” or John 3:5’s “Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” I hold firm to the position taught by Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus and upheld by Vatican II that we are “not to depart from the literal and obvious sense, except only where reason makes it untenable or necessity requires.” Suffice it to say, with Mr. Armstrong’s false accusations of anthropopathism and anthropropmorphism, he has shown no necessity to the contrary, and to cover over this breach, refuses to answer the challenges to his position that I presented to him.

According to Mr. Armstrong, it is perfectly acceptable for him to interpret, quite literally, verses such as Malachi 3:6: “I the Lord do not change,” and perfectly acceptable for him to then make sweeping judgments, based on his own logic, that limit God from changing anything, wherever and whenever Mr. Armstrong deems his particular interpretation applicable, despite any explanations I have given him to the contrary.

But when it comes to applying the same literal hermeneutic to passages such as Amos 7:3: “The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord,” or Ex 32:14: “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people,” suddenly Mr. Armstrong abandons the literal hermeneutic. Why? Perhaps because Mr. Armstrong has decided to filter the interpretation of Scripture through some unproven and unapproved metaphysical or scientific grid before he allows himself to interpret the passage. Yet when he is asked, repeatedly, where the Church has taught his preferred grid (e.g., where the Church teaches that immutability means that God cannot change his mind), he simply refuses to answer the challenge and instead resorts to what amounts to theological name-calling.

Neither anthropopathism (assigning human emotions to God) nor anthropomorphism (assigning human body parts to God) have ever entered into my hermeneutical practices. I deny the use of both, and neither of them has a place in this discussion, and neither of them are directly related to the theological position that God can change his mind when confronted by the free will decisions of man. Hence, Mr. Armstrong is, once again, off the mark in his critique, but stubbornly seeks to hold to his position without answering the challenges presented to him.

[Dave on 11-6-10: I find this absolutely fascinating that Bob denied that "anthropopathism . . . [and] anthropomorphism . . . have ever entered into [his] hermeneutical practices. I deny the use of both," yet on 3 April 2008 (nine months earlier), Bob had approvingly noted, in Excerpt #6 from his book, Galileo Was Wrong; The Church Was Right:
. . . such instances are naturally applied to the anthropomorphic or anthropopathic passages in Scripture (i.e., those that give human body parts of human emotions to God) . . .
This appears on page 266 of Vol. II (The Historical Case for Geocentrism -- dated 2008).

Bob does the same in Excerpt #4:
. . . the many anthropomorphisms in Scripture that describe God's being and actions (e.g., Gn 6:8: "eyes of the Lord"; Ex 6:6: "the arm of the Lord"; Dt 9:10 "finger of God") . . . because Church doctrine has already established that God does not have human body parts, the exegete is required to interpret such passages in an anthropomorphic manner. . . . Scripture's anthropomorphisms . . .

. . . we still employ anthropomorphic language when we describe the attributes of God. We continue to refer to God's "eyes" watching us and God's "ears" hearing our words . . .
These statements appear on pages 189 and 191 of Vol. II. ]

Exchange of 1-16-09 (My Comments) and 1-20-09 (Bob's Replies)

Rick is welcome here as Bob's representative (or "legate"), since Bob refuses to defend himself and his heresies.

Correction, Dave. I invited you to have a dialogue with me on this very subject last week. I told you that we could put it on our blog and you could put it on yours. You declined, saying that your 40-page paper was sufficient.

What I “refuse” to do is come on a blog like yours where half the people don’t have the decency or courage to use their real or full names but make all kinds of snide remarks and specious judgments about my motives and beliefs. Then there are those like you and Ben Douglass who, although you give your real name, try to dig up every piece of dirt on me you can so that you can woo the crowd against me. Sorry, I will not become the piƱata for these tar and feather sessions. Every time I begin to read one of these blogs I see the same deterioration into outright gossip, and I simply refuse to be a party to it. If you want to talk theology, I’m here. I am only answering these present statements because I was requested to do so by one of my patrons. He was interested in my theological responses to your questions.

That he has contradicted Church dogma is patently obvious by now. We have shown it again and again.

No, you haven’t shown it. I have repeatedly asked you where the Church has dogmatically stated that God’s immutability means he cannot change his mind. You refuse to show us. Instead, you keep giving me doctrinal statements saying God is immutable to which I have already acceded. What I reject is Dave Armstrong’s personal logic which says that immutability means God cannot change his mind. If you can’t find a dogmatic church statement that says what you are claiming, then the argument is over and you need to retract your charges, plain and simple. (And by the way, Dave, despite your disbelief, I DID look up all the instances in official Catholic teaching whether it is ever taught that immutability means God can’t change his mind, and there is none. If you don’t believe me, then go look them up yourself and find out).

He denies that God is outside of time (de fide);

No, I just question the pervasive use of the term “outside of time” and wonder whether anyone really knows what they are talking about. Often “time” is used in the sense of the creation, that is, that “time” started at creation and is in contrast to eternity. Or, some define time as change. If something changes it has time. I am very familiar with those uses of the term and I often use them myself, but I also use an expanded sense of time, as a word that describes two moments that cannot be the same moment but must be two distinct moments, in whatever degree one wants to divide those moments. Time is not necessarily defined by change but by the unending sequence of moments. I am not saying that God is trapped in our time. I’m just saying that it is not necessarily correct to say that eternity has no time. We will be living for eternity, but we will also be living moment by moment, no matter how those moments are divided.

Even those who say “God is outside of time” in the conventional use of the word time find themselves using time in the more expanded sense I’m suggesting when they refer to God as being “infinite.” We normally understand “infinite” as unending time, not no time. There is no Catholic dogma against that idea, and if you don’t believe so, then find one for us.

He denies that God is utterly simple (de fide);

No I don’t. Find a statement of mine that says “I, Bob Sungenis, don’t believe in God’s simplicity,” otherwise, retract your accusation. Before that, you should probably check what Miester Eckart said, that is, before Ben Douglass shows that you proposed a condemned thesis as proving I was in heresy.

and that He is immutable (de fide);

How many times do I have to tell you that I believe in God’s immutability? The problem is that you don’t want to accept any possibility that God can be immutable and can also change his mind, but you haven’t proven your objection or shown where the church teaches it dogmatically.

and omniscient (de fide).

Where, Dave? Can you show us a statement in which I say God is not omniscient? Again, I’m not interested in Dave Armstrong’s unproven logical inferences, I’m only interested in the actual things I said.

The "open" God that results is scarcely better than the Jehovah's Witness "god" (heretical beliefs I studied in great depth over 25 years ago as an evangelical cult researcher) who is neither omnipresent nor omniscient.

The “open” God? “Jehovah’s Witness”? Come now, Dave. Please avoid the temptation to play the name game. I don’t believe in Open Theism or in the Jehovah Witness god. Any system of thought that does not admit in God’s omniscience and omnipresence is false. I have made that position crystal clear in my teachings.

This is rank heresy. You say it isn't charitable to say so? To the contrary, I am exercising the utmost charity by warning Bob of his errors for the sake of his soul, and others as well, who may be led astray by this heresy. I could do no less as an apologist, for God will hold me accountable, as a teacher.

You were asked several times to dispense with your own logic and show us the dogmatic church teaching that says immutability means God cannot change his mind. You failed to do so. Until you do, then my position is not “rank heresy,” but your position tends toward rank calumny.

Bob himself claims he will follow truth if it is presented to him. He is only getting the same treatment (though far more charitable) that he feels constantly led to do towards others: going after Scott Hahn or Mark Shea as supposedly heretical in some ways, etc. -- or for that matter Pope John Paul II the Great: if you look at the outrageous things he has said about him in the past.

I don’t “go after” anyone. I simply state my criticisms of positions that I find erroneous. That is my job as a Catholic apologist. Scott Hahn is not perfect. He has some positions that are erroneous (e.g., the Holy Spirit). I do the same thing with Hahn’s views that Mr. Armstrong is claiming to do with mine. We all do this as Catholics, because we are all on a learning curve. I also believe that some positions of John Paul II were erroneous (like his Assisi gatherings), but I also have supported many of his positions. In fact, at present I am supporting his Theology of the Body and his phenomenological philosophy against traditionalists who deny both. So let’s stop trying to make Bob Sungenis look like some kind of wild animal who just wants to attack people. I don’t. I just love truth enough not to care about who I am critiquing, whether it’s pope or pauper. I am not in this to join groups or affiliate with this society or that society. I couldn’t care less about that stuff. It all makes me quite ill, to be very frank.

But Bob has opted out of entering into a true dialogue.

As I said above, you were invited to have a new and fresh dialogue but declined. If you think dialogue can only be fulfilled on your blog among your admirers, I suggest you think again.

He came in like gangbusters, ignoring my initial paper and mocking its supposed inordinate length and fallacious premises, insulting, demanding that I simplify for public consumption (as if he ever does that in his endless tomes), claiming I never answer and that I don't care about truth. He even fundamentally misunderstood the claims I was making about his rejection of anthropopathism, as I documented. I went to his site and posted, but he won't come to mine. I even issued an apology about one thing that I brought up that isn't relevant to this issue.

I didn’t “mock” anything of yours, Dave. I simply said I didn’t have time to go through your paper and would prefer that you crystallize your arguments so that we could have a new and fresh dialogue for the sake of our respective audiences. I wanted a live discussion so that we could deal with any issues that needed to be rebutted up front long before we went down any time-consuming rabbit trails.

As for “anthropopathism,” I don’t believe in it. I have never said that God has human emotions.

[Dave on 11-6-10: Bob thus shows that he doesn't even understand what the word means; it doesn't mean "God has human emotions," but rather: "Scripture uses a literary device by which God is portrayed as if He had human emotions even though, literally speaking, He does not."]

I maintain that God has divine emotions. Just as God does not have human intelligence and will, he does not have human emotions. He has divine intelligence, divine will and divine emotion, which are far different than the human variety. We can say God is “pure act” but the fact remains that we distinguish God’s unfolding of that pure act into categories. If we don’t, then we fall into something like supralapsarian Calvinism. Thus far in Catholic theology, we have been unafraid to say that two of those categories of pure act are his intelligence and will. But in the development of theology which we hold to as Catholics, I am saying that we can also include God’s emotive attribute, because it would be just as perfect and untainted by sin as God’s intelligence and will. Since Scripture speaks of all three, we can have all three. I see nothing in Catholic dogmatic teaching that says we cannot do this.

Ben Douglass: Also, I think you've gone overboard here. Rather than say he denies God's simplicity and immutability, say rather that he has to deny one or the other in order to maintain his belief that God can change his mind. Also, he doesn't deny that God is omniscient; rather he holds a belief which is logically inconsistent with omniscience.

Ben Douglass falls into the same problem as Dave Armstrong. He thinks that if he can create a syllogism, then this automatically denies my position. Not so. He hasn’t proven the premises of his syllogism.

Sometimes the only logic we know when dealing with God is that all our tiny little theories about how he works don’t follow our presumed premises (e.g., the Trinity, the Incarnation, Predestination, transubstantiation, etc.). Often the Church holds to two seemingly opposed realities about God and it does not understand how they fit together. This is precisely why the Church has never said that God’s immutability means that God can’t change his mind. It only said that God can’t change in his substance, his essence, his nature, etc.

The closest the Church has come, for example, in joining predestination and free will is to say what paragraph 600 of the Catechism said:

“To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his eternal plan of ‘predestination,’ he includes in it each person’s free response to his grace.”

Following the church’s lead, we can do the same thing with divine immutability and divine change of mind:

To God, all moments of time are present in their immediacy. When therefore he establishes his immutability, he includes within it his genuine change of mind to withdrawal [sic] his wrath in accord with man’s free response of repentance.

Anthropopathism offers a perfectly plausible, orthodox explanation to account for these sorts of passages in Scripture. But Bob has not offered us a synthesis: only contradiction and paradox (and dire implications for several dogmas). He doesn't explain how both motifs can be present in Scripture, whereas this explanation does that, with perfect sense and plausibility and self-consistency.

Anthropopathism is applying human emotions to God. [Dave, 11-6-10; the same fundamental mistake of definition that I noted shortly above] If someone did that to God I would also object, just as I would object if he gave God human body parts. God has divine emotion, not human emotion.

Yes, I know, St. Augustine didn’t regard God’s emotion in that way. He chose to regard statements about God’s emotion as figures of speech, since if we assigned emotion to God, Augustine feared this would subject God to capriciousness, as when humans sometimes get irrational when they get emotional. Unfortunately, Augustine never thought past that artificial barrier and thus never developed a more satisfactory answer. But the Church never dogmatized Augustine’s view. Yes, Aquinas said more or less the same, but we wouldn’t expect him to develop it any further, since the whole Scholastic period had an inadequate view of emotion. This is one reason why the Scholastics were in constant battles with the mystics (John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, etc.). It wasn’t until Paul VI and John Paul II, under the philosophical understanding of people like Max Sheler, Deitrich von Hildebrand and a few others, that the whole understanding of human emotion was being looked at more carefully by the philosophy of phenomenology, something Thomistic philosophy didn’t even have the tools for, much less able to give a satisfactory answer. This is why, for example, that Thomistic philosophy regards sex as a mere biological function, whereas phenomenology has allowed us to see it in its unitive (relational, emotional) aspects as well.

But as strong as Augustine’s influence was, he didn’t rule every Father who touched the subject of divine emotion. There were other Fathers who went before him who did not see God’s emotion as a mere figure of speech, but as a divine attribute (e.g, Lactantius, Tertullian, Cyprian), and still others who spoke as if they had no problem understanding God’s emotion as genuine, (e.g., Ambrose, Basil, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory Nanzianzus, Jerome, Chrysostom, John Damascene, Methodius, Novatian, Theodoret, Theophilus).

Now, if we are of the mind that theology really can’t develop beyond Augustine’s rather blanket treatment of the subject, then we will probably assume Dave Armstrong’s position that whatever Augustine said on the issue is what we are to believe and there can’t be any changes or new ways to look at it. But as much as I like Augustine, he (or perhaps the people who overly esteem him) can sometimes be an obstacle to truth as much as he is a help to it. When we deal with deep theological topics, it’s always necessary to remind ourselves that Augustine was not endowed with divine inspiration. Although highly gifted, he was a man like you and me. And although most of his work is quite good and some of the best the Church has ever had, he also made many mistakes along the way, and even admitted to them while he was still alive. There hasn’t been a theologian who has changed his mind about doctrine, or who has often had three or four different interpretations of a particular issue or verse of Scripture as Augustine. And it was Aquinas who, after he saw a vision of God, said that he would throw out all the theology books he had ever written.

After much study of this particular area of theology for my doctoral dissertation with Maryvale (and which I am presently pursuing anew), I became convinced that Augustine’s treatment of Scripture’s description of God’s emotion is one of those areas in which he did not give us the best answer. His objection that giving real emotion to God would make him into a capricious and irrational being similar to when humans become excessively emotional, is really off the mark. Attributing emotion to God would make him no more capricious than attributing intelligence to God would make him prone to making mathematical mistakes. Emotion that is attributed to God would be as perfect as the intelligence attributed to him – no imperfections and no irrationality.

Logically, then, if we have no problems assigning intelligence and will to God (two very human qualities that we have little problem saying that a divine being such as our Christian God shares with us), and we believe that God’s intelligence and will are perfect, there is no reason God cannot have emotion if it is perfect in every way. If so, Augustine’s objection has been answered: assigning emotion to God does not make him capricious. Yes, if we assigned human emotion to God (i.e., anthropopathism), [same category error a third time] that indeed would make him capricious. But who is proposing that? Certainly not me.

Once we accept this alternative, a whole new vista of understanding the God of the Bible opens before us. Passages that we’ve read hundreds of times in the Bible suddenly take on a new and deeper meaning. Where we were previously trying to convince ourselves that whenever we read of God’s anger, well, God really wasn’t really getting angry, we can now understand as a real divine anger. The Scriptures come alive and we begin to see just how deep and passionate this Christian God really is.

This new wrinkle on theology really hit me hard one day when I was writing my book, Not By Bread Alone, and was dealing with the subject of the Atonement. Time and time again I would read the Church Fathers, the Medievals and dogmatic Catholic theology stating that the cross of Christ was for the purpose of “appeasing God’s anger.” Those of you who have read my book know the quotes, since I put them in the footnotes on pages 1 to 70. I even had a quote from one of Scott Hahn’s tapes in which he said that “Jesus appeases the anger of the Father” (NBBA, p. 49). Interestingly enough, Augustine was one of the most prolific on how the Atonement “appeased the anger of God,” as was Aquinas. But after reading these numerous quotes, they only begged the question: how can Christ appease the anger of God if God really doesn’t have any anger? Anger is an emotion, is it not? What anger is Christ appeasing if God’s anger is just a figure of speech for our human sensibilities? How can we appease a figure of speech? No, the only way it could work was by acknowledging that God’s anger was real. It made all the sense in the world. The only thing we had to be careful to do was not equate human emotion with divine emotion, but that is as easy as not equating divine intelligence with human intelligence, even though there may be some slight similarities.

One more thing: because God’s emotion is as perfect as his intelligence and will, then even with divine emotion God remains immutable, that is, God is not changed in his essence or nature when he exhibits divine emotion, no more than he is changed when he uses his divine intelligence to have a conversation with Moses wherein God must put one word in front of the other in proper syntax and grammar so that Moses can understand him. Even though he is pure act, God still has to act out his pureness, as it were, and make an intelligible grammatical sentence. But God speaking in a sentence doesn’t change God’s essence, just as his exhibiting anger over sin doesn’t make him unstable or mutable.

This new wrinkle in understanding God also helped me to see through the old answer of explaining God’s anger, i.e., as referring merely to God’s punishments upon man, as Ludwig Ott tries to sum up the case. It seemed to be too convenient a way of avoiding the literal reading of Scripture, especially since the Catholic Church has been so dogged on its literal interpretation of much more difficult passages (e.g., Mt 26:26: John 3:5; 6:54; 20:23, etc). The obstacle to a clearer understanding was Augustine’s poor treatment of the matter. Consequently, many of the exegetes following Augustine were probably afraid to assign real emotion to God for fear of making God look intemperate. So the next best thing was to say that God’s anger really meant divine punishment. Granted, in many of the instances in Scripture that we read about God’s anger we also read about God’s subsequent action of punishing people, but there isn’t always a one-to-one correspondence between the two that allows us to limit one to a figure of speech and the other as a real event. That matter was made clear to me when I came across Exodus 4:14 one day, a passage that Ludwig Ott does not address. There we have the story of Moses complaining to God that he has no ability to speak adequately (Ex 4:10-13). Then we read in verse 14:

“Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, and He said: ‘Is there not your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he speaks fluently. And moreover, behold, he is coming out to meet you; when he sees you he will be glad in his heart. And you are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I, even I, will be with your mouth and his mouth, and I will teach you what you are to do.”

So here God’s anger is clearly expressed, but there is no punishment following; there is only a helping hand, for God tells Moses that Aaron will become his spokesman, and that Aaron will be glad to do so. So this immediately sets at naught the idea that God’s anger always refers to punishment. It tells us that God’s emotive reaction is an integral part of his divine being, an attribute that is manifested when humans act in ways that are not fitting with God’s expectations. The addition of anger to Exodus 4 is not filler for the story. There is really no reason to confuse the story with God’s anger if God really didn’t have any genuine anger, since there is only a fleeting mention of the anger. It is almost as if God was seriously miffed about Moses’ complaining, but then the anger subsided rather quickly, and nothing serious was made of it. And, let me repeat, if God’s essence already incorporates his disposition of anger, there is no case of mutability when he exhibits it.

Recognizing genuine anger in God also relieves us of having to make God into some kind of play actor, or even worse, someone who tells stories that are not true accounts of what happened just so that our human sensibilities can be pacified. Case in point: the story of God’s anger in Exodus 32 when he was about to destroy the Israelites. Verse 9 tells us that God was so angry with the Jews that he was intending to destroy them right then and there. Verses 11-13 then has Moses appeasing God through prayer, pleading and suffering (Dt 9:9). Verse 14 then tells us that, because of Moses’ entreaty, God changed his mind and decided not to destroy them. Once we accept God’s anger as real, we are not forced to say, ‘Well, God really didn’t have anger. He only said he had anger because he wanted us to know how bad the Jews were at that time. And he really didn’t change his mind after Moses’ pleading, because he already knew he was going to forgive the Jews before Moses did any appeasing, because, you see, God can’t change his mind, because he’s immutable!’ That is usually the pat answer that’s given for passages like this, but not only does it empty the passage of its literal words, it really makes God into some kind of play actor (or even worse a fabricator) who sets up these elaborate dramatic scenes with such penetrating and provocative dialogue knowing all along that little of it occurred as it is stated in the text because, we are commonly told, “God can’t change.” Consequently, narratives like those in Exodus 32:9-14 make the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of Scripture into mere theatrics to impress the stupid reader, but it has no real meaning because the cause and effect displayed in the dialogue never really mattered. Unfortunately, we are forced into this metaphysical reading of the text with every story we read in the Old Testament. We aren’t allowed to read it at face value for fear of stepping on some humanly crafted metaphysical law. We have to keep filtering the story through a metaphysical grid so that we can convince ourselves that even though we see a very dramatic and life-changing dialogue taking place between God and Moses, and even though we see Moses doing acts of penance that are supposed to affect God in a positive way, and even though we see God changing his mind because of these penitential acts, these changes are only for literary effect because, we as we are told, “God can’t change.” Unfortunately, this is when metaphysics thinks that it’s smarter than Scripture; when metaphysics believes that its system of logic and reasoning is more correct than Scripture’s face value statements. But unfortunately, it’s when metaphysics takes us further away from the true understanding of God than closer to Him. Unfortunately, metaphysics has developed into a one-sided abstract portrayal of God. Although metaphysics has its place, it can also create obstacles to understanding God rather than helping us see a richer picture of him. Metaphysics will often make us struggle with simple passages, as we see Augustine struggling with this text:

“But if earlier He rested, and afterwards He worked, I do not know how this can be understood by a man, undoubtedly that which is expressed by earlier and afterwards is in reference to those things which earlier did not exist and afterwards came into existence” (City of God, JR 1758).

This is what happens when “pure act” overwhelms our exegesis and begins to distort the Scripture instead of explicate it.

B. Douglass: Also, he doesn't deny that God is omniscient; rather he holds a belief which is logically inconsistent with omniscience. Ah, but he kinda sorta DOES at times, by falsely, illogically dichotomizing contingency against omniscience, as I documented in recent additions to my paper (today):

A) "But what does it mean and how do we explain that God knows some things contingently as opposed to knowing things omnisciently? I don’t know, and Thomas doesn’t know, and the Church doesn’t know either, because it is the mystery of the Godhead."

B) "Now, does God know what their decision will be? I assume so, since He is omniscient. But we also know that God does not lie, and thus the contingency in Malachi 3:6-7 has to be real, not only for the Jews but for God Himself. If He does not lie, then God cannot make the scene merely appear as a contingency, but it must be a real contingency that is not overwhelmed by God’s omniscience."

C) "This analysis shows that the problem between God knowing things omnisciently or contingently, coupled with man's free will, goes right back to the nature of God Himself, which we cannot explain. All such questions invariably end up at what St. Paul calls the "unfathomable ways" of God (Romans 11:33)."

It's eerily similar to how Jehovah's Witnesses (Arians) reason.

It sounds to me that your reasoning is more like the Arians, Ben. They thought it was illogical for Christ to be God and man, just like you thinks it’s illogical for God to be omniscient and to know some things contingently (even though Aquinas said God knows some things contingently).

Mr. Douglass also thinks it’s illogical for God to be immutable in his essence yet change his mind upon man’s repentance. Conversely, I am using the methodology the Church used against the Arians. As the Church said it could not explain how three could be in one and one could be in three, or how Christ could be 100% man and 100% God, so I’m saying that we don’t understand how God can be immutable and yet change his mind.

Furthermore, I am using the same methodology the Church used in establishing the doctrine of transubstantiation. The Church started with the literal interpretation of Scripture as its foundation: “This is my body.” From that foundation, it tried every way it could think of to explain the transformation, and it was never really completely successful. It eventually had to borrow the philosophy of a pagan philosopher, Aristotle, to come anywhere close to explaining in rational terms what may be occurring in transubstantiation, but even that mental concept has its problems. Yet we hear Mr. Armstrong constantly using the argument that my interpretations are “fundamentalist” and “woodenly literal.” How much more “woodenly literal” can one be than interpreting the words “This is my body” as meaning the actual body of Christ?

The fact is, as much as we Catholics claim to interpret the Scripture literally over against Protestants, and as much as we write voluminous books chastising them for not interpreting John 6:54 literally, we are just as guilty of interpreting Scripture non-literally when it doesn’t suit our scientific or theological agenda (evolution, heliocentrism, Adam and Eve, the Great Flood, the genealogies of Genesis, etc.) and we chastise the Protestants for taking the same passages literally! If I ever saw the pot calling the kettle black, this is it.

. . . since Mr. Douglass can’t get past the deep seated grudge that he harbors against me, his comments are always going to be judged in light of that disposition, just as Mr. Armstrong’s judgments are clouded by his judgments about geocentrism . . .

I just remembered something Sungenis wrote on these questions a few months ago. He dismisses the teaching of Pope Pius XII (and the Fathers whom the Pope quotes) as "glib:"

“Glib” was the wrong word. I meant cursory. The point was that Pius XII was not writing an official statement on God’s emotion. Any more pot shots, Ben?

I provide an explanation that synthesizes them: one that Aquinas and Augustine also proposed.

No, Augustine did not “synthesize” them. He merely interpreted one literally and interpreted the other figuratively precisely because he believed that he couldn’t synthesize them.

Bob has not done so, to my knowledge. He has to somehow make the statements that God doesn't change metaphorical or symbolic or figurative. But to do that denies the dogma of immutability, and so that remains his big difficulty.

No, I make neither the statements about God’s immutability figurative or those that say he changes his mind figurative. I take both literally. I can do so because I’m not afraid, and my Catholic tradition has shown itself not to be afraid, to hold two things in tension that are both true but which our logic may not be able to figure out.

The problem is proof texts in isolation, without taking into account all that the Bible states. This is the methodology of fundamentalist Protestants.

The Protestants accuse us of the same thing when we doggedly interpret “Unless a man be born of water and the Spirit” as referring to literal water that is needed to save someone. They say, “why don’t you look at the larger context of Scripture and observe all the times that water is used figuratively for cleansing, or as a symbol of the word of God?” And we tell them that our guiding principle in biblical interpretation is to interpret the Scripture literally, and only depart from it when reason or necessity demands it. Apparently, there was no reason or necessity for the Church to say that the water was symbolic, even though it seemed rather magical that water had the power to procure salvation.

So please let’s stop using the “fundamentalist” argument, Dave. You pick and choose which verses you want to interpret literally as much as Protestants do. The Bible could say the sun revolves around the earth a million times, and you would chose to interpret that figuratively because you believe science has proven heliocentrism and disproven the Bible’s face value language. So it’s not really literal interpretation that is the issue, but whether one believes he has a system of thought (e.g., modern science, logic, psychology, historical criticism, etc.) that trumps the literal interpretation of Scripture.

In the case of making the claim that God’s immutability (Mal 3:6) means that God can’t change his mind (even though Amos 7:3 says so), Dave depends on his own logic, complete with a manufactured syllogism. So whenever we read, “God changed his mind” in Scripture, Dave’s system of interpretation tells us we can’t believe what we are reading, because it is impossible to believe both at the same time. Yes, in Dave’s system they are impossible to believe at the same time, because he has already defined them both in such a way where compatibility is impossible unless one is emptied of its face value meaning. And he dares call anyone who objects to his line of reasoning as holding heresy, yet fails to show us the dogmatic church document that proves his case.

I would like to see that backed up with Church documents. Find me proofs that the fathers thought God could change His mind or that the Church has ever indicated this. Bob demanded that I document my contentions by Church documents, and I have; now it is his turn. I saw him doing this in any number of his arguments about various things: citing a million Church fathers. So where are they on this issue?

A couple remarks first. Are the Fathers really an issue for you, Dave? After all, the Fathers were in 100% consensus on geocentrism against the Greek heliocentrists, yet you reject it out of hand. So I find it rather hypocritical that you call the Fathers to your aid on another topic. . . . As for the Fathers, hardly any of them addressed the particular issue we are debating, at least in the depth we are covering it, except Augustine, and his solitary voice hardly represents a consensus of patristic testimony. A few of them said God was “unchangeable,” and rightly so, but they didn’t take it any further. Aquinas just built on a few ideas of Augustine, but hardly any of it was dogmatized by the Church, except for a one statement about immutability at Lateran IV (Denz 482) and which was reiterated at Vatican I (Denz 1782). Other than that, there is hardly any discussion in church documents about these issues, much less dogmatic proclamations. As such, the topic is an open book for continued discussion in the Church.

The only topic the Fathers seemed to have discussed in some depth was whether God had emotions, and on this topic there is no consensus. There were some Fathers who did not see God’s emotion as a mere figure of speech, but as a divine attribute (e.g, Lactantius, Tertullian, Cyprian), and still others who spoke as if they had no problem understanding God’s emotion as real, (e.g., Ambrose, Basil, Clement of Alexandria, Gregory Nanzianzus, Jerome, Chrysostom, John Damascene, Methodius, Novatian, Theodoret, Theophilus). Augustine was the only one who seemed to be making a case that God’s emotions weren’t real but he never produced any solid arguments why, except that it would make God look bad. Yet when it came to describing the Atonement, Augustine would say that Christ appeased the anger of God (On the Trinity, Book 13, Ch 11). But if Augustine believed God has no real anger, what is Christ appeasing?

Rick Delano [associate of Bob]: But Dave, God Himself s guilty of heresy under the strict application of your words above, since God Himself claims He has changed His Mind.

Only if one adopts a woodenly literalistic Protestant method of exegesis and hermeneutics. This is the problem.

No, that is not the problem. If that were the problem then we Catholics could rightly be accused of “woodenly literalistic method of exegesis” for all the Scripture verses we use to establish our seven sacraments. But who of us among Catholics would not give up our life to save our “woodenly literalistic” interpretation of John 6:54 against any Protestant who dared to spiritualize it? No, the problem is not “wooden literalism” but selective literalism. The problem is that we’ve too long made many passages of Scripture pass through our manufactured metaphysical grid before we did justice to them in their literal meaning (e.g. Amos 7:3, 6).

Dave, how about answering, for the FIRST TIME, where the church has dogmatically proclaimed that immutability means God cannot change his mind, as Amos 7:3, 6 says he did? How about, for the FIRST TIME, sparing us your Logic 101 course in immutability and just stick to official Church documents that say what you claim they say.

Dave Armstrong to Robert Sungenis (1-20-09)

Thanks for your lengthy reply. I'll post it on my site in its entirety, and I hope to give some reply if there are some things I haven't yet covered. At the moment I'm finishing up a study on patristic teaching in these areas, that will be shortly posted on my site.

If you don't like the combox discussion on my blog, you can simply read my posting, where I try to avoid gossipy rhetoric as much as possible, by God's grace.

Exchanges of 1-24-10 (Dave) and 1-25-10 (Bob)

[some editing out of extraneous exchanges in order to keep it on the topic of God's nature and not geocentrism and other scientific matters, or the proper ethics of discussion, or his controversies with his bishop: a matter that -- upon reflection -- removed from discussion and took an agnostic position towards]

Dave, I have made a few brief comments. Let me say it is my hope that you and I can come to a resolution and mutual forgiveness as the goal of our exchange.

I will complain when my previous criticisms of other people’s views over the last 10 years have nothing to do with the theological discussion you and I were having on whether God can change his decision and still be immutable. You added those 10 years worth of citations to create a negative image of me.

I was simply making the point that you are complaining bitterly about my use of the word "heresy" when the fact of the matter is that you have made the same charge or similar towards many people, including popes. You can dish it out but you can't take it. If you want to dish it out, then you ought to be able to defend yourself against these charges minus the personal attack.

Very few of the criticisms you catalogued accused people of heresy.

[Dave, 11-6-10: Bob continues his quick recourse to accusations of heresy, now almost two years later. He recently wrote a piece: Forrest, Palm and NCR Teaching Heresy about the Chosen People. In his paper about me, he states on page 8: "The Church called heliocentrism a 'formal heresy' . . . " Therefore, if this judgment were truly magisterial, and binding to this day, I would be guilty of teaching heresy. Same difference . . . Bob has posted another paper, titled, Archbishop Joseph Fiorenza Preaching Heresy About the Jews. He is perfectly content to host on his site an article by radical Catholic reactionary (RadCathR) Christopher Ferrara ("The Sands of Celebrity"), where the author routinely describes non-"traditionalist" orthodox Catholics as "Neo-Catholics" and in turn categorizes them as heretics:

In my series The Neo-Catholic Heresy . . . this ultra neo-Catholicism is being amalgamated with the policies of the Republican Party, especially its war policy, to produce a modern-day version of the old Americanist heresy . . . Pat Madrid’s neo-Catholic glossy, Envoy, . . . Yet traditionalist writers and speakers are systematically shunned by the same establishment, which constantly deplores the “schism” of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre and other refugees from the Novus Ordo regime of novelty. ]
Those that were accused of heresy had chapter and verse from dogmatic Catholic teaching to back me up. Unlike you, I presented the Catholic citations that proved the point. You merely presented statements saying God was immutable and ignored the fact that I agreed with those teachings, and failed to show us where the Church said God could not change his decision. So you failed to prove the very point you set out to prove, and thus your charges of heresy are unfounded.

I only wrote the paper about immutability and God and timelessness last May [2008] because a
RadCathR claimed you had made no heretical claims. Since I was aware of your objectionable and heretical statements in Not By Bread Alone, that was challenge enough for me to document it and take a stand against it, so I did.

For the record, Dave, I first introduced these ideas in Not By Faith Alone, pages 12-15, and that book has an imprimatur from the archdiocese of Baltimore. Apparently, they didn’t think my remarks about divine emotion and alternate decisions were heretical, otherwise I would have not received the imprimatur. They did not consider Catholic dogma what you consider Catholic dogma, so I stand in good company. My Church has not condemned me with heresy for the same issue that you insist on condemning me with heresy. So who am I going to believe? Having received no critique from the archdiocese, I then expanded on these ideas in Not By Bread Alone. And the only reason NBBA doesn’t have an imprimatur was because of a logistical problem between the archdioceses of Baltimore and the diocese of Arlington, VA, where I moved to.

Are the Fathers really an issue for you, Dave? After all, the Fathers were in 100% consensus on geocentrism against the Greek heliocentrists, yet you reject it out of hand.

Patristic consensus is not applicable to science, but to theology.

This is where you got your wires crossed, Dave. Cardinal Bellarmine, Pope Paul V, Pope Urban VIII all said that geocentrism is applicable to the patristic period because geocentrism is taught by Scripture, and to deny Scripture means that one has denied the faith. If you don’t believe me, then I have a whole book for you to read on the subject, fully documented. I’ll send it to you free of charge.

So I find it rather hypocritical that you call the Fathers to your aid on another topic.

Not at all. It's the difference between science and theology. Very simple.

. . . you still refuse to answer the main item of contention between us (e.g., where the Church has said that God immutability means he cannot change his decision).

I've done that in about 20 different ways by now. This is plain stupid, and is the reason why this "dialogue" never goes anywhere.

Dave, I guess the problem is that, you think you’ve answered the question, but the “20 different ways” that you’ve answered it haven’t really answered it at all. I don’t know whether you are just ignorant or you are deliberately avoiding the obvious, but let me try once more. You answered by showing me all the citations from Catholic dogmatic teaching that say God is immutable. You think that answers the issue, but it doesn’t. It only shows that you don’t understand the issue. The issue is not where the Church teaches God is immutable, for I already agree with that Church teaching. The issue is, where does the Church (in its dogmatic teaching) say that God’s immutability means God cannot change a decision he made previously? If both decisions are good and perfect, there is no basis for saying he cannot do so. In order to accuse me of heresy and make it stick, you need a direct statement from the Church saying: “God is immutable, therefore he cannot change a decision that he made previously.” If you can’t find it, then your charges are false and calumnious. Mind you, I don’t want the Armstrongian logic that says God’s immutability means that God can’t change his decisions. I want a Church statement, not Dave's logic.

I've worked very hard on my end, but it takes two to have a dialogue. You have decided not to interact, for the most part. Where you have interacted a bit, unfortunately you prove that you have little comprehension of the actual substance and nature of my arguments. . . . I am calling you on error, heresy, and hypocrisy, and you don't like that, and it tends to make folks angry. If you have the truth on your side, you are free to demonstrate it calmly and charitably by force of argument.

Robert Sungenis to Dave Armstrong (1-26-09)

For the sake of brevity, would you mind replying in a return email an answer to my question as to where the Church teaches that God's immutability means that God cannot change his decisions.

Dave Armstrong to Robert Sungenis (1-26-09)

As I stated or implied several times in my reply last night, Church documents apparently do not specifically say that. It doesn't follow, however, that God changing His mind is not prohibited by the statements about immutability and simplicity and omniscience and God's timelessness. My argument is that it follows inexorably from simple deduction, from several Church dogmas, that God could not change His mind. There are at least four ways to demonstrate this, by straightforward reasoning. These four arguments have already been posted in various papers of mine.

Exchange of 1-26-09

Regarding your answer to my question, although I understand that you claim to have what you call "arguments by logical deduction," this claim, in my view, simply begs the question whether your deductions (and Ben's syllogism) are indeed correct. If correct theology were just a matter of logical deductions, then there would be few problems to concern us, but you and I both know that it isn't always that simple. Sometimes our logical deductions can be an obstacle to truth instead of a help, especially when it comes to antinomies dealing with the nature of God, the incarnation, predestination/free will, etc.

That's right. Of course they can if they have bad reasoning or false premises. I have made these arguments, but no one of your position wants to discuss them and show me where I have engaged in incorrect reasoning. That's what I have a problem with: saying someone is wrong but refusing to engage their arguments in order to show them why.

Dave, first of all, even if your premises and conclusion were right, you still couldn’t accuse me of heresy, because the Church has never developed the argument to the extent you have, and therefore has never made a dogmatic statement saying: “God’s immutability means God cannot change his decision.”

I think the very reason the Church has not done so is that the Church is very reticent to go against the plain, face value reading of Scripture. If Scripture says God changes his mind (Amos 7:6), you won’t find the Church rushing in where fools dare not tread and insist that He doesn’t change his mind.

As for your arguments, haven’t we already been through this already? Let me explain a little more in depth. Your first argument is:
1. God is immutable
2. Immutability means a complete absence of change
3. Change of mind is a change
4. But God can’t change at all
5. Therefore, God does not change His mind
6. And to assert that he does is to assert heresy
One of the primary rules in logic is that when you are building premises you must first prove the premises, and you cannot do so by using different definitions of the same word. For example, premise #1 says God is immutable. Agreed. But you didn’t define in what sense God is immutable. The Church has used the word immutable in reference to God’s essence or substance. So, if premise #2 is correct, then immutability means a complete absence of a change in God’s essence or substance. But then in premise #3, you are then assuming that a change of mind is a change in essence or substance, but you haven’t proven that. You are merely assuming it to be true based on your metaphysics.

I contend that a change in God’s decision is not a change in God’s essence or substance, but is actually the manifestation of his essence, that is, God’s decisions are an exercise of God’s free will to act in the best way possible depending on the situation at hand. In one case, decision A may be best, but if the situation changes then decision B may be the best, and God’s infinite wisdom will determine it. God, of course, knew that he would change from A to B, but the fact remains that he changed from decision A to decision B.

God’s free will is an attribute of God’s essence. It is just as real as the concept that God is pure act. I certainly don’t know how to fit them together, and I don’t think anyone else does either, but the fact is that God is both free and determined. Hence, he can freely change from A to B and also know that he is going to change from A to B, and in doing so he is being entirely consistent with his essence.

Your philosophy wants to emphasize the “determined” side of God. I think it’s one of the reasons that Ben concluded one of his arguments with this statement: “God is the one who, infallibly, causes the repentance of those who repent. He determines whether the condition will be fulfilled or not.” If I’m not mistaken, this is very similar to what Luther and Calvin said. The danger is, if such absolutistic statements are not balanced with man’s free will (as para. 600 of the 1994 Catechism does), then the conclusion is as misleading as Luther and Calvin’s absolute predestination.

By the same token, unless God’s “pure act” is balanced with God’s “free will,” you will tend to see everything in God as determined, and, in fact, God becomes a determined being. If God is a determined being, then, as you see it, he has no free will to change a decision, and thus you will define “immutability” as prohibiting a change of decision. But this is why your definitions become ambiguous and your syllogism breaks down.

I say no. There is a mystery between God’s determinism and God’s free will. Both are true, and our logic cannot explain them.

* * *
At this stage, I am not saying that your position is incorrect and that my position is the only answer, but I am saying that, since there is no dogmatic statement from the Church that specifically states your conclusion (i.e., that immutability necessarily means that God cannot change his decisions), then you have no right to call the alternate view a "heresy." The Church has condemned many alternate views of everything from the Trinity, Incarnation, Predestination, etc., but it has not condemned the idea that God can change his decisions or that God can have an emotive attribute. You can disagree with me as vigorously as you want, but you really have no right to call my position a "heresy." A heresy is a position that deliberately goes against a defined dogma of the Church. Since I am not denying immutability, and wish to work within the dogmatic confines of the Church, and since immutability is the only dogma you have brought forth, I am not in heresy. I hope you understand.

As was plainly seen in the previous letter, immutability is not the only de fide doctrine I have brought forth, but also God's timelessness, omniscience, and simplicity. I have also made an argument of sorts (not very developed, but with potential) from God's omnipotence. All of them together form, I think, a very strong viewpoint. But you don't want to (so far) take on even a single one. Instead, you'd rather contend that I cannot make even the most straightforward logical deductions about dogmas and that everything has to be stated to the letter.

It really doesn’t make any difference what other facets of this problem you throw into the mix (e.g., timelessness, omniscience, simplicity, omnipotence). The same elements remain: the difference between God being a determined being and God being a free being. The problem is that we don’t have the capacity to understand God. As Weinandy says, “God is incomprehensible.”

My plea is this: if we start from the premise that God is incomprehensible (e.g., we cannot understand how God can be both determined and free), then we should be very reticent to dismiss God’s propositional statements in Scripture that say, very plainly, that God can change his decisions (Amos 7:6), and we should be ready to give them as much literal weight as the ones that say God cannot change (Malachi 3:6). Scripture says what it says and that should be our foundation, just as “This is my body” was the foundation for the Church’s doctrine of the Eucharist. No matter how hard it was to comprehend that God could replace a piece of bread yet still look like bread, the Church believed it because Scripture said so, and she refused to make “This is my body” into a figure of speech like so many other denominations have done. I’m saying let’s do the same thing with Amos 7:6. Let’s believe it because Scripture said so and build our theology on that foundation.

As I said above, I believe there is a theological answer to the apparent contradiction. Malachi 3:6 is referring to God’s essence, and Amos 7:6 is referring to God’s freedom within that essence to alter a previous decision. As such, we do not have to resort to answering the apparent contradiction by saying it is a linguistic issue (i.e., making one literal and the other an anthropopathic figure of speech). We only resort to that type of hermeneutic when there is no other possible explanation, and even then we must be cautious.
As it is, then, we are at the same old impasse: you stating that I have made no relevant arguments and me stating that I have made many many such, and complaining about your ignoring them.
I am proposing now a "compromise" or (I hope) mutually-approved solution that can give each of us something we badly want. You strenuously object to my use of the word heresy and I want my arguments to be engaged, because I think they are both relevant and strong, and it would be nice to be able to discuss them (after my many dozens of hours of hard work) and to move forward with a real dialogue. I think it could even be fun for both of us.

That said, I am willing to systematically remove the words heresy and heretical, etc. from my papers. I want to know, though, how you would prefer me to describe your views that I disagree with. You say, "You can disagree with me as vigorously as you want." Okay. How, then, do I describe your views? Do I call them errors or falsehoods or "incorrect deductions from Catholic dogmas" or incoherent, self-contradictory, or some other term? Can I even say I strongly believe they contradict Church teaching and dogmas, without using the dreaded word "heresy"? But I still need a one or two word description. Please give me a suggestion. I have to have some word if I am to go back and look for every appearance of "heresy" so I can replace it without doing hours and hours of editing and changing whole paragraphs every time heresy appears.

The phrase I often use is “erroneous views.”

In return, I ask that you truly interact in some fashion (and I mean point-by-point: a literal engaging, as you have done with many folks through the years), with the first four fairly concise arguments in my last letter (and the fifth, if you like, but it has a lot less force), that I summarized for you when you asked me to do so, so we can actually have a dialogue. If I'm wrong, and these things don't follow from Catholic dogma, as you claim, then show me how. Give me some semblance of an argument, rather than bald statements running down "Dave's logic," or my supposed cluelessness, etc.

Is that "negotiation" agreeable to you? I think it is fair to both parties. I'm not convinced at all that your views are not heretical (I haven't heard anything yet to change my opinion), but I recognize that there is some leeway in language, and I am trying to be as charitable as I can towards you and to recognize what angers you about my arguments.

I think I have answered your questions. God be with you.

Robert Sungenis to Dave Armstrong (2-11-09)

As for your query whether there were "Church fathers who held that God had emotions akin to that of human beings," this makes me wonder whether you understand what I've been saying, or what the debate is all about. Please understand, there is no Father, including myself, who holds that God's emotions are "akin to that of human beings." I've said over and over again that God's emotions are as far above human emotions as God's thoughts are above human thoughts, and that is precisely what the Fathers have said. What these Fathers DID NOT say, but what you claim in your paper and blog, is that God had NO emotions at all. You were using impassibility to deny divine emotions. The Fathers were using impassibility to border divine emotions. That's quite a difference. I think your blog audience should know about that, don't you?

Dave Armstrong to Robert Sungenis (2-12-09)

I've done plenty of work on this (virtually all of it unanswered in any way, shape, or form). I do what I feel is most important at any given time, and I argue things in the way that I see fit (as a socratic in general methodology). I spent many hours working on this issue.

We can easily "meet each other in the middle" by discussing relevant Church fathers' thoughts on this. I did say that I continued to be interested in that. So we can pursue that discussion if you like, which is more of an historical question and a matter of factuality, than a theological one. Everyone is entitled to their desires and interests at any given time, and no one can do everything. We are all selective. Surely you understand that. You write a great deal, as I do, but (being a finite creature in a temporal world) you don't have unlimited time for any single topic you touch upon. We all make decisions as to when to stop writing about one thing and move on to another.

And we can do that entirely privately if you like, but I will also do something in public apart from our discussion, because I think that would complement my earlier material. . . .

You had opportunity all along to participate on my blog in discussions had you desired to do so, but never did, while I came onto your blog several times. You repeatedly passed.

Sungenis Associate Rick DeLano Recommends Ceasing the Dialogue (2-12-09)

I think given the circumstances it would be a very brotherly gesture to call this one done and move on.

I agree with you, that given the magnitude of Dave's original attack, it was indeed incumbent upon him to do more.

But given the lack of class of most of your detractors out there, Dave Armstrong stands head and shoulders above all of them and has more class in his little fingernail than they do in their entire bodies.

My two cents: it's over and catholic charity, if not perfect doctrinal accord, has been maintained.


johnmartin said...

Dave how do you reconcile or explain how Gods immutability in light of -

1. The act of creation whereby Gods acts to bring something from nothing.

2. God as first mover, whereby he acts to move a creature from potency (can move) to act (does move).

In both instances it seems there are potencies (can do's) within God to account for how God has moved from can create to does create and can move to does move to interact with His creation.

If your answer involves a mystery which we do not understand, then we may be open to admitting God's immutability includes all actions associated with His creation, including changing a decision based upon the action of creatures.

Evidently for this to work the change of mind must be included in God predetermined and unchanging plan for His creation.


Dave Armstrong said...

It's impossible for an omniscient Being to change His mind, for to do so would mean that He didn't know something and had to correct His understanding in order to adopt a position previously not held.

Read St. Thomas Aquinas on all this other stuff. He does an infinitely better job explaining it than I will ever do.