Anagogic Creativity & Divine Love

| Guido Reni - Angel of the Annunciation, c.1640 |

It is a staple of enlightenment philosophy and its consequent moral culture that “freedom” has come to approximate, or equate to “the freedom of the will from constraint”. This is the position commonly known as voluntarism. Usually, this is further qualified as the freedom “to do as one pleases so long as it does not infringe upon another”, or sometimes more radically; the freedom to self-assert as one pleases and so create one’s own moral constraints ex nihilo. The latter amounts to operating upon the basis of a hallucinated set of constraints that do not really exist in any real or formal fashion. Either way, both formulations seem to rest on the spontaneity of the individual’s self-causing. I stumbled upon this proposition from Proclus which perfectly illustrates how alien this view is to both the medieval and classical man, in his discussion of causality;

The originative cause of each series communicates its distinctive property to the entire series, and what the cause is primitively, the series is by remission.

For if it is sovereign over the whole series and all the members are grouped together by their relation to it*, it is plain that from it all derive the single form in virtue of which they are ranked under the same series. For either their common likeness to it is uncaused or all derive from their cause this element of identity. But the former supposition is impossible: for the uncaused is spontaneous; and spontaneity can never occur where there is order and continuity and perpetual freedom from variation. From its cause, then, the entire series receives the distinctive character proper to the being of that cause.

If so, it manifestly receives it with remission, that is, with the declension appropriate to secondary existences. For this character belongs either in the same degree to the antecedent term and to the rest – and how then can the one be antecedent, to others posterior in being? – or in an unequal degree. In the latter case it is plain that the identical element is derived by the manifold from the one; and not reversely; so that the distinctive character peculiar to the series, which pre-exists primitively in the unitary term, exists in the manifold by derivation.1

*Prop. 21

Spontaneity is effectively banished from the world by the Greek rationalists, to the sublunary world. Why is this so? It is precisely because, as it was for the medievals too, that this universal order is the best possible, true freedom being then constituted by an assent to its sublime Logos; supposed spontaneity is nothing more than an attempted interference with it. A key Dionysian insight to take in tandem is that this transcendent Logos, is Beauty-itself, “a light that flashes onto everything the beauty-causing impartations of its own well-spring ray” that gathers all things to revert upon it as their object of desire. The beautiful and the object to be “free to” collapse into an ineffable singularity2. Instead of being an object which gives off light, God is rather the ambient light itself whereby things are visible.  Freedom is thus in relation to that sublime wellspring from which one can confront and draw from for the outpouring of a purer creativity, as opposed to one that is lost, trying to project out schemes by its individual artifices. Love is likewise free, yet not spontaneous. God’s will is utterly free, yet as the Logos itself3, is in a sense spontaneous, which is to say that it is uncaused, but in another sense cannot be spontaneous as it is not arbitrary. Spontaneity of the creaturely kind, the one the Greeks dispensed with, could not be ascribed to God because it would imply disorder and privation as by way of a kind of capriciousness. Thus, as we do not speak of spontaneity in the same way as that of creatures, but in a similar fashion, we are speaking of God’s spontaneity, albeit in a delicate fashion, through analogy.

Along somewhat different lines now, I want to examine what we have discussed so far means for God’s love, but in a slightly polemical manner. Alexander Iulianus [henceforth: The Apostate4] writes that God does not love and has no will, in rebuke of St. Thomas Aquinas5. His retort can be summarised as; i) Aquinas’s argument rests on the “faculties of God”, but faculties imply not only distinction but also a lack, a two-fold privation. But this cannot be so as God is utterly perfect and absolutely simple. ii) Self-objectification violates simplicity through discursion, so God cannot be the object of himself whether by will, love or any such relation. iii) Will is the transitive mode whereby act is caused in being to move towards their perfection via either the primary (intellective) or secondary (sensitive) goods, God must not participate in this will because he is unmoved. It seems, therefore, that if God has no will, it cannot be said that God loves because love follows from will. Quoting The Apostate;

God, by his nature, is possessive of the whole and is the object of Good itself. Wholly Good and self-sufficient, any placing in God the transitive mode is to make deficiency. The ocean has no will towards any one portion of its waters, nor the whole Earth towards any one part of its totality, but yet both subsist in simple unions of being: the ocean simply the self-same whole of all its waters, the Earth simply the self-same whole of all its many particulars. In even these inferiors there is found no need for self-will, so we ought not give the efficiency of simple union to the material unions but then deny God this efficiency. 

Already, he dispels ii) for us himself. By being possessive of the whole, and wholly self-sufficient, and as utterly unlimited above all, God possesses himself entirely. That is to say, that by analogy, God stands as unsubjugated to any other principle. Humans do not possess themselves as they are subject to various other humans, and if subject to no humans, they are subject to the heavens and other such superior principles. As being subject to other such things, creatures do not self-possess, contrary to God who does so of himself. God’s self-possession is an apophatic double negative – he is not possessed by another so who else remains to possess him but himself? It is precisely because his unity with the Good, that is the object of all appetition, and himself is so intimate as to not be distinguishable from himself that he is utterly achieved. But if this is so, that he is the Good he has, there is no transitivity and so we can dispense with iii). We can also cast i) to the flames because Aquinas never predicates such faculties of God univocally, such that God has appetitive faculties as in creatures, but rather that;

Will in us belongs to the appetitive part, which, although named from appetite, has not for its only act the seeking what it does not possess; but also the loving and the delighting in what it does possess. In this respect will is said to be in God, as having always good which is its object, since, as already said, it is not distinct from His essence.

So, we can speak of God as totally content with himself and with all that come from him6. Therefore, God’s self-objectification, creating no real distinction, is by our speaking in analogy. While this so far demonstrates that self-possession, which God’s will and self-knowledge take as necessary premises, amongst other attributes, does not violate his noetically superior simplicity, we have not demonstrated that it follows. The Apostate misses not only the manner of analogous predication but also, his illustrations using the ocean and the earth are very telling of his next error; in forgetting that we only come to speak of God’s will proceeding from having established divine intellect. The Apostate, in his various rhetorical illustrations, has robbed God of the noblest of attributes. However, following on the above proposition from Proclus, we need not do this to establish his will for it is this very self-communication through subsequent series that is God’s will. God imparts himself in a real manner to all that has unity, yet to will himself is to will The Good which is what he is, and to will goodness is what it means to Love, and so God loves all things even though he needs none of them. He can be said to will their good by merely holding them in existence in this intimate, immanent manner and so being their continual cause. He wills them to exist, he thus wills their good. As the object of all desire to be reverted upon, he also thus wills the good of all that can share in further intimacy with him in the antecedent. To talk of him “holding all things” through immanent omnipresence, and no further, needlessly brackets how subsequents are generated and sustained. With no priors, it is impossible for anything to cause God to create, and so the continuous act of creation whereby unity is given to all things other than God would have to be fundamentally free, and therefore willful. His omnipresence is indistinguishable from his will. He is his will, he Good-will, and so he is Love;

1 John 4:16 | We have learned to recognize the love God has in our regard, to recognize it, and to make it our belief. God is love; he who dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him.7

The semantic difference between, “God loves”, “Love exists in God”, and, “God is Love”, all have different conclusions. If it is the second, then The Apostate’s argument, specifically i), follows. Yet, as proclaimed by the Gospels, it is the latter, that God is Love – but then also the former, that God loves, as a consequent from establishing the indistinction between God and love-itself. So we can dispense with i) twice-over. Turning to Dionysius as quoted in Obj. 3 of the Summa article that The Apostate brings into question, that “Love is a uniting, and binding force”: God is Unity and Oneness itself8 9 10 , and also the cause of all things11 12 13. As the above Proclean proposition makes clear – that the originative cause is what the series is by remission – we have on our hands sound means by which to once more conclude that God not only is love-itself but that he loves. God is the subsistent unity that is responsible for the unity of all things14 15 16, and so naturally;

Wisdom 11:25 | For thou lovest all things that are, and hatest none of the things which thou hast made: for thou didst not appoint, or make any thing hating it.17

Everything that has unity, as such, goodness, has God as its cause and so clearly then God loves all things, willing them every perfection they possess. God’s love causes perfection in things, and one thing would not be better than another unless God loved it more.18 As individuated things such as the ocean and earth have no will, and of course no self-motion, they cannot have the Good as their object. So to dispel ii) twice over, let us return to elaborating upon God’s intellect, because it is in the same manner that God is his intellect that he is his will. For Aquinas, intellect has noetic primacy over will even though they are one and the same with God. The simple formulation is that immateriality and intellection are convertible. God is the cause of all abstract objects that inhere in particulars, and so given the principle of proportionate causality, God must possess something analogous to intellect whereby all such objects exist in Him, not entitatively but analogous to the way in which forms exist “intentionally” in our intellects. The divine ideas pre-exist in him as their cause which he so knows by his essence which all participate in some degree of likeness. So, privation of knowledge corresponds with limiting the actuality of a given thing, so we should affirm that in his infinitude, God is a simple and infinite intellect.19 For a further exploration on the congruency of the divine mind with divine simplicity, head on over to this Feser post.

But I will here break with Aquinas and affirm Meister Eckhart’s formulation that Intellect is also primary to being, and not just noetically so, but actually so. God does not know because he is, rather; est ipsum intelligere fundamentum ipisus esse. He is because he knows. Since being is proper to creatures, it is in God only as in its cause: it is not there formally. Meister Eckhart reintroduces the Proclean subordination of being into the Medieval tradition, affirming that, “as soon as we come to being, we come to creature.” If God is perfect intellect and the imperfect agent intellect knows being as created thing, God’s knowledge being without object has to be radically unconditioned. 

A common objection is in citing Exodus. 3:14 as an ontological affirmation of being. Yet in an unexpected manner, “I am who I am,” affirms this Proclus-influenced doctrine of the Meister. If God had wished to declare himself as being, he would’ve terminated his proclamation of himself at “I am”, yet he did not. If we met someone by night, Etienne Gilson illustrates to us, and wished to remain unknown when asked, “who are you?” One answers: “I am who I am.”19 And this is what Moses was answered with. Identity is left unconditioned, ephemeral; which is to say that God bypasses identity as he is totally divested of individuation. Thus being does not belong to God. The Meister tells us that God is puritas essendi, pure of all being, and by reason of such utter purity with regard to being, can be its cause. To turn Aristotle against Aquinas; Aristotle noted sight to be colourless to see colour or else its capacity is limited20, contrary to Empedocles and Democritus who held that the eye should see in virtue of some thing that issues from it21, which is backwards – God must be pure of being so he might be the cause of all being.  We must first speak of God as other, before we speak of him as cause. God stands est aliquid altius ente; higher than being in possessing all ahead of him in purity. His plenitude and perfection are the root of all, hence the fittingness of “I am who I am”, so that an anteriority to being is identified here with the act of intellection. This becomes even clearer with reference to the Gospel of John, for in the beginning was the Logos, so it follows scripturally so that intellection is the foundation of all being. Gilson notes that the Logos said of himself, “I am the Truth”22, which is to say sapientia: Wisdom. And so the Meister is correct to conclude that insofar as God is intellect he is free of all, including being. As St. Augustine before him, the Meister ranks understanding above being and life as well. The ocean and the earth “are” but do not know. Material entities are imperfectly unified as they are subject to individuation: immaterial and intelligent beings are not strictly unity because they are intelligent-beings, that is creatures whose being is not unconditioned intellection alone. It is thus only pure intellect that can be pure unity; it is one and the same to say that God is wholly Intellect and God is One. The desert of deity, the divine essence is ineffable, pure intellect which Eckhart identifies with the Father, St. Athanasius’s “One Father”; a fecund unity that is thus paternity. 

Similarly for us, as I have spoken of elsewhere, the reception of Christ by a virgin, Meister Eckhart holds to also allegorically signify the fact that for God’s knowledge to manifest, the intellect must too be ‘void’. Plato’s famous midwifery of sophia from the Symposium finds the purest offspring begotten from a virgin – Truth itself, Wisdom itself being conceived without concupiscence and born from a virgin who remained thereafter, forever a virgin. As long as the active intellect is dominant and occupied with abstraction, thought, imagination, and perception, the mind will remain incapable of receiving the unconditioned Truth and so likewise must be as divested of attachments to individuated phantasms. This is the condition of abgeschiedenheit or “disinterestedness” where the faithful can stand noble and above, without anchorage to that which may dilute the wellspring of divine inspiration. 

Under a more trinitarian light23, the hypostatic union of three loving persons can be thought of as a scene; one wherein the agents on the scene are not the same but share in the most real of unities; the homonoia they participate in that makes the scene a unity. However unlike a scene of representation such as a human community – while The Father is not The Son, who is not The Spirit, who is not The Father; all three are God – their union is far more intimate than any human community could be. After all, theirs is the primal unity that generates all subsequent manifold unities through differentiation. Being “created in the image of God”, and thus in the image of the Trinity, then also has some interesting connotations. This means that humans are moments of particularly intense and adaptive recollection within the temporal process, although such recollection is constitutive of the temporal process itself. A present moment “is”, in its repetitive holding of the past. Yet in this recollecting, it escapes at one level the temporal continuum and arrives as a meaning – abstracted from, and then unified with form, to create structures of various kinds – a process which has bestowed upon it a fluid capacity for adaptation and expansion from the primal fount from which being overflows. As St. Catherine of Siena so beautifully puts it, “the soul is in God and God in the soul, just as the fish is in the sea and the sea in the fish.”24

This comes to the heart of what sympoiesis truly means. We do not create something beautiful without another, without beauty itself, and so all “doing” that has a share in beauty is one that is assisted by grace. The pen of the poet, the brush of the artist, the hands of the virtuoso pianist are guided by the will of God. In all such cases, such creative acts, such acts of beauty are only so through the community established between man and the divine. Sacrality involves representing the gesture, constituted by religio, as compelled by divinity. Aesthetics involves discerning the intentions of the centre – such intentions being constituted by cosmological recursion and revelation – through the attention of others on the scene i.e. unfolding philosophical and exegetical corpus/priesthood and rituals they administer25. In this sense, knowledge depends upon aesthetics, and only aesthetic oscillation can dissolve those desires into the manifold forms of attention directed towards God. Naturally, all disciplines should be reintegrated into theology, to desecularise all other disciplines as a consequence of our abolition of the distinction between art and anagogic reverence. Just as with the fish and the sea, when the soul receives the sacrament, and when the apparent bread has been consumed, Christ leaves behind an imprint of his grace;

…just as a seal that is pressed into warm wax leaves its imprint when it is lift­ed off. Thus does the power of this sacrament remain there in the soul; that is, the warmth of my divine charity, the mercy of the Holy Spirit, remains there. The light of my only-begotten Son’s wisdom remains there, enlightening the mind’s eye.26

This all dovetails quite beautifully with Marsilio Ficino’s exploration of God and love. When we seek God through reason alone, we extoll much effort through a lot of time, especially if we take our acetic cues from the likes of the Meister, to make very little progress. But by loving Him, Ficino tells us, we make much progress in a very short time. 

The reason love unites the mind with God more swiftly, closely and firmly than cognition is that the power of cognition lies mainly in making distinctions but the power of love lies in union.27

Precisely because we come to know things discursively, mediated by concepts and ideas which themselves do not bless a man – unlike God who as simplex is Love and Wisdom – for man, love transcends the dialectic not just wherein the dialectic terminates in its ability to unite us with the Divine but entirely so by love’s very nature as unifying. As unity is itself one with the Good, it is by nature superior to our intellect. We might then transfigure Eckhart’s proclamation of Intellect’s anteriority to being with the equally true formulation that; “God is because he Loves.” Our intellect alone traverses only intelligibles themselves, that is to say, beings of which God stands as utterly superior to, which is why we speak of him through analogy. Hence also the superiority of the devotional life to the purely contemplative life. The life of the mere philosopher is quite radically incomplete. It lacks love and so also finds itself with a real creative limit. It is due unto the wellspring of divine love, the warmth of charity, that the philosopher finds his full realisation; his full intimacy with Wisdom. In order to thoroughly know, we must first love, to then become purely receptive to sapientia, so that we might be truly free.

A soul rises up, restless with tremendous desire for God’s honor and the salvation of souls. She has for some time exercised herself in virtue and has become accustomed to dwelling in the cell of self-knowledge in order to know better God’s goodness toward her, since upon knowledge follows love. And loving, she seeks to pursue truth and clothe herself in it.28


[1] Proclus and Dodds, E. The Elements Of Theology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004, Prop. 97.

[2] Pseudo-Dionysius, The Complete Works. The Divine Names. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 4.vii 701C-704B.

[3] John 1:1-4 | In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was made nothing that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

[4] à la Julian the Apostate, Pagan Neoplatonist and Roman Emperor who wrote polemical works, as did Porphyry, against Christianity — while I will admonish Alexander for his affinity for heathenry, he’s still a king.

[5] Aquinas, Thomas., The Summa Theologiæ of St. Thomas Aquinas, Second and Revised Edition, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920. Prima Pars, Q:19:1.

[6] Genesis 1:31 | And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.

[7] As per usual, I always either quote from the Knox Translation Bible or Douay-Rheims. Sometimes a mix but the above is purely Douay-Rheims.

[8] Proclus and Dodds, E. The Elements Of Theology. Prop. 13

[9] Pseudo-Dionysius. Divine Nom., 13.ii

[10] Galatians 3:20 | Now a mediator is not of one: but God is one.

[11] Proclus and Dodds, E. The Elements Of Theology. Prop. 10

[12] Aquina’s Second Way Prima Pars, Q:2:3

Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiæ, Second and Revised Edition, Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1920. 

[13] 1 Corinthians 11:12 | For as the woman is of the man, so also is the man by the woman: but all things of God.

[14] Proclus and Dodds, E. The Elements Of Theology. Prop. 3

[15] Colossians 1:16 | For in him were all things created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones, or dominations, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him and in him.

[16] 1 Corinthians 8:5-6 | For although there be that are called gods, either in heaven or on earth (for there be gods many, and lords many); Yet to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we unto him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.

[17] Douay-Rheims again.

[18] Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologiæ, Prima Pars, Q:20:3.

[19] Gilson, Etienne. The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas. Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994, 110-111.

[19] Gilson, Etienne. History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages , 438.

[20] Aristotle. The Complete Works, Sense and Sensibilia. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1995. 3, 439a8-14.

[21] ibid., 2, 438a25-28.

[22]  John 14:6 | Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me.

[23] See: Milbank, J., 1991. Postmodern Critical Augustinianism: A Short Summa in Forthy Two Responses to Unasked Questions. Modern Theology, 7(3), 225-237.

[24] St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogues. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2, 27.

[25] My spin on Katz’s logic of aesthetics;

Sacrality involves representing the gesture as compelled by the object; aesthetics involves discerning the intentions of the centre through the attention of others on the scene. p.90

Aesthetics would serve the purpose of introducing, welcoming, drawing participants into the sacred scene, providing ways for those participants to inhabit the scene and minimize the distance between ritual performance and the scene of origin. p.91

Knowledge depends upon aesthetics; only a centre free of usurpationist desires can sustain attention on the gap in imperatives issued by the centre, and only aesthetic oscillation can dissolve those desires into the manifold forms of attention directed towards that centre. p.92

Bouvard, D., Anthropomorphics. Perth: Imperium Press.

[26] St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogues. 112, 211.

[27] Allen, J.B., Michael,  Rees, V., Davies, Martin. Marsilio Ficino: His Theology, His Philosophy, His Legacy. The Netherlands: Koninklijke Brill NV, 2002, 211.

[28] St. Catherine of Siena, The Dialogues. 1, 25.

Proclus, Vico and the Myth of Self-Interest

| John William Waterhouse - Echo and Narcissus, 1903. |

It is a staple of liberal moral psychology, stemming from the ahistorical anthropological assumption of the individual preceding social formation, that man’s nature is an inherently self-interested one. Typically, the liberal arguments for the creation of social orders first presuppose some version of self-interest as an explanatory efficient cause. The various flavours of liberalism may qualify self-interest differently yet the core claim of the moral agent being principally motivated by that which is of most use to him holds true through most formulations.

Giambattista Vico’s argument against such a view of self-interested man begins from the quintessentially Aristotelian claim that the social order precedes man. Man, as seen from the liberal view, may ceaselessly act for what he takes to be personal particular ends, but said ends are ultimately are contingent upon the various institutional roles he occupies. When he is a father he identifies his interests with those of his kin; when he is a citizen he identifies them with those of his city; and when a national, with those of his nation.1 In each stage of social complexity, something new is disclosed about a given moral agent which makes what his interests are, intelligible. A man’s intentions fundamentally rest upon the social institutions which give his life meaning. Strip him of these and you lose the agent whose good you are inquiring into. So naturally, the verdict to be concluded upon regarding self-interest-itself is that it is a meaningless concept because there is no man, and has never been any man, that existed and developed outside of social orders or authorities of any kind.

If one is to identify pleasure with self-interest then, one must ask what kind of socialisation such a man has had to conclude that such a good is his primary good. Indeed if it is this masturbatory self-pleasure, this is the closest we get to pure self-interest, but such disposition in man can only come about after he is made to define himself against his social institutions, or is otherwise lead into such a life that deracinates him of his connection to the shared good of which his institutions allow him participation in. Historically, this process of individualisation is a product of political centralisation2, so we must also conclude that pleasure as self-interest is also artificial. One may indeed argue that in all such circumstances man desires principally his own welfare, but what it is that constitutes his own welfare is disciplined by his social order.

The fundamental question self-interest seeks to answer after all is, “why this good and not another?” Even if we were to posit man as this inherently hedonistic, desiring machine, he must still make that evaluative judgement between the various goods he may choose to enjoy. If he is intimately connected to his social institutions, he will use the role he plays in them as a chief factor in making such an evaluation. If he is disconnected, atomised, he will look elsewhere to other authorities, often nowadays without even identifying such agents as authorities, that will discipline him into desiring other goods. Such is the fate of the wage-slave who finds no fulfilment because he exhausts himself in a role that hardly serves as a true vocation. Naturally, he turns into a hollowed consumer. Yet even his existence as a consumer, as we see with consumers generally, ends up constructing new identities and loyalties which unifies him, and others like him, to corporate authorities. 

Let us now consider the nature of the Good from Proclus. He argues that it belongs as a primary quality of God, the primal Good, to conserve all that exists. Likewise, if that which conserves – holds together the being of a multiplicity of things – is unity, then goodness, wherever present, makes the participant one, and holds its being together in virtue of this unification. Every good tends to unify what participates in it, and all unification is good in some manner.3

This gives us a very interesting manner in which to continue talking of social institutions and the human identification of goods. As we see from Vico above, it is this unification of the moral agent with the institution he is defined by that inebriates him with identification of goods which he sees as in his interest, but this can go much further than the individual. This ontological subordination of agent-to-institution is inherently good, as abused as it might otherwise be under advanced capitalist modernity and democracy, because it subsumes the individual good within the shared good. 

Yet the logic of political and economic liberalism is always to lead away from unity and appeal to this mythic individualised self-interest, even if its success is predicated upon a more fundamental unity of which it exists in spite of. After all, it is the competitive logic of the market and of the electoral struggle – the institutional conflict between entities – not the cooperative logic of the unified social order that seeks internal goods which underlies both capitalism and democracy. 

Unity allows for the development of grand projects; whether they be intellectual, artistic or political, they all depend on this homonoia to function. Insofar as it is unified, it is thus good, because it allows for such projects to flourish in an unfrustrated manner towards the interior goods of their respective practices. 

Thus we can conclude in a Proclean fashion, as Vico himself does, that there is an inherently divine quality to the unity that allows for the flourishing of such shared projects. Vico identifies this divine quality with Providence itself. Unable to attain all the goods he wishes, man is constrained to pursue that which he is due, which is just. Any new set of institutional arrangements must always involve some manner of underlying agreement about the practices they make possible and the determinate content of this depends upon the inherited institutions of the historic social order. This regulating force of human justice, as Vico magnanimously declares; is divine justice which is administered by Providence to preserve social orders.4 That is how intrinsic authority is to human nature, which is to say, it is more fundamental than human nature itself. It is not for no reason that authors of the Gospels write that everyone is to be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established (Rom. 13) and that the faithful are implored to give all men their due, to; 

1 Peter 2:17 | Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king.4


[1] Pompa, Leon., Vico – A Study of the ‘New Science’. Syndics of Cambridge University Press, London. 1975, 21-27.

[2] For a detailed exploration of the relationship between political centralisation and individualism, see C.A. Bond – Nemesis and Larry Siedentop – Inventing the Individual.

[3] Proclus and Dodds, E., The Elements Of Theology. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2004, Prop. 13, 15.

[4] Vico, G. and Bergin, The New Science Of Giambattista Vico. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1948, 341, 90.

[5] I always either quote from the Knox Translation Bible or Douay-Rheims. Sometimes a mix but the above is purely Douay-Rheims.

Nomosthetes and Ordinary Language

| Cesare Maccari - Cicero Denounces Catiline, 1889. |

Language’s core function is to represent. A representation requires both a referent and an agent presented with the referent to produce the representation. The first linguistic sign, the ostensive, was performed in presence of its referent.1 Linguistic acts generally are assemblages of sorts, that if we continue following through, lead us to something of an infinite regress which ends up being circular on the macro level. i.e This word’s meaning can only be explained with reference to these words, whose meaning can only be explained with reference to these words, whose meaning can only be explained with reference to these words… ad infinitum. So what breaks through language, being constituted by this regress, is to consider the given agent which constructs and/or presents the linguistic construct.

The Medievals also knew this – Meister Eckhart wrote that no communicative construct or apprehension of an external referent represents or signifies itself. It always points to something else, of which it is a symbol. And since man has no ideas, except those abstracted from external things, he cannot “be blessed by mere idea”.2

A given communicative act is only intelligible with regard to the intention of the agent who makes said act. If you were alone in a forest and the sound of the rustling leaves started sounding like English words, perhaps even an intelligible phrase, say, “When the ruler’s seat is insecure, the great ministers revolt and the smaller ones pilfer.”3 Unless we were to associate agency to the leaves and the breeze which would posit that they have intellectual capacities, regardless of this audible construct corresponding to being a fragment of ancient Chinese wisdom from the Lî Yun, it would be meaningless. 

It would just so happen coincidentally to sound like the Lî Yun, unless the leaves and breeze were somehow not just alive but intelligent. Language, communicative acts, words themselves, are only intelligible with reference to the intentional agent who presents them to us, otherwise, we must construct our own meaning through interpretation, from words/phrases/ideas, of which we have inherited from other intentional agents. To consider this more socially speaking, in any scene of intentional agents, there will always be one who is the most “influential” at any given point in time – influence being constituted by having dominant representations over other rival representation presented by other intentional agents.

Because, out of all groups, there will be one whose representations are the most dominant. And within that group there will be an agent who is the most “influential” – the de facto Sovereign; herein lies the essential stupidity of libertarianism and its understanding of politics which fails to see authority as anything beyond mere coercive power. Power, at least as it is politically constituted, is rather the ability to direct attention to a given object – linguistic acts are its techne (tactics/tools/craft) through which it does this.

To illustrate; obviously, it is not the king’s coercive power over his military that keeps them inline but that loyalty is conferred, maintained and communicated through some set of representations. Whether this be payment for their services, mythology that holds them in awe or a complex ideological superstructure, all of this must be mediated through linguistic representation from King to military in some fashion. As a good friend of mine Alexander Iulianus remarked the other day, if you stick to your own definitions of language and simply assume that everyone else will operate on the same definitions, you will never know what they are truly saying. I think he hits the nail on the head. God, afterall, only becomes God when creation says “God”, or otherwise ho Theos, Deus, The Good, YHWH, Guđán, 천주, 上帝, He Who Is, and so on and so forth.

Take this in tandem with say Derrida’s understanding of language, specifically writing, that a signifier that can be made radically detached from what it signifies, moulded and “played with” – misconstrued even purposely so to rupture some totality4 – unlike speech which becomes unintelligible without its agent, writing can be retroactively reinterpreted by whatever dominant agent exists to do so, whether or not they be the original speaker. You can reinterpret a written signifier but reinterpreting a spoken signifier always traces back to a present intentionality. With writing, the agent that anchors meaning through intention is absent. 

By enregistering speech, inscription has as its essential objective, and indeed takes this fatal risk, the emancipation of meaning – as concerns any actual field of perception – from the natural predicament in which everything refers to the disposition of a contingent situation. This is why writing will never be simple “voice-painting*.5

*“Voice painting” is a reference to Voltaire’s rather naive understanding of writing.

Subsequently, we do have to conclude upon a fundamental fluidity to human language but also that it is only fluid insofar as it is not anchored by human agents. Its anchorage to intentional agents also follows in an implicitly hierarchical fashion, to Derrida’s horror – hence why he considers writing less “totalitarian” than speech, given writing’s ability to be played with. Surely to Derrida, Ferdinand de Saussure’s linguistics was nothing short of Fascism. There’s no real way for an audience to “play” with the speech of a speaker. There is no possibility for forcing absence through rupturing structure because unlike speech, writing can persist without the continuous effort of its writer. It can be written on the page, passed around in different contexts, reinterpreted regardless of accuracy or what have you.

This is not to say that choices about the use of words are themselves entirely fluid and arbitrary; humans always deliberate towards some end, and in light of that agent-cause, the scope of uses and also interpretations of a given word naturally narrows.

So, a given word is really made fundamentally intelligible by virtue of the principal-agent who leads “linguistic frame”, that is to say, has the most influence over the word’s use and application and disciplines the social scene to use it as such, towards his chosen end/deliberated purpose. With writing, this applies to whoever deliberates the dominant interpretation, and so it seems as though that Derrida’s attempt to play and fondle with writing to escape Caesar, to suspend and exit structure, utterly fails.

In this sense, you cannot actually appeal to “ordinary uses of language” for the basis of meaning. Human language is a structure meant to represent something, it is not the referent it represents. To treat language as such is quite a gross absolutisation of it. Hence why something like biblical/scriptural literalism is contrary to the religion itself – you end up deracinating the meaning of the text in thinking that its representation can be the same as its referent. E.g. Christ speaking the actual words of the Sermon on the Mount is not the same as the written Sermon on the Mount in either the Greek Septuagint, or in whatever version one might read — writing loses the illocutionary force that speech has, hence “deracination”.

Marcus Cunningham has a fantastic article on illocution and scriptural interpretation here.

Consider again what I paraphrased Eckhart saying above. Analogously to that argument, this means that no interpretation interprets itself – hence the absurdity of sola scriptura. All signs and interpretations point to something else, and so the only way to fix them to the spot is through power itself. Hence the practical necessity of a centralised authority like the Church and its Priesthood. Do people reappropriate words/ideas/phrases for new purposes, sometimes malicious purposes? 100% they do. What is the appropriate countermeasure to this? Well, it sure isn’t appealing to a supposed normality of language which does not really exist as most people tend to do, especially the no-frills brand of western conservatism does.

To conclude, let us consider Plato’s argument from Cratylus on the nature of names, the unification of form and meaning, precisely what Derrida designates as structure6, which runs almost entirely parallel to what I have just said now;

Socrates: Don’t we instruct each other, that is to say, divide things according to their natures?

Hermogenes: Certainly

Socrates: So just as a shuttle is a tool for dividing warp and wood, a name is a tool for giving instruction, that is to say, for diving being.

Hermogenes: Yes.

Socrates: Is not a shuttle a weaver’s tool?

Hermogenes: Of course.

Socrates: So a weaver will use shuttles well; and to use a shuttle well is to use it as a weaver does. By the same token, an instructor will use names well; and to use a name well is to use it as an instructor does.

Hermogenes: Yes.

Socrates: Is everyone a carpenter or only those who possess the craft of carpentry?

Hermogenes: Only those who possess the craft.

Socrates: Good. So whose product does an instructor use when he uses a name?

Hermogenes: I do not know.

Socrates: Can you at least tell me this? Who or what provides us with the names we use?

Hermogenes: I don’t know that either.

Socrates: Don’t you think that rules* provide us with them?

Hermogenes: I suppose they do.

Socrates: So, when an instructor uses a name, he’s using the product of a rule setter.

Hermogenes: I believe he is.

Socrates: Do you think that every man is a rule-setter or only the one who possesses the craft?

Hermogenes: Only the one who possesses the craft.

Socrates: It follows that it isn’t every man who can give names, Hermogenes, but only a name-maker, and he, it seems is a rule-setter – the king of craftsman most rarely found among human beings.

Hermogenes: I suppose so.7

*The greek here is ‘ho nomos’. 

Names are a function of the law-giver in relation to real natures/referents which are fixed by form. Form has normality as Plato would argue, sure, but its signifiers don’t have normality by any necessity – the name is not itself identical to the form, and hence why Plato considers names to be more immediately a function of the “nomothetes” – the lawgiver, i.e. authority. 


[1] Gans, Eric. The Origin of Language. Spuyten Duyvil, New York City, 2019, 38.

[2] Kurak, M. The Epistemology of Illumination in Meister Eckhart. Philosophy and Theology, 13(2), 2001, pp.275-286.

[3]  Max F. Muller. Sacred Books of the East. London: Routledge, 2004, Li Ki, Lî Yun, 2.11.

[4] Derrida, Jacques. Writing and Difference. London and New York: Routledge, 2001, Force and Signification. 86-87.

[5] ibid., 13.

[6] ibid., 4.

[7] Plato and Cooper, J. Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2009, Cratylus 388b – 389a.

Concurrent Centrality

| Arthur Georg von Ramberg - The Court of Emperor Frederick II in Palermo, 1865. |

I was recently posed with the question that if the Centre/Sovereign has primary authority over the scene within which social life is undertaken, and that the Centre is always held regardless of how ephemerally it might be, and that for this reason, the Centre is in many regards immutable to the social order, what about the authority of the father over his children, of the teacher over her students, of subsidiaries broadly speaking? 

Or of moral agents under the dominant authority in general? 

Do they have any real autonomy which allows them real authority as it pertains to the disciplines they reside over? 

I think a useful analogy from Thomism can be used in explaining the answer to this question and that a proper exploration of Aquinas’s natural-theology-grounded politics would be of much value. Take the distinction between principal/primary and instrumental/secondary causality in the concurrentist scheme. I will not be going into detailed justifications for concurrentism as a resolution to the free will vs. determinism debate because – I am primarily using it here to illustrate how the logic behind this argument works. Edward Feser’s excellent discussions of it are here, here and here for you to explore. 

For St. Thomas Aquinas, God is the primary cause for the existence of things and imbues within some things the possibility for self-causing; humans being primary among such things with this quality. God, having set limitations upon, and given existence to agent A, has not robbed A of his own ability to act within the confines of said existence; A still retains instrumental causality.  If you will excuse my use of an analogy within an analogy for a moment;  if you draw a triangle with a red pen, both you as primary cause and the pen as secondary cause are simultaneous causes of the effect. You are the cause of there being any triangle there at all, the pen being the reason the triangle is red. God is the cause of there being a reality within which moral agents can engage in metapolitical discussion through analogy-ception yet we are the instrumental reason why metapolitical discussion through analogy-ception is taking place.

The political order is a microcosm of this cosmological distinction. When talking of the function of governance, St. Thomas writes;

The aim of any ruler should be directed towards securing the welfare of that which he undertakes to rule. The duty of the pilot, for instance, is to preserve his ship amidst the perils of the sea, and to bring it unharmed to the port of safety. Now the welfare and safety of a multitude formed into a society lies in the preservation of its unity, which is called peace. If this is removed, the benefit of social life is lost and, moreover, the multitude in its disagreement becomes a burden to itself. The chief concern of the ruler of a multitude, therefore, is to procure the unity of peace. It is not even legitimate for him to deliberate whether he shall establish peace in the multitude subject to him, just as a physician does not deliberate whether he shall heal the sick man encharged to him, for no one should deliberate about an end which he is obliged to seek, but only about the means to attain that end.1

Note that the ruler’s obligation to carry out the duties of a ruler are not imposed upon him, but are a quality of him occupying such a role in the first place, however he may come to inhabit the Centre. The unity of peace, social cohesion, the absence of political factionalism – imperium in imperio – is crucial for his ability to rule. Hence why it is not even legitimate for us to speak of him as to whether or not he will seek to establish peace in the multitude subject to him. Even if he were to support a proxy against a given opposing political faction, he only does so in order to remove said political faction from being an impediment to his rule, that is, to procure peace and social cohesion.

Ontological absolutism finds a comfortable home in the Aristotelian-Thomist tradition. The action of a client, the periphery in the case of High + Low vs. The Middle and/or otherwise the subsidiary, is only explainable with relation to the agent that actualises their political significance; The Centre and the ends to which said agent actualises them; centralisation for political security. Why this end and not another? A simple Aristotelian explanation. Assuming insecurity, the political agent in question who holds the centre naturally will attempt to centralise, that is, to secure its hold over the Centre. Insecure power is by its nature in a position of direct competition and conflict. Due to this condition, to do good to itself – that is to act as a power, not qualified further as “insecure” – said power centre must circumnavigate said competitors or raise some force against them in order to create the conditions in which he might come to rule directly. With the ability to rule directly, his access to their principle good is restored. Without it, the prerequisite good of political cohesion must be established. Insofar as he cannot rule directly, that is, insofar as he is insecure, the ruler must centralise to establish said cohesion. Continuing the quotation from Aquinas;

Wherefore the Apostle, having commended the unity of the faithful people, says: “Be ye careful to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” Thus, the more efficacious a government is in keeping the unity of peace, the more useful it will be. For we call that more useful which leads more directly to the end. Now it is manifest that what is itself one can more efficaciously bring about unity than several—just as the most efficacious cause of heat is that which is by its nature hot. Therefore the rule of one man is more useful than the rule of many.

The Centre is what principally holds together a given social scene, within which it sets boundaries and upholds the social rules of interaction within which political/social/economic life is undertaken. It does discipline the moral agents within its scope but the sheer existence of the Centre does not rob them of their instrumental agency. To argue that it does would be to argue for a degree of omnipotent determinism that could not be the case for much of human history prior to the rapid centralisation of power proceeding the industrial and liberal revolutions, and that does not exist now, as of yet. For an example, your choice to work within this or that profession, while such a selection might be narrowed due to the nature of the social order, contingent on the Centre, yet your choice of this or that profession is still your decision. Likewise, this goes for the company that potentially hires you.

This also helps address another notion in simultaneity, that of the ethics of governance from an ontologically absolute position. To answer this, we need to get at the heart of the essential role governance plays, of which St. Thomas has already outlined quite nicely for us. The function of the king, the Sovereign, the Centre is to maintain the unity of the political order – its absence of factionalism, of imperium in imperio, allows for the unity of peace. Insofar as the Centre cultivates this peace, moral agents can flourish in their various social roles, including the Sovereign himself.

As it is interior peace and social cooperation which allows the ruler to conduct his various political projects, to upset this is to throw a wrench in his own works. It is very much in the ruler’s interests to pursue the interior goods to this practice; social cooperation, and human flourishing, human perfection and so forth, whether the given agent holding the centre is consciously aware of such a reality or otherwise. 

Nonetheless, much like a muscle, the habitual exercising of the various virtues that constitute what is in the king’s nature to rule further actualises the ruler as kingly. It is through hexis that virtues are developed. As, to be courageous, one must develop and exercise the capacity to do courageous acts, the king in learning how to command well and coordinate political life well comes to embody the virtues constitutive of kingship better. To engage in some act that is not conducive to his role doesn’t in any way rob the ruler of his virtues, they still do persist as real potentials by virtue of being in the political position that is most conducive to those abilities and their exertions and as a real nature by virtue of holding the Centre. 

So, subsidiaries and moral agents within a given political scene do retain agency, perhaps not the agency to collectively overturn the Centre qua vox populi seeing as such voice is a construction of authority, and that historically speaking “the people” or what have you require some fundamental authority to actualise said “collective will” into force of political significance, such act subordinates the very notion of popular will to the final cause of said patronage by the efficient political cause – that of the aforementioned sovereign authority. Yet moral agents still retain autonomy within the space allocated by said authority to act. Power, after all, is not merely the exercise of force, but the ability to lead and hold shared attention. To hold to ontological absolutism is not thus to hold to the position that all is disciplinarily executed by the will of the Centre within a political scene, but the production of dominant representations and the maintenance of some unified understanding by some fundamental agent.

Much as God is necessary for there to be any existing thing and is the prime mover of all that exists, the centre is necessary for there to be any political entity and is the prime mover of all under its domain. There is by necessity a pronomian relationship between God and creation, centre and political order. It is explicitly pronomian under the Thomistic formulation as Logos governs creation, man being the animal that possesses logos – given the human that occupies the centre – his logos governs the social order. At both levels, it is intellection that governs. 

Revising the Platonic logic that the techne of rule, as analogous to medicine, must be practised for the prosperity of another upon whom the practice is exercised – medicine is for the benefit of the patient, not the doctor – yields now an interesting result. For it is not just that the secure sovereign would indeed exercise his virtues of authority with his subjects as the ends but also that the flourishing of his subjects is in his interests. They are both means and ends. We now have a relationship with a degree of circularity, a feedback loop. That a healthy population that is not engaged in social diatribes is more useful for the secure ruler than a dispossessed and diseased population goes without saying. A military that cannot fight and construct shared projects is no military at all.

In further exploration the ontologically absolute character of St. Thomas’s political thinking; the possession of property, and the existence of inequalities of one sort or another, and thus authority, Aquinas sees as natural to man even in the prelapsarian state of innocence. This has particularly interesting as it pertains to the Katzian challenge posed to Christianity;  namely that Christendom ultimately failed to establish the divine sanction of kings due to its over-turning of sacrificial “violent centralisation”2, and so is much to blame for the developments of liberalism. This critique should be kept in mind as we continue. Aquinas effectively severs much of the connection between political authority and the economy of salvation, evident in his willingness to recognise the legitimacy of non-christian states, notably pagan ones even when they exercise political authority over members of the faithful. Such was also the position of Pope Innocent IV3. How he came to this conclusion, as Francis Oakley argues in his work Mortgage of the Past, was in reasoning that if it was only as a result of the Fall that servile subjection had come into being, that this was not the case with civil subjection to political authority. Political authority by its nature is established upon, and cares for homonioa; the common good of unity. 

Dominion is grounded in human law whereas the distinction between those who are faithful and those who are not, is from divine law. Divine law being a law of grace, does not abolish human law which is founded upon natural reason; note here the concurrentism. As the broader theological and philosophical Thomistic framework goes, politics finds its foundations in natural theology rather than the revealed theology of Redemption allowing for a Christian Neoplatonic system to have Aristotle’s teleological political naturalism subsumed within it. 

That Aquinas’s treatise on kingship began with the affirmation of man’s social and political nature, as should be expected of his Aristotelianism, and he is firm in the view that political order exists not simply to ensure material well-being but rather to make possible the life of virtue is instrumental to the integration of Christian and Aristotelian morality into his natural political theology.  He is insistent that men live in their given social order for the very purpose of living well together, a thing which the individual living alone could not attain; but of which we might add is would be an absurdity to try and affirm because nowhere does or has man lives radically distinct from any authority or social order. But insofar as he is apart from social life, he is despondent and pathetic. The good life is the virtuous life; the virtuous life is the end for which men gather together. 

To quote directly from Oakley; 

Understandably, in discussing the directive principle needed to govern the political community as an end-ordered-entity, he should depart from Aristotle and straightforwardly affirm monarchy to be his ideal and the government of a king to be the best.  In support of that position, and affirming that “in all things nature does what is best,” he points out that “every natural government is government by one.” Such is the case in every species of government, from that of the “king bee” over the bees to that of the one God over the universe as a whole. 

Here one can detect once echoes and harmonics of that Hellenistic philosophy of kingship which, having been mediated by Philo Judaeus, and Eusebius, had come to be domesticated in the political thinking of Christian antiquity and medieval Byzantium. Man, Aquinas points out, is microcosm paralleling the macrocosm both in the political and the cosmological. What the soul is to the body, the king, a “shepherd to his people”, is to the kingdom, and God is to the world. The position of king, then, is clearly an elevated one. Behind his authority stands the law, both natural and divine. As St. Paul insists (Rom.13), those who resist such authority “bring upon themselves damnation.”4 

Thus in response to the Katzian critique, it seems quite clear that Thomism’s concurrent relationship between human law and divine law – between God and Earthly authority – allows for the unique enshrinement of kingship-itself as inherently divine, with scripture at hand to support this, whilst also keeping the quintessentially Christian abolishment of sacrifice. I’m guessing that this line of thought did not present itself to Katz because he brackets off metaphysical inquiry due to the fact that it takes declarative language for granted. Yet, one need not then fret that Christianity necessarily lends itself to liberalism – one of its greatest apologists having quite easily presented a divine sanction of kings whereby the according cosmogony is one in which authority is hard-baked into human orders – a chain of being governed by Logos as at all levels. Much as our cosmos is monarchic, so are our social orders – just as they were meant to be. To end on an extended version of the nuggets of scripture Oakley previously provided;

Romans 13:1-4 | Let every soul be subject to higher powers: for there is no power but from God: and those that are, are ordained of God. Therefore he that resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God. And they that resist, purchase to themselves damnation. For princes are not a terror to the good work, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good: and thou shalt have praise from the same. For he is God’s minister to thee, for good. But if thou do that which is evil, fear: for he beareth not the sword in vain. For he is God’s minister: an avenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil.5 


[1] Aquinas, Thomas, Gerald B. Phelan, Joseph Kenny, and Ignatius Theodore Eschmann. De Regno: Ad Regem Cypri. Bismarck, ND: Divine Providence Press, 2014. Ch.III:XVII, 12-14. 

[2] Bouvard, Dennis. Anthropomorphics. Perth: Imperium Press, 2020, 48-50.

[3] Oakley, F. The Mortgage Of The Past. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012, Chapter 7.

[4] ibid., 113.

[5] I always either quote from the Knox Translation Bible or Douay-Rheims. Sometimes a mix but the above is purely Douay-Rheims.