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Metaphysical PersonalismAn Analysis of Austin Farrer's Metaphysics of Theism$

Charles Conti

Print publication date: 1995

Print ISBN-13: 9780198263388

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198263388.001.0001

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(p.261) Appendix 1 Farrer’s Letters to David Attfield, 1961–1966

(p.261) Appendix 1 Farrer’s Letters to David Attfield, 1961–1966

Metaphysical Personalism
Oxford University Press

These letters were written in connection with Attfield’s BD thesis, ‘Christ of God’, which Farrer supervised. I am indebted to Mr Attfield for making them available. They show: (1) acceptance of real change in God, given that real existence is active existence, ‘the agent is other for having acted’ (14 May 1963); (2) that dynamic concepts help close the gap between description and entification: will is not merely God’s consequent mode (as in Whiteheadian metaphysics), for the act of willing ‘constitutes’ the very essence of God’s existence (ibid.); (3) that voluntarism allows us to say that Christ is ‘utterly derived’, the effect of which carries Farrer beyond ‘orthodoxy’ in Trinity (28 October 1963); (4) that the idea of God as ‘Will’ or Causa Sui implies both change and timelessness; moreover, God’s will to be (all it is) is brought about by an ‘act’ which constitutes God’s existence; it is therefore compatible with aspects of the divine becoming (which include change) (14 May 1963); (5) that both Christ and ordinary believers are adoptees by grace, which adoption is intrinsic to the ‘saving pattern’ typified by Trinity (26 September 1965?); (6) that action-concepts allow a genuine motive of ‘extension’, since salvation is what God ‘most desired’ (23 December 1961); (7) that Incarnation comes about by an act of will and is logically required by the formula ‘real existence is active existence’; therefore ‘will’ is not in opposition to ‘the self-realisation of perfection’ but constitutive of God (ibid.; 14 May 1963).

23 December 1961 (From Trinity College, Oxford)

Dear David,

…Really the question is simple. (1) ‘The going forth of the godhead into the creature’ cannot diminish the godhead-in-itself. (2) Yet it is real, for God is wholely [sic] present in every act of His. (3) Yet not all His acts are equal; and the mode of presence is measured by the occasion, vessel or instrument. (4) Here, the mode of presence is (p.262) that of being the Galilean carpenter. (5) It is perverse to ask, ‘Was the carpenter (fully) God?’ because ‘God-being’ is not a possible predicate of a man. The sentence must be reversed. God fully and personally was the carpenter, and exercised his infinite power, wisdom, etc. under that limitation; a limitation formally, but an extension really, since thereby he best did what he most desired…

14 May 1963 (From Keble College)

…There are two general considerations which I will mention…(1) God ‘changelessly changes’ in respect of His agency—the agent is other for having acted.—This on the face of it may be deemed heretical: I’d have thought you would have wanted at least to introduce it as a problem—Does God’s non-temporeity preclude the application to Him of this aspect of agency?—To which your answer is: No, it can’t, for that would be to evacuate ‘agency’ of all meaning—But having said that, I should want you to press the point further—This isn’t a special difficulty about God’s actions ad extra) it’s an aspect of His nature: Will, with Him, is not consequent upon being, neither is before the other; God is the self-realisation of perfection, He is all He wills to make Himself by the act which constitutes His existence. So the very idea of God is the idea of a sort of ‘timeless change’ (Causa Sui).

28 October 1963 (From Keble College)

As always, you react to my casual criticisms with new and excellent points. Your trinitarian ideas are absolutely classical, as you now express them. I dare say I’m not really orthodox. I want to keep much closer to the New Testament: Augustinian-type speculation appears to be concerned with an abstract problem of one and three, completely cut off from the dynamic of N.T. experience, or, indeed, of ours. If one asks within the N.T. field what saves the unity, the answer is obvious—μία πηγή θεότητος ὁ πατήρ—not Godhead somehow managing to be the same individual in three individuals. The Son, however equal, is no rival, being utterly derived: equal, because there is nothing in the Father underived by the Son.

When I talk about ‘the analogy of grace’ I do not mean arguments based on the seeming fact that ‘we receive grace’ to be good men; I mean that, by grace, the Christian knows himself adopted into a participation of the Son’s status in relation to the Father and in sharing of the Spirit; and that the very Trinity that concerns us is the (p.263) Trinity which thus gives form to our existence έν χριατῳ: so we’d better not so define the Trinity as to obscure the operation of this saving pattern.

If the question is asked, how we are to conceive the Son’s participation in certain of the attributes of deity-as-such, e.g. necessity of being, άγενησια [unborn, unbegotten, uncreatedness], I am inclined to reply, that very likely we are not well placed for conceiving the ‘how’ of such a mystery: but that the point is marginal. After all, άγενησια is no part of the content of the divine life, it is the negative statement of a relation. God has no cause. But the Son has a Father. The relation between these two statements is open to the exercise of logical subtleties, but I shall be disturbed if their effect is to diminish the reality of the paternal begetting.

7 May 1964 (From Keble College)

I think your doctrine in these pages is all deduction from two positions:

(a) When God’s being is defined as ‘eternal act’, the formula is to be taken as an answer to the question, ‘What sort of act, or agency, can the First Agency be?’ rather than ‘What sort of actual “life” can eternal being enjoy?’—So the reality of the agency is prior to the timelessness of the eternity, [nota bene]

(b) The distinction ‘ego/body’ can be drawn as to allow the divine Hypostasis to be a human ego without being a human body; and yet so as to allow the human ego no ‘action’ or modus operandi other than that which the body prescribes or permits…

26 September (1965?)

…I’d have thought you could come out much more strongly for your interpretation of the divine Relations through the experience of Grace. While other analogies are illustrative, this is dynamic. Our own relation to the Father έν χριστῳ is an overflow of the Divine Filiation: if not, then there is no need to bother about the Trinity anyhow. Starting from that point, one can make short work with Augustine’s psychological Trinity and other irrelevant doctrines.

Your illustration of the three necessary propositions provokes the obvious comment, that it is an account of the relation between three Platonic Ideas, and not three ὑπάβξεις [things that are subservient to (their) existences] of THE necessary being which excludes plurality of this kind: it does not help anywhere where help is wanted.

(p.264) Perhaps readers with a less formal approach would be helped by a discussion in terms of will. Might the Father not have begotten the Son? Not really: yet the begetting is the expression of Freedom, not of anything like logical necessity.