Saturday, August 17, 2013

Divine Availability

Recently, a good friend of mine, who is a candidate for the Diaconate, gave me a copy of an article that appeared in the Summer 2003 issue of the periodical Pro Ecclesia. This article is entitled "Divine Disponibilité: The Hypostatic Ethos of the Holy Spirit" by Khaled Anatolios. This article has changed my understanding of the Trinity, especially in regard to the Holy Spirit.
Khaled Anatolios
It is a fairly heavy article, not read only once and put away. It is one of those that comes in layers. The first reading yields much, hinting at more. The second reading more fully fleshes out the ideas, hinting again at meanings underlying the metaphors and making connections yet unguessed.

A really good post was made about this article soon after it came out by Peter Leithart in the First Things blog here. While it is an excellent summary, I'd like to present the first fly-by of concepts here, 10 years later.

First of all, Anatolios laments that the Holy Spirit's place in the Trinity is vague and confusing and whose acts are often confused and conflated with those of the Son. Yet Scripture clearly demonstrates the discreteness of the divine Persons. He points out that the clearest distinction is made when the Holy Spirit is seen alternately as "gift" or "mutual love." The term "gift" is primarily stressed by the Eastern churches and "mutual love" by the Western tradition. His goal is to create a synthesis of the two different conceptions of the Holy Spirit that more fully shows the uniqueness of the third Person of the Trinity and the surprising unity of both metaphors.

He then introduces the concept of "availability" (French: disponibilité) as applied to human, or interpersonal interactions by the French philosopher, Gabriel Marcel.
For Marcel, there are five aspects of availability for human relationships.
  1. Availability to others outwardly, contrasted to un-availability where one is closed-off to others; seeing the other person as someone who could be me
  2. Availability to another's appeals; the ability to be appealed to, both to the needs/situation of the other and an active (non-passive) and enthusiastic receiving of the other (being open to others); appealing also in the sense of attracting/delighting in
  3. Availability as the openness to commit to another; to allow the other to lay a claim to our response; the Good Samaritan exhibits this par excellence, where the robbed man's tragic circumstances alone appeal for help to the Good Samaritan
  4. Availability that sees every situation as an opportunity and every circumstance as gift; placing oneself in the place of the other, not replacing, but standing together in that situation
  5. Availability as love; enclosing others within our circle and sharing all with another; the father in the Prodigal Son demonstrates this
These five aspects of availability must now be examined as they apply to the Holy Spirit.
  1. The Spirit makes the Word of the Father available to the world through the prophets; it is also the Spirit that is the medium that makes the Father available to the Son and the Son to the Father.  "I am in the Father, and the Father is in me." (Jn 14:10)   He makes communion possible.
  2. The Spirit is God's willingness to outwardly extend His Word, thus bringing about creatures that can appeal to Him.  Also, man's fallen state is construed as an appeal to God, thus calling upon God's Word into the availability of the Incarnation.  The Spirit is also the way in which we take joy in the Lord, in which we praise God and in whom the Father and Son take joy in each other.
  3. The Spirit is a pledge or "down payment" from God of his gifts.  It is this that allows us to claim the undeserved sonship promised to us, laying claim as heirs to the kingdom.  It is a similar pledge between Father and Son that pledges one to the other through the Spirit.
  4. The Spirit is that which transforms every human situation into divine gift.  It is in this way that "discernment" is understood.  The Spirit opens our circumstances to the divine life. Also, it is through the Spirit that the Scriptures were written and only through that same Spirit can they be interpreted.  It is only when divine and human availability meet that Scripture is composed and, again, understood. 
  5. The Spirit is love in that He effects the mutual availability between the Father and the Son.  He also brings about a mutual availability of the Father and the Son to others.  The Father and Son face inward individually in love through the Spirit, which then enables the Father/Son to face outwardly to embrace in love all others.  So the Spirit enables both types of love, where both sides love and where only one loves another who does not love in return.
I have found that the concept of availability is extremely useful in understanding human love, but am blown away to consider how the Spirit effects and brings about love both within the Godhead (the Spirit as "love") AND from God to His creatures (the Spirit as "gift").  

The Holy Spirit is both the message and the message's medium.  He is both "love" and "loving."  It is He who makes the Father available here on earth initially through the prophets, then through the Incarnation and ultimately indwelling within us beginning at Pentecost.  He brings God's love to earth to envelop us in its embrace, pulling us in, and then outwardly enables us to bring that same love to those who do not yet know that embrace.



  1. In terms of availability, you must admit that some have less access to the word of God then others. Some undoubtably die before ever hearing about Jesus. Sure, these days that mostly happens in remote areas and applies mostly to younger people, but historically a lot of folks never heard of Christ.

    Then, for even those who are aware of Jesus, many have been indoctrinated into other faiths making it much harder to accept a competing worldview. Do you think it is unfair that God judges everyone according to belief and acceptance of Christ and living a good life as defined by the bible, then makes it so much harder for some to hear and/or accept the Jesus and/or the bible in comparison to someone who grew up Catholic?

    1. You may be thinking of a teaching that basically says, “all non-Christians are going to hell”. This is not Catholic teaching, and it’s strange to us also.

    2. Do non-Christians go to heaven? If not, then this still applies.

  2. A very interesting thought!

    As with item 4, the Spirit operates at the intersection of the human and the divine. We must do our part and God will provide the rest. We who are indwelt are called to bring God's love to the whole world. It is OUR fault if some do not hear of God when they are accessible to believers.

    You put the fault on God who "makes it so much harder." Again, it is not God who does this. We who imagine and teach the competing worldview are to blame.

    God is not a genie in the sky who is expected to wave a hand and fix our troubles. Part of our salvation comes from working to solve just these issues.

    Lastly, God judges how God will. He has revealed to believers how he will judge, but God can always save who he will without consulting anyone. Maybe many will be saved in spite of their ignorance. We don't know. (See Lumen Gentium paragraph 16)

    You may say, "perhaps it is better for them to remain ignorant." Maybe. Maybe not. We do know God is just and fair. The question is then, "why bet on ignorance when sure knowledge is available?"

  3. You seem to be trying the justify the lack of availability from the perspective of the believer, but from the perspective of those who don't know about Jesus or have been conditioned to believe otherwise, it's surely not their fault they are in the situation they are in. That's what I'm saying, and it makes God, if he exists, neither just nor fair.

  4. God does not reveal to us the ultimate fate of non-believer. He only reveals to us our responsibility towards them. Whatever their fate, we as believers are held responsible for our own actions (or non-action) towards them.

    As God is both just AND fair, the fact that someone is the situation they are in when it is not their fault would certainly work in their favor. You are certainly correct in pointing out that circumstances reduce an individual's culpability.

    The Catholic Church has NEVER said that anyone is in Hell. Not even Judas. We hope that Hell is empty.

    Do you see the difference?

    1. I see the difference in regard to hell, but denying some heaven while giving others that reward when asymmetrical circumstances make it so much harder for some to be aware and to believe is the definition of unfair. So, I'll ask you the same question I asked Ben: Do non-Christians go to heaven? Can they?

      If the answer is no, God is unfair. If you don't know, then the fairness of God is also unknown and I don't think availability is the best topic to blog about.

    2. Grundy,

      First of all there is either heaven or hell. So my earlier answer leaves no room for equivocation. If they are not in hell, then they are in heaven (or purgatory which leads only to heaven).

      Secondly, you must understand that God owes no one anything. He is obligated not at all to grant ANYONE heaven. So if you had $5 in your pocket and you chose to give someone that money as a gift (say to someone on the street), would you then be unfair to not also give $5 to another person in the same circumstances? Not at all. It is yours to give or withhold. Heaven is something that God is choosing to give where He wills. No one has any kind of claim on that gift.

      Once that makes sense, apply the same logic to life itself. Life is a gift from God as well. No one has a claim on God to give someone more life than another (or any at all).

      I hope this helps!

    3. Yeah, that helps. If people go to heaven regardless of their beliefs, that takes care of the issue of fairness.

    4. I wouldn't state that "people go to heaven regardless of their beliefs."

      Going to heaven is not a prize. It is the consequence of a relationship. If one has a good relationship with God, then God will resurrect that person to life. If a person does not have ANY relationship that we can see, perhaps they have one we do NOT see, or they do not have one at all. It is always up to God, whether that person will be resurrected to life. We know what we are to do, but we know little about others. We are told not to judge anyone else's fate in a negative way. We can only judge their actions. Judas' sin was very bad, certainly meriting harsh judgement, but the Church cannot consign him to Hell. It can only say that the action was wrong.

      In any case, God is just and fair. We just don't know what his judgement of any bad actions are until the end, when we will find out all the specific circumstances around them.

    5. Okay, then I'm back to seeing the Catholic God as neither fair nor just for all the reasons I stated above in terms of availability. I won't accept a "God works in mysterious ways" excuse here. The doctrine of purgatory provides enough wiggle room to be marginally more fair than other religions, but when it comes down to it God is judging a finite time against an infinite sentence of either all-reward or all-punishment. The lives we live are more complicated and nuanced for an all-or-nothing eternal outcome.

      Thanks for the exchange (and for not censoring my comments, I get that a lot :-)

    6. Grundy,

      Would you mind addressing my metaphor of "life/heaven as gift"? Would you be considered unfair to give a gift to someone but not to another? I would think you would say no.

      In the same way, human life is given as gift. If you were in the position of God to create matter from nothing and then bring a non-living being to life, say a clay figure, (see my Clay Man post) you would be perfectly in your rights to do whatever you wish with that Clay figure. You can take away its life without moral impact. It's YOUR stuff. You gave it life and can take it away again.

      This is a very hard teaching to accept (as clay men). If you do not accept it, then we have different ideas as to what's "fair" and I'd beware of people who ask you for money since you'd be unfair or unjust not to give money to each and every person who asks.

      If God gives life (and eternal life) as gift, it's not mysterious, but it IS up to him. If he wants to explain some of his rationale to us so we can have a chance of obtaining it, even THAT is gift. We are fortunate to listen to it!

    7. I don't accept that teaching and neither do you. Take a child who wouldn't be alive without you. According to this teaching, it is perfectly acceptable for you and your mate to abort the fetus, after all, it's YOUR stuff. I know you don't feel this way because I see you are pro-life. Further, once the kid is born anything from incestual pedophilia to murder one is fine when committed by the parent, right?

      Wrong. You and I are both right in not accepting this teaching.

    8. I do accept the teaching I stated. I do not accept the one you stated. They are quite different. I did not create the life of my children, I passed on what I received. I have no right to take away the life that I did not make from nothing. I did not make the stuff of the child from nothing either. I gave it some of my own stuff and the child grew.

      The situation I gave was "If you were in the position of God to create matter from nothing and then bring a non-living being to life, say a clay figure[...]"

      God did not make matter out of his substance. He created matter out of nothing. God then animated the substance, not from earlier live substance, but from dead matter.

      That is exactly why the situations are different. God is therefore the ONLY one who has the right to do with the stuff whatever he wishes and with the lives of that stuff. Again, I realize how hard this teaching is to accept, since you and I are the clay people.

      Heck, who wants to be in this position? If I were making this up, I'd make up something where I'd be in control or had a god on a string, like a genie doing whatever I wanted. I'd have him putting everyone in heaven (but my house might be a little better than everyone else's). ;-)

      I don't want to deal in the imaginary, but in reality.

    9. Joe said: We can only judge their actions. Judas' sin was very bad, certainly meriting harsh judgement, but the Church cannot consign him to Hell

      Why was Judas' sin so bad? Shouldn't church leaders be thankful that he did what he did? I mean, God would have known what was to happen, yet he still chose Judas as a disciple. He also required a blood sacrifice to forgive sin, and without Judas, that might not have happened. If there is indeed a master plan, then Judas played his part in that plan to perfection.

      Joe said: God did not make matter out of his substance. He created matter out of nothing. God then animated the substance, not from earlier live substance, but from dead matter.

      Do you have any evidence of any of this? Please don't use bible quotes, since you can't use the bible to validate the bible.

      Joe said: That is exactly why the situations are different. God is therefore the ONLY one who has the right to do with the stuff whatever he wishes and with the lives of that stuff.

      So are you saying that if god decides to commit genocide (Noah's Ark), infanticide (first born sons), rape (mentioned several times in the bible, including the impregnation of the virgin Mary or any other atrocity (of which there are many in the bible), he is perfectly justified and can remain on the moral high ground?

      I think not. I think that's your way of trying to rationalize the heinous acts found in the bible. There is no justification for such acts and no reason in the world to worship the author of such acts, the acts themselves or for that matter, any reason to believe that the God of the bible is any more real than Odin, Zeus or Shiva.

    10. Your questions are good ones. I will try to address them all, but please understand these comment pages aren't really the best forum for debate. Thank you in advance!

      1) Judas' sin was used for good. If someone were to cruelly torture and murder my son, but that act happened in such a way that the world rose up and caused a renaissance of goodness and repudiation of murder, could I still stand up and laugh for joy that my son was cruelly murdered for the sake of the good? I am sorry to say that the subsequent events are a consolation to me, but no, I could not be thankful for his death. It would have been better if the good came without it.

      2) This evidence question is so large and raises so many other side roads that this forum is SO not adequate. But here's a tiny start. If there is an origin of the universe, then logically prior to that universe, there is literally nothing physical. If there is nothing physical, then what physical evidence could we expect to find? We should not stop looking, nor are we. In the absence of such evidence all anyone can do is shrug and say, "we don't know." So, no, I have no physical evidence. History is hard to "prove" even WITH physical evidence, but we DO believe lots of things happened without anything but the written say-so of people who lived before us. We trust that source. The Bible is just such a resource. If you reject its authority, that's fine. It's interesting that most physicists agree that the universe had a beginning.

      3) Yes I do say that. As I said in the other comments you are quoting, it is a hard thing to accept from the human point of view. (Although to be clear, the worst we can accuse God of is the taking of life. Unlike other myth stories, God never raped. The conception of Jesus was asked of the Virgin beforehand. Zeus and others did rape in their stories, but not the Christian God.) As far as death is concerned, I don't like it and I certainly wouldn't make it up. Again, if I were to make up a religion, I'd wouldn't have God condemning people to death, I'd have him letting everyone go to heaven or at least leaving ME alone I suppose. A pleasant fairy tale, I suppose, but I am interested in the truth, not a pleasant fairy tale.

      4) As to other gods, let's suppose there are 4 people claiming to be the POTUS. Does that mean there is no REAL POTUS? Of course not. If the objection to God is that there is a confusion who is the REAL God, that takes some searching to find an answer that fits the facts we have. If it's that you haven't seen him and that you don't know anyone who has seen him, you can be skeptical but there are lots of people whom I haven't met or know that I believe exist. Say in Russia or China or North Dakota. If you don't believe in him because he's the KIND of thing that you don't believe exists, well the idea of God is not logically self-contradictory, so He COULD exist. The question then can one logically or reasonably decide that he CANNOT exist?

      It's interesting that Christianity makes sense of the story (which is its "data") in such a way that morality, historically and logically it all fits together.

      I hope you understand the position better.

  5. The situations are fundamentally the same. I can't help but notice that you thought your money example was a valid metaphor for God's treatment of his creations even though we hardly created money from nothing. For consistency we must examine our own beliefs and arguments with as much criticism as we do other people's.

    At least we agree on wanting to deal with reality and not the imaginary, we just have very different ideas of what is real and imagined. Again, thanks for clarifying your beliefs.

    1. Grundy,

      I see we must disagree on the fundamental similarity or dissimilarity of the situations.

      However, I must point out that my analogy of money as gift was to show how gifts work. The type of gift (whether we got it from somewhere else or made it from nothing) is irrelevant to the point I was trying to make. A gift does not impose an obligation to give the same gift equally to all others or else be called "unfair." I think the money analogy does that. See my Analogies post.

      Thank you for your thoughtful dialogue!