True transcendence, true immanence
by Ken Myers
“[T]he commonly seen endeavor to ‘bracket out’ Christianity from one’s thinking or one’s formation of and participation in cultural institutions (with the intention, of course, of reintroducing it at the appropriate moment, namely, when moral questions come to the fore) betrays at once a false understanding of Christianity and a false understanding of understanding. . . .
“The most fundamental truth of religion is that the being of the world cannot ultimately be accounted for simply in terms of itself — world as eternal or self-created — but implies reference to a source beyond itself; in other words, the world is created. The two dimensions of the ‘logic’ of religion stem directly from the created character of the world’s being. In the first place, there is the ‘infinity’ of God that follows upon a notion of God as Creator, and thus as one who transcends all worldly being as its source, and who therefore is more intimately within all worldly being as the non-aliud, to use the expression of Nicholas of Cusa that Hans Urs von Balthasar admired so much. A true conception of the transcendence of God necessarily entails a radical immanence, for a God who is excluded from being, i.e., who ‘merely’ transcends things in the sense of being apart from them, is a God who exists within the same order as created being so as to be able to be ‘juxtaposed’ to it. This would be a God who is not truly transcendent but rather caught within the immanent ambit of the world. In other words, a Creator God is necessarily an infinite God, and an infinite God, by definition, must in some sense effectively bear on all things without exception, all the time. ‘A God who is truly God must affect everything. A God who in some significant sense is not everywhere and does not affect everything, and every aspect of everything, is not infinite but finite.’* There is a certain parallel between a misunderstanding of the nature of transcendence, which would exclude God from the world and by that very fact include God within the world as one discrete entity among other created entities, and the understanding of religious health that is satisfied with the (discrete) affirmation of the existence of God and feels no need to ask deeper questions. If God is the Creator of the world, then his existence has effective, formal, final, and indeed in some sense material significance for everything in the world, and so the affirmation of God’s existence must coincide with a particular way of thinking and speaking about, and dealing with, all other things. If God does not make at least implicitly a difference in the way one thinks about everything that is not God, if one assumes that God’s existence is simply a fact that can be tidily captured in sociological data, empirically gathered, one is in fact denying God’s existence. A fervent believer may be a practical atheist. God’s existence is more than a fact; it is an all-embracing truth the significance of which the mind will never be able to catch up to. As such, there is an essential mystery to God’s existence that will necessarily elude the positivistic methods of sociological data collection.”
—from D. C. Schindler, “Beauty and the Holiness of Mind,” in Being Holy in the World: Theology and Culture in the Thought of David L. Schindler (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011)
(*quotation from David L. Schindler, Heart of the World, Center of the Church (Eerdmans, 1996)
Click here to subscribe to the Addenda RSS feed.