THE ONE THE MANY AND THE TRINITY: JOSEPH A. BRACKEN AND THE CHALLENGE OF PROCESS METAPHYSICS. By Marc A. Pugliese. Washington D.C.: CUA Press, 2011. Pp. xviii + 297. $69.95.
Rapid technological development across the disciplines in the last century has inspired a diverse radiation of new philosophical categories attempting to keep pace with the changing zeitgeist. Among these progressive systems of thought, process metaphysics has held an important place. In The One the Many and the Trinity, Marc Pugliese sympathizes and criticizes with process thought, highlighting the achievements of Joseph A. Bracken, a Jesuit scholar who has undertaken the most intensive reconstruction of process metaphysics for Catholic trinitarian-theology (68-69). While the mainstream of Catholic theologians have given little positive attention to process theology, Pugliese reckons deeply with this school’s contributions to and continuities with classical theism. His thesis gently lays bare the crippling weakness of process metaphysics: to use univocal language about nature and God, collapses the one into the many, while the Christian doctrines of a qualitative creature-Creator distinction and the analogy of all metaphysical language guard against this error. Nevertheless, Pugliese believes that Whitehead’s system is open to further addendum and deserving of continued attention.
The father of process metaphysics, Alfred North Whitehead, was concerned with constructing a philosophy that would reconcile the novelties of modernity, including the developments of quantum physics, materialist atheism, biological evolution, pragmatic psychology, and various forms of idealism. Whitehead sought passionately for a philosophical system that could organically unite these sciences. He extended this desire to its limit by proposing the maxim that “God is not to be treated as an exception to all metaphysical principles, invoked to save their collapse. He is their chief exemplification” (69), thus proposing a radical shift from classical qualitative categories of existence to quasi-pantheism. The metaphysical principle of “creativity” – defined as the simultaneous perpetual activity of “the many become one and are increased by one” (39) – replaces Aristotle’s “primary substance” as the foundation of reality. Becoming supplants Being.
Building on Whitehead’s philosophy, process theologians, led out of the gate by Charles Hartshorne, argued that traditional substance ontology is contrary to the dynamic “living God” of Scripture, to a concretely personal God, to the genuine freedom of man, and to God’s immunity from responsibility for evil. Moreover, they have also claimed “replacing substance ontology with an event-relational [process] ontology makes some inveterate difficulties more rationally comprehensible: the identity of the trinitarian persons with the divine nature but not with each other, the union of the divine and human natures in the one person of Jesus Christ, transubstantiation,” and the plurality of religions (61). Taking up this project within a Catholic context, Joseph A. Bracken, S.J., combines classical trinitarianism and process metaphysics in a philosophical theology he considers midway between Thomists and Whiteheadians (71). Two vital alterations include amending Thomistic “participated being” to involve creation’s participation in divine inter-subjectivity in such a way as to avoid creation seeming an accident of the divine substance, and also improving Whitehead’s “societies” with “field-theory” to preserve the ontological independence of individual entities as well as their simultaneous relational-identity. Bracken synthesizes elements from both process theology and classic theism “to construct perhaps the most comprehensive process doctrine of the Trinity yet to appear” (159).
After introducing these philosophies, with a detailed focus on Bracken, Pugliese gives his critique under the summary phrase: “the problem of mutual ultimate causality.” Basically, Bracken cannot avoid collapsing the oppositional pairs associated with the one and the many – specifically, the individual and the relationship, the particular and the universal, the subject and the object, actuality and potentiality, induction and deduction, stasis and flux, and cause and effect – into each other because of his, and other process thinkers’, insistence that these categories be transposed on ultimate reality itself. The solution, already common in classical theism, is to reverently accept the impotence of logical categories to univocally describe the only conceivable Being who explains his own existence, God. The un-dissected paradox/mystery of the Trinity by itself offers enough resolution to the problem of the one and the many through a simple explanation of faith, like: “three distinct divine-persons with one identical divine-essence” (241). If process theology is to develop further, the simplicity of trinitarian faith cannot be sacrificed for its forward movement.
The One the Many and the Trinity is a thorough academic introduction to process theology from an orthodox Catholic perspective, offering a superb balance of empathetic comprehension and critical analysis. As Pugliese himself acknowledges, process theology has opened many doors in ecumenical dialogue, not only with other world religions, but also with agnostics and atheists. It remains to be seen if process philosophy might find reception in Orthodox Christianity, nevertheless, it is beyond debate that the work of making Catholic doctrine accessible to modern intellects is of the utmost urgency. This book is highly recommended for anyone studying process metaphysics or trinitarian theology at the Master’s level. Its chapter-topics are well labeled and easily navigated. It includes a comprehensive index.
February 14, 2014
Franciscan University of Steubenville