The Image of the Unseen God

Catholicity, Science, and Our Evolving Understanding of God

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Thomas E. Hosinski
Catholicity in an Evolving Universe
  • Maryknoll, NY: 
    Orbis Books
    , August
     2017.
     224 pages.
     $27.00.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9781626982598.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

Thomas E. Hosinski, C.S.C. presents a philosophically and theologically engaging investigation into the mystery of God that also pastorally invites the reader into the fullness of life offered by Jesus Christ. Hosinski’s book, The Image of the Unseen God: Catholicity, Science, and Our Evolving Understanding of God, is part of a series, Catholicity in an Evolving Universe. The main thrust of Hosinski’s project is to use a revised version of Alfred North Whitehead’s process metaphysics to express more faithfully the Christian understanding of God that is also necessarily informed by and compatible with a contemporary scientific understanding of the universe. Hosinski works this out in nine chapters that break into three sections: scripture and the theology of early Christianity and the middle ages to modernity (chapters 1-3); contemporary knowledge about cosmology and evolution (chapters 4-5); and the nature of God and divine action (chapters 6-9). 

Methodologically, Hosinski sees Christology as the ultimate criterion to understanding God’s nature and God’s relation to and divine action in the world. The life, teaching, and actions of Jesus Christ, especially his suffering, death, and resurrection, reveal God’s suffering and self-sacrificial love for the world and humankind. Because Jesus Christ is the image of the unseen God, Hosinski does not see how traditional attributes of God, specifically impassability and immutability, can be compatible with Jesus’s revelation of God who is merciful and undergoes the suffering and agony of the Cross. Hosinski lays the blame for this seeming incompatibility on the Hellenization of Christian theology that involved using an outmoded Greek metaphysical view of physical reality. A recovery of an authentic understanding of God as revealed in Jesus Christ requires a new metaphysics that Hosinski finds in Whitehead. To be faithful to the Christian understanding of God, however, Hosinski must significantly modify Whitehead’s thought to include a conception of God as Trinity who creates ex nihilo

The strengths of Hosinski’s project are his treatment of the implications for theology in light of contemporary scientific knowledge about cosmology and evolution and his metaphysical emphasis upon God’s divine action in and through the natural agents of the world. The former addresses the origin of the universe’s energy as divine gift, the importance of possibility for both physical reality and divine action, the interconnectedness of all reality, and God’s interaction with a dynamic world, which points to God’s care for all creation, not just humankind. The metaphysics underlying this divine interaction plays a crucial role in Hosinski’s project. God’s mode of action, characteristic of Whiteheadian metaphysics, also corresponds to, as Hosinski acknowledges, a Thomistic metaphysics of primary and secondary causation. The import of either metaphysics is the overcoming of claims of intrinsic conflict between science and Christian faith based on a perceived mutual exclusivity between divine and natural causes. A scientist can rightly see the universe as a completely natural system, but those with eyes of faith rightly see the universe dependent upon God at every point and moment. Though Hosinski articulates a metaphysics of how there are no acts of God that are not also acts of natural agents, he could have developed more explicitly the import of this for the science and religion debates. 

The unseen divine action in natural agents raises the question of miracles, a test case for the compatibility of science and faith. Hosinski’s defense of miracles seems uncharacteristically flat within the context of his book that identifies a God of love offering God’s kingdom as a possibility to every agent. Working within the Whiteheadian metaphysics of God’s Primordial Nature that presents an infinite number of possibilities to “lure” an agent to actualize a specific possibility and within a contemporary understanding of the statistical character of natural laws, Hosinski defines a miracle as “an extremely unlikely or improbable event” (139). Hosinski seems too tightly tethered to his metaphysics and scientific framework, so much so that he omits the biblical notion of a miracle as a “sign” or “deed of power” that amazes and draws one into a response of faith.

The sharpest critique of Hosinski’s project follows upon these methodological lines of the relationship between revelation and metaphysics. Using a modified Whiteheadian metaphysics, he revises the traditional Christian understanding of God as impassible and immutable and wants to free it from distortions arising from Greek metaphysics. A fundamental question is whether God’s impassibility is a divine attribute that derives from Greek metaphysics or rather from scripture itself (e.g., James 1:17). Several authors in recent decades (e.g., Paul Gavrilyuk and Robert Louis Wilken) have criticized the full-scale de-hellenization of Christianity initially called for in the 16th century. Should biblical accounts of God’s changing of mind and repentance be taken as literal descriptions of God or as metaphors given an impassible transcendent nature? Hosinski’s interpretive key to divine passibility is the suffering of Christ himself. However, his reliance upon the communication of properties to support this rests upon an inaccurate understanding. Contrary to Hosinski’s definition of this communication as “in Jesus Christ’s person, the properties of the divine and human natures actually apply to each other” (53), the traditional communication is that what is true of either nature (human or divine) can be properly said of the person of Jesus. Attributes are not directly transferable from one nature to the other. 

The passibility of God calls into question God’s freedom and transcendence, which seems limited given Hosinski’s reliance upon Karl Rahner’s axiom that the economic Trinity is the immanent Trinity and vice-versa. The economic Trinity, namely God encountered in time and history, is the communication of the immanent Trinity. However, the converse identity (i.e., the immanent Trinity is the economic Trinity) is more problematic. If true, this entails a compromise on divine freedom, for the creation of the universe would be intrinsic to the triune will rather than being a free, generous act of love.

Hosinski’s ambitious project integrates scientific, philosophical, and theological inquiry about God and the world and shows how science and faith are compatible. A question does remain, however, about how we best understand the unseen God.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Terrence Ehrman is Assistant Director at the Center for Theology, Science, and Human Flourishing at hte University of Notre Dame.

Date of Review: 
January 7, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Thomas E. Hosinski, CSC, is professor emeri­tus of theology at the University of Portland. He is the author of Stubborn Fact and Creative Advance: An Introduction to the Meta­physics of Alfred North Whitehead (Rowman & Littlefield).

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