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Happel, Stephen. “Divine Providence and Instrumentality: Metaphors of Time in Self-Organizing Systems and Divine Action.”

According to Stephen Happel, Christian theology in the thought of Thomas Aquinas has a coherent understanding of the interaction between God and creation. By developing a clear theory of transcendence and of universal instrumentality, Aquinas was able to articulate the basic ways in which inanimate, animate, and human secondary causes cooperate or conflict with the divine act of love for the universe (i.e., providence). These terms can be transposed into an historical ontology and a language of mutual mediation such that all levels of reality have their relative autonomy. Contemporary science, with its analysis of self-organizing systems, provides an understanding of the regularities and contingencies of inanimate and animate created realities. Its language permits us to understand how an open, flexible universe can provide the conditions for cooperation with one another and with divine action without conflict or violence to the integrity of creation.

Happel’s analysis is basically optimistic. It is born of a religious conviction that though the cosmos (whether human or non-human) is flawed and finite, its internal logic is not vitiated, malicious, or deceptive. Images, the body and the non-verbal are no more (and no less) prone to sin than reason. Within the temporal being of “nature,” self-organizing, living, self-conscious beings can engage with their environments in a cooperative way. Ultimately, Happel argues that self-conscious creatures may learn that cooperating with the ultimate environment, an unfathomable Other, will not do violence to their own complex teleonomies.

The Christian claim, however, goes further. It maintains that this mysterious enveloping environment is involved in a mutual self-mediation with creation. When one is in love, one mediates oneself in and through an other who is discovering, planning, negotiating his or her personal identity in and through oneself. That is mutual self-mediation. Christians claim that they are not merely projecting themselves abstractly into an alien environment to mediate themselves, but that the Other has chosen out of love to mediate the divine subjectivity in and through natural self-organization (because God is ultimately a community of mutual self-mediation). The story of the Christ could have been quite different than it was. Jesus could have mediated himself in some other fashion, but he did not. He chose to offer his life for others in self-sacrificing generosity. In this action, he operated as though neither the natural nor the human environment nor God were an enemy. In loving creation, entrusting his own life to others, even in death, faith claims that there is here a divine love. This is what Happel has called elsewhere the “double dative of presence.” We are present to the divine who in that same movement is present to us. What we discover in this fragile and stumbling process of mediating ourselves and our world is an antecedent lover and friend.

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