UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE
ABOUT THE CONFERENCE
Theologians once studied the question of being so as to study the far greater question of God. Modern ontology has often attempted to build a towering structure of being, but, by failing to secure its foundations, has evacuated being into nothing.
Yet if ontology cannot contain but rather points to God, then we may once more begin to investigate new approaches to metaphysics or ontology in imitation of the Trinity. We may witness today a great opportunity, one that is equally post-analytic and post-continental, to collaborate in the construction of new ontologies of the Trinity.
We wish, for this purpose, to invite you for a 3-day international conference at the University of Cambridge.
WHAT IS BEING? IS IT ONE, MANY, OR MANY IN ONE? Is it prior to thought or a product of thought? Is it simply a statement of what ‘is’, or is it also a revelation of ‘truth’? If being is not a given, is it rather a gift? And if it is a gift, can we, perhaps, imagine a structure of being, where what we may say of being also imitates what we wish to say of God? Philosophers once asked the simplest questions of being so as to answer the greatest questions of God. And Christian theologians have since endeavoured to elaborate how finite reality may mirror the divine dynamic of the Holy Trinity.
Trinitarian Ontologies is this speculative endeavour to construct a metaphysics or ontology of finite reality primarily in terms of participation in the first principles of the Christian Trinity. This theme can, arguably, be traced to Saint Paul’s sermon to the Athenians on the kenotic emptying of God in Christ. And it has hitherto provided a pivotal impetus for some of the most daring and decisive contributions to the tradition of philosophical theology.
The study of being in metaphysics was once considered as a seminal preparation for the study of God as the creative cause of all being in theology. Yet ontology has, largely due to the influence of late-medieval theology since come to be separated from trinitarian theology, before God came to be conceived in early-modern philosophy as the supreme being of all beings in general metaphysics, natural theology, and modern ontology.
Modern ontology has variously attempted to construct a towering structure of being, but, by failing to secure its own originary foundations, has since evacuated being into nothing in a lamentable genealogy of nihilism. Most analytic ontology has, following Frege, presupposed the forms of logic as an axiomatic foundation, while most continental ontology has, following Husserl, alternatively presupposed the content of phenomenal intuition as an appearing foundation.
Such foundations of formal ontologies have, however, since been subverted, both by Gödel’s critique of the foundations of mathematics and Heidegger’s critique of the construction of ontology. W.V.O. Quine and Jacques Derrida have hinted at the dissolution of all such foundations. And Richard Rorty and Alain Baidou have since heralded the return to a shared project of metaphysical speculation in service to the first principles of the Trinity.
New trinitarian ontologies names a creative response to this collapse of modern formal ontologies. The Trinity is, for Christian theology, the first creative principle of being. Modern ontology has hitherto dirempted the ontological from the theological, suspended theology, and simulated ontology. The Analytic and Continental philosophical traditions have thus tended to treat the Trinity as, at best, superfluous, and, at worst, redundant to modern ontology. And yet with the collapse of all such formal ontologies, we may once more recollect and renew this speculative enterprise to construct a metaphysics or ontology of finite reality primarily in terms of participation in the first principles of the Christian Trinity.
This possibility of new trinitarian ontologies was first raised in a 1976 letter, later published as Thesen zu einer trinitarischen Ontologie, by bishop Klaus Hemmerle to Hans Urs von Balthasar. Balthasar, Hemmerle, and Ferdinand’s German endeavours have since been sustained within the Italian Focolare movement by Chiara Lubich, Piero Coda and Giulio Maspero.
French phenomenology has, with the writings of Michel Henri, Jean-Luc Marion, and Emmanuel Falque, similarly returned to investigate the first principles of trinitarian theology. And many of these continental trends have also been heard, in the Anglo-American academy, in the writings of Rowan Williams, John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock, Graham Ward, Conor Cunningham, and the theological movement known as Radical Orthodoxy.
We may, today, witness an increasing interest in both Anglo-American and continental European philosophical theology in beginning this new project to collaboratively construct new trinitarian ontologies. Such ontologies may be, at once, more Christian, more incarnational, and yet, for precisely this reason, also more open to critically engage with the cutting-edge theoretical efforts of our time, including currents in metaphysics, logic, history, literature, politics, ecology, technology, and poetics.
The Trinity is, we may argue, free from all foundations: for the form of the Trinity is never founded upon any form of logic or content of phenomena apart from the free love of the divine persons. If ontology cannot contain but rather and more radically points to God, and if all nature thus tends towards the supernatural, the angelic, and the metaphysical, then we may once more renew this central investigation into the metaphysics or ontology of the Trinity for the future of theological research.
Thomas Joseph White
The Angelicum, Rome
Conference registration includes entrance to the full three-day conference,
refreshments, and a conference e-booklet. Contact us to inquire about group registration bookings.
Note: those registered as students will be required to show Student ID at the registration table.
Please note that the entryway is publicly accessible, and our conference will not be liable for the property and contents of your booth.
To assist with your planning, the Conference is scheduled to commence at 9am Friday 13th September and conclude at 6pm on Sunday 15th September.
On Sunday morning, 8:00am services will be held for conference guests at nearby churches.