Posse Ipsum (God is Possibility Itself)

posse ipsum
(God is Possibility Itself)

You have seen them — those pictures with the eyes that seem to follow. You all around the room. Nicholas of Cusa, a 15th Century mystical theologian, uses that image to discuss God. No, his conclusion was NOT that God sees you wherever you go! Instead, he suggests quite the opposite. His focus is on the viewers of the all-seeing eyes. When there are multiple observers scattered throughout the room, all looking at the painting, each one sees the eyes looking at them. In truth, suggests Cusa, it is a different painting for each observer. Observer A sees the painting as looking to the left; Observer B, to the right; Observer C, straight ahead. Indeed, our vision is God is a two-way interactive relationship — we are looking at God; God is looking at us.When God is doing the looking, humankind is a multiplicity. When humankind is doing the looking, God is a multiplicity.

Cusa suggests meditating with an icon is an analogous process — the meditator gazes into the icon until they experience the icon gazing into them. It is this reciprocal, relational process that we call prayer. Some spoken prayers (e.g. mantras) function similarly. The Jesus Prayer is one such Christian mantra — “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” The prayer is repeated continually (sometimes aloud; sometimes internally) until the prayer begin to pray the one who is praying — reciprocal relationship.

In his further elaborations in On Learned Ignorance (De docta ignorantia) two significant ideas emerge: 1) God is not a substantive entity; instead, God is posse ipsum (possibility itself) and 2) imago die (that is, “created in the image of God”) refers not just to human beings, but to the whole universe.

posse ipsum One of the popular understandings of Cusa’s day was that God was the Unmoved Mover — that is, God as Creator is outside the creation. That which is created is moving, changeable, transient. God as Creator is unmoving and unmoveable, unchanging and unchangeable, permanent. Cusa says “No! God is not a substantive entity. Instead, God is posse ipsum (possibility itself) == the name we give for that which we experience as the possibility for fullness of life. We experience that possibility as an invitation to become what we can be. Possibility as invitation, as calling, does not force itself upon us. We can choose to pay attention, ignore, deny, or even be unaware of the invitation. However, when we attend to the invitation it is no longer just a possibility, it becomes a potentiality. Potentiality come with a force — no, not a force outside us; instead, the force of our own desire to actualize the potential. That inner force (accompanying the perceived potential (potency) leads us to action. As we actualize the potential, we often say that we are living into our God-given calling or being obedient to the will of God or following in the Way of Yeshua. Thus we are co-creators with God.

imago dei When Cusa broadens the understanding of imago dei to include the whole universe, he is suggesting follows the same process of moving from possibility to potentiality to actuality. Before the
Big Bang, the possibilities for the universe were endless. The Singularity that preceded the Big Bang was filled with a potential (a potency) that could not be contained. The explosive burst into reality set in motion a unfolding serendipitous creativity — not the unfolding of a pre-determined plan. The Big Bang spewed out a gaseous cloud of Helium which gradually began to condense into the nuclear furnaces we call stars. Eventually stars collapse upon themselves and explode, spewing out new elements to serve as building blocks for new developments which can gather around stars. One such development we call “earth,” upon which a potential we know as “life” became actualized. Cusa, realizing that human life was but one actualized potential arising out of endless, suggested the possibility of other life in the universe. I suspect he would support the current idea of the possible existence of multiverses. So, we humans have lately joined the universe as co-creators with God.

God is in all; all is in God. Cusa’s elaboration of God as posse ipsum (God is possibility itself) places him squarely among the pane theists. Pantheists say that everything is God; God is everything. Pan-en-theissts say that God is in all and all is in God, but there is a distinction between the One (God) and the many (creation). When we understand that God is possibility and creation is the actualization of possibility’s potential, we avoid the slippery slope of positing an anthropomorphic “will” of God that demand obedience from human beings. Too much blood has been shed throughout history by those who think they (and they along) have the will of God. Such a narrow, externalized, violence-producing understanding robs God of God’s Godness — that is, God as unfettered, unlimited possibility. And it also robs us our our-ness — that is, our to be captivated by the visitation of possibility, to discern within the possible that which is potential for us, and to actualize it as God’s (possibility’s) partner in this reciprocal, relational process we know as life.

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