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  • The One, the Many, and the Trinity: Joseph A. Bracken and the Challenge of Process Metaphysics
  • Leon J. Niemoczynski
The One, the Many, and the Trinity: Joseph A. Bracken and the Challenge of Process Metaphysics. Marc A. Pugliese. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press, 2011. 297 pp. $69.95 hardcover.

Process metaphysics has had a more limited impact in Roman Catholic theology than it has had in Protestant theology. In The One, the Many, and the Trinity, Marc Pugliese traces the development of Roman Catholic theology synthesized with process theology as it is found in the thought of Joseph A. Bracken, S. J. As the title indicates, Bracken’s process perspective concerning the Trinity is the main focus of the book.

The One, the Many, and the Trinity consists of four chapters wherein Pugliese carefully surveys Bracken’s philosophy, explaining how it incorporates a sweeping array of sources, including classical Greek thought, Thomism, modern philosophy, German idealism, American pragmatism, and existentialism. After an opening chapter that provides an overview of some of the main features of process thought, as well as offering a rather compact description of Whitehead’s philosophy and its application to theology, Pugliese turns in the second chapter to analyzing Trinitarian process metaphysics in general and Bracken’s system in particular. The third chapter argues that “the problem of the one and the many in its many particular instantiations arises from collapsing metaphysics into cosmology and denying, either implicitly or explicitly, the essence of the distinction between God and the world as articulated in the various versions of classical theism” (248). The final concluding chapter (followed by a brief conclusion) summarizes process solutions to the problem of the one and the many, with special attention paid to establishing how Bracken may very well be “one of the best attempts at a metaphysics of categorical reality in light of theoretical and practical developments of the last few centuries” (xvii).

Pugliese situates the problem of the one and the many from within a Whiteheadian standpoint. He explains that the problem may essentially be formulated as “reconciling fluency with permanence, or explaining how to retain fluency in what is essentially actual” (147). Reconciling change with permanence requires explaining how the multiplicity of actual entities that exist in a sea of change attain a unity that is apparently substantive and to some degree fixed or qualifiedly “permanent.” The overarching unity (what Whitehead called [End Page 277] God) retains a multiplicity that is metaphysically differentiated; thus there is a unity that admits within itself real ontological difference not only between creature and creature but also between creature and God. As Bracken sees the problem, one must account for “how the many are likewise one without ceasing to be themselves as discrete individuals” (149). If there are no discrete individuals, then there is ultimately only the one unity or divine reality, and the result is pantheism—that is, without real ontological difference, there is only a reality of God that admits of no real distinctions and true multiplicity cannot be. If, on the other hand, there is no reality of unity (and only metaphysical difference), then God and creature differentiated remain ultimately excluded from one another. In sum, “Bracken sees the problem as the tendency to make either the one or the many metaphysically ultimate to the exclusion of the other” (150).

Others in the process tradition take the problem of the one and the many to entail “seemingly opposed aspects of categorical reality,” which philosophers have expressed as pairs of mutually exclusive ideas: being/becoming, potency/act, finite/infinite, physical/ideal, relative/absolute, contingent/necessary. According to the process view, classical theism is most guilty of affirming these dualistic pairs to the detriment of any meaningful human and divine relationship. “Neoclassical theism”—best represented by Whitehead’s intellectual heir, Charles Hartshorne—“heartily accepts many tenets of classical theism, but they must be subjected to drastic and scarcely traditional qualifications” (49). On the neoclassical process view, “We should not discard what is good in classical theism just because it denies the importance of change, growth, possibility, increase, suffering, and sociality in God” (49). Contra classical metaphysics, neoclassical process thought states...


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pp. 277-281
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