According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Friday, October 6, 2017

Robert B. Mellert - What Is Process Theology: Chapters 3 & 4

What Is Process Theology?

Dr. Mellert is an assistant professor in the department of theological studies at the University of Dayton.

Published by Paulist Press, New York, Paramus, Toronto, 1975. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


(ENTIRE BOOK) Dr. Meller writes about Whiteheadian thought, without the jargon and technical intricacies, so that the lay person might have better understanding of the thinking of the founder of process philosophy.


Few libraries had any books on Whiteheadian thought in 1947 when he died. Today libraries of all sorts have shelves laden with books trying to explain, interpret and apply his thinking, but these authors are inclined to talk to each other. The author attempts to make process thought understandable to the rest of us.

The core of process thought: Rather than a “substance theology” based on static, spatial models, process thought “switches gears” to a concern with spatial-temporal models such as change in God, Christ becoming divine and the on-going process of revelation.

Some basic Whiteheadian concepts: becoming, actual occasions, eternal objects, prehensions.

The author contrasts Whitehead’s thought with traditional religions which start with proof of God. Whitehead inverts the process, starting with the experience of religion and grasping the truth that there is more at issue in the world than the world itself.

God is constantly changing as he includes more and more reality in his consequent nature. What we do on earth makes a difference in the very reality of God.

Dr. Mellert discusses the relations both of God to the world and the world to God.

Process thought is being compatible with the presumptions of Christian faith and is friendly with Christian ideas regarding body and soul.

Jesus is unique because in his humanity he presents a more perfect model of ideal humanity than has ever existed, or will ever exist. He is divine because of the realization of that divinity within him.

The Church is a process whereby individuals come to believe in Jesus and add the weight of their belief to the furtherance of the process that is the Church. The Church is not a stable, immutable institution that has existed since the time of Jesus.

In the process perspective, each sacramental action is both created by the community and creative of the community. Concrete experiences of the past contribute positively to the present and are immanently incorporated in what the present is becoming.

The new and the old morality are both inadequate. Process thought can make important contributions to the old and new because it is both metaphysical and flexible.

Process theology as a provider of a solid philosophical framework for a great diversity of human experience and belief. It therefore is helpful in synthesizing the diversity of interpretations of immortality.

The notion of relativity that process theology employs is discussed. All reality is inter-related in space and time, and no single real entity has a prior absoluteness that stands outside the process of reality as a whole.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter 3: Religion

A few years ago, when a variety of liturgical changes were being introduced in their Church, many Roman Catholics suffered a severe crisis of faith. The Church as they knew it — with its Latin Mass and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament — had changed beyond their recognition, and the readjustment to the “new Church” — with its guitar Masses and handshakes of peace — was very traumatic. There is something to be said for their appreciation of the old liturgy. It provided a sense of the mysterious and mystical that has been lost in the reforms. Hearing priests mumble a strange language and seeing the Eucharist in a gold casing surrounded by candles and flowers created an atmosphere that often generated profound religious feelings.

The new liturgy does not recapture that kind of experience, nor does it try. Sacraments are better instruments for evoking communitarian feelings than private feelings. Thus, the new liturgy attempts to create a new kind of religious experience, that of a community of Jesus’ followers living and loving together in his name. The spirit of fellowship manifested at a liturgy which is prepared and executed with this purpose in mind becomes the sign of Christian charity and the motivating cause to carry it beyond the liturgical community to the world at large.

Both the mystical and the communitarian are authentic religious experiences and genuine forms of Christian prayer. The fact that today’s liturgies emphasize the latter in no way minimizes the importance of the former. It merely indicates that the religious life of man requires more than simply participating at liturgies. The solitary figure bent in prayer in a quiet, darkened chapel, no less than the happy, youthful faces sharing a dialogue homily, inspires us to an appreciation of what the religious spirit in man is.

Numerous other kinds of experiences can also be appropriately called religious. These likewise emerge from time to time in private prayer and public worship. Theologians, psychologists and philosophers have all tried to catalogue these experiences. Examples include the experiences of transcendence, awe, insignificance, gratitude, acceptance by God, reverence, guilt, sense of obligation, and inner shame. Sometimes the experience is less obviously religious, such as that of wholeness. simplicity, and the unity of reality: of uniqueness, individuality, and power: of the fittingness and appropriateness of things: or of the moving together, transformation, and harmonization of particulars.1 The number and kinds of religious experiences are almost infinite, probably because they are so unique and particular to those who have experienced them. Their degree of intensity likewise varies, from full-blown visions to fleeting moments of private recollection.

Whitehead’s own appraisal is that religious experiences begin with personal occasions of solitude and extend to the universal. He writes that religion is what the individual does with his own solitariness.2 This solitariness includes even the experience of feeling forsaken by God. From religion one learns to cope with himself and to take upon himself the burden of his own life. But this is only the negative side. The religious man also learns to appreciate reality and to be sensitive to it in a personal way. This is because religion deals with particular emotions and personalized purposes. There is a certain aesthetic character to its feeling for the world. Things have a certain value or worth beyond what they actually are, because they reveal mystery, beauty and meaning that can be understood in no other way. A man is thus taken beyond himself and provided with a way of prehending the universe.

What religion ultimately grasps, according to Whitehead. is this truth: “That the order of the world, the depth of reality of the world, the value of the world in its whole and in its parts: the beauty of the world, the zest of life, the peace of life, and the mastery of evil, are all bound together.”3 This occurs not accidentally, but as a result of the creativity, the freedom, and the infinite possibilities that the universe manifests.

Because this statement of Whitehead is central to his idea of religion, and because some of the words carry a connotation peculiar to his thought, a few reflections may clarify his meaning. Order is not the same for Whitehead as it is for politicians. It is the refusal of the deadening influence of conformity and the tendency toward new forms and ordered novelty. Depth is the result of cumulative achievements of the world that make enrichment possible. Value, as particularized in every occasion of reality, reveals itself in continual interaction, promoting depth and destruction. Beauty is a central concept in Whiteheadian thought, because it defines “the one aim which by its very nature is self-justifying.”4 and toward which the universe constantly strives. But the mere repetition of beauty can become dull and uninteresting without adventure and the zest of life urging it to new and exciting harmonies and contrasts. Finally, peace is the “harmony of harmonies which calms destructive turbulence and completes civilization.”5 While not religious in themselves, these insights into reality arise from the religious sensitivities of man and add an appreciation to the universe that only religion can provide.

The basic religious insight, then, is that we can know more than can be formulated in the abstract schema of science and philosophy.6 This “extra knowledge” comes from religion’s intuition about the aims and purposes of things that are revealed in the wisdom of nature itself. It is not new factual data, but a new feeling, or prehension of the old data. Thus, religion is always saying more than science or philosophy about man and his world, even though it is not privy to special information. Its “saying more” is not something that can be proved or demonstrated; it can merely be pointed to, felt, and appreciated. This is the sense in which one might repeat with the Scholastic theologians that there is a knowledge that comes from faith. It is a knowledge that goes beyond the reasons of the mind to the sensitivities of the soul.

The desire of the religious man to preserve these experiences has led to his repeated attempts to set down his inspiration for the edification of others. This is the origin of creeds and dogmas. They are testimony to what religious experience can inspire in man’s intuition, and they reveal in retrospect the power and intensity of religion in the history of man. The danger is that when a man has no religious experiences of his own, he tends to repeat those that have been handed down from others in their creedal and dogmatic formulations. Religion that finds itself constantly relying upon these secondary sources has lost its original vitality and creativity. Dogmas that are merely repeated become rigid, abstract concepts that fail to inspire. They result in a narrowing of perspective and a sheltering of religion from its necessary commerce with the world, where new insights and inspirations are occasioned, and where new dogmas and creeds tentatively emerge.

Ideally, therefore, the solitariness that inspires religion in man extends beyond the individual to the universal. The values that are intuited in the formation of character in the private feelings of a man are not isolated from a more general picture of the world. Character requires that one’s individuality merge with the universe. Ultimately, says Whitehead, “religion is world-loyalty.”7

From what has been said above, it is readily apparent that the religious spirit is very important to Whitehead and to his way of thinking. Its importance is not in any unique claim to truth, but in its contributions to rationality as a whole. Its chief contribution is its familiarity with the particular, and in this way it is the essential complement to philosophy. Philosophy by itself is always speculative and general, and as such is always plagued with the suspicion of inapplicability. Religion frees philosophy from this suspicion because it is “the translation of general ideas into particular thoughts. particular emotions, and particular purposes.”8 At the same time, religion is itself always interested in the universal, because the generalities of philosophy give some coherence to the particularities of emotion and feeling that belong to the data of religion. There is, then, a mutual enrichment. Philosophy needs the data of religious experience in order to remain sensitive to the particular, and religion needs philosophy to modify it, rationalize it, and fit it into a wider context.

Science is the third corner of this triangle, and it, too, helps to support rationality as a whole. Like religion, science also contributes something to philosophical speculation. Its contribution is data — not necessarily a different set of data from that available to religion, but a different way of looking at that data. Science is concerned with what is perceived, and how these perceived things can be integrated with rational thought in a harmonious way. Religion is concerned with achieving some kind of harmony between rationality and the sensitive reactions of the perceiver to what is perceived. Religious considerations always deal with the particular feelings that data evoke. When certain sciences, such as psychology, study particular feelings, they do their work in an objective fashion, i.e., with other people’s emotions. not their own. How particular feelings transform the experiencing subject, and how they ultimately transform the world according to their visions of the ideal are the fundamental issues of religious concern.

At the level of man no description of process is possible without a description of religion. Process occurs because prehensions of data are given new focus in new actual occasions, creating novelty and interest. These prehensions are inseparable from the sensitivities of emotion and feeling that are experienced at every unique moment of life. Particularity is the basis for generality, just as individual moments of experience are the basis for man, and man is the basis for a civilized epoch. Thus, religious experiences, which are prehensions of data with a particular nuance or coloration, go to the very core of process itself.

Whitehead’s philosophy, although thoroughly secular, is likewise thoroughly religious. Religion is not simply an activity of man, or even a dimension of his personality. It is a description of the very process of reality at the human level, where sensitivities, feelings and emotions from the world, evoking an appreciation and a reverence for the world, contribute their particularity to process. What is happening in the world because of man takes place because of the religions of man. This is, of course, a very wide sense of religion, but it contains its grain of truth. What a man understands and believes about himself and how he prehends the world are the bases both for his morality and for his liturgy. He acts and celebrates according to the way he has shaped himself, and according to the way he wishes to shape the world. For its part, the world is the richer, or the poorer, because of it.

Whitehead thus inverts the way in which traditional theology understands religion. In the latter, one starts with a proof for the existence of God. Then one argues that man must acknowledge his supremacy. Religion is the way in which man establishes his relationship with God. It includes both the way in which he lives and the manner in which he worships, and it requires that man “practice his religion” both individually and socially. For Whitehead, one starts with religion. not with God. It is because of the experience of the religious along with the secular that one begins to grasp the truth that there is more at issue in the world than the world itself. The reality of God is thus intuited from reality as a whole. Man is thus religious first, and a believer second. Religion is not a consequence of his believing, but a condition for it.

What about God in Whitehead’s religion? So far there has been scant mention of God at all. And yet, he has not been far from the discussion. In talking about the world, we have been implicitly talking about God. For the world that man experiences is inseparable from the very nature of God. If man can intuit “extra knowledge” from that world and grasp a certain meaning and depth that go beyond its raw data, this is simply a manifestation of the divine context in which he has found that data. The “something more” that man discovers about his world, and the respect and reverence that this evokes from him, is perhaps the best and only description one can give of the living God this side of speculation.

In one of Whitehead’s more often quoted statements, he writes, “The power of God is the worship he inspires.”9 In other words, we are back to liturgy and prayer. What man does with his experiences is the ultimate determinate of the future. The cultivation of religious sensibilities, the sensitivity to the feelings and emotions that arise out of the nature of things, and a reverence and respect for the world as the ultimate source of what can be realized in God is, in the final analysis, the most profound worship that man can hope to offer.


1. For an excellent discussion of this issue, cf. Abraham H. Maslow, Religions, Values and Peak-Experiences (New York: Viking Press. 1964).

2. Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York: World Publishing Company, Meridian Books, 1960), p. 16.

3. Ibid., p. 115.

4. Alfred North Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (New York: The Macmillan Company, Free Press Paperback edition. 1967), p. 266.

5. Ibid., p. 285.

6. Religion in the Making. op. cit., p. 137.

7. Ibid., p. 59.

8. Process and Reality, op. cit., p. 19.

9. Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World (New York: The Macmillan Company, Free Press Paperback edition, 1967), p. 192.

* * * * * * * * * *

Chapter 4: God

Nearly a decade has passed since God made the cover of Time magazine when it asked rhetorically, “Is God Dead?” Although it did not pretend to give an answer to that question, it did shed much light on a discussion that was being carried on by some of America’s leading theologians. Today the subject is just about as dead as God was purported to be. But in its wake we have become much more conscious of how little we can truly say about God, and how careful we must be in saying it.

The “death of God” controversy was not a new phenomenon that suddenly arose in our generation. It was the result of a gradual realization that the way in which we thought and spoke about God was no longer appropriate for expressing those concepts in a particular culture. Indeed, it is an unanswerable question because no human concept or language is ever adequate for divine things. Nevertheless, we must say something about God, because a God about whom we say nothing is a rather useless deity for the religious needs of man.

Even an appeal to the Bible as a source of information about God is not the solution, because the writers of Scripture faced the same problem as secular thinkers when it came to putting on paper the way in which the deity manifested itself to them. They, too, had to resort to human language in the context of a particular human civilization. As a result, the biblical tradition itself raises some problems regarding its representations of God.

On the one hand, we read in the Bible about the Lord who takes sides in history, rewarding the Israelites for their fidelity and punishing their lapses into idolatry. He loves his people, suffers for them, and repeatedly extends to them his mercy and forgiveness. He provides for their needs in the desert, gives them a new land, and defends them from their enemies. He sends prophets to them to remind them of his covenant with them, and despite their hardness of heart, he sends his Son to redeem men from sin and restore them to divine favor. It is a story of God’s activity in history, his constant care and concern for his people, and his continual attempts to persuade them to turn from the allurements of the Evil One and to place their trust in his love.

On the other hand, though, the Bible also suggests an image of God as the Eternal One far removed from the petty conflicts of earth. He is Yahweh, “I am who am.” His ways are inscrutable, and man has no control over the workings of his divine plan, because he is both unchanging and unchangeable. This side of the biblical God is unseen, unworldly and unknowable. Even his name is shrouded in mystery. Fidelity to him is purely a matter of faith. He is so unrepresentable that alien tribes could ask, “Where is their God?” To those with graven images and large molten idols, the Israelites surely appeared to be the atheists of their time. Before the early Christian Church could address itself to the problem of finding some theologically acceptable way of representing the biblical God, its rapid movement to the West occasioned its confrontation with a new set of ideas in Greek philosophy. Probably because they were intellectually unimpressed with the myths and deities of their own people, Greek thinkers reasoned to a kind of philosophical deity that was much more a God of eternity than a God of history, much more compatible with the biblical image of Yahweh than with the image of Lord. He was the unmoved mover, the first cause, and an existence unto himself. He was not a God of emotions and feelings, but of transcendence and ultimacy.

The attempt of the Fathers of the Church to reconcile Greek thought with the biblical tradition resulted in the choice of Yahweh over Lord, and this choice has shaped the Christian mind ever since. As a result, God is really not an intrinsic part of history, but one who intervenes from his position in eternity. Time is not real to God, because he knows every event — past, present and future — in a single all-knowing act. Furthermore, he is in his essence devoid of emotions and feelings. He permits evil, even though he does not cause it, and he is not personally engaged in the moment-by-moment struggle against it. He is the complete, self-contained God, fully perfect and without needs. Nothing in the world, or done by the world, can contribute to his intrinsic glory.

Even today much theological opinion prefers the God of philosophy to the God of history. Emotions, feelings and activities are considered accidental to what God is in himself and extrinsic to his divine nature. When applied to God in human discourse, they are simply anthropomorphic representations of him, necessary in order that man have a way of thinking and speaking about the deity. However, these modes of speaking do not tell us anything about the deity itself.

The difficulty is that this very intellectual representation of God never seems quite adequate for religious purposes. Prayer, for example, generally presumes that there is someone who hears and can act upon the merits of a request. God’s love for man is not very inspiring when it is stripped of its concreteness and raised to the abstract level of his divine will that all men be saved. The abstract God of the philosopher is not sufficiently consoling to the man of religion. He seeks a more concrete God who can be persuaded, who is personally concerned, and with whom he can talk as one man to another. Christian tradition has always recognized this kind of God, even though Christian thinkers have been loathe to theorize about him. The problem is to find a way to reconcile him with the exigencies of reason.

Is there a way to reconcile the concrete God of religion with the abstract God of philosophy? Can God have feelings and emotions and still be the unchangeable ground of all reality? If he changes, can he still be perfect? Is it possible for him to be a part of the history and structure of reality, and at the same time be the foundation upon which that history and structure are based? Can he be both temporal and eternal, loving and removed, personal and metaphysical, immanent to the world and transcendent of it?

One of the most original and fascinating insights of Whiteheadian philosophy is the way in which it makes this reconciliation. It is a new attempt, born more out of a philosophical need than from a religious concern. And yet, it has captured the imagination of both process philosophers and religious thinkers concerned with the availability of God. Unlike the Scholastic tradition, Whitehead rejects any notion of God as the philosophical ultimate who is self-sufficient and beyond the laws of nature. It is unfortunate. Whitehead maintains, that it was thought necessary to pay him metaphysical compliments. For Whitehead, God is not a last resort who stands outside the system and remains independent of it. Rather, God is an integral element in the whole and participates actively in its struggles and concerns.

The development of Whitehead’s idea of God occurred only gradually in his writings. At first he described God merely as the principle of limitation — that principle by which a specific entity does not become other than it is. Here God’s function is to envisage the totality of possibility, and to make available to emerging occasions those possibilities that are relevant to its becoming. Limitation is essential to process because some reason must be given for the particularization of what in fact occurs. Without a principle of limitation, there could be no individual, novel actual occasions. In fact, there could be no actual occasions at all.

This position created a philosophical difficulty for Whitehead. If God’s function is to envisage possibilities, God has to be real. And the only realities are actual entities. Hence, to bridge the gap between pure possibilities and their real availability to process, God has to be an actual entity in which those possibilities are contained. Therefore, God is that actual entity who gives reality to eternal objects by including them within himself.

Because the ultimates in his system are abstractions from reality and because God is real, Whitehead could not include God in the category of ultimates. God is an actual entity. As an actual entity, he can be described in the same terms as every other actual entity. He is temporal; he prehends physically and conceptually; he has a subjective aim and seeks satisfaction. Furthermore, he is constantly increasing and is an integral part of the process of all reality. Although he is not perfect or ultimate in any absolute sense, he has a perfection and an ultimacy relative to all other things.

In his final statement about God Whitehead developed his theory of divine di-polarity. It is based upon his analysis of an actual entity as prehending both physically and conceptually. God, too, has aspects that allow for physical prehensions and conceptual prehensions. These are called his primordial nature and his consequent nature. The choice of terms is Whitehead’s and it may be somewhat confusing for the novice theologian, for we are dealing with a different kind of distinction from what is found in our theological traditions.

In the first place, the words “primordial” and “consequent” have no reference to the antecedent and consequent will of God in Thomistic theology. Thomas’ distinction was based upon the necessity for God to restructure the divine plan in the aftermath of man’s sin. Whitehead’s distinction has to do with the ways in which God is related to other actual entities. Secondly, the term “nature” must not be identified with the divine nature or the human nature of Scholastic theology. In the latter system of thought, nature separates levels of reality according to a hierarchical arrangement — God, angels, man, animals, plants and inanimate matter. For Whitehead, nature is simply an abstract way of talking about how something relates to the rest of reality. Having two natures, therefore, does not imply any real duality since they are merely aspects of the one actual entity.

In other words, the primordial nature and the consequent nature of God are not two individual elements which, as joined together, form the deity. We cannot, at this point, make any meaningful analogies either to the union of the three persons in God (the doctrine of the Trinity) or to the two natures in Christ (the hypostatic union). We are speaking here simply of one God, who is represented as an actual entity and who manifests at least two ways in which his divinity is related to the world.

God’s primordial nature, Whitehead says, is independent from his commerce with particulars. It is the abstract side of God, or God “alone with himself.”1 By virtue of his primordiality, God contains within himself the totality of possibility through his conceptual envisagement of the entire multiplicity of eternal objects. In his primordial nature God is without any temporal connotation and without any direction toward individual entities. It is the purely conceptual side of the divinity, without any actuality in itself. Rather, it is the basis of actuality, because it is the foundation for the actualization of possibilities.

As primordial, then, we understand God as the structure of possibility and the context in which actualization takes place. Whitehead uses the terms “ground” and “principle” to illustrate this side of the divinity. It is similar to, but not identical with Paul Tillich’s concept of God as “Ground of Being” or the medieval interpretation of “Supreme Being.” The difference is that Whitehead is not trying to distinguish the Being of God from other beings, or isolate him into a distinct and unique classification. He is trying to relate God to the whole of reality. Even as primordial, he stresses that God is not before all creation, but with all creation. God’s primordiality is simply a way of talking about how God is related to the world as the context or structure from which all reality emerges.

The images used to describe the primordial nature of God have definite similarities to the God of philosophy and the biblical Yahweh outlined above. It is the impersonal and unknowable side of God, the side not engaged in particulars. In the consequent nature we find the God of history and the Lord of all things. It is the personal aspect of God, whereby he constantly feels what is happening in the world and is affected by the world.

In his consequent nature God is intrinsically related to physical reality. He prehends all of the actual occasions of the physical world as they emerge. Every actual occasion that occurs is thus taken into God and adds its reality to the reality of God. This is why God has a temporal aspect. He is constantly changing as he includes more and more reality in his consequent nature. Indeed, he is constantly being changed by that reality. What we do on earth makes a difference to the very reality of God. What we are and how we become affects what God is and how he is to become. God prehends other actualities in the same way that actual entities prehend each other. There is a physical prehension of the datum according to a particular subjective form. And there are also conceptual prehensions of possibilities in the incorporation of that datum into a new occasion. Because God prehends all actual entities and all eternal objects, every prehension of an actual entity involves both what that actual entity is and what it might have been. In this way God sees the ideal while prehending the actual. Because of his vision, and because of his concern and care for what is happening in reality, he is constantly luring reality on to newer and greater things. Whitehead describes this aspect of God as the “poet of the world, with tender patience leading it by his vision of truth, beauty and goodness.”2

But God is not an all-powerful, arbitrary ruler of the earth. In fact, he is powerless before the freedom of each individual moment. For in this sense he is no different from every other actual entity. He knows more. because he envisages more. He suffers more, because he knows more. He is, says Whitehead. “the great companion — the fellow sufferer who understands.”3

One important way in which God is different from other actual entities is that he is an everlasting entity. He does not emerge and perish, only to be succeeded by another occasion, as is the case with the rest of reality. He continues through time as the one enduring reality, prehending all things. As a result, nothing is ever lost, because everything that has ever been is incorporated into the consequent nature of God by virtue of God’s prehending it. God is the fullness of all actuality, in whom all actuality is preserved everlastingly. Every actual occasion thus achieves objective immortality in the consequent nature of God and is thus made available as datum for further process in the world.

The consequent nature of God is, therefore, the composite nature of all the actualities of the world, each having obtained its unique representation in the divine nature. We have already seen that each actuality is an organismic unity, whether it be the unity of prehensions in an actual occasion, the unity of a nexus of actual occasions, or even the unity of many nexus. God in his consequent nature is the organism in which all other organisms are prehended and contained. Everything is thus immortalized in the consequent nature of God.

In sum, God is that actual entity that is both the structure or context in which reality emerges (primordial nature) and the totality of that reality (consequent nature). This is because he prehends fully both the totality of possibility (primordial nature) and the totality of actuality (consequent nature). He is both abstract and concrete, eternal and temporal, transcendent and immanent. He can be identified as the God of philosophy as well as the God of history, and he can serve man’s metaphysical needs as well as his religious ones. To him we can apply the images both of Yahweh and of Lord.

There is one final thing to say about the God of process philosophy before we can move to the next chapter, where we will consider the implications of God for the world. In several passages of his major work, Process and Reality, Whitehead refers to the “superjective nature” of God. It is not entirely clear how this concept fits into his overall schema, but he does describe what he means by the term.

We have just discussed how every actual entity that has ever emerged is taken into God in his consequent nature. God is thus the repository of all reality because he is the unique subject that prehends every actual occasion. But just as this reality contributes to the reality of God, so also is it the data for all further development in the future. In this sense, therefore, God contains the data out of which the world is continuously being renewed. The fact that God contributes what he is in his consequent nature to the on-going process of reality is the meaning of his “superjective nature.” This contribution is unique in that God passes back to the world not only the stubborn facts of history, but a sense of what perfected actuality might have been. God can do this because, in addition to prehending the totality of actuality, he also prehends the totality of possibility. In his superjective nature, then, God offers back to the world everything that is of value from the past for the formation of the future.

Is the superjective nature a third nature of God? Considering Whitehead’s infrequent reference to it and recalling the number of times he refers only to the primordial and consequent natures, it appears unlikely. It seems instead to be a casual use of the word “nature.” perhaps with the specific purpose of warning his readers against employing that word too categorically. The superjective nature might thus best be explained as an aspect of the consequent nature. That is, when considered in its fullest sense, the consequent nature not only gathers into itself all actual occasions that have emerged and perished, but it also makes those occasions available once more to the world in God’s own loving way.

This, in brief, is Whitehead’s description of God in his philosophical system. It is his way of speaking about the unspeakable. There are many important differences between Whitehead’s God and the deity as described in other philosophies. There are even more important differences from the God of religious men. A Christian, for example, may well have some serious reservations about whether this description of God can be harmonized with what he has learned from his tradition.

And yet, despite the difficulties and doubts, there are some significant advantages in Whitehead’s explanation. First, he suggests to us a God that comes more from the exigencies of reason than from the psychological needs of man or the uncharted beginnings of his varied traditions. As such, his God is less vulnerable to the attacks of skeptical rationalists. Furthermore, Whitehead’s God is concretely alive and active in the world as one who comforts, loves and understands. He is not a candidate for inclusion as an obituary in Time magazine. Finally, Whitehead’s notion of God does seem to be an adequate way of understanding and explaining the biblical images of God, and perhaps it is even more suitable for this task than the God of Plato or Aristotle, Augustine or Thomas. For the Christian, this may be the most persuasive reason of all.


I. Process and Reality. op. cit., p. 39.

2. Ibid., p. 408.

3. Ibid., p.413.

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