5th Sunday of Easter

April 28, 2002
Reading 2: 
Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
Reading 3: 
1 Peter 2:2-10
Reading 4: 
John 14:1-14
By Ronald Farmer

Today’s lesson from Acts is the final scene in the life of Stephen, a Hellenistic Jewish Christian introduced to the reader as one of the Seven appointed to take care of the distribution to the Hellenistic widows (6:1-6). "A man full of faith and the Holy Spirit" (6:5), Stephen proved himself to be a brilliant—if not always tactful—apologist and preacher (6:8-10). As is frequently the case, one can win an argument yet lose his opponents in the process. Stephen’s understanding of the significance of the Temple and Mosaic Law was used against him, albeit in a distorted sense, before the Sanhedrin (6:10-7:1). His sermonic defense, summarized in 7:2-53, enraged his hearers (7:54).

As if things were not already bad enough, Stephen, looking into the heavens, exclaimed to the angry crowd: "Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!" (vv. 55-56). This proved to be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, for the crowd covered their ears at this "blasphemy" and rushed upon him (v. 57). Reminiscent of Luke’s description of Jesus’ treatment in Nazareth (Luke 4:29), the crowd dragged Stephen outside the city in order to stone him (v. 58). Stoning was the punishment prescribed for certain offenses, including blasphemy (Lev 24:14; Num 15:35-36; Deut 17:2-7), although Acts describes the crowd’s reaction as a lynching rather than an officially sanctioned execution. Indeed, most scholars do not think that the Sanhedrin’s power extended to capital punishment under Roman occupation. The witnesses (6:13-14), legally required to be the first to cast stones, laid their coats at the feet of Saul, later described as a zealous persecutor of the Nazarenes in the service of the Sanhedrin (9:1-2). Who can estimate the psychological impact of Stephen’s death, especially the spirit in which he died, on the spiritual development of the famous apostle?

Stephen’s prayer of commitment, reminiscent of Jesus’ own prayer (Luke 23:46; cf. Ps 31:5), concludes with a petition on the behalf of his murderers, an act of forgiveness echoing Jesus’ own forgiving spirit (Luke 23:34).

Two themes immediately present themselves as possibilities for the development of sermons based on this lesson. First, a theme running throughout Luke-Acts is that of the disciples of Christ emulating his example, both in their lives and in their deaths. This pattern is reflected in Acts’ portrayal of the lives of Peter and Paul as well as in the life and death of Stephen. This recurring pattern is theologically significant.

Another important Lucan theme present in today’s lesson is that of triumph even in the face of death. But as Carl R. Holladay (Preaching through the Christian Year: Year A [Philadelphia: Trinity Press, 1992] 271) observed, "the persistent danger is that triumph can easily shade off into triumphalism and its bedfellow, imperialism. The preacher needs to be cautious in this respect. But there are many appropriate ways to expound the Easter faith as it leads to forms of daring, prophetic witness. One such way may be to interpret the death of Stephen as the result of posing a serious challenge to the established religious order."

Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16
Although some scholars have argued against viewing Psalm 31 as a unity, Peter C. Craigie (Psalms 1-50 in Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, [Waco, TX: Word Books, 1983] 258-60) has argued persuasively that the psalm manifests many unifying traits. He suggests that the psalm consists of three portions: an introduction (v. 1), the central prayer (vv. 2-19), and a concluding thanksgiving and praise (vv. 20-25). The central prayer is arranged in a chiastic construction, reflecting a recurring pattern of petitions and expressions of trust: prayer (vv. 2-6), trust (vv. 7-9); lament (vv. 10-14), trust (v. 15), prayer (vv. 16-19). Indeed, even within the prayer portions, the petitions are based on assertions of trust; for example, the petition "take me out of the net that is hidden for me" (v. 4a) is grounded in the assertion "for you are my refuge" (v. 4b). Thus, although the psalm is classified as a personal lament, it is shot through and through with lofty expressions of trust in God.

Because the language of the psalm is highly formulaic, no specific occasion can be determined. Some scholars suggest a backdrop of personal enemies, whereas others think that the crisis was an illness so serious that it could result in social exclusion (hence the "enemy" language). The use of graphic but non-specific language allows the psalm to be used in a liturgical setting so that worshipers can give vent to highly specific personal emotions arising from vastly different sources of affliction.

Portions of the psalm were read on Palm Sunday (vv. 9-16) and Holy Saturday (vv. 1-4, 15-16). Doubtless, the psalm has special meaning for Christians because Jesus quoted v. 5a on the cross: "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). Jesus’ use of the psalm is certainly appropriate, but it should be noted that the psalmist was concerned about entrusting his or her life to God within the context of living, not dying.

Psalm 31 teaches us how to live, not merely how to die. "The affirmations in vv. 5, 15 are for living, but this is precisely the difficulty we have with Psalm 31. What does it mean for us to turn our lives and our futures over to God? What does it mean to live as a ‘servant’ (v. 16) under God’s sovereignty? . . . To entrust our lives and futures to God . . . means ultimately that we derive our identity not from the worthless idols of our culture but from the character of God, to whom we entrust ourselves. The two fundamental characteristics of God that are emphasized in Psalm 31 are God’s faithfulness (v. 5) and God’s steadfast love (vv. 7, 16, 21)" (J. Clinton McCann, Jr., The Book of Psalms, in The New Interpreter’s Bible [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996] 802-803).

1 Peter 2: 2-10
As the early church became increasingly composed of Gentiles, one of the struggles it faced was defining itself over against Greco-Roman culture. How was it to understand the personal and corporate transformation being wrought by the gospel message? How was it to understand and respond to persecution in its various forms, ranging from social ostracism to physical abuse? A variety of vivid images were utilized in the first chapter, such as exiles (v. 1, 17), new birth (vv. 3, 23), and testing in a crucible (vv. 6-7). The piling up of metaphors continues in chapter two. Today’s lesson paints four colorful pictures.

(1) Newborn infants (vv. 2-3). New Testament authors frequently use the metaphor of new birth to describe spiritual conversion, for in truth a new life begins. A natural extension of the metaphor, then, is to liken Christian instruction to food necessary for sustenance and growth. Indeed, vv. 2-3 state that the readers should "long" or "crave" for the spiritual milk of God’s word (cf. 1:23). The author of 1 Peter was not the first to suggest that there is both milk (instruction suitable for new Christians) and meat (more advanced instruction) available for the ongoing process of spiritual growth (cf. 1 Cor 3:1-3; Heb 5:12-14).

(2) Living stones (vv. 4-8). The image of believers as living stones being built up (note: as with the image of human growth, building is a process) into a spiritual house arises from the early Christian understanding of Christ as a living stone, rejected by the religious leaders, but chosen by God as the cornerstone (cf. Matt 21:42). This understanding of the death and resurrection of Christ was facilitated by texts such as Isa 28:16, Psalm 118:22, and Isa 8:14-15, which are quoted in vv. 6-8. To unbelievers, Christ is a stone that causes them to stumble, but to believers Christ is a rock-solid foundation upon which they are mutually built up into a spiritual house (i.e., temple). The living stones metaphor points to the same truth Paul expressed through his image of the church as the body of Christ, a temple in which God dwells (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19-20). One final note: just as Christ was rejected but chosen by God, so too Christians may find themselves rejected by people yet chosen by God.

(3) Holy priesthood (vv. 5, 9). The imagery of a spiritual house (temple) gives rise to a new metaphor; Christians are holy priests whose mission it is to offer spiritual sacrifices. The image arises naturally from the scriptural notion of Israel as a "priestly kingdom" (Exod 19:6), terminology that is more closely paralleled in v. 9, "royal priesthood." Compare Rev 1:6, Rom 12:1, and Heb 13:15-16 for similar ideas and images.

(4) God’s own people (vv. 9-10). The notion of Christians being a holy priesthood is expanded by means of several related metaphors: chosen race, holy nation, and God’s own people. As with the priesthood imagery, metaphors that had been used to portray Israel (Exod 19:6; Isa 43:2) are here applied to the church. Because the readers of 1 Peter were predominately of Gentile origin, the quotation from Hos 2:23 is highly appropriate. And as was the case with Israel, the church’s "election" is to ministry: "in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."

John 14: 1-14
The Gospel reading is part of the central section of the Gospel of John that follows Jesus’ public ministry and precedes his passion. After an account of the last supper and foot washing (13:1-30), the Evangelist presents Jesus’ farewell discourse (13:31-16:33), followed by his high priestly prayer (17:1-26). The lengthy farewell discourse focuses on topics relevant to the disciples after Jesus is no longer with them. The structure of the discourse is circular rather than linear; that is, it does not unfold in strict logical order but rather through a spiraling repetition of themes, which renders outlining the discourse an exceedingly difficult task.

Having announced that he will not be with them much longer, Jesus immediately moves to soften the blow. Beginning with a series of exhortations ("Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me"), he then quickly made three promises.

(1) Jesus assures the disciples that they have a dwelling place with God (vv. 1-3). The word translated "dwelling places" (NRSV) is the noun form of the verb "to abide" (meno), one of the key words in the Gospel of John. The term denotes a relationship based on knowledge and trust, not a "guestroom in heaven" so to speak. Jesus’ departure will make it possible for the disciples to experience the relationship that Jesus has with the God.

(2) Jesus announces that he is the way to God (vv. 4-11). To Thomas’s question, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (v. 5), Jesus replied: "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (v. 6). Verse six is, of course, the pivotal verse for the entire passage; I will return to a discussion of it in Appendix One.

(3) Jesus promises that the disciples will receive power to continue his works; indeed, they will do even greater works (vv. 12-14). This thought is developed substantially in subsequent verses in terms of the ministry of the indwelling Holy Spirit, which is in fact the continuing work of Jesus. At this point, we simply note that power will be available to those who "believe" in him (v. 12) and "ask" in his name (vv. 13-14). To believe or have faith (pisteuo) is one of the key words of the Gospel. The term denotes more than mere intellectual assent; it speaks of a complete trust—intellectually, emotionally, and volitionally. To pray in Jesus’ name does not mean to conclude a prayer with a magical formula. It means to pray in union with Jesus, something possible because of the new relationship believers have with God and Christ in the post-Easter world.

Appendix One: Interpreting the (In) Famous John 14:6

Interpretations of the relationship of the three pivotal nouns of the first sentence can be classified under two broad approaches. Some understand "the way" to be directed toward a goal that is described as "the truth" and/or "the life." The other (more likely) approach is to understand "the way" as the primary term, with "the truth" and" the life" in apposition to "the way" for clarity. That is, Jesus is the way because he is the truth and the life; the goal of the way is the Father. Raymond E. Brown (The Gospel according to John XIII-XXI, in The Anchor Bible, vol. 29A [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970] 628) offers the following expanded paraphrase: "He is the way because he is the truth or revelation of the Father . . . so that when men know him they know the Father (7) and when men see him they see the Father (8). He is the way because he is the life—since he lives in the Father and the Father lives in him (10-11), he is the channel through which the Father’s life comes to men."

The force of the definite articles in v. 6a is made clear in the second sentence: "No one comes to the Father except through me" (v. 6b). The problems created by this statement are well known. "These words are used as a litmus test for Christian faith in myriad conversations and debates within the contemporary church. They are taken by some as the rallying cry of Christian triumphalism, proof positive that Christians have the corner on God and that people of any and all other faiths are condemned. They are seen by others as embarrassingly exclusionary and narrow-minded, and they are pointed to as evidence of the problems inherent in asserting Christian faith claims in a pluralistic world" (Gail R. O’Day, The Gospel of John, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 9 [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995] 743).

In an attempt to overcome these problems, liberal/progressive scholars call for modern day readers to be sure to interpret the verse against the late first-century world of the Johannine community rather than the twenty-first-century world of the contemporary church. (Representative of progressive scholarship is O’Day [744-45] whom I quote here at length.) John 14:6 should not be understood as "the sweeping claim of a major world religion" but as "the conviction of a religious minority in the ancient Mediterranean world." The troublesome text should be understood as a "joyous affirmation" of a particular faith community that believes that "God is available to them decisively in the incarnation," for it was "through the incarnation that the identity of God as Father" was revealed to them. The reader should note that Jesus does not say, "No one comes to God except through me," but rather "No one comes to the Father except through me." As the Prologue to the Gospel of John (1:1-18) makes clear, "the incarnation has redefined God for the Fourth Evangelist and those for whom he writes, because it brings the tangible presence of God’s love to the world. ‘God’ is not a generic deity here; God is the One whom the disciples come to recognize in the life and death of Jesus." This new understanding of God cost the Johannine community. It brought them into conflict with the larger Jewish community of which they were a part; indeed, it led to their eventual exclusion from the synagogue. John 14:6 came to express where the community stood "in the first-century intra-Jewish debate about the character of God." Thus, a passage that is often labeled as "excessively exclusionary would be described more accurately as particularism. That is, the claims made in John 14:6 express the particularities of the Fourth Evangelist’s knowledge and experience of God, and membership in the faith community for which he writes and which he envisions does indeed hinge on this claim."

But this claim "becomes problematic when it is used to speak to questions that were never in the Fourth Gospel’s purview. To use these verses in a battle over the relative  merits of the world’s religions is to distort their theological heart. . . . The Fourth Gospel is not concerned with the fate, for example, of Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists, nor with the superiority or inferiority of Judaism and Christianity as they are configured in the modern world. . . . The Fourth Evangelist’s primary concern was the clarification and celebration of what it means to believe in Jesus . . . The theological vision articulated here expresses the distinctiveness of Christian identity, and it is as people shaped by this distinctiveness that Christians can take their place in conversations about world religion. Indeed, the Prologue’s claims about the Logos (1:1-3) provide an opening for conversations about how one encounters the divine. When one brackets out the questions that contemporary Christians falsely import into these verses, there is nothing outrageous or offensive about the claims made here. Rather, at the heart of Christianity is this affirmation of the decisive revelation of God in the incarnation."

Process-informed interpreters find the argument of liberal/progressive scholarship to be persuasive, as far as it goes. As O’Day noted, for the Fourth Evangelist the Jesus who is the Way is to be understood in terms of the incarnate Logos. It is precisely here that process theology makes its distinctive contribution to the understanding of 14:6. In Whiteheadian terms, the Logos is to be understood in terms of the initial aim of God. (The remainder of Appendix One is from Ronald L. Farmer, "Jesus in Process Christology" in Jesus Then and Now: Images of Jesus in History and Christology, ed. Marvin Meyer and Charles Hughes [Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press, 2001] 206-210.)

[A] process worldview [see Appendix Two below] is thoroughly incarnational: God is incarnate in each actual occasion via the initial aim. For Christian theologians rooted in substance thinking, there has been no way to give a rational explanation of the two natures of Jesus affirmed in the church creeds. The only step they have been able to take beyond merely affirming the creeds—or to put it another way, beyond simply stating the problem—has been to voice what they do not mean by declaring certain attempted explanations to be heresy. But rather than posing an insoluble problem or being a source of intellectual embarrassment, the Christian doctrine of the incarnation in Jesus is rational and coherent to process thinkers. In fact, the task set before process theologians is not to explain how the divine and the human could combine in Jesus of Nazareth; rather, it is to explain how and to what extent Jesus is an unique manifestation of "God with us."

According to the process worldview, each actual occasion is unique. No two occasions share exactly the same past actual world, receive exactly the same initial aim, or prehend exactly the same eternal objects with exactly the same subject forms. Thus, each actual occasion is unique in its concreteness, no matter how similar it may be to other entities. But this understanding of uniqueness obviously is not what theologians have meant when they have affirmed the uniqueness of Jesus. In what way would a process theologian affirm that the incarnation in Jesus was theologically unique? In what way was he "God with us" in a unique sense?

Marjorie Suchocki has suggested that four conditions would have to exist for such a special revelatory event to occur (God Christ, Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology, rev. ed. [New York: Crossroad, 1989] 90-92). First, past events would have to have prepared the way for such an incarnation. . . . [T]he initial aim God is able to give to a particular occasion is conditioned to a considerable extent by the past. It is an axiom of process thought that God works with what is to bring about what can be. Periodically in the creative advance of the world, kairotic moments arrive. Positive turning points in history occur when these rare opportunities are grasped by spiritually perceptive people. Such was the case in the time of Jesus. As the Apostle Paul put it, Jesus was born "when the fullness of time had come" (Gal 4:4).

Second, the content of the initial aim must be a communication of the nature of God. Because initial aims serve to guide the concrescence of actual occasions, they are normally more reflective of the world than of God. The resulting hiddenness of God in the world is typically referred to as general revelation. For special revelation to occur—such as Christians affirm happened in the life and teachings of Jesus—the initial aims supplied at that kairotic moment would need to be for a revelation of God to the world.

Third, the initial aims would have to be adopted fully by the recipient. Usually initial aims are adapted to varying degrees by actual occasions. The initial aim forms the beginning of the subjective aim, but in the course of concrescence the subjective aim usually deviates to some degree from the initial aim. In Jesus’ case, however, this adaptation would not occur. As a result, he would not perceive God’s will and his will to be in opposition. John Cobb and David Griffin explain Jesus’ uniqueness in terms of this "co-constitution":

In Jesus’ authentic sayings an existence expresses itself which does not experience this otherness of the divine. Instead, his selfhood seems to be constituted as much by the divine agency within him as by his own personal past. We may think of Jesus’ structure of existence in terms of an "I" that is co-constituted by its inheritance from its personal past and by the initial aims derived from God. There is not the normal tension between the initial aims and the purposes received from the past, in that those past purposes were themselves conformed to divine aims and thereby involved the basic disposition to be open to God’s call in each future moment. Whereas Christ is incarnate in everyone, Jesus is Christ because the incarnation is constitutive of his very selfhood. (Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1976] 105)

Fourth, this co-constitution must be a continuous process rather than a once-for-all happening. The human self . . . is actually a series of actual occasions [see Appendix Two below]. Each momentary self in the series would have to continue this co-constitution for the incarnation in Jesus to remain theologically unique, that is, to remain revelatory of God’s nature.

The confluence of these four conditions resulting in the unique incarnation in Jesus did not do away with his humanity; on the contrary, it perfected it. Metaphysically speaking, the dynamics of the incarnation in Jesus were no different than the dynamics of the incarnation in all actual occasions. But theologically speaking there were differences, differences in the content of the initial aims (a revelation of God’s nature) and differences in the quality of his response to those initial aims (co-constitution).

The preceding explication of a process understanding of the incarnation in Jesus raises three questions. (1) Could God give some other spiritual person the initial aim to reveal the nature of God? Yes. (2) Could the content of that revelation be the same? No. To some extent, the past actual world of another spiritual person would not be identical with the past actual world of Jesus; consequently, the initial aims supplied to each would have to differ. To the degree that the past actual worlds and initial aims differed, so too what would be revealed of God’s nature would differ. (3) Could people other than Jesus experience co-constitution? Yes.

The preceding questions all begin with "could"; consequently, they are metaphysical and thus are easily answerable once one understands process thought. If, however, one were to begin the questions with "has" or "is," one would be required to step outside the realm of the theoretical into the realm of the historical. If one were to do this, one would discover that other people claim to have experienced what process theologians call co-constitution. Likewise, other people claim to have received the imperative to reveal the divine nature. And as would be expected, there are differences—sometimes significant differences—in understandings as to the nature of the divine or ultimate reality or whatever term one might use. These historical observations . . . [raise the question of what might be] the contributions of a Process Christology to interfaith dialogue.

Contemporary Christian attitudes toward people of other faiths can be summarized under three broad rubrics: exclusivism, inclusivism, and pluralism. According to the exclusivist perspective, there is salvation only for Christians. Conversion to the Christian faith is required of all people. Exclusivists engage in interfaith dialogue, if at all, with the goal of converting their dialogue partners.

Since at least the mid-Twentieth Century a widespread movement has existed among both Catholics and mainline Protestants toward inclusivism. According to this view, salvation is still Christian salvation, but it is available to all people whether they are Christian or not. Devout people of other faiths may be regarded as "anonymous Christians," for everyone is included within the universal scope of Christ’s saving work. Inclusivists engage in interfaith dialogue to build healthy relationships and possibly to help their dialogue partners see that their religions find fulfillment in Christianity.

More controversial is the position known as pluralism. Pluralists view the various religions as valid spheres of salvation, each assuming a characteristically different form. Other religions are not secondary contexts of Christian redemption, but rather are independent pathways to salvation. This should not be understood to mean that all religions are the same—they are not—or that people will experience the various religions as equally salvific—they will not. Different religions appeal to different people because they have different spiritual needs. A Christian pluralist believes that God "bends to our condition, shaping redemption according to the uniqueness of every particular human situation" (Suchocki 170). Pluralists advocate interfaith dialogue based on the belief that an appreciation of spiritual diversity will lead to mutual enrichment of the various faiths.

The process worldview provides strong support for religious pluralism. [The following discussion is based largely on Suchocki 171-75.] According to Whitehead, the ultimate principle is actually a triad: the "one," the "many," and "creativity." [See Appendix Two below.] . . . the many become one in a ceaseless dance of creativity. Now it is important to note that from any member of this triad, the other two members can be deduced. For example, the one implies the many and creativity; likewise the very process of creativity is the unification of the many into a new one. Thus, there is a balance or harmony within the triad, which can be attained no matter which of the triadic members serves at the starting point. It is also true that the harmony finally attained reflects the starting point. For example, starting with the one leads to seeing the many and creativity primarily in relation to one; that is, the resulting harmony will be viewed primarily in terms of its unity. If, however, we start with the many, the complexity of the final harmony will be stressed; and if we begin with creativity, what will stand out will be the process leading to the harmony.

What would happen if this basic understanding of reality were to be applied to religious experience? We would expect to find religions that stress the way of creativity. They would focus on that aspect of reality characterized by universal flux, rise and fall, being and becoming, centerless centers, and ceaseless flow. Although there are variations within it, Buddhism is something like that.

We would also expect to find ways of life that focus on the manifold nature of the world. Although these ways of life are frequently called secular, many of them are quite spiritual though not religious in the normal sense of the term. For these people, the concrete manyness of reality might well be seen as the focus of life, deserving of one’s ultimate loyalty and commitment. Many humanists and environmentalists fit this description.

In contrast to those who follow the pathways of creativity or the many, Jews, Christians, and Muslims testify that the road toward well-being and harmony is tied up with the experience of God as the One. And for Christians, that One is revealed most clearly in Jesus of Nazareth.

As this brief analysis demonstrates, Whitehead’s notion of the triadic "category of the ultimate" supports the position of religious pluralism. Some pluralists envision the emergence of a universal religion that will transcend and replace the existing particular religions. Process theologians neither anticipate nor desire such a development. As was noted earlier, although the other two members of the triad are implied by whichever member one begins with, the harmony finally attained always reflects the particular starting point. Interfaith dialogue may lead to appreciation of spiritual diversity and mutual enrichment of the various religions, but it will not lead to the development of a universal religion. The radical historicity of concrete human existence precludes it. "No finite manifestation of religion could be universal" (Suchocki 171).

Appendix Two: The Process World View

The worldview developed by Whitehead is a process worldview. According to this view, what is real is what happens; that is, ultimate reality is composed of events. Viewing ultimate reality in terms of events or happenings rather than substances means that experiences, not tiny bits of matter, are the building blocks of the universe. These energy-events or occasions of experience Whitehead labeled actual entities or actual occasions. Under certain circumstances, groups of actual entities, termed societies, can impinge upon the human sense organs as data in such a manner that they are perceived as the physical objects of ordinary human experience (e.g., rocks, trees, animals, and people). Individual actual entities are detectable only by means of scientific instruments or intense introspection; they are not observable through ordinary conscious human experience.

Although there are differences between actual entities, one thing that all entities have in common is that they transmit energy from preceding actual entities to succeeding actual entities. In some instances that which is inherited from preceding entities is transmitted to succeeding entities virtually unaltered; in other instances what is inherited is significantly modified before being transmitted. The former occurs in low-grade entities, which characterize phenomena typically labeled inorganic; the latter occurs in high-grade entities, which characterize phenomena associated with life and consciousness.

The process by which these brief occasion of experience come into being Whitehead labeled concrescence, a "growing together" of a diverse "many" into a unified "one." Each becoming occasion inherits, or appropriates as its own, energy or data from past actual occasions. This process of appropriating or "grasping" a datum from a past actual occasion is termed a prehension or feeling; each prehension is clothed with a subjective form, which is "how" the becoming occasion feels that datum (examples in human occasions of experience include consciousness, joy, and anger). Clearly, then, the data of the past largely determine what the becoming occasion will be because the past requires of the becoming occasion that it somehow conform to or reenact the past. Yet this determination is never complete, for every actual occasion also exercises some degree of self-determination in its concrescence. What an occasion must prehend is determined, but how the occasion prehends it is not. In high-grade occasions such as animal or human experience this self-determination may properly be termed freedom; in low-grade occasions such as electronic or molecular experience one should speak rather of indeterminacy because this term does not imply consciousness and the "freedom" exercised by low-grade occasions is negligible. Thus, a becoming occasion selects, harmonizes, and supplements the data of the past, integrating and reintegrating the "many" feelings into "one" final, unified, complex feeling called the satisfaction of the actual occasion. This concrescence of feelings is guided by the occasion’s subjective aim, which is a feeling of what the occasion may become. This subjective aim always takes into account (1) the givenness of past occasions, (2) the goal of achieving the greatest intensity of feeling in the becoming occasion, and (3) the goal of the becoming occasion contributing maximally to relevant future occasions.

In its moment of concrescence, every actual entity is a subject, though usually an unconscious one. As a subject, each actual entity presides over its own immediacy of becoming. But upon attaining satisfaction, this subjective immediacy passes over into objectivity in the sense of being a datum for prehension by succeeding entities. This aspect of being an object conditioning all concrescences beyond itself as something given is termed the entity’s objective immortality; it "lives on" in the finite world through its effect on (or its prehension by) succeeding actual entities. Thus, according to the process worldview, the "many" occasions of the past are unified in the "one" becoming occasion; but upon attaining satisfaction, the "one" becomes part of a new "many" which requires unification in a succeeding occasion. This dynamic rhythm of the many and the one is the continuing rhythm of process.

Thus far the discussion has focused on actual occasions as the microscopic building blocks of the universe—e.g., electronic and protonic occasions. However, the same is true on the macroscopic level of enduring objects such as rocks, trees, animals, and people. As was noted above, large societies of actual occasions sometimes impinge upon the human sense organs in such a fashion that the perception of the physical objects of ordinary human experience occurs: that is, a common pattern of inheritance is perceived over a period of time among a group of actual occasions. Historically, the perception of many "things" as manifesting the same characteristic has been attributed to the notion that the many things all correspond to the same idea or form or universal (as in Platonism). For example, all particular instances of gray are manifestations of the idea gray. Although Whitehead agreed with many of the notions of these idealistic philosophies, he disagreed with others. For example, there is a tendency in such philosophies to consider these unchanging ideas or universals to be more real than the particular temporal manifestations. But for Whitehead, there is nothing more real (i.e., more actual) than the particular entities manifesting these ideas; consequently, he avoided the traditional terminology and referred to these ideas or universals as eternal objects. Eternal objects are defined as "pure possibilities," which indicate how something might be actual. As "potentialities of definiteness" they are capable of specifying the character of any actual entity, but in themselves they refer to no particular actual entity.

A becoming occasion prehends a past occasion by means of one of the past occasion’s own prehensions. Ingredient in each component prehension of the past actual occasion is at least one eternal object. Thus, the becoming occasion’s prehension of the past occasion by one of its own prehensions results in the two occasions sharing an eternal object. Although the same eternal object has ingression in both actual occasions, "how" the eternal object is felt by the two occasions will not be identical; that is, the subjective forms of the two feelings will differ to some degree ranging from negligible to considerable. Because most actual entities transmit—without significant alteration—to succeeding entities the data they have inherited from past entities (i.e., the same eternal object has ingression throughout the series and is felt in quite similar ways by each entity in the series), there is order, repetition, and continuity in the universe. Large groups or societies of these low-grade occasions account for the enduring objects of ordinary human sense perception.

But if occasions become what they become simply by inheritance from the past, how is one to account for instances of genuine novelty instead of only slight variations within an endless pattern of repetition? Granted, most enduring objects exhibit change--and slight change at that--only over a long period of time (e.g., molecules and rocks), but in the case of animals and human beings change can be both rapid and dramatic. The occurrence of genuine novelty means that new possibilities have been actualized. Therefore, eternal objects that were not ingredient in any past occasion must somehow be available to new becoming occasions. One could attempt to explain this simply by asserting that the "realm" of eternal objects is available to becoming occasions. A problem immediately arises with this explanation, however. For a novel concrescence to occur, the infinite multiplicity of eternal objects must be ordered in such a manner that certain eternal objects which have not been realized in past actual occasions become relevant to the situation of the concrescing occasion. The past actual world of the becoming occasion determines which pure possibilities are relevant, i.e., which pure possibilities are real possibilities for actualization given that situation. (For example, one hundred years ago flying to Rio was a pure possibility; today it is a real possibility, at least for those who can afford to purchase an airline ticket!) But how is the vast realm of eternal objects ordered or graded so that certain unrealized eternal objects become relevant to each new concrescing actual entity? As with many thinkers, Whitehead felt that only what is actual has agency. Eternal objects in themselves are abstract not concrete, possibilities not actualities; consequently, agency cannot be attributed to eternal objects in themselves. The eternal objects realized in the past are available to becoming occasions through the agency of past actual occasions; in like manner, eternal objects unrealized in the past must be made available through the agency of some actuality. Thus, because novelty exists there must be an actual entity that so orders the realm of eternal objects with respect to each becoming occasion that certain unrealized eternal objects become relevant to each individual concrescence.

Obviously this entity must differ in certain respects from all other actual entities. (1) Whereas actual occasions in the mode of objective immortality are available only to those occasions that succeed them, this entity must be universally available to all becoming occasions. There can be no occasions that do not prehend it. Furthermore, whereas actual occasions have their moment of subjective immediacy and then perish, this entity must be an everlasting entity (the justification for this statement will become evident below). (2) Although an actual occasion is the realization of only a limited number of eternal objects, this entity must envisage the entire realm of eternal objects, for apart from their envisagement in one actuality eternal objects would not be available for ingression in other actual entities. (3) For particular, finite actualities to exist there must be some limitation on possibility; because it orders the realm of eternal objects with respect to each becoming occasion, this entity serves as the necessary "principle of limitation." (4) Moreover, the very existence of particular, finite actualities requires that this envisagement of the realm of eternal objects be primordial in nature. Unless this act were primordial, there could be no particular actualities, absolutely none. Thus, the ordered envisagement of the realm of eternal objects by this entity is prior to and presupposed by all other actual entities.

Whitehead named this entity God; the primordial envisagement of the realm of eternal objects he designated the primordial nature of God; and the ordering of possibilities offered to each becoming occasion he called the initial aim. The initial aim God supplies each becoming occasion is the initial phase of the development of that occasion’s subjective aim. Although the initial aim contains that possibility which is the optimum way to unify the many into a novel one—i.e., if adopted it will guide the concrescence in such a way as to result in the richest, most intense unification of feelings possible in light of the past and the relevant future—the occasion is not bound to implement that possibility. Because the initial aim offers a graded relevance of possibilities, there is room for the becoming occasion to accept, modify, or reject the optimum possibility in the development of the subjective aim that will guide its concrescence. According to the process worldview, then, God’s power is persuasive rather than coercive. God seeks to lure each occasion toward that ideal way of becoming which is in keeping with God’s own subjective aim of promoting intensity of harmonious feeling in the world.

Although God’s primordial nature is timeless and thus in this respect God can be described as a non-temporal actual entity, God is an actual entity and so must meet the basic requirements for actuality. In a manner similar to the way in which every occasion of experience influences succeeding occasions and is influenced by preceding occasions, God also both influences and is influenced by the temporal world. Thus, God cannot be described as non-temporal without qualification. Although the primordial envisagement of the realm of eternal objects was unconditioned by any preceding actualities and thus is timeless, every subsequent act of divine concrescence is influenced by whatever actualities have come into being. With respect to God, the rhythm of process may be summarized as follows. God supplies the initial aim to "begin" each new actual occasion. After the occasion achieves its satisfaction God prehends it in its totality, saving everlastingly what has been accomplished in the divine consequent nature. What has been accomplished in the temporal world (preserved everlastingly in the consequent nature) is then integrated with the divine envisagement of eternal objects (the primordial nature) in such a way that the divine satisfaction results in relevant initial aims for prehension by the next generation of occasions. According to the process worldview, then, temporal actualities matter; they matter both to succeeding temporal occasions of experience and to the divine experience.

One final aspect of the process worldview remains to be introduced for the purpose of this paper: conscious human experience. A human being is composed of an immense number of societies, and societies of societies. Yet there is within human beings (and in most animals, for that matter) a single center of control and spontaneity typically spoken of as the self or soul. Although one experiences this self as continuously existing (i.e., as a "substantial" self), the self is actually composed of a series of individual occasions of experience. This serially ordered society is the dominant or presiding society within a human being. At any given moment the dominant or presiding occasion within this society inherits from (1) all past occasions in that serially ordered society (the ability to inherit from occasions other than the one immediately preceding is non-technically referred to as "memory"), (2) all of the occasions composing the human body (primarily, though not exclusively, through the brain and nervous system), (3) all of the occasions of the past actual world of the human being (primarily, though not exclusively, through the sense organs), and (4) God (the initial aim).

The human self or soul is a remarkable type of society. Whereas the occasions composing most societies are unconscious, the occasions of the human self contain some prehensions whose subjective form includes consciousness. These dominant occasions are capable of such high level experience due in large part to the complex organization of the human body (especially the central nervous system) that insures a constant flow of novelty from the various body parts to the brain. Thus, novelty rather than repetition characterizes the occasions forming this remarkable society.

Notes for Appendix Two:

1 Farmer 202-206.

2The term "experience" can be misleading. Although Whitehead derived the term from human experience, he did not mean that the building blocks of the universe were exactly like human experience. Most occasions of experience lack such things as sense perception, consciousness, and imagination (the term experience does not necessarily imply these things, however; for example, people do speak of unconscious experience).

3One should note that Whitehead overcame one of the destructive dualisms of modern thought: the subject-object split. The subjective and the objective are not opposing realities, as in dualistic thought, nor is either of them unreal, as in materialism and idealism. On the contrary, both are alternating aspects of each actual occasion.

4Although enduring object is a technical term for Whitehead, it is used here in a non-technical sense. As a technical term, an enduring object is a series of occasions, only one of which exists at a time, and each of which inherits its data primarily, though not exclusively, from the immediately preceding occasion in the series (thus, an enduring object is a serially ordered society). In enduring objects repetition of the past, rather than novelty, predominates resulting in stability (e.g., an electron is a series of electronic occasions each of which largely repeats the experience of the preceding occasion). An enduring object in the non-technical sense (e.g., a rock) is a collection of enduring objects in the technical sense. Whitehead called enduring objects in the non-technical sense corpuscular societies because they are composed of numerous "strands" of enduring objects.

5Other equivalent expressions are realization, participation, exemplification, and illustration.

6That is, a "graded relevance" must be established in which unrealized eternal objects are graded on a scale from very relevant to not relevant at all. See below on the initial aim.

7Whitehead labeled this the ontological principle. This principle can also be expressed, "everything must be somewhere; and here ‘somewhere’ means ‘some actual entity.’ . . . It is a contradiction in terms to assume that some explanatory fact can float into the actual world out of nonentity. Nonentity is nothingness. Every explanatory fact refers to the decision and to the efficacy of an actual thing" (Process and Reality 46). Thus, unrealized eternal objects or new possibilities cannot come to a becoming occasion out of "nowhere."

8Everlasting, not eternal, is the appropriate term to describe this entity for if the entity were eternal it would be totally separate from time. As the following discussion reveals, this entity is related to all finite, temporal actual entities. Occasionally Whitehead referred to this entity as non-temporal, but this expression is misleading because it applies to only one aspect of this entity (see the discussion of the primordial nature below).

9One should note that Whitehead’s introduction of God was not religiously motivated; he introduced God in order to give a philosophical explanation of the world.

10The initial aim is the envisagement of a set of related, relevant possibilities for actualization; the becoming occasion "chooses" from among them.

11Whitehead’s description of God in terms of the primordial and consequent natures should not be understood as implying that God can be "divided" into two natures in the usual sense of the term. Rather, these expressions refer to two functions of one reality. The primordial nature is the aspect or dimension of God typically discussed in Western philosophies (God as eternal, unchanging, infinite, and so forth). It is to Whitehead’s credit that he also emphasized the neglected dimension of God.

12This dominant occasion is the occasion humans are aware of most directly through conscious introspection.

13The prehension of these past, non-contiguous occasions is by means of hybrid physical prehensions. Not all of the past occasions in the series will be prehended consciously at any given time, but all are potentially available for "recall."