Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oeconomic necessity

A theological concept that I haven't seen much recent discussion of, but that strikes me as important, is what I will call "oeconomic necessity" (together with the related "oeconomic possibility": p is oeconomically possible iff not-p is not oeconomically necessary), referring of course to the "economy of salvation" rather than the sort of stuff economists talk about. The concept is not entirely clear. Paradigm cases are claims like the following claims (all of which I accept):

  1. It is oeconomically necessary that if an unbaptized person after the time of Christ's resurrection repents of her sins and has water poured over her by another along with the other's saying the words "I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit", with the relevantly right intentions on the part of both, the sins are forgiven.
  2. It is oeconomically impossible for an adult of at least normal intellectual capacities to be saved without at least implicit faith.
  3. It is oeconomically necessary that whatever the bishop of Rome teaches all Catholics definitively in a matter of faith and morals is true.
Metaphysical necessity entails oeconomic necessity, but not conversely. Oeconomic necessity supports counterfactuals:
  1. Had Patricia begged God to forgive her sins, she would have eventually entered heavenly life.

A simple-minded account of oeconomic necessity is that p is oeconomically necessary iff the content of divine revelation entails p. But this doesn't quite capture the concept. Revelation might at least in principle contain oeconomically contingent claims. God might reveal that in January 15, AD 26, one of Jesus's customers complained unfairly about the quality of a table that Jesus had made for him. This claim would then be found in revelation, but wouldn't be oeconomically necessary--it wouldn't be necessary in light of the plan of salvation. It is oeconomically necessary that (de dicto) whatever God reveals is true, but it can be oeconomically contingent that God reveals p.

The best characterization I have of oeconomic necessity is entailment by God's commitments (e.g., covenants or promises) and salvific plans.

The concept lets us distinguish some views. Thus, the standard universalist probably thinks:

  1. It is oeconomically necessary that everyone is saved.
But one could imagine a moderate universalist who thinks
  1. As a matter of oeconomically contingent fact, everyone will be saved.
One way to read the von Balthasar thesis about the possibility of hoping for everybody to be saved is that one can deny (5) while hoping for (6). One can similarly have anti-universalist views which distinguish between the following two claims:
  1. It is oeconomically necessary that someone will be damned.
  2. As a matter of oeconomically contingent fact, someone will be damned.
There is a real difference here. Someone who believes in double predestination and who thinks that the damnation of some is an important part of God's plan of salvation may affirm (7). On the other hand, I incline towards (8).

Another application is that a Catholic who believes that Anglican ordinations are typically invalid is committed to the claim that there is no oeconomical necessity that the bread and wine at a typical Anglican liturgy change into Christ's body and blood, but might nonetheless think that this could happen as an oeconomically contingent matter of fact ("by special divine dispensation"). We should not, however, count on what is oeconomically contingent.

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