The Book, in Outline

Introduction: Explain here why Berkeley ought to be thought of as a theologian who wrote (like Justin Martyr, Augustine in some works, Pascal, and Newman) principally in the “apologetic” mode. Explain also why he’s rarely so thought of today. Argue as well that theology that ceases to be “philosophical” equally ceases to be theological. Finally, argue that theology ought to be “useless” in Newman’s sense, and that this book of speculative theological metaphysics will be an instance of such uselessness.

Ch. 1: Creation without Matter: Argue here that the doctrine of creation ex nihilo effectively consigns God-independent entities, whether elements, atoms, or prime matter, to the order of the concept, as a logical abstraction; that such a theology of creation (illustrated especially, but not only, from Augustine) is effectively “idealist,” in maintaining that all of sensible reality is radically dependent on mind, e.g., God’s; that Berkeley’s “immaterialism” is a recognizable installment in this tradition, with particular links to the biblical doctrine that God creates by his Word, and that the world is consequently a form of divine language (liber naturae); and that by Siris, Berkeley is forthright and enthusiastic about his metaphysics being a form of Christian Platonism.

Ch. 2: Creatures without Matter: Argue here that one of Berkeley’s besetting problems, not unlike those of the pagan Platonists such as Plotinus and Proclus on whom he relies so heavily in Siris, is offering a principled account of the Creator-creature distinction; that Christian theology developed a grammar for articulating that distinction without undermining the creature’s dependence on God, namely in the doctrine of the Trinity (illustrate with particular, though not exclusive, reference to Augustine); that Berkeley’s immaterialism is rendered more compelling as a doctrine of creation if articulated in terms of the doctrine of the Trinity.

Ch. 3: Change without Matter: Observe here that a key motivation for the appeal to prime matter, from Plato to Aquinas (with stops in at least Aristotle and Plotinus) is the problem of continuity within substantial change. Show the good reasons for this concern, but then suggest that a properly a-temporal account of the LORD’s relation to the cosmos dissolves them.

Ch. 4: Knowledge without Matter: Argue here that Berkeley’s divine-language thesis offers a compelling account of the mind-world relation, taking up the virtues of rationalism and empiricism without their vices. Argue as well that there are theological reasons for thinking that Berkeley’s immaterialism needs to be fortified by something like Augustine’s Christological illuminationism (the De magistro thesis), along the lines proposed by Bruce Marshall in relation to Davidson’s coherentism.

Conclusion: The Doxological Stance

Discuss Berkeley’s repeated insistence that neglect for the dependence of the sensible world on divine creation was a great breeder of impiety and atheism, and that his metaphysics reminds us that the creature’s proper stance toward that world is doxological. Center this on the collect from Morning Prayer in the BCP: “Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being. We pray you so to guide and govern us by the power of your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of this life, we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight, through J-C our Lord. Amen.”

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